Ryukyu Martial Arts Research 琉球武道研究

Combat and Martial Arts

The perception of combat in various martial arts is diverse and has multi-faceted subject. Of course, it is possible to discuss and debate on this issue, each according to his/her method and understanding. In this article I express my opinion about this subject, deferring the terms “Combat”, “Fighting” and “Sparing”, in different environments and in different scenarios outside the frames of martial arts and as part of martial arts.
I will present the topic in three main dimensions:
1. Combat or fighting in real conditions - life threatening
2. Sparing in competitive sport
3. Non-competitive battles

The first and in my opinion the most significant dimension is fighting in real conditions, sometimes for life and death. It is a matter of survival. Sometimes state survival in a war, sometimes a group of warriors in battlefield and sometimes individual survival of a single soldier. Anyone who has been through such reality is signed in his blood and soul to this dubious experience.

A life-threatening scenario appears in two main arenas. One is a military or state arena such as combat forces or security missions. The second arena is the civil one. And in our case, self-defence for the individual.
Each of these arenas consists of many parameters, some common and some unique to each arena.

The second dimension is various types of competitive sport. It is a diverse framework that caters to different audiences and with different emphases. Individual or group kata competition. Non-contact, semi-contact, or full contact sparing. In this dimension, each of these arenas has its own unique characteristics and there is also something in common. For example, all arenas require good coping ability and optimal performance under pressure during competition. However, each arena requires a different physical and athletic abilities. For example, in kata the pace of execution is important, but not the timing, range, response and intensity, as required in sparing.


In non-competitive fighting the emphasis is on consistent learning and progress. Goal setting is not time-bound, and the approach is not comparative, as customary in competition. The focus is not on being better than the other, but on constant personal improvement. Therefore, the mental state is also different from that of competition and to differ, from that which exists in real danger of life.

The mental parameter
This is one of the most significant components which exists in each of the three main dimensions. Its appearance differs substantially in each of the major dimensions mentioned at the beginning of the article.
In any sport, the mental parameter may turn the scale. It is decisive, and the examples are many: a basketball player who has to score three crucial points about a second before the end of a cup final. A football player whose penalty kick will determine a championship or a cup final. Swimmer, sprinter, gymnast, and the like. In all these examples there is a tremendous mental load on the competitor. Some would argue that in martial arts there is further danger of injury. In my humble opinion, a skilled professional athlete is not "afraid" of the danger of injury in the during the activity. Moreover, the danger of actual injury is the danger of death involving a soldier on the battlefield. This danger is fundamentally different from the experience in the sports arena. Contemporary sports fighting does indeed bring to the competition, and some will claim that also to the spectators, a simulation of a battlefield and with-it high adrenaline levels. I do, however, make a clear distinction between these two environments.

I will emphasize that in the battlefield environment I use the term "enemy", while in civil self-defense I prefer to use the term "attacker" or “aggressor”, while in the competitive environment I use the term "opponent" or “competitor”. In classical karate we call to the practitioner in front of us (or with us) "partner". The meaning of the bow before and after practice or Kumite is “Please take care of me and I will take care of you”. “Learn from me and I will learn from you” “Practice me and I will practice you". The practice may be at very high intensities, and as the intensity increases, the risk increases accordingly, so precisely in these cases great vigilance, responsibility and mutual consideration are required.

Self Defence

Let’s proceed from the main division to the subdivisions:
I make a clear distinction between the term "Combat Fighting" and the term "Battle Arena Sparing".
The first subgroup is fighting in real conditions such as combat in a military environment or security in national or formal service frameworks such as personal security: diplomats, sensitive places and events.
A second subgroup is security in a civilian environment such as security of shopping centers, discos, and various events.
A third subgroup is self-defence on a personal level.
These subgroups consist of a number of parameters.
• The type of threat. Is it in a life-threatening situation such as an assault on a nationalist background with knife, or an attempted to rape, or is it in school environment, or while hang out. Some of these cases are not “life-threatening”, however it may quickly escalate into life-threatening situation.
• Modus operandi. The threat to a man is usually different in nature from the threat to a woman. This is reflected in the way the attacker will act.
• The intent of the attacker. For example, beating, robbing, or murdering.
• The balance of power between the attacker and the assailant is also essential. In the sports arena there is a distinction between men and women divided into categories by weight.
• The environment, that is the scene of the event is another parameter, for example an underground car parking lot, inside an apartment, while jogging in a park or on a trekking trip abroad.
• Finally, we reach the level of the individual. Male or female, age group (children, adolescents, adults), needs and threat characteristics, personal background, physical and mental abilities.

