So you want to learn how to fight?
How boxing, wrestling, the Gracie’s and Bruce Lee can help you to get started.
How do you do this? Well you start at the beginning. What beginning well short of being able to go back to mythic imaginations of prehistory to the more credible depictions of the ancients, let us perhaps start in a time closer to now.
Let us commence with what we have ready and available media access to, how about boxing, amateur wrestling, Bruce Lee and the Gracie’s. Now while this is a bias in the favour of the above mentioned and ignores other lesser famous pioneers and innovators, forsakes other combat sports and depicts the above mentioned in a more positive light it is simply an instructive analysis for one to commence with. What you do with the information or after you commence your journey, is up to you and your own experiences.
Why boxing? Of all the combat sports boxing has been the most consistently lucrative and culturally most celebrated as far as its combatants go in their considerations as being the meanest man on the planet. Now while many MMAers, wrestlers (real) and kick fighters would dispute this, it is a generalised consensus. Few men could have beaten Jack Dempsey, Joe Louis, Muhammad Ali or Mike Tyson when they were atop of the heavyweight mound in their respective eras and those that perhaps could have are obscure unheralded and unfortunately did not nor have not proven themselves to the World. It was after all said that the heavyweight champion of the World could beat any other man on the planet. So back to boxing. Now beyond the old bare knuckle prize rules and the earlier inceptions of the sport, the modern fistic art has evolved and developed into a nuanced craft filled with subtle variations and styles with its own fundamentals of form that are consistent so long as human beings ply this sport.
The sport offers one to value defence and mobility as much as they desire offence and power, it allows its practioners the ability to adapt and adjust to different styles and sized foes within the violent parameters of its world. It is also transparent, in that its practioners get inside of a very competitive arena and perform under extreme circumstances so that the rest of us may value their methods and abilities in an honest and factual way. This was not possible for most main stream viewers to do outside of boxing until the popular emergence of kickboxing and MMA through the 1980s and 1990s. And it could be argued that neither of those have truly developed their own fundamentals to the refined sense that boxing has over its century plus of modern competition.
The footwork alone in boxing is something that most could benefit from in their journeys into the world of fight scholarship, ability to move from side to side and back and forth while simply throwing punches is hard enough for many to learn. If one cannot even advance, retreat or move laterally while avoiding or throwing a jab then they may struggle when the other violent realities of fighting are that may be inbound such as kicks or a tackling foe are present. Boxing also allows one to appreciate game plans and tactics, variations of style, tempo, timing, rhythm and the jazz of violence. Boxing also helps one to value their body and mind as implements of destruction. While many veer in one or the other direction too much at the expense of the other, boxing helps one to appreciate that there is more to combat than simply fitness-conditioning. Furthermore, it will teach you how to punch well and often and for most combative interactions, this can usually be enough. It also helps you to feel what it is like to hit someone, not something, but another person while also appreciating what it is like to have someone else hit you. Feedback that is of absolute importance but of neglected value in some, get rich quick, er I mean martial arts schemes.
Should one wish to learn how to punch, how to avoid hits, to counter but most of all to simply be able to move then boxing is perhaps the best purist combat sport that one can come across for all of us to adhere to. Furthermore, the internet alone is filled with decades of incredible combatants mixing it up against other boxers so that we may watch and learn, analyse and observe. The prevalent of so much data allows us to pour over on every level the very subtle actions of the combatants as the move, slip or punch. And just as most fights begin with a jab, so should we when it comes to our own personal journey in learning how to fight and boxing is the ultimate jab of information. And if you wish to learn how to box or some boxing, you can fact check. If the person has not or does not fight, let alone spar hard for you to observe, then move along. No point learning to swim from someone scared of the water.
Wrestling is ancient and universal, near all cultures have legends and tales that derive from the exploits of a wrestler or wrestlers. Wrestling allows one the abilities to seize, constrict, lift, throw and pin another being while also granting one the assets to prevent such from happening to them. As a friend of mine once put it “If I want to fight a man, I shall box him. But if I wish to fight a bull, I will use my wrestling.” It was with the value to the wrestler’s abilities that Alexander the Great’s armies trained, Legends of Myth and Pseudo history was built upon and so much is celebrated from Mongolia, to Greece to Senegal in culture and sporting excellence.
The ability to change levels and move wisely while engaged in high speed scrambles with intuition and coordinated athleticism is one of the greatest benefits that wrestling offers a combatant. Having a feel for another person while they resist being seized while also knowing what it is like to have someone attempt to wrest and pull at you, to pin you and hope to dominate you in a violent way. While the other grappling sports have their own nuances it is wrestling that is arguably at the top of the heap as far as refinement and consistency goes in training and application. The ability to take someone to the ground and deny them such attempts on you is a tremendous skill set that one can benefit from.
