How to Fight with Martial Arts!

Posted by: John W. Zimmer
Under: martial arts
10 Jan 2010


Before I begin there are some great fights coming tonight in the WEC! Varner vs Henderson should be good to watch plus the two former WEC Featherweight champs (Brown and Faber) are each fighting others to get back in line to challenge Aldo.


The hardest thing about writing this blog is to stay on focus to the chief point I am trying to make or examine. This post is about how to fight using some type of martial art. One might view this topic as overly broad but in my mind it is easy.


I will first talk about martial fighting arts and some popular contests that portray martial artists fights! I will talk about what is fighting and then how one could use martial arts to fight in whatever venue you select. Finally I will wrap this up with how I fight with martial arts. Here is a quick video from the old Kung Fu series that explains how a wise man behaves.



Why did I select this video for fighting? Because I could If I wanted, get into a fight every single day by not overlooking perceived slights of others in my daily life. First and foremost fighters ought to be modest. There is no reason other than self defense (or fighting for ones country) to get into a real fight that I can think of but let me know if you can think of one.

What is a martial art? Popular opinion has it that martial arts are oriental but more broadly defined, a martial art is any fighting art. This is how I view fighting, not from the view point of some ancient fighting art in a temple but rather from all of the fighting arts in the world.

Some popular martial arts are boxing, wrestling, karate, jui jitsu, muay thai, and the most popular today – mma. My background is in kenpo karate from a non-formal, semi-traditional style (meaning we are Americanized but retain some formalities from Japanese karate).

So as you might imagine fighting can mean different things from style to style, fighter to fighter, and from contest to contest. The only “real” fighting is what one uses in self-defense!

There is not universal method of fighting that is accepted but rather many different ways and philosophies that fighters will offer up proof of what their favorite fighter did to make his or her point!


Do you understand there is no right answer? Each contest will trot out their champion and say he or she is the best fighter in the world but what they are really saying is with their rules, these fighters are the best we have found.

Do the various contest closely mirror what a “real” fight will be like? I don’t think so but any world rated fighter would beat 95% of the world’s population in a one on one fight with any rules I would bet. There is a lot to be said for proper conditioning, training, and a lot of sparring practice!

Still what about the run of the mill fighter in any contest? There are a lot of the run of the mill fighters and just mean son of a (female dog)’s out there that make contests like toughman exciting. How would a normal martial artist do against an average street thug or common fighter? It depends on how he or she trains.

In both formal and non-formal karate styles for instance, one learns how to do various kicks and punches as well as kata and some drills or self-defense techniques. This is just laying the groundwork for what is really important in marital arts – fighting!!!

Before we actually talk about fighting, I would like to dispel a myth I see over and over again. I see many videos about a  defense for a grab, punch, knife or gun attack that just would have no chance of working unless the attacker messed up. Here is one such attack and defense and I will explain.

So you can see a guy sitting on the park bench somehow has noticed a guy with a knife about to strike him from behind. I will say if you happened to notice the guy, this technique would work, but what I am disputing is how often would you see a guy from behind about to stab you unless you had ESP?

When I first started learning karate and went to one of Tracy’s Karate School’s for my interview, Dick Willett told me he would not only teach me how to do all of the kicks and punches but how to make them connect! He also told me about tournament fighting and assured me that when I became a kenpo black belt – I would be able to handle myself in almost any fighting situation!

I did not care about the formalities, the belts, attaining rank, or the fancy certificates, but rather at first I just wanted to know how to fight effectively against anyone – no matter how big or strong!!!

As I mentioned before the way people fight differs widely but one thing I noticed fighting tournments in the late 70’s and early 80’s – Tracy’s fighters were widely respected. You see Al Tracy enlisted Joe Lewis to fight on Tracy’s Karate Teams and Tracy’s black belts adopted many of the fighting strategies Joe used. Joe Lewis has his own organization and published criteria for fighting here.

My instructor, Dick Willett knows Joe personally and has taught Joe Lewis’s fighting principles to all of the black belts of Dick Willett’s American Kenpo Karate. The black belts have attended seminars from Joe Lewis over the years. So you see we have been heavily influenced by Joe Lewis (indirectly from Bruce Lee as Joe has incorporated many of Bruce’s methods into his own fighting sytem). I should say to gain your own insight into Joe Lewis’s mind, visit his blog here.

So how to I fight? I fully endorse the K.I.S.S. fighting method. I mean learn a couple of three fighting techniques and get good and them. Then practice sparring under your instructor’s watchful eye and learn how to become a great fighter.

I used semi-contact, open karate tournaments to gain my initial fighting experience. I was able to work on my distance, timing, counter punch and my side kick. I also threw a mean jab/back fist and flip kick.

Now I can hear many of you through my computer screen – what does point karate have to do with “real” fighting? I guess it kind of depends on you definition of “real” fighting.

