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It’s not uncommon to see internet debates about "this vs that" in martial arts. A common one is open hand strikes vs punching with the fist. Now, putting aside the fact that a lot of these debates are started in order to stir up some “controversy” and drive traffic to a site...there are some interesting things to consider
To me stating “ is a punch better than a slap” is like stating that a hammer is better than a screwdriver. It’s common sense to use the right tool for the job. Everything is contextual. One issue in training for a “fight” is knowing what sort of fight you are training for. Is it a formal ring match with specific rules, is it a “straightener” in a pub car park, a sexual assault, a robbery, a crowd fight, family argument, military combatives and so. The next consideration is what is your role – bystander, victim, attacker, police officer, competitor, security, etc. Each role brings it’s own set of factors to add into the mix.
So already we have gone beyond the rather simplified “punch vs slap” (or ”kick vs grapple” or your techniques of choice). Some styles, particularly combatives, streamline their approach into a small number of techniques. They argue this takes away the problem of freezing as you decide which of the 197 techniques you have learnt to use. There is certainly something to be said for this, you can teach people to be effective in a short space of time for specific situations. However beyond that there is another approach that effectively takes out the “which technique do I use” issue.
Imagine someone tells you they are a painter. You ask them what they paint and they say “I paint blue”. You ‘d think it was a bit odd. You might also think it odd if a painter turned up to paint and just had one brush. Yet we see both of those approaches epitomised in this martial arts “ this vs that” game.
Is our painter a decorator, does he/she paint bridges, cars, pet portraits, landscapes, lines down the middle of the road, tattoos, murals....Does our painter work within a particular style – abstract, expressionist, chocolate box. What materials does he/she use – charcoal, oils, ink, emulsion, gloss, airbrush. Already a simple thing such as painting opens up all these questions.
Point is with any type of work there are certain stages we go through – developing basic and advanced skills, preparation, materials, selecting the correct tool, application of skill, working under pressure, gaining understanding and experience and so on. These are universal stages in any process. An army doesn’t just charge and hope for the best. An electrician doesn’t use a plasticene screwdriver. And nowhere outside of martial arts have I heard “ the front crawl is better than a backhand volley”. It doesn’t make sense. Any tool is only of use in the right circumstances and if it is made of the right material and is used correctly.
So think about this process in terms of your martial art training:
Developing skills - positioning, timing, applying force, dealing with force, understanding confrontation
Preparation – developing strength, mobility, determination, endurance
Tools – knowing how to punch, kick, grab, throw, takedown
Pressure – controlling your psychological state, applying skills under duress
Experience – learning how to learn from any situation, analysis and development, understanding consequences
If you take an integrated approach in your training rather than being purely technique based then the question of fist vs slap becomes irrelevant. With correct training, skill and experience (and a bit of luck) you will do whatever is required in the situation. You may also feel less inclined to take part in internet arguments!
Check our Close Range Workshop download for some training ideas