Under: kick boxing, martial arts
21 Feb 2015


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.


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I liked the video as it point out that most of fighting takes place in the mind. So what really need to happen while a student is learning the techniques – is practice so the student believes it works! :)


I could end this article right here since you now know the old adage, that practice makes perfect is true. But I have to continue for all of those that don’t realize it is true.


Here are a couple of pointers to do while you are taking karate lessons. First when you learn a knew basic, technique, or kata part – the first question you should ask if you don’t know – is how do I apply this to a fight? The beauty of learning a martial art is everything is applicable to fighting in some way. You ought to learn the knew move and be able to at least to the mechanics at your next class.


Understand that learning the mechanics does not mean you will be able to do the move – just that you have learned kind of how to do the move. You then ought to break the move/technique apart into its components and practice until you can do them… then put them together – make it your own. It does not matter if you will ever use the technique but you ought to be able to if you ever want to use that technique. The real question is do you ever want to excel at karate? Do you want to become a karate master? If not why are you wasting your time with karate? Go take ballet.


The second thing to understand is most good karate experts/masters or whatever you want to call them, do not use all of the moves. Why one of the greats RIP, Joe Lewis, seldom used more than a side kick, back knuckle/jab and counter punch… but he got really good at them. Becoming a karate master does not mean you have to use everything… but rather you could use everything but more to the point is teach everything for the next upcoming master to decide what he or she likes. :)


So now to the real point; do you practice what you have learned until you believe and you can demonstrate what you have learned against and unwilling participant? This is where practice comes in. If you want to be good at anything you have to practice. Remember no one is doing you any favors if your practice dummy (partner) is just letting you do stuff.


The world is not fair! Fighting is not fair! Kids, woman, slight men should not be given a break in training! You will not be good at everything or even like all of the moves. At the very least you should be able to pull of the moves in some fashion against an unwilling partner. I don’t care if you will never use the technique in a real fight. You ought to be able to do it.


So now that you know how to learn a new technique and how to practice it… have you figured out that confidence is linked to application? You have to believe that you can do the technique to gain the confidence to use it. So that is the complete picture. You have to practice but in a realistic way, against an unwilling partner that “doesn’t just let you do it,” and after such practice you will believe you can do it if you ever really have to!


So you either know you can do it or not. It is absurd to go into a fight not knowing if you can fight. If you know, you have a great chance at winning. If you cannot fight (you have never proved it to your self) then you have lost before you begin!!!


Part of what a karate instructor is supposed to do is teach students in such a way as they come to understand they can do the moves under pressure. Actually a good instructor will have the students try all of what they have learned so they gain confidence. There is no substitute for semi-contact sparring as part of the overall training. As my instructor, Dick Willett, used to say, “Pro football players don’t train with flag football!”


So to finish up my story, I learned the basics, techniques, and kata from Dick Willett. He also taught me strategies to use in sparring class. Sparring class was semi-contact, meaning full contact to the body and kiss contact to the face. But in reality people sometimes got knocked out – so sparring class was as close to street fighting as is possible. The groin was an open target as it is in the street. I also won many trophies in the point karate tournaments of the late 1970’s – early 1980’s.


From sparring with the best fighters in Southern California, I worked as a bouncer for a couple of years. I got in at least one fight a week with several skirmishes. At that point I had not learned boxing or kick boxing yet but I had very good – well rounded formal karate and tournament experience that made real fighting while bouncing a breeze. None of the rowdy bar toughs were an issue for me since I was a real trained fighter, not just size and beer muscle. I weighed about 160 and stood 5′ 11″ tall. The guys I had to fight were all over 6″ and 200 pounds.


I just want to stress that I had confidence before I worked the door. That was just fun at the time. So when a student asks me if karate really works, I am generally stunned but I hold my tongue and try to help them along until they gain their confidence too!

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2 Responses to “Ok – So Now You Know Karate; Can You Defend Yourself? (In A Fight?)”

  1. Dr. J Says:

    Interesting, I’ve never been asked by a student nor did I ever feel that the techniques I was trained in didn’t work in a real fight. Whether being hit myself of hitting others and seeing the results of that was enough proof for me :-)

    As for confidence, I imagine what I built in one area applied to all areas of my life. Whether fighting, flying a plane, or doing surgery, walking the path of experience and success gave me the belief that I could get it done when I needed to.

  2. Tasha Says:

    Interesting points. My son is 7 and he’s a blue belt in karate and we were talking about him taking jujitsu once he reaches black belt level. He hasn’t been in a “real” fight at this point, but a neighborhood bully has picked on him several times trying to provoke him. He’s done very well at avoidance, hopefully this kid doesn’t force him to show him what he’s made of. lol