Fighting with Self-Defense!

Posted by: John W. Zimmer
Under: Self-defense
2 Dec 2008


I went to a garden party one time and did not see Yoko with a walrus (sorry for the Ricky Nelson reference for you young-ins) but did have an interesting conversation with a formal karate stylist. During that interchange it came out that he (the formal stylist) did not think much of sport karate as it might be applied to self-defense.


I was quite interested in his perspective and made the point I fought effectively in street-fights with sport-karate! At the time I had won tournaments in SoCal and had also worked as a bouncer at a bar for two years.  I will try to highlight his and my points in our conversation and then close with my opinion now.


I searched youtube for a video of a proper low snap-kick to the shin or knee and could not find one in 20 minutes. I saw plenty of high snap and jump snap kicks that would be marginally effective in a street-fight. So I found the shortest karate guy I could find to demonstrate a excellent street technique (although even this guy was kicking too high) :)



The kid actually did good but I want to point out that one does not have to kick higher than one’s waist to mount an effective attack/defense in the street. The formal stylist made the following points:


  • you fight the way you train
  • if you put on hand and foot pads, you drastically reduce the possible targets
  • if you spar using self-defense, you will end up maiming or killing your sparring partner
  • if you have to defend yourself, you will end up making mistakes if you are used to fighting for sport


I made the following points:


  • you fight the way you train
  • high-kicks would work against most attackers as I was already used to them
  • I would not be surprised if I got hit hard (used to contact)
  • I was used to hitting and winning fights (from sparring)

So you can see how the conversation went and I came away knowing that I was right because I had been in over 100 (my estimate) real fights in the bar while I was bouncing and never had too much of a problem. But he got me thinking and today I now think I agree with allot of his positions.


I remember when I was in school and after I had read my first karate book – ketsugo! I learned from pictures how to throw a front snap kick to the knee or shin. One day some guys were messing with me and I had to demonstrate a reason leave me alone. From a neutral stance I did a low snap-kick to his shin and he fell down in pain. The other guys left me alone.


Another time my ex-wife snapped and came at me with a butcher knife in a threatening manner. I don’t think she was going to do anything as I was incessantly bugging her at the time but I easily snap-kicked the knife out of her hands. Well what can I say other than emphasize she is an ex-wife. :)


One time while I was at the bar a Mr. San Diego muscle man tried to come in without an ID. I guess he thought he did not need an ID to enter as we was well known. My boss had just told me that no one under 30 could enter the bar without an ID so I stopped him. He looked to be 280 pounds of pure muscle and I was a lean, wiry 155 pounds (brown-belt) at the time.


Before my boss interjected, I was in his face just out of critical distance letting him know he had to leave. I think the steroids were raging as it look like he was going to attack me! What would you do with a guy that a punch might have little to no effect? Well I had practiced breaking 2×4 board with my front snap kick and was ready to take out his knees! If he could not walk, he could not attack. But my boss did interject and save him the embarrassment of having a skinny kid take him out.


One more self-defense example I can think of is my old friend Larry McCraw. He was a great point and full-contact fighter of the late 70’s and early 80’s. In the mid-eighty’s he was working as a window washer. He spilt some washing liquid on a bikers pants. Larry told him he was sorry. The biker said sorry was not enough. Larry said that sorry was all you were going to get. What happened next is one of my favorite all-time karate stories.


The guy came at Larry. Larry punched him a couple of times with no effect! The guy kept coming. Larry did a basic trap of his punch and broke one of his arms (inward/outward bocks).  The guy kept coming. Larry side kicked/broke one knee. The guy hobbled up and attacked again. Larry side kicked his other knee and hobbled him. The police came and Larry found out why the guy kept coming; the biker was on angel dust (pcp)! As you can see low leg kicks can stop anyone unless they can fly.


What do I think about fighting as it relates to self-defense? I think when you add rules to fighting, it lowers the effectiveness of fighting! I learned all of the self-defense I would ever need in my Kenpo Karate Orange Belt. I learned the snap, side and rear kick as well as punches, palms, claws and eye gouges. I did not really know how to spar back then and fell back to planning a good, fast, low, snap or side kick to the knee if someone messed with me!


Now I do think there are benefits to sport, MMA, kick-boxing and such but remember the point that both the of us practitioners of karate made so many years ago – you fight the way you train. That means if you practice karate with rules and get attacked, you will probably fight with those same rules. Even if the rules lessten your effectivness!


If you enjoyed this post, make sure you subscribe to my RSS feed!

10 Responses to “Fighting with Self-Defense!”

  1. Says:

    I always ssay that having so many targets from the waist down why anyone would want to even think about kicking high. Although as you say, if you practise high kicks regularly and are used to them, then you have a chance of pulling them off in a real fight. Interesting post.

  2. David Hays Says:


    I get the same BS all the time, that Sport Karate (point fighting) training has no “real street” application.

    I believe that is true IF you do not cross train. You and I (coming form the same school) have the advantage of a few things. We trained with some of the greats in sport karate, Terry Crook, Chicken Gabriel, Rey Leal, Larry McGraw, Steve Anderson, John Tunage, Victor Hervious, etc. The difference is we all also trained in street self defense and full contact (continuous sparring) and now ground fighting.

    Talk to you soon.

    David Hays

  3. Micah Lacsamana Says:

    Nice Post… I don’t know much about Karate and kick boxing. I only use C2 Taser as my self defense gadget.

  4. John W. Zimmer Says:

    Hi Micah,
    I like the taser as part of an overall defense strategy but I don’t know that I would put all of my eggs in one basket.
    My choice is a layered approach like getting some self-defense/fighting training, home security (good locks, dogs), and yet non-lethal defense products as well as lethal if one lives in a high-crime area.
    Good luck and thanks for commenting.
    John W. Zimmer

  5. Amanda Says:

    Hey John, we have been training hard to break the high kick habit. It’s far more effective to kick the thigh/knee/shin. High kicks are dangerous if you’re not fast enough, you can see you behind in technicolor!! It’s just more effective for self-defence, it doesn’t look as cool as high kicks, but when you’re defending yourself for real, who cares what it looks like?

  6. John W. Zimmer Says:

    Hi Amanda, I totally agree about the high-kicks… I used to spar with Jim Martinez… who scoop-kicked me every time I kicked him above the waist… it got to the point where I would not throw a high kick when I fought him… you know – I liked singing alto and did not want to move up an octave. :)

  7. arthur Says:

    -Looking for some information on what is out there in terms of krav maga videos: any recommendations.

  8. John W. Zimmer Says:

    Hi Arthur, Try

  9. Jordan Wosher Says:

    Extremely interesting post thank you for sharing I just added your site to my bookmarks and will check back.

  10. new york trainers Says:

    Great post, i really liked reading it. I look forward to seeing more.