Let’s talk about fighting. I’m not talking about kumite. I’m not talking about MMA. I’m not even talking about self defense. I’m talking about all out, blood , guts and gore, do or die hand to hand combat. I’m talking about fighting for your life.

First of all let me say that I’m not advocating barroom brawls or street fighting. First of all I hope that as trained martial artists you’ll be too aware of your surroundings and developing situations to get caught up in something like that. I tell my students that if they find themselves involved in an actual fight that something is missing in their training. Either I have failed them or they lost focus and allowed things to get out hand and out of their control.

Fighting should always be your last choice. You should fight only when all else has failed. Avoidance should always be your first choice. Avoid being in places where a physical confrontation is likely. Avoid situations that might evolve into a violent incident. Walk away if you can. Run if necessary. It isn’t an act of cowardice to remove yourself from a threat. Desecration is still the better part of valor. A saying that we used as kids in the ‘hood’; “It’s better to be a live chicken than a dead duck”.

Learning to defuse or deescalate a possible violent situation is important and should be taught along with actual fighting techniques. Diplomacy trumps warfare.

Threat recognition is also necessary. Realizing the presence of a threatening situation and then assessing the level of threat will help you decide on a response. You don’t want to kill someone for trying to grab your arm. Beating a helpless drunk to death isn’t self defense it’s either manslaughter or murder. By the way, you won’t be able to decide which. That decision will rest with the legal system.

Okay, you tried all of the above but you find yourself in a life and death situation. How do you survive such a bad case scenario? Good question. I would ask, do you have the skills and the tenacity to survive such an eventuality. Have you really prepared yourself to deal with all out violence?

First of all you don’t have time to prepare yourself for sudden violence. You carry into that kind of situation only what is readily at hand. You generally won’t have time to procure a weapon. If it isn’t in your hand and ready to use it won’t be available to you. You won’t have time to get that tactical folder out of your pocket and deploy it in an unexpected attack. You won’t be able to put together a game plan. You will either be ready or you won’t. You’ll live or die by former preparation or the lack thereof. You can’t use what you don’t have.

My dear friend, for actual combat, all martial arts aren’t created equal. If your martial art doesn’t prepare you for sudden, unexpected violence and give you the mindset necessary to survive a violent confrontation you’re not prepared for the deck to their advantage. They’ll try to catch you flat footed and unaware. You won’t have time to think. You will either react or you won’t. Your survival may depend on which. If the fighter is unarmed you might be able to absorb the first strike but if he is armed you can’t afford that luxury. Unless it is an act of sudden rage or an act of passion a person won’t attack you unless he is pretty sure of his success. He’s thought the entire thing out. You won’t generally have that luxury.

Okay, taking all of that into consideration how do you survive such a situation? You might also ask me who am I to instruct you in real life violence. If you know me you won’t be asking that question but for you who don’t know me let me qualify myself.

Fighting For You Life

First off I have fifty five years in the martial arts. I’ve live much of my life in one of the most violent parts of one of the roughest cities in our nation. I grew up in the inner city or ghettos (as they used to call them) of the south side of Chicago. I didn’t learn to fight as a hobby. I learned to fight for survival. After constant confrontations with the gangs in my neighborhood I became gang related. I was a vicious street fighter and was considered too crazy to fight by most of my peers. I was violent and aggressive. I experienced death, violence and combat both in the streets and in the military. I’ve worked in security, on the fringes of law enforcement, as a bouncer, bodyguard and in personal security. I’ve studied both the classical martial arts and reality based combat. I’ve worked in mental health and with the Cook County penal system. I worked in psych and have worked on Psych wards in hospitals and mental health facilities as well as with the ‘criminally insane’ (probably not politically correct) in prison settings. I may not be the greatest authority on the subject but I do know fighting and combat. That being said let’s get back to the subject at hand.

You don’t really win a fight. You either survive it or you don’t. No-one really wins a fight. Ask a soldier who has come out of combat safely if he came out unscathed. Every soldier who suffers PTSD wasn’t physically wounded or injured. Combat will effect a moral person however successful his efforts prove to be. Not that you’ll have to worry about coming out of a fight without being bruised, hurt or wounded. If you fight a determined attacker depend on getting hurt. Adrenalin will help. You generally won’t be too aware of pain in the heat of a battle. That will come later. However if you are aware of being hurt in the midst of your struggle you won’t have time to concern yourself with it. You won’t have the luxury of stepping back and licking your wounds. You’ll have to fight through the pain and even embrace and use it. Pain should spur you on to greater effort not discourage you.

