Monday, March 20, 2006

Low Strikes

This weekend I browsed the excellent Dog Brothers website to view their video clips. I get asked questions about things people see on there from time to time, so I thought I should refresh my memory and see what is new. For anyone who is not familiar with the Dog Brothers, they promote a highly realistic version full-contact stick fighting, the closest thing to street reality that can be practiced. Under the direction of Marc Denny, they have developed a very comprehensive format of training that incorporates elements from many martial arts, ranging from FMA to Silat, Muay Thai/Krabi Krabong and Brazilian Jujitsu.

The initial reason I was viewing clips was to look at knee shots. My first FMA training was back around 1978, from a guy named Bob Flores who grew up with Leo Gaje on Negros, Philippines. He taught me a Pekiti Tirsia drill that included a knee strike. When I first got to Stockton in 1985, I showed this to a couple of advanced students who scoffed at the attack, even though we have our low angles (#9 and #11) in Serrada. Their reasoning was that they would take the hit to the knee in exchange for delivering one to the head; better to crawl away from your downed opponent than vice versa.

I’ve since encountered that response many times, and while it has the ring of truism, I’ve always felt it a bit glib. It depreciates the value of timing and deception. Any technique can succeed if done right, or fail if done inappropriately. It also looks past the value of a strike – any strike - to be effective.

It is not uncommon in martial arts, and I include boxing, to see a seemingly innocuous blow end a fight, while powerfully delivered shots are absorbed with little effect. A blow can be delivered with full intent and strength but be off by a tiny margin in target, timing or angle, while I’ve heard Cacoy Canete talk of incidental taps in training that caused injuries. These bring to mind Yoda’s saying to young Luke Skywalker: “No try; DO!” Hard shots often are too contrived whereas something thrown naturally and un-self-consciously might engage one’s innate resources more fully.

Whatever the case, though, a good shot is a good shot, and anything that can hurt enough is a respectable target. A strategy I learned from Samoan fighters is to strike to the feet. This may not be a fight-stopper by itself, but it is useful for slowing down big, fast, powerful guys and expands the field of target opportunity by making them defend more space, akin to throwing a long pass in football to stretch the field underneath. Sonny Umpad is another source who’s taught me about this strategy.

Limb destruction is a cornerstone of FMA, and the armbar is a staple in every martial art not playing by restricted rules. The knee might not be as common a target for hand/weapon oriented arts, but conversely it is more vulnerable by element of surprise, and perhaps not as well defended by one not well versed in low strikes or street kicking arts.

There are a couple of good examples of effective knee shots on the Dog Brothers clips. In “Dogzilla’s First Day” he takes a nerve strike from Marc Denny to the back of the leg. The effect is instantaneous. On the “Dog Brothers Promo Clip” a guy gets his kneecap split; fight over. In neither case did the person delivering the strike take a significant hit back. Both got in cleanly, and getting out was simplified by the fact that the person hit was reacting to a new reality.

I’ve experienced firsthand the numbing effect of a hit to the nerves in the back of the knee, and in the course of life I’ve had a couple of painful bruises to the kneecap. While the degree to which individuals react to pain may vary, one cannot dismiss something just because you think it will not work on you, a dangerous illusion in which to indulge. Often our blind spots work two ways; what we can’t do, we think can’t be done. If you don’t think it can work, you won’t learn how, reinforcing the belief it isn’t useful.

Interestingly, it seems to work well to hit someone with what he uses against you. Our choice of targeting is a window to what we believe to be effective. If we think it will work on someone else, that is an internalized belief. On some level we respect that target because we wouldn’t want to be hit there ourselves.

Examples of psychological reversal happen in all sports. In the recent NCAA basketball postseason, Cal hit a big shot but North Carolina nailed their own similar 3 pointer 12 seconds later. Both sides described this as the turning point in the game. Cal thought it had momentum but was deflated immediately, shifting the flow of energy to the other team.

In the movie “Game of Death,” the opening of the fight between Bruce Lee and Dan Inosanto provides a classic of this strategy. Dan hits Bruce with a surprise shot, and while he’s boasting, Bruce smacks him back with the same thing, silencing him with not just the action but also the attitude behind it.

It’s surprising to me how many of the younger generation of martial artists have never taken the time to watch Bruce Lee’s films. I think this is a shame because he was such a dynamic presence and a phenomenal martial artist. Even if his film work was exaggerated for the camera, they are teaching vehicles for the arts, demonstrating values on a multitude of levels.

Some of this lack of awareness of Bruce’s work is perhaps due to the passage of time; these are older films and the hype is gone. There are other issues at work as well, so for those of you who have not seen Bruce Lee movies, hie thee to whatever video emporium still carries them and watch while you still can. They ain’t classics for nuthin’.

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