The ability at controlling another while also denying them control of you is important to not only life or death situations but those in a guardian or careers position. It can afford you the skill and attributes to control an enraged loved one without harming them while also allowing you the knowledge to lift a body that may be concussed so that you can remove them from further danger. Wrestling’s obsession with dangerous throws and the pin were born in battle, the pin being that it would allow a warrior to hold the other down so that they may then insert their blade into them with an assured death run from cold steel. Whereas the throws were emphasised so that one could kill or wound their foes with horrific high impact throws, anyone that has been supplexed can appreciate the violent consequences that may befall you should it occur on rocks, cement or broken ground. And the conditioning that one would gain from wrestling, not grappling, but wrestling is second to none.
Thus leading us to what we should do once we land on the ground, whether by choice or not. The Gracie family exploded onto the scene in popular note during the mid-1980s when many martial artists boldly accepted ‘the Gracie Challenge’. A challenge that had been extended decades before by the older generations of the family most notably Helio and Carlson, it was however in 1993 when UFC 1 was used as a marketing tool to help sell the Gracie brand of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu to the wide World via its supremacy in the arena of style vs style no holds barred combat. Now while the Gracie’s are not necessarily the best at pure BJJ, least of all the modern sport BJJ derivation, nor are they even the best NHB-MMA fighters there is however no denying that period in the 1990s when the brothers and cousins dominated most of the NHB platforms with their distinct style of grappling. There was for that brief period in time a Gracie and BJJ dominated era of no rules fighting that perhaps will never be emulated again by any other family or ‘style’ of combatants.
The BJJ that Rickson, Royce, Royler, Renzo and so on utilised in challenge and NHB matches used very basic strikes, take downs but ultimately a solid foundation in submissions and ground positions that allowed physically weaker people the ability to best and submit strong and violent opponents. The fact not one but numerous Gracie’s proved this time and time again, sure it was limited in overall application, it was however instrumental in introducing to the wider public the importance of the clinch, submissions and ground fighting as far as combat goes. This was when the wider world was obsessed with ninja’s, death touches and Van Damme’s bulging muscles and kicks. When magazine’s dominated opinions and apparent expertise, long before the internet forums and next generation of expert trolls found there within. And while the Gracie’s may not be as celebrated or feared as they once were their impact was immense. Watching old footage of them over power and catch their foes with clever and fundamental motions and techniques could serve to help widen one’s combative perspective while also help to reign in the overly complicated pollution that modern grappling arts have in some ways meandered into, while forsaken their violent points of origins.
The BJJ utilised in this era contrasts immensely to most BJJ that is found in many schools that obsess with the sport of BJJ itself. While many BJJ schools use the popularity of MMA as an advertising attachment or the assumption that BJJ has some guaranteed role in actual MMA training, the Gracie era of BJJ was specific to challenge matches and Vale Tudo fights. So while Lutre Livre combatants are not lingering on the local beaches, scores of actual bare chested fighters do and the gi dominated complex nuances now found in BJJ is a perverted pollution of a more effective and fight relevant self defence system. Sport BJJ is a fine sport, that is certain. Just as is Olympic Tae Kwon Do is for kicks, and just as Olympic TKD has eroded much of earlier concepts of the kick dominated sport I do not see many Muay Thai or K-1 kick fighters going to their local generic sport TKD dojang to help them with their more violent craft. Just as most sport orientated BJJ schools, despite their promises, have little or no relevance to NHB or street self-defence. The Gracie’s and their era of BJJers at least did and appreciated a take down and strikes on the ground. Furthermore, none to many BJJers will MMA spar let alone accept a Gracie style challenge, a sad irony considering the origins of the sports popularity.
As a contrast to the relative simple and direct methods of the Gracie’s we shall look at the much vaunted, adored and mythological Bruce Lee. A man who has influenced and inspired people in film, culture, martial arts and the combat sports in a great many ways. Now while the legend of Bruce Lee supposes that he could beat any man that ever lived or that he would dominate the modern UFC simply because of his innovative approach of transcending styles or defying the sacredness of martial arts doctrine. Bruce Lee is supposed to have been able to out box a prime Muhammad Ali, defeat Superman or even secretly reside with Elvis in splendid obscure retirement, all of that being said let us briefly look at the human being, that was Bruce Lee. Despite the many claims, Lee seldom had many fights, relative to many others who are celebrated as actual fighters (read fighter, not martial artist). The bouts he did have are obscure and occurred as challenge matches, whether they were street duels, on set blasts with stunt men or a good old fashion dojo storm, the days when martial artists had the balls to fight other martial artists. These fights that occurred were not against accomplished fighters nor are the bouts that we have the privilege of viewing.