I view “real’ fighting as the closest thing to self-defense. I mean boxing, jui jitsu, wrestling, muay thai, judo, or mma have too many rules to be truly effective in a street fight unless your opponent was inept. Now please do not take me to task for this comment as it is only my opinion/reality.

I think fighting ought to be close to what one would really use. In a street fight for self defense I would kick a guys knees, shins, or groin as a first strike – all of which are illegal moves in all of the above contest except the groin is open in point karate tournaments.

It is not that I don’t think a good mma fighter would do well in self-defense, only that he would have to transition to accept the leg and groin kicks I mentioned if he was going to be effective against a trained point fighter.

So I did not really intend to open a debate of what is best for fighting, only depending on what you are trying to accomplish – it matters how you fight! My favorite example I’ve heard from my instructor (Dick Willett) is, “You would not train in flag [American] football, and then go try to play tackle.”

So to wind this up, my preferred method that takes into account all attacks providing one is aware and uses some common sense, is to to use initial movement, critical distance, and my leg kicks and counter punches from the outside! My preference is to not be an inside fighter because of the greater chance of trading blows with a trained fighter. I’d rather give a trained fighter no chance of winning due to a flawed strategy on my part.

What is your favorite way of fighting and would it also work against a trained fighter in a self-defense scenario? Cutting this off here as I’m about to watch the WEC!

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

6 Responses to “How to Fight with Martial Arts!”

  1. Wedding Venues Essex | 3NM.ORG Says:

    […] My Self-Defense Blog » Blog Archive » How to Fight with Martial Arts! […]

  2. Neal Martin Says:

    I think what it comes down to at the end of the day is what you are comfortable with and what techniques you have confidence in doing. You may have a winning strategy but if you have never used that strategy before the chances are you are going to fail. I agree with you on the competition fighting, it does give you good grounding in things like distance and learning how to throw effective strikes etc. If that’s your thing then that should work for you in the street. Aside from a few broad strategies that you should probably take heed off it’s really comes down to individual preferences. A Thai fighter would probably kick the legs of someone, a boxer would naturally go for the knock out punch and the poor old traditional karate guy would probably try to frighten an opponent with his mean front stance and serious face…that’s a bit mean of me- I’m sure most martial artists have got the message by now and have adapted the KISS way of doing things. Whatever works as the saying goes!

  3. TheMartialArtsReporter Says:

    Hey John,
    Very thought-provoking post.
    I think training and actually competing, even if
    it’s “only” point-fighting and other reglemented
    fighting, will give most an advantage and a
    mindset to hopefully not freeze up or worse.
    And as Neal already said, I would also urge to
    keep things as simple as possible, kicks low etc.
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts.
    .-= TheMartialArtsReporter´s last blog ..Learn The Muay Thai Clinch From Walter “Sleeper” Michalowski =-.

  4. Dr. J Says:

    I’m so glad you have this web site, John! My instructor, who held his own with Joe Lewis, told me that you don’t have to be able to do what your opponent can do, only know what he can do. That said, I try to walk with my head bowed :-)

  5. John W. Zimmer Says:

    Hi Neil,

    Great points… yes you will fight the way you train. I was trying to point out that fighters that train for self-defense are probably going to be the best at self defense due to the knee, groin, and shin kicks as well as deadly close in attacks.

    I’ve knocked out people in the street with wheel kicks to the head. Not a great strategy but at the time I was a top tournament competitor and could hang with the kicks. Had I faced a bad guy that took advantage of my over confidence and kicked my legs out – it would have been bad for me. :)

    Hi Tiger,

    I think point karate taught me distance and being first – all transitioned to real fighting well. Good point about freezing up – that was not a concern with me as I was used to putting it on the line with studio fighting. If I dropped my guard – getting was not out of the question while sparring with my buddies at the school. We only did point stuff right before a tournament.

    Hey Dr. J.,

    Good point about fighting – one can overcome/mitigate attacks if you understand what is coming. There is a lot to be said for lateral movement to escape and counter one of Lewis’s side kicks.

    One time I had to spar one of the full contact guys for his belt test and I noticed a bunch of the guys were getting banged up. I asked them what they were doing and they answered survival. I laughed and told them to watch me. You see I knew the guy was a great boxer so I got in there and peppered him with jabs and flip kicks from the outside and did not have to take any punishment.

    Another time I was not humble I upset a little guy that was giving me trouble at the bar (I was bouncing) – I told him he was too little to be messing with me. Boy did he get upset and went out to the car and got a 12″ blade. His buddies held him back but I never forgot that lesson. There was nothing to be gained by humiliating him and it almost went poorly for me.

  6. pat Says:

    You really have to do one thing and that is practice. Also, working your defenses under pressure… stress, is an interesting factor that gets overlooked until you get in the thick of things. Practice under stress to see what you do.
    .-= pat´s last blog ..Karate Belt Display updated Sun Mar 7 2010 6:29 pm CST =-.