Self Defence
All these parameters are significant in course or activity planning.

In real scenarios, the mental component is critical. The three most common immediate reactions in life-threatening situation are: Freezing in place and inability to act.
Irrational escape with increased exposure to the threat e.g., dropping the weapons and escaping while being exposed as a convenient target to the enemy on the battlefield.
Irrational attack with increased exposure to the threat e.g., getting up and running straight towards the enemy while entering the line of attack\fire on the battlefield.

The skills required are determined according to the needs, environment, and purpose under different constraints. From the basic skills to the highest ones that require a lot of training over time in diverse work environments, as close to reality as possible.
It is clear that in the civilian environment it is not worthwhile and almost impossible to practice in conditions close to real ones, because the risk of being harmed increases as we get closer to real conditions. Such high skill is not required in imparting basic self-defence.

The environment also includes cultural aspect. In different cultural environments the attackers will behave in different ways (e.g., attack on the abdomen or neck area) or with different weapons (e.g., a knife with various types of blades, short or long, single or double edged, straight or curved etc.) and there may be a different mode of use (e.g.; stabbing or slitting).

Early preparation:
In real situations in frameworks such as army, police, special security, and the like, of course preparation is given in advance. The information on purpose and environment is critical and beyond the general practice emphasis will be given to each activity. Usually, the practice will include preparation for different scenarios, courses of action and the like.

Self Defence

A situation of self-defence is often surprising and quickly formed. In many cases the defender cannot receive significant preliminary information about the attacker, nor can he prepare himself uniquely for the location and situation. There may be one or more attacks, with or without weapons and in an unpredictable environment. Therefore, tactical or strategic planning is not relevant.
Of course, it is possible and important to conduct risk management ahead of time, for example to anticipate entering the situation and make a decision. For example, before entering a place with the potential danger, to make early preparation or to total avoid going to this place. I will give two examples: a girl who knows she is about to arrive late at night into a dark secluded place such as underground parking lot. A man or woman who wants to go out to a place where there is an aggressive atmosphere.

In competitive sports, early information is important as well. For example, the characteristics of the opponents who are about to face us, their strengths and weaknesses, their injuries and the like. The competitor can develop tactics and strategy. Unlike the life combative situations, even in most aggressive arenas there are rules. The referee also stops the sparing and resumes it frequently. That is, the ranges between the two competitors change accordingly. There are rounds where opponents can weaken each other, change tactics, re-examine moves and enlist the rules of competition on their way to victory.

In a situation of self-defence there are no rules. It ranges from a mild aggressive state such as a verbal threat or contradiction to a state of intent to harm or kill. Sometimes the mild condition rapidly deteriorating into a life-threatening condition and sometimes in the first place the intent of the attacker is murder. Sometimes the attacker will use a weapon and sometimes not. Sometimes he will attack by himself and in other times there will be two or more attackers. This is an unexpected situation. Unlike professional security guards or professional athletes, in basic self-defence the defender is not professional or highly skilled. However, basic self-defence is equivalent to a basic CPR course. The skills acquired are basic, but these are effective life-saving skills that can be acquired in a short period of time - hence their importance.

In conclusion
In this article I have briefly reviewed the common and differene in the various environments, internal and external the martial arts frames. Relating the environment, technical skills as well as the mental aspect. I separated the term "Combat" from the term "Fight" as well as the approach between the classical martial arts and those in tournaments, and to differ from real life-threatening scenarios. I pointed out the definite differences between enemy, attacker, opponent, and partner.

Finally, I will emphasize a few points:
The first is that in order to acquire a high level of combat skill, as in anything else, we are required to practice. The more we learn and practice, the more our skill will increase. The closer the practice conditions are to reality, the higher our skill will increase, but the risk of injury will also increase. Hence this type of practice is more suitable for professionals in special units, or in contrast, for professional athletes.
A second point is that a practitioner can reach high practical levels even with a lower level of risk while practicing over time. It is essential to tailor the type of training to the goal. In classic martial arts I would prefer to phrase this sentence as follows: It is essential to tailor the type of practice to the purpose. Leaving you to make the distinction of this nuance.
Third point is - a basic self-defence course will not bring the practitioner to high fighting skills – However, it is a life-saving course, hence its highly importance.
Finally, there is definitely a combination of martial arts with an orientation to both self-defence, as well as physical and mental development. Everyone and his/her method to choose.

Itzik Cohen

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