Monday, September 22, 2008

Striking vs. Grappling

Do you train in karate or some related style? How often do you work ground techniques at your school? Most karate students train on a traditional wooden deck, so if some rolling or grappling moves are required, somebody is recruited to go into the back room to pull out some small cheesy mat to work out on. Some basic takedowns and rolls are shown and then the obligatory mat disappears for another three or four months. At least that's been my experience. Karate is simply not about ground techniques and never has been. Actually, this is surprising given the history of tegumi (Okinawan wrestling) which actually predates karate, yet never influenced karate's development.

In karate, certain techniques taken from kata do resemble jiu-jitsu moves, but you'll find none of that in a sportive karate match. From what I've seen karateka don't like to be grabbed in any way when sparring. Most people - including black belts - don't really respond properly to this maneuver, despite endless repetitions of bunkai or self-defense drills. Sport and reality tend to be mutually exclusive within the karate realm.

Longtime columnist Dave Lowry once suggested that karate techniques can never be practiced realistically. There's a certain amount of truth to this, as strikes, particularly to vital areas, are taught to be pulled without hurting the opponent. In arts such as judo, Lowry explains, a hip throw can be executed full force without splattering the other guy. In this way, the judoka can come to appreciate a realistic sense of close quarter combat that cannot be fully realized by the karate practitioner. This could be one reason grapplers usually prevailed against strikers in the early years of MMA matches. The following is an old clip featuring Royce Gracie of Brazilian jiu-jitsu against some hapless kung fu guy:



A couple of points to consider:

  • Ground techniques and multiple assailants don't mix.

  • Speaking from experience most street fights do not go to the ground.

I'm not suggesting that an altercation that goes to the ground is out of the question just because I don't want it to happen that way. The truth is that I've invested many years in karate, a standup style, and the prospect of learning the ground at this point doesn't sound too appealing. I do have a friend who holds black belt ranks in Isshinryu karate, jiu-jitsu and judo (acquired in that order) who confides that if ever assaulted he would be inclined to fall back on his jiu-jitsu/judo skills, but that's him. Again, karate does include a variety of grappling-like skills that are highly effective in a standup fashion.

Karate, like most martial arts, were developed on the premise that your assailant is most likely a brutish thug who has no idea how to fight. This is a pretty good bet, but if you run across some drunken smartass who fancies himself a grappler you may be in for a rough time. Or maybe not. Jim Advincula, who began his training in Isshinryu karate on Okinawa in 1958, tells a story of how someone stormed into his school one night demanding to know why grappling wasn't included in the curriculum. Only when the intruder received a hiza tsui (knee-strike) to the face after a failed attempt at a leg lunge attack did he understand. He was lucky, it could have been much worse. As the saying goes, God protects fools, drunks and children.

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10 Comments:

Blogger Lizzie said...

"Karate is simply not about ground techniques and never has been." I totally disagree with that. I know that most karate schools just teach standup fighting and some takedowns. However, the very good karate schools teach their students how to grapple. Most karate schools don't teach what MMA teaches. Most karate (TMA) schools can't defend themselves from street fights because their opponents are too unpredictable. Most karateka who fight in tournaments and people to fight in the ring (UFC) cannot defend themselves because sports teaches them very bad habits and to go by the rules. There are no rules in a street fight. Most karate schools, just focus on kata and bunkai, that’s it. My first school was like that and I knew I couldn't defend myself. Good karate schools have some type of MMA training to teach how to defend themselves from getting attacked on the street.

I train in Goju-Ryu. Every Tuesday night, I go to our sparring and grappling class. We are taught combinations with punching and kicking with standup. We go through drills with our partners, like parrying a jab, stepping in, and jabbing them in the face. Some days, we work on takedowns and throws. Most karateka won't know how to react if someone actually grabs their legs for a takedown. Probably, they won't know how to sprawl right away and keep their weight on their opponent's head and shoulders. No offense, but you would get your butt handed to you if you went down to the ground with a proficient grappler no matter how good you are at standup. Most likely you would be taken to the ground, like that Kung Fu guy. That jujitsu guy was under control of that Kung Fu guy the whole match. He could have ended the match in a minute or two when they went on the ground. However, he wanted to work on the Kung Fu guy for a little while.

