[Disclaimer: This post is speaking specifically about older men or women that find themselves being threatened with lethal force by younger men or women - so a true fight or flight, if fight... it is for your life - so no holds barred defense including is the ultimate response. I am not endorsing mayhem or killing in the course of a normal lower-threat self-defense scenario.]
Sadly I was disappointed while searching videos of old men (or women) fighting in perceived self-defense situations. Youtube is full of that kind of stuff nowadays due to cell phone cameras. So the real question, “Can older aged men (women implied also) train effectively for fighting?” really came to mind and spurred this post. I intend to frame this argument from the perspective of an old man trained as fighter in his youth (my situation) in the martial arts of some kind. While my art is Kenpo – you could interchange almost any striking art with the same issues to overcome.
As a young man karate students are taught to avoid fights, walk away, deescalate and maybe even run away! This is all an attempt to avoid needless carnage for perceived slights and needless fights over quarters at the pool table (I don’t know where that came from). As a young man – hormones surge through ones body and everyone (men and women) are preening for each other. No one wanted to look weak and many did not let challenges to their man or woman hood go. They defended their honor! Even most martial artists ignored the advice to walk away and digressed to fisticuffs at the drop of a hat.
Well fast forward to late middle ages to the elderly and you will find many that the mind is still willing but the body does not respond so well. Even among martial artists (the subject of this article) you will find old men that will fight a younger man at the drop of the hat. I will argue that older men cannot fall prey to their youthful horrormones [misspelling intended] and actually have to use some of their fast dissipating grey matter and fight smarter at old age if they expect to win. It does not matter your rank or how many fight stories you can tell your children (grandchildren?) about what you could do in your youth! Them times is not now!!!
So please review the first part of this video about some common sense deescalation techniques that while all should consider – old men have to do in order to put up a reasonable defense!
It was the mid-1980′s and I was having a conversation with an old guy I knew from another business. He owned a metal shop and the conversation got to fighting. He knew I used to own a karate school and thought I could take care of myself. He told me that he knew karate and was good at street fighting. We went back and forth for a while with our experience and I assumed since I outranked him I could win easily in any kind of fight. Well as you know in a street fight there are no rules. I squared off with Henry and as I was getting ready into my stance – he jabbed an eye-poke at my forehead!!! My ego was great and my counter punch caught him in his gut and I declared myself the winner!
It reminded me of my childhood cap-gun fights arguing who got who first. You see in a real fight it only matters who wins and winning most often is taking an early advantage and keeping it. Fights only last seconds if someone knows how to fight. I could not accept that a man in his 50′s could get one over on me (a fighter in his 20′s). But looking back on that incident the way a real fight would have gone is me temporarily unable to see while the old guy had his way with me.
I bring this up because of today’s topic, “Are the martial arts effective in a fight?” Save yourself some reading and I’ll tell you the answer now… maybe.
First I would like to mention that the martial arts I am speaking of include Eastern and Western martial arts. I am not discriminating here. I have always said fighting is fighting is fighting. No matter what techniques you choose to accomplish fighting – there are only so many ways to do it and everything is known. So I include karate, kung fu, wrestling, boxing, muay thai, jiu-jitsu (Japanese and Brazilian), judo, savate and so forth… any martial art you can think of I am including in this list.
Check out this short video from a school owner I found on youtube, Fred Mergen, about will MMA work in a street fight to frame the arguments.
The title probably gives away my bias but as this is a Self-Defense Blog and I have over the years espoused the benefits of women learning self-defense as a minimum, the question by some is, “What am I learning, fighting or self-defense?” Some instructors realizing that many students taking a short-term self-defense class are not going to take a full blown martial arts class, interchange fighting with self-defense. So what? The goals of fighting and self defense are very different.
To have a win in a fight (for self defense or otherwise) one has to best their opponent. To have a win in a self-defense situation, one merely has to survive with one’s life intact. Of course coming out of the attack relatively unscathed is a plus and maybe possible if one is a highly trained martial artist (fighter) but not likely otherwise if one only has limited fighting training (read a short-term self defense class or aggressive spirit).
So for my example I will list an article of an Aussie woman with a black belt that managed to thwart an attacker with a bit of help after being caught in her unawares (walking with headphones). The article is here and I found a short video of a woman walking with headphones for your perusal.
In the era of modern democracies I grew up in – the thought of defending religious freedom has not come up much since World War II. Then the Nazis decided Jews and other peoples were inferior and proceed to eliminate them. I remember once as a youth telling a Jewish acquaintance a joke in very poor taste and getting admonished about how it could happen again. I took her point to heart but it had not occurred to me – that jokes and other verbal attacks against a people/religion could eventually be seen as ok and the first step to attack a culture or group of people at large.
