Recently I was working out at a gym, hitting a heavy bag. A bit into my workout another guy started hitting the heavy bag next to me. He was obviously a very skilled boxer, and his technique was awesome. Basic boxing is the first thing I teach in the MMA Base, to get practitioners accustomed to distance, position, timing, throwing punches, getting punched at, and so on. But I’m no expert boxer. So this guy next to me was moving and hitting the bag in a way that I’m not able to. He had very cool moves.
We both happened to take a break at the same time, and he complimented me on what I was doing. There was a boxing ring next to us, and I told him, “Well, I wouldn’t want to get in the ring with you!” He replied, “I wouldn’t want to get in the ring with you!” We talked a little more, and figured the best thing for both of us would be to get in the ring for a little sparring, and to share our knowledge. I wanted to get better at what he was doing, and he wanted to get better at what I was doing.
In the first round we limited our light sparring to boxing only. I felt like a 6 year old sparring with an adult competitive boxer. He was able to evade, parry, or cover every punch I threw, and to counter my attacks with awesome counterpunching skill. He gave me some pointers, and showed me the mechanics of some of his footwork and evasive movement.
Then it was time for the second round, where we could add kicks, knees, elbows, and clinch. In this round he felt like the 6 year old. His boxing skills seemed to instantly disappear. In the first round, I couldn’t touch him. In the second round, he couldn’t touch me, and I could hit him at will.
I showed him how he could easily add a few kicks to his toolbox, how he could use knees and elbows in the clinch, how he could defend against kicks and clinch entries, and so on. With his skill in footwork and movement, I figured it would be easy for him to quickly apply that material. And I’m sure he figured it would be easy for me to apply his footwork and evasive movement. Of course, it wasn’t easy for either of us.
When he tried to add kicking and kicking defense, he was too busy thinking to react in real time. And when I tried to add his evasive movements and certain covers, I was too slow to make them work. I went home thinking I had some really cool moves to train and work on.
The next time I met my training partner for practice, we started drilling these new boxing moves. After drilling them for more than an hour, it was time to try them in light sparring. A couple of the techniques worked well, but the one that I thought was the coolest, an evasive technique that combined footwork, body/head movement, and switching leads, didn’t work at all for us. We were too slow, and hadn’t trained it enough. Additionally, compared to our standard high percentage material, even the new techniques that worked didn’t work as well as what we normally used.
High Percentage Techniques
If we wanted to become boxers, then it would make sense to continue training these techniques. But if we prefer to train a mix of techniques that are as efficient and effective as possible for self defense, then it probably doesn’t. Could these new techniques work in self defense? Definitely. But are there higher percentage techniques/movements? I think so.
If you’re training toward a goal (a boxing fight, a karate kata competition, self defense proficiency, etc.), the techniques you should train most are the techniques that have the highest percent chance of achieving your goal. There is an important difference between what is possible and what is probable. Many moves from other systems might look and feel cool to do, but unless your goal is to look cool, your time would be better spent on your high percentage moves.
The difficulty here, especially for a beginner, is knowing which techniques are high percentage and which are not. If my partner and I trained this evasive movement more, I’m sure we’d be able to make it work. Looking at a positive result though, understanding how it would work and where it would put a practitioner if it did work, I think there are better options in most self defense situations. There are probably exceptions. But with limited training time I lean towards focusing most on techniques and training methods that we know are high percentage for self defense. What techniques are those? My website and books are full of them.
With all the training and teaching I’ve done in functional self defense, I still found myself seeing cool moves and temporarily switching my focus to them. There’s nothing wrong with trying something new. If we didn’t we wouldn’t learn anything. But we need to know when to continue and when to switch course, otherwise we may get stuck going down a path that isn’t ideal for us.