I love grappling because it's where I'm not limited to my bad balance and coordination. I can feel the openings instead of seeing them. From learning how to spar and grapple, I’m much better prepared to defend myself from a street fight. With sparring, I learn how to take the punches and kicks without getting overly focused on the pain.

If you were taught how to fight dirty and not tournament fighting, I'm sure that you can defend yourself from the average Joe. I'm sure that you can defend from that big round punch. However, how do you defend yourself from the guy who tries to football tackle you? What if he succeeds to throw you on the ground and get on top on your chest throwing all kinds of punches? How would you defend and get out of that?

2:00 AM  
OpenID markstraining.com said...

I think that Karate is best used agianst street encounters, where the opponent is not likely to know how to grapple. Also fighting on the ground is never a good place to be in the street as your opponents friend will be stomping all over you whilst your on the ground.

However I think it is wise to learn some ground fighting in order that if you do find yourself there in a confrontation, you can easily and quickly get up. Worrying about locks and chokes need not matter, but knowing how to get your opponent off from on top of you is vital. My experience has shown me that if you do not know ground fighting, you struggle from this position, use up a lot of energy very quickly and generally cant get up, and in the street this could be fatal.

6:59 AM  
Blogger Charles James said...

Hi, John

Wonderful post, absolutely hit on valid points. I agree with all you posted and had to chuckle a bit watching the video.

This always happens when someone decides that one style is better than another.

As you said about AJA Sensei, it can depend on the person and not what he practices. The right mind can beat any style of any martial art.

10:00 AM  
Blogger Bob Patterson said...

Even in the schools that cover some sort of defense against ground, the karate or taekwondo person is still at a disadvantage against a grapler.

If the majority of your time is spent striking you'll never develop the same level of expertise and a ground person. Same goes for a ground person who never learns how to strike.

The best you can hope for is that your school covers some ground basics: What to do if taken down and more importantly, how to avoid it.

The other option is to spend some time in an art that works this range of combat. Or others like krav maga, Jeet Kune Do, hapkido, etc., that cover all ranges.

~BCP

10:18 AM  
Anonymous Ikigai said...

Nice post John, I enjoyed it. The question of grappling in traditional karate is 'one of the big ones' and is certainly worthy of discussion.

I would comment that tegumi did, in fact, influence the development of karate. Tegumi, unlike Okinawan Sumo, involved grappling with "unorthodox" attacks such as eye gauges, pinches, twisting of small joints, etc. These concepts have been de-emphasized due to an increased focus on sport karate and kyusho (vital point striking), but still exist.

Tegumi elements where karateka take a fight to the ground can be found most obviously in kata Gojushiho and Kusanku.

On a side note - A lot of early body hardening techniques were also designed with grappling in mind. Take the Nigiri Game. These "gripping jars" improve grip strength for grabbing, twisting, and unbalancing. These are key elements in close quarter combat.

Those notes aside, your argument regarding modern karate's de-emphasis on grappling and ground game definitely stands.

2:00 PM  
Blogger Blackbeltmama said...

Great post John. Like you, I am not at all interested in learning grappling, especially after my injury.

I get so tired of hearing people say that if a karate-ka goes up against a grappler, the katate-ka is SOL. That's why I especially like your knee to the face remark at the end. It may be naive and presumptuous of me to say it, but if someone tries to take me to the ground, they're going to have a hell of a time doing so.

Like you, I also disagree that street fights always go to the ground. As a karate-ka, I think that only one person is going to the ground and it surely isn't going to me if I'm trained properly and can execute.

9:43 PM  
Blogger John Vesia said...

Lizzie:

"Karate is simply not about ground techniques and never has been." I totally disagree with that. I know that most karate schools just teach standup fighting and some takedowns. However, the very good karate schools teach their students how to grapple. Most karate schools don't teach what MMA teaches.

Let's get some definitions in order. Not all grappling techniques fall under the umbrella of groundwork . Many aspects of bunkai - with its emphasis on joint locks and such could be defined as grappling, I suppose. So we're still talking about karate here. But if we include ground game - or to use a better term - submission style wrestling - then we are not talking about karate anymore.