When I was a kid I heard about religious martyrs and thought they were a thing of the past. A religious martyr is one who is persecuted and killed for their religion in the simplest of terms. So if you decide to attack a people because they are a different faith than yourself – you have the makings of martyrdom. Yesterday I heard about an Islamic terrorist group that went into a college and rooted out the Christians and killed them – while letting the Muslims live. We in the USA realized the Islamic extremism was a threat to us since the first attack on our soil in the 1993 World Trade Center bomb attack and subsequent 9-11-2001 attacks.
It seems so strange to Americans that in other parts of the world – not everyone has the freedom to practice whatever religion they want without fear of persecution. Our country was founded on this principle and for a long time our oceans have protected us. But in many places in the world one cannot be a true secularist and ignore the issue of faith and power. Even here in the USA, we have liberal media and special interest groups constantly attacking religious people and moral tenets so I’m guessing eventually Christianity take on more of a defensive posture.
So without trying to solve the moral dilemma’s of today – I will delve back a bit into history to how Christian’s attempted to defend themselves while making pilgrimages into the Holy Lands. In a nut shell Christians have always lived in the Holy Lands (or Middle East) ever since Jesus. But in the 11th century the Turks and Arabs were raiding Christian pilgrims – necessitating a self-defense response – the Crusades! There was a lot more going on and according the historical revisionists (many Muslims and strangely enough some Christian Protestants), the Crusaders were the bad guys. You can research yourself but the premise of those arguments seem to be that the pilgrims were not attacked and the Crusaders where treasure hunters and immoral people.
In this post I am going to speak a bit about the Poor Fellow Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon – the Knights Templar, who were at the heart of conflicts after the first Crusades and I will contrast these with some similar attacks going on today. But first here is the beautiful Templar chant – Da Pacem Domine (translation here)
Back in the mid-1970′s, my instructor, Dick Willett, urged me to go to open karate tournaments to supplement my fighting skill set. You see at open tourneys, they allowed full contact to the body and kiss contact to the head (in Brown and Black Belt levels). It was more realistic back then since groin shots were also open. That meant that a karateka could not stand in a open boxing stance that would be unrealistic in a real fight – but rather had to be aware that they were vulnerable to attacks low, mid-level and high.
I started sparring in the school in the white belt divisions (orange, purple, blue, and green) as a blue belt. The cool thing was there were no head shots – so one had to become good at body strikes (a valuable learning tool). I then went to tourneys in white, brown and eventually black belt levels. I was also bouncing at a local bar when I turned 21 (brown belt level for me). This was way before I learned boxing, kick boxing, or dabbled in BJJ – but I had wrestled in jr. high school.
So meandering to the premise of this article, I thought that the school sparring, and later tournament sparring put me in a good position for the many real fights I encountered working two years as a bouncer. At that time tournament point sparring (continuous sparring was only done at schools – not at open tournaments yet) put me in a perfect position to transition to a real fight for reasons that I will go into in this article, but alas I fear that karate tournaments of today, this is no longer the case.
I am not picking on any one organization but here are the rules for the World Karate Federation Tournaments.
How do I really feel? Ok – maybe “robbed” is a little strong because you can search out good fighters and promote events but you have no idea if the fighters are gonna dance around and seek to win by a decision. I understand that but twice in the last year I have bought a UFC PPV event and was disappointed. Let me back up a bit for my perspective but first watch how this event was promoted.
You would not believe how often white belts (white, orange, purple, blue, green) ask me what would I do if or if I thought I could really defend myself if questions. I also see this type of question on other blogs and websites. I’ve even seen it stated that becoming a black belt does not equate to fighting ability. I’ve diligently read those points of view and found it is nothing new. Students and even some upper belts that have never been in a real fight wonder if what they know really works!
I’ve never considered this question after I started taking lessons at Tracy’s Karate so many years ago. You see I had tried some Japanese/Okinawan karate and Samoan Kung Fu/Karate (Lima Lama) and had those kind of questions before. Although I had not been in many real fights since Jr. High School – I had been sparring and going to tournaments. I was able to kick and punch ok but I was not consistent in winning those matches.
I did not really know how to fight (probably not the styles but the instructors). I will continue this story later but after going to Tracy’s Karate (now Dick Willett’s American Kenpo Karate Association), I’ve never looked back. Fighting is easy because Dick taught me what I was trying to accomplish while I was fighting. No instructor had ever done that before.
In this post I will address the question, absurd as it is, “So now you know karate; can you fight?” But first here is John Graden, a JLFS Master about building confidence.