Bruce Lee’s personal journey was one of philosophical exploration and physical cultivation, which most of us could only ever hope to come close to emulating in our own personal ways. Beyond the demi god status awarded to the late great Bruce Lee one needs to ignore the celluloid depictions and theatrics of his on screen performances and divulge in his inked and spoken words. Those intimate and public flickers, mere fragments of his individual totality. Bruce Lee was a philosopher that related so perfectly to combat sport-martial artists in a way that his lessons are tragically misconstrued or all but over looked.
While many adherent devotees boast to walk in his steps, they do so as emulators, while hoping to copy his motions, mimic is voice or quote him adnauseum that often in many ways actually defile the very concepts and principles that he often hoped to convey. Instead he has taken on the persona of a prophet for religious die hards. Bruce Lee’s greatest lesson was not so much in his techniques and break downs of various methods of attacks but in his conceptualisation of training and violence. Much like Lao Tsu, Musashi and Sun Tzu, Bruce Lee another Oriental philosopher derived his perspectives from many sources and cultivated these various concepts and principles so as to formulate his own, every living personal philosophy. Here in is the lesson.
Bruce Lee and other scholar warriors advocated both the physical, mental and spiritual (can be non-theological in meaning) self in the hopes of expanding them while also seeing a perfect harmony for them all. This is done in knowing oneself and in finding peace in a storm, calm amidst calamity, peace during violence and to be fluid and like water in both action and thought. Now while all of those sound splendid and esoterically beautiful they are more akin to being principled philosophies for one to lead their every moment by.
So while these philosophical principles may be both broad and specific they can also be utilised and embraced with such. The ability to adapt and to flow is one of tremendous benefit in combat as well as in life. It is something that can only be practiced with conceptual understand before it is employed in a pragmatic setting. So unless one does not believe in such concepts, then understand them it is near impossible for them to find a physical reality for them. Bruce Lee died at 33, prematurely and very early in his philosophical and personal quests in life. His lessons and concepts are broken and incomplete. They are assumptions derived from his many pages that we are fortunate to have access to but they are still, segments and broken slithers. To put all of it together and hope to create a collage of a man’s mind is arrogant and naïve. To build one’s own personal martial arts or philosophy on this incomplete set of teachings to the point of creating a doctrine really defies the very essence of that very doctrines message. As Bruce Lee has often been quoted as saying “Be Like Water”, we perhaps sadly missed out on a man who was yet to appreciate the virtues of being “like steam” instead. That is for none of us to know, so while we can appreciate the power of the sliding side kick or the gimmickry of the one-inch punch, it is that which the great man’s mind delivered is of most utility to those seeking a philosophy in combat.
In short when some one say’s that they ‘do Jeet Kune Do’ or fight like Bruce Lee, they are perhaps concentrating on the finger too much and missing all of that heavenly glory.
What does it all mean?
The above mentioned are suggestions, basic guides. Assume that you live in an age without the internet where books, magazines, television and VHS tapes are all that you have as far as mediums go. With such ‘limited’ sources one still has access to a near infinite amount of source material by which to study and consume so as to help them on their journey as a fighter. With so many multi mediums, hyper speed internet, combative events of all sorts and social media platforms one would have to attempt to be ignorant in their access to knowledge and abilities at observing it and yet here we are. With all of that at our literal fingertips many remain either lost because of too much information or because they are slaves to rigid doctrines and places of formalised instruction. Flawed scholars who cannot even contemplate the infinite journey into knowledge without institutions and formalised education often obscure and inhibit an individual’s abilities at learning and growing. Ignorance is its own indictment, it only harms you and those who rely and trust on you. Should you fold yourself in its comfortable embrace then so be it, but do not pretend that it is because you do not have access to information and resources.
The above mentioned is a simplified starting point, a learned suggestion for which you can hope to commence your own journey as you hope to learn how to fight. You will simply need to start at a beginning and then in time you will better know where to look and what to learn, how to apply and what you need to do in order to adapt. Your own experiences, circumstances and characteristic will help to define and steer you as to which direction you take. What you do with the information, training and experiences is entirely up to you.
As Bruce Lee would say “Simply, be like water” and “Hack away at the unessential”. And ultimately the goal is for you to not emulate and imitate another but to eventually have the ability to innovate so that you know with honesty what does and will work for you under dire and desperate instances of reality. Your goal should simply be about knowing what your objective/s is and are, start simply at a beginning. You want to learn how to actually fight. People are doing this already for you to observe, much has already been laid out before you. Develop your philosophy and goals over time, do not hope to have it all now. Everything worthwhile takes time. Good luck.
Kym Robinson, August 2016