If you train in traditional karate plus something akin to MMA, BJJ or whatever, that's fine. But that's something in addition to karate, other than karate.

No offense, but you would get your butt handed to you if you went down to the ground with a proficient grappler no matter how good you are at standup.

No offense taken, but I'm left wondering where this comes from. Did you actually read my entire post, or just the convenient parts to make some point. Did I say or even imply that I thought I was impervious to an attack from a "proficient" grappler?

I stated throughout the post the advantages to knowing a grappling system. This could be found in my references to Dave Lowry's writings, my friend who trains in a number of styles (and runs an MMA school) and the video of Royce Gracie.

There are pros and cons to all styles, so the advantages to cross-training in styles is obvious. But for me, I just do karate, and that suits me just fine.
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Marks:

...fighting on the ground is never a good place to be in the street as your opponents friend will be stomping all over you whilst your on the ground.

That's what I'm thinking. Ground fighting is good to know, but each range of fighting has its limitations.
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Thanks Charles.

As you said about AJA Sensei, it can depend on the person and not what he practices. The right mind can beat any style of any martial art.

I agree. Well put.
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Bob:

The other option is to spend some time in an art that works this range of combat. Or others like krav maga, Jeet Kune Do, hapkido, etc., that cover all ranges.

I've trained and sparred with people with eclectic backgrounds such as JKD, and I will say they are formidable. There's alot to be said about knowing all the ranges of fighting.
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Welcome aboard Ikigai.

...tegumi did, in fact, influence the development of karate.
Tegumi elements where karateka take a fight to the ground can be found most obviously in kata Gojushiho and Kusanku.


Thanks for the info on tegumi. I didn't know that. I'm not familiar with Gojushiho, but there are some crouching and low-to-the-ground moves in kusanku that make it unique in the Isshinryu system. (Ikigai - the valued life or life worth living? Or maybe a similar word? I'm too lazy to look it up now.)
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Thanks BBM.

I get so tired of hearing people say that if a karate-ka goes up against a grappler, the katate-ka is SOL.

Yes! I just wanted to bring some balance - and a little dignity - to karateka.

It may be naive and presumptuous of me to say it, but if someone tries to take me to the ground, they're going to have a hell of a time doing so.

Ditto. (SOL.. it took a few seconds to sink in. I had a good laugh ; )

1:16 AM  
Blogger Lizzie said...

What does SOL mean? I can't figure it out.

First, I called sparring and grappling karate because it's taught at my karate school. I thought if it wasn't Goju-Ryu karate, my Sensei wouldn't be teaching it. Second, I did read your posts a couple times. From what I was getting through your post, you were saying that there is no need to know how to grapple because it won't come up in a street situation. I asked those questions at the end of my last comment because I wanted to put you in a what if situation where normal karate doesn't teach you how to get out of it. I mean what if you land on your back during a street fight and you have no time to get up because he's already coming after you with a really hard over hand punch? Karate doesn't teach you how to defend from these types of situations if it's all standup. Third, I wanted to say that you would be at a disadvantage against a guy who knows standup and ground work. As soon you end up on the ground, you will lose. So, I'm an advocate about learning both ends of the spectrum. By learning how to grapple, one can defend him or herself better than just learning standup.

3:26 AM  
Blogger John Vesia said...

Lizzie:

From what I was getting through your post, you were saying that there is no need to know how to grapple because it won't come up in a street situation.

No need? It won't come up? Never. I did say:

"Speaking from experience most street fights do not go to the ground. I'm not suggesting that an altercation that goes to the ground is out of the question just because I don't want it to happen that way. "

My experiences are what they are, and admittedly most of them were acquired quite a while ago.

I don't normally reside in the land of "what ifs" and if you've read some of my articles you'll see that I try to write from an experiential point of view. I think it gives my material a certain degree of credibility.

Bear in mind that so much has been said and written in favor of grappling - and rightly so - that I just wanted to throw in my two cents from the point of a striker. That's why I included the story about Sensei Advincula. Still, I really thought my article was fairly balanced.

For a definition of SOL go to urbandictionary.com.

2:14 PM  
Blogger Steve said...

John, I'm glad you found the time to post again.

9:56 PM  

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