Reflecting upon past experiences, when in various circumstances. I’ve found that due to my smaller stature as compared to most other fighters, to keep competitive when sparring, and to survive in actual confrontations, I have summed up my success in 5 fundamental points.
Footwork and Timing
Mobility is of utmost importance during a confrontation. Mobility is not just motion moving around or bouncing up and down, but it is inclusive of balance, weight transfers, directional changes, distancing, angling, etc. When one’s footwork is smooth, he can use his footwork to misdirect his opponent, set up for advantageous positioning, brace or deflect, and sink in. Footwork also includes what is traditionally called “stances”, as stances taught by traditional schools look static or are not very quickly or easily maneuvered, however, when proper footwork is applied, one will understand the importance of the stances as taught by their art. I will not get more detailed into that, as it should be what your teacher will explain.
Timing is so very important, and I relate it mostly to footwork. During a confrontation or match, both players are in constant motion, to have maximum strength, economy of motion, agility, one has to have proper timing of the feet and hands and body. Without timing or footwork, flailing the arms or legs about will be a monstrous disaster. Timing is best practiced and applied by understanding your own body’s rhythm.
Strength and Endurance
If one doesn’t even have a basic amount of strength, no matter how many times he hits his opponent, it will not end the fight quick enough and there will be danger that he can’t win or even not survive (of course this is counting without an equalizer-weapons). During any martial art training, one has to develop a certain amount of strength so that the technique applied will work on the other person(s) involved. One doesn’t have to be a hulking brute, but strength really matters, no matter what some say. Take for example, if there was an adult who was, weak, and were as strong only as an adolescent child trying to defend himself against someone who had the strength and training of a professional heavyweight boxer, no matter how well he trained to “break bones” it would hardly work, as that person wouldn’t have the minimum amount of strength needed to apply the techniques. Strength also includes the ability to take strong hits. It is an unfortunate reality, but we will all get hit. Some more than others, but we will get hit, and sometimes hit very hard. If our internal body condition is not strong enough, we will be broken down quickly by strong hits. So developing the body’s natural strength is a must.
Endurance and strength go hand in hand. If one has great speed, strength, experience, timing and footwork, but no endurance, he will not be able to last if the fight was more difficult than expected or if there are a number of rounds, opponents, etc. Endurance also plays importance when running or escaping, because in self-defense, if you can’t get away you’ll have to fight, and if you got tired and worn out trying to get away, how could you fight when they catch up to you? Anyway, being able to move while breathing and applying force and not succumbing to fatigue when you need to exert yourself.
Probably one of the most important points. When one has a certain amount of practical experience, he will be able to judge himself correctly, judge the situation properly, and thus be able to handle things well. Whether it is to advance the fight or run away. One that is experienced will also be less surprised and have a quicker recovery time when something goes terribly wrong. Experience I feel is not measured just by the number of fights, but how one changes and adapts after each fight. It is not just how many “wins” but even more, the “failures” that can change one’s understanding and viewpoint of how to fight or defend himself. If in training, one always has the same shortcoming, probably they haven’t used those opportunities or failures to gain an experience, but just “took the hits” and thought they were already doing well. To truly have experience, one must be humble.
The importance of speed can be seen a few ways. Some think that the “fastest” will be better. And I used to think that also when I was younger. Being light weight, I was naturally faster than others and used it to my advantage. However, fighters that are slower and more experienced will still overcome a fighter that is “faster”. In Eskrima for example, we learn that one should strive to be as fast as possible, to move faster than the opponent can react. Overwhelm the opponent so he has no chance to initiate an attack… However in Wing Chun, we learned speed is truly relative. If you have the proper skill and experience, you can slow down the faster opponent to play at your speed or speed them up to the point their technique becomes unreliable. Thus fighters with more experience can control the situation and speed of their opponent’s attacks. So in my experiences, having training to improve one’s speed, but also having the ability to control the other person’s speed is a great combination to have. Going further, speed is even more the “reaction time” of a person, rather than the speed of his punch or kick. For example, a friend of mine and I were sparring a bit. He is quite fast, perhaps faster than me, but as I have more experience in knife sparring than he, his speedy slashes and stabs were set up and controlled by me, so his each reaction was met by my two or three reactions. Thus speed in that match was relative to our experience and techniques.
Finally is willpower. I believe this is the trump card of the 5 keys, because this is the expression of our spirit during the match. If we have the heart not to fail, never yielding nature, and if we can sum up the courage in the time we need it most, then perhaps our will to overcome will be the edge we need to compensate for our other lackings. We all know the many examples of willpower being used to surpass one’s limitations. No need to say further about this. But if one can harness this, he will be able to stand firm when needed. Willpower is directly related to fighting spirit and the will to survive. In a confrontation often when one side sees the drive and willpower of the other exceeds his own, then some changes can start to take place. The one with less will and fighting spirit will begin to make mistakes and either flee or lose.
While these are very simple explanations, I believe most will understand my points. When one has a good base on these 5 keys for fighting, no matter what style he or she is studying, they will get far in their martial art.