With the explosion in popularity of Mixed Martial Arts, as well as the recent uptick of Kickboxing in the United States - many competitors often come to our Dojang in efforts to "improve their stand up". Although that goal is ultimately determined by experience, skill level, athleticism, and work ethic - reality shows that technique alone is often not enough.
Stand Up Fighting, like any discipline, takes years of development. Over time, practitioners will cultivate their own style based on what works best for their body type, ability, and the appropriate rules of engagement. But what should a student or competitor look for when seeking to improve - that's when invoking a "fighting principle" comes into play.
Principles, in general are a set of beliefs or systems that someone acts or lives by. And although those principles may be spelled out in many cases - in terms of combat sports, principles should be flexible and adaptive to all practitioners.
When looking at a methodology for success in stand up fighting - practitioners should consider a couple of things.
1. Proactive Defense: Defense is often times an after thought when learning any type of martial art or combat sport, but no one can deny its importance. When learning defense, it's important to change the mindset from "being defensive" to "being proactive".
Proactive Defense starts with the basics. A good guard (fighting stance) with hands held high, elbows in, belly button off center, relaxed legs, and a lowered chin allows for the largest range of protection. Add head movement and foot work to correct positioning and the percentage of protection increases.
Always remember, a moving target is more difficult to hit. Proactive Defense through head feints and foot work immediately forces your opponent to work harder, both mentally and physically. When blocking kicks and punches, try to answer back immediately to make your opponent "accountable" for attacking you - putting the opposition on notice that you are not a sitting target.
In the videos below, Boxing Icon Mike Tyson and MMA standout TJ Dillashaw demonstrate what it means to be proactive on defense. Tyson is a great example of proper stance and head movement along with "answering back" immediately when attacked. Dillashaw's approach to proactive defense is based around athleticism while using a combination footwork and feints to make opponents uncomfortable and create openings.
2. Distance Management: Quite possibly the most important factor in any combat sport or street altercation - generally whoever controls distance, wins. Managing distance is paramount to success in competition but must be built around a firm and honest assessment of the individuals strengths and weaknesses, along with their body type.
A long and rangy "striker" would want to fight in a much different space than a more compact wrestler. So when understanding distance management, it is important to "know" a few things. Know your self (starting with your body type and ability). Know the rules. And lastly, know your competition (their body type and ability).
With that in mind, always work to your strengths. The more an opponent has to compete in your comfort zone, the better off things will be for you. Featured below are videos from two vastly different types of fighters. In the first, Thomas "The Hitman" Hearns uses his long limbs to keep opponents away with a jab that varies in speed (snapping and pawing) all the while blinding his opponents in order to set up his thunderous right cross. In the proceeding video, Randy "the Natural" Couture, gives a brief tutorial on how to close the distance and work within his strongest asset - the clinch.
3. Attack Opposites (At Every Level): Developing a well planned attack is key in any combat sport but don't over think it. Attack early, attack often, and attack everywhere.
Offensive techniques are more likely to be practiced than their counterparts - so keep them effective. When on "offense" remember that it is simply harder to defend every side or level (legs, midsection, head) of the body. When attacking, mix punches, kicks, and when appropriate, takedowns together. Do not simply head hunt or be predictable, work all sides from top to bottom for optimum success.
For example - when drilling on the bag or pads, do not separate hand, foot, or grabbing techniques but rather use them in conjunction with one another. When punching to the head finish the combination with a low or middle kick or take down. When attacking with your lead leg to the body, finish with a rear punch to the head then a take down.
In the video below, former PKA World Champion and one of the most feared Kickboxer's of the 1980's, "The Iceman" Jean Yves Theriault puts on a exhibition on how changing your levels of striking can quickly dismantle an opponent. In this fight, Theirault never attacks the same area or side "back-2-back". If the Iceman jabs low, he finishes with a high kick. When he uses his stabbing front kick to the midsection, he is quick to follow it with a rounded attack. Pay extra attention to the finishing sequence of the bout, as Theriault works both sides of his opponent on way to a first round finish.
From watching the videos above, it is easy to get an idea of the afore mentioned concepts and their many adaptations. Always keep this in mind - when learning any new skill, techniques ultimately make up the how but principles make up the why. Martial Arts are no different, don't get caught up in the "moves".
Individual techniques are largely successful based on the practicioner's body type, ability, skill level, and athleticism. However when students base their learning around principals - such as Proactive Defense, Distance Management, and Attacking Opposites at Every Level - the student can simply plug and play techniques based on their ability, know how, and rules of engagement. This type of development provides both functionality and lasting skill to students and competitors.