The Striking Deficit

Saturday, May 1st, 2010

Rory Miller (Meditations on Violence) discusses the striking deficit in self-defense training:

I’m trying to brainstorm my way around a training artifact.

Proper striking can be effective. I’ve put people down and broken bones with techniques ranging from hook punches to slaps. On the other hand, they’re really idiosyncratic. If anyone tells you that a specific strike will always have a specific effect, the person is lying. Or misinformed. In my personal experience, I’ve taken a crowbar to the back of the head with no injury whatsoever, and a slap to the back of the head that left me dizzy and puking for three days. I’ve been lifted in the air from a solid kick straight to the crotch and didn’t feel it for well over a minute… and I’ve been flicked in the crotch and gone down.

Strikes are dangerous. Even if you don’t notice that you have broken bones until after the fight, they are still broken and can take a long time to heal. That solid shot to the head might not hamper you at all, until a few hours later when the tissue swells and you pass out. Maybe die. Hours after you ‘won.’

Because of all this, strikes require special safety restrictions in training. Maybe you put big pillows on your fist. Maybe you pull the strikes and practice missing. But something is done to make sure that the strikes in training don’t do what strikes do…

Which has two bad effects. One is obvious, in that all the training to miss (whether you call it pulling or just use contact to a safe area like simulating hitting the groin by hitting the thigh) will influence you to miss in real life. Trust me — you’ll have other things to think about than trying to remember what you simulated in practice and substituting the ‘reality’ variation.

The other bad effect is that it increases the value of grappling techniques in sparring.

That’s not in and of itself a bad thing. The ability to move, control, lock and strangle a human body are some of the most effective and reliable base skills. But when you are practicing, whether sparring or scenarios, and the strikes have to be controlled and the submissions can go to submission, you wind up with scenarios that always end with a lock or strangle.

Unless you stay alert, it can seem like locks and strangles work and strikes don’t. The thing is that real strangles work far better than pretend strikes.

My response:

Rory, I think you make an excellent point about how idiosyncratic strikes can be. (The same holds for gunshots, knife wounds, etc.) Even if most punches break no bones and do no lasting damage, enough of them do to make hardcore training too dangerous to sustain over many cumulative hours. Sooner or later, something bad happens.

On the other hand, if you never train with hard strikes, the rest of your training can drift away from the reality of what does or does not work in a real fight.

I suppose you can free-ride to some extent on other students of your art who do train with hard contact. Your own muay thai training may lack a certain something if you never spar hard, but at least the style stays true to what works in the ring.

I’m conflicted about your point that grappling becomes overvalued in training. I came to the same conclusion as a kid who studied kempo. In play-fighting, a bigger kid could easily maul me, and I wasn’t about to break his nose or gouge his eye to demonstrate my (supposed) skills.

On the other hand, as someone who grapples regularly now, I find that people, if anything, overreact to strikes in casual training, because, when it’s not really life or death, even a black eye or a bloody lip is a pretty big deal.

Anyway, what do you do about strikes being too dangerous to practice? I think you need a mixed strategy. If you simply pull all your punches, you train to pull your punches. If you always wear padded gloves, you train to punch in padded gloves. You can get around this by training against the focus mitts without gloves, sparring hard with gloves, and sparring with grappling and pulled punches. No one set of bad habits becomes fully ingrained.

Leave a Reply