Fights aren’t won by defensive efforts. Fighting isn’t self defense. Fighting is combat and combat is ninety percent aggression. If you aren’t at least as aggressive as your attacker you will lose the confrontation. You have to attack and take the fight to him. You’ll have to be vicious and merciless in your attempt to survive. You can’t fight moving backwards. You have to press the attack with total commitment. Consider, that’s what you’ll be confronted with. Combat is thirty percent ability and seventy percent tenacity. You have to refuse to be a victim. Refuse to lose.

I don’t want to make you think that your time in the dojo isn’t wasted. You can’t exercise skill and abilities that you don’t have. You have to hone those skills until they are instant reaction. They must become muscle memory. Knowing a technique won’t help you if you have to think about it. That type of ability comes from realistic training and constant repetition.

Fancy techniques won’t work in the streets. Those jumping, spinning and flying techniques will very probably be useless in combat and might very well get you killed. For the most part you won’t be able to use those fancy techniques anyway. In the stress and excitement of combat your fine motor skills will be negligible to none existent. Gross motor motion and natural reaction will serve you best in a combative situation. Those types of techniques should make up the majority of your fighting system. Also, having a few core techniques that apply themselves well to a variety of attacks will be more practical. Knowing a lot of techniques is good if you are an instructor but in actual combat too much knowledge slows reaction time. In combat less is more.

I believe in the KISS method of combat. No, that doesn’t mean to love your attacker into submission though if you fellas are attacked by a beautiful woman… But then that’s for another discussion. You might want to refer to my article, ‘Combat for Lovers’ to help you in such a scenario. By the KISS method I’m referring to simplicity. Avoid complex techniques. Matter of fact you might not want to think in terms of techniques. You’ll be fighting not dancing. In a combat situation violence and aggression is key.

I teach both martial art and self defense/combat classes. The two are distinctly different. A lot of beginning students are too squeamish for my gut bucket approach to combat. Fighting is bloody and brutal. If you aren’t prepared to hurt, injure, maim and even kill an attacker you are in affect bringing a psychological knife to a gun fight. You are sitting yourself up to be hurt or killed yourself. Fighting requires total commitment. Kindness and compassion has no place in life and death combat. You will have to be willing to do whatever you have to do to survive.

If you want to be able to fight you will have to train to fight. Fighting ability doesn’t happen by accident. Fights are won in the dojo, dojang, kwoon or gym. You hone your ability, weapons, tenacity and killer instinct in the gym. You can’t wait until you’re caught in a life threatening situation to conjure up the tools for survival. Preparation doesn’t guarantee success but it greatly improves your odds. Your advantage over your opponent, providing you bring the basic elements necessary in any fight, is your superior training and condition. You have to train realistically. Kata is beautiful and useful for perfecting a martial art. Sparring and sport karate is nice but please understand martial arts aren’t combat. They’re just that, arts. They give you some of the tools that may translate into combat but if you are going to be able to fight you will have to train to fight. Then, at some juncture you will have to fight. You don’t know what you’ll do in such a situation unless you challenge yourself. You’ll have to get the occasional split lip, bloody nose and black eye. You won’t learn to fight by point sparring. Contact. Pain. Bumps bruises, and pain are all elements of real training. I sound a little bit like Count Dante, don’t I? No coincidence there, my friends. A major part of my training was rooted in those elements. My lineage involved real combat training.

Lastly let me say that you want to able to fight if you fall or are thrown or pushed to the ground but if you find yourself on the ground you don’t want to choose to stay there. Staying on the ground in a street fight will very probably get you killed. Wolves tend to run in pack. Chances are your assailant will have friends who would like nothing better than to kick your teeth through the back of your neck. Brazilian jiu jitsu, the ne waza of judo and MMA ground techniques work better in controlled situations. They should never be your techniques of choice. Fighting isn’t a sport. Depend on you basics. Basics work. All you instructors remember the KISS method. Keep it simple sempai. The same go to you peons. The rule of thumb is the same for all. Simple and direct with total commitment equals success. I hope so, anyway.

God bless you my brethren. Train hard and go with God.

Rev. Dr. Donald Miskel, ThD, DCC, DMA MDiv.