Thursday, January 26, 2012

Pale In Comparison

I remember in the late ‘70’s and early ‘80’s a magazine called Inside Karate. One of my favorite sections of the magazine was a recurring feature called Comparative Styles in which five renowned martial arts experts of the time would all show techniques versus a common attack such as a punch or wrist grab.

The thing I found most interesting was that the techniques shown from very diverse arts actually had more in common in their responses than they had differences. This and being a bit of a Bruce Lee fanatic cemented early in my mind that I would study several styles through my life as opposed to only one.

As I started focusing more on real self defense effectiveness and efficiency I really began dissecting how these commonalities in movement were actually a compass pointing in the direction of what really works under the pressure of real attacks and also in combat sport.
There are two major factors that would point me to effective technique; one was if the movement closely resembled Instinctive Untrained Protective or Combative Movement, the other was if three or more distinct cultures’, eras’, or continents’ respective martial arts and combat sports contained identical or extremely similar movements.

This article will focus on the first, Physiological Commonality, criteria. Next month we will look at Cultural Similarities.

A reminder to the reader that the styles and methods represented are not being judged by their effectiveness or street worthiness as that is a matter where only personal experimentation and diligent training are the only way to truly find the answer; they are being presented to show where there are similarities and differences to Instinctive Untrained Protective or Combative responses. So let’s start there.

When untrained humans are attacked their only line of defense is instinctive movement. The human body /mind system is such that it can engage a wide variety of movements and behaviors in order to survive however, there are two root behaviors that form the core of Instinctive Protective Combative Movement they are Extension and Compression.
Extension is the act of moving the hands away from the body, compression is the movement of the hands towards our body. In the photos below you will see me mimicking these two instinctive motions.
                                                    1.Untrained Person being Accosted     

                                    2. Untrained Instinctive Protection From Punch (Extension)
                                  3. Untrained Instinctive Protection From Punch (Compression)

The pictures reflect the two root protective movements as a reflexive action against a punch to the head. Now let’s look at some conventional martial arts and combat sports and explore where these root movements show up.

We will start by looking at two methods that focus extensively on one or the other root movement. That is to say, their tactics favor either extension or compression, while the presence of the other one is negligible or non-existent.

 Most styles of Karate or Taekwondo focus on different variations of Extension.

           4.The Double Knife hand and The Low block from Karate showing Predilection for Extension

In boxing compression is favored when dealing with both high and low punches.

             .5. Boxer’s Crouch Above; Boxer Using Compressed Motion to Defend Head and Body

Keep in mind that the two styles represented above may include an element of the other root movement here and there its just that predominantly they FAVOR Extension or Compression respectively.

Next we will look at different systems that incorporate both extension and compression in a more even manner throughout their tactics.
In Muay Thai, for example you will find both extension and compression in their Protective and Offensive arsenal. Here are a couple of examples

6. From the Fighting Stance the Fighter uses the Frontal Cover(Compression)  V. The  Cross  Above

                 7.Using the Shove (Extension) to Face or Head to Set up The Low Kick In Muay Thai Above

The two motions illustrated above are used frequently in Muay Thai matches and sparring. The frontal cover will easily defend against any straight punches. The shove is used as a follow up to close range work to set up kicks, and also to disengage safely from the Thai Clinch.  It is interesting to note that Thai boxing as a sport has more permissive rules than Karate, Taekwondo, or Boxing. They allow more contact and the use of a greater variety of tools and tactics in training and competition. This appears to be a common factor in the following systems in which the training was originally intended for self defense.

Let’s look at Jeet Kune Do or, more appropriately Jun Fan Gung Fu; which are the actual movements and tactics Bruce Lee explored and employed himself and taught to his students in order to help them understand his Martial Philosophy of Jeet Kune Do.

            8. From the Bai Jong or Ready Stance JFGF uses the Shoulder Stop (Extension) and Cover             (Compression) vs Punch

In his exploration of combat Bruce Lee discovered the value and application of both motions for protection.

The next example comes from Majapahit Martial Arts which is reflected in the bladed, stick and unarmed fighting systems of the Phillipine and Indonesian Archipelagos.

           9. The Salute motion (Compression) and The Dive Motion (Extension) from Kali and Silat Jurus

The movements in these systems were trained for inter-tribal warfare and could be executed with a variety of weapons. Nonetheless the root physiological motions are present.

Our next picture set comes from Gracie Jiu Jitsu. Although there are many sportive applications to the Brazilian Martial Art, Helio Gracie (the founder) initially developed it for combat both in the context of self defense for the street and for what was back then limited or no rules challenge matches.

10.  Two angles of the Forearm Stop (Extension) and one photo of the Cover (Compression) to achieve the T- Position Clinch as taught  in Gracie Jiu Jitsu

Although its more well known because of its ground fighting arsenal, Gracie Jiu Jitsu addresses the issue of common street punches by teaching their students to step into the punch either with a Forearm Stop or the Cover.

For visual comparison below I will place all pictures depicting Extension and the ones depicting Compression together.

Extended View
                                                        Untrained instinctive Extension     
                                                                  Karate / Taekwondo

                                                                         Muay Thai         
                                                                           Kali / Silat

 Jun Fan Gung Fu         
                                                                   Gracie Jiu Jitsu

As you can see above most of the differences are minor. The Jun Fan Gung Fu Shoulder Stop and The Gracie Jiu Jitsu Forearm Stop are nearly identical except for the hooking shape of the hand used to facilitate the clinch in the latter.

Compressed View
                                                      Untrained Instinctive Compression    
                                                                    Western Boxing

                                                                           Muay Thai                
                                                                           Kali Silat

                                                                   Jun Fan Gung Fu    
                                                                      Gracie Jiu Jitsu

Again we see very small differences in the way different systems express Compression for protective movement.

Observations and Opinion
My view is that man used Instinctive Compression and Extension as Protective and Offensive movement since we appeared on this planet.  Our body/mind system is such that after several millennia of effectively using these core movements, some of our ancestors, that were more inclined to artistic sophistication, stylized, categorized and “froze in time” some of those amazing instincts turning them into “Styles of Martial Art”
The more artistic the style is or the more rules involved the more reliance I see on one or the other movement.

Conversely the closer to its combative origins, the more based on realistic self defense, or the fewer rules in their competitive bouts, the more I see the use of both behaviors ambivalently, or to define the word, they are given the same value or importance.

In the Functional Edge System our drills are designed to quickly give our trainees the ability to effectively and efficiently use Compression and Extension under realistic pressure in four different ways:

1. As Protective Behavior To Deflect or Intercept punches and Tackles
2. As Frames to Maintain and Control space between them and a clinching / grappling assailant.
3. As Levers to Pry and Regain lost space between them and the assailant,.
4. As Ballistic Impact Weapons to cause dysfunction to our attacker.

When boiled down to their very essence we see that different styles, cultures and systems rely on these two simple movements and that is a sign that points clearly to their effectiveness. We will see in a future article how we can follow this trail of commonality to find other effective combative tactics. For now we will say that when we look at the differences and similarities between styles, the differences pale in comparison.

Tony Torres

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