TAKING YOUR TRAINING OUTSIDE THE DOJO"
By Sukh Sandhu
" IF You Know Yourself And Know Your Opponent, You Will Never Be In Danger Of Losing A Battle "
Sun Tzu’s Art Of War
All of you have probably heard about these fighting competitions that try to find out which martial art is better than others by pitting them against each other. Well, like many of you, I have been curious about these competitions, so much so that I entered one last year. I wanted to know if "my" martial skill that I have been developing for the last 13 years would stand the test. I have trained extensively with Dojo-cho Shawn Havens and Kan-cho Fumio Manaka. They are part of the foundation of all my fighting skills, so I credit and thank them for their knowledge.
I trained in a few different martial arts as a child and dabbled in a few while I was training in our Jissen Kobudo. But I have found that the martial skills I learned from Jissen Kobudo were essential in real combat. I would like to write about the training I went through to get ready and to win one of these competitions, rather than the actual event itself. I hope to get a few points across to everyone that I believe are extremely important. These are lessons which helped me understand what I have been learning
for the last 13 years.
Over a year ago, a cousin of mine asked me if I would be interested in entering an Asian fighting/wrestling event. He knew I was involved in the martial arts and thought I might be interested. After going and watching the event I agreed to enter the next time around. After blurting out yes, I started thinking about what I would do. Why did I say yes? I wanted to test myself, my martial skill. Then I found out what "no holds barred" really means...."you can do anything except these few things". To me,
that was not real fighting, but I guess it is as close as they can get and still call it a sporting event! Hits to the groin, eye pokes, throat jabs, and closed-hand hits were not allowed. Victory would be by the opponent’s submission or inability to continue. All else was fair game. I decided this would be quite a test of skill for me and stayed with my original decision to enter. Now came the question of how I would train. How do I get ready? This was the question I was asking myself. I was already going to the dojo two times weekly, training on my own another four days and lifting weights
five days a week. What else was there? Then I realized there were a lot of submission holds in ground fighting. I thought to myself, my ground work is horrible! This brings me to my first important point. Evaluate yourself. What are your strengths and your weaknesses? Then figure out how to work on the weaknesses to better yourself.
After evaluating myself, I realized how important it was to be competent with your basics. If you believe in your your basics and stick to them, then you have increased the possibility of success for yourself. I started really working on punching and kicking very powerfully. I practiced all the different fists: fudo-ken, shikan-ken, boshi-ken, shuto, open hand hits, and elbows. I practiced stomp kicks, side kicks to lower shins, and kakushi geri (hidden kicks) on my heavy bag. These were my basics to find openings on my opponents. Then my next basic was receiving movements. I needed to counter opponents’ opening movements. So I worked on lots of footwork, angling correctly, guarding and distancing. I started really believing in my kihon happo and the kihon waza that we practice in class. There are so many things to be learned inside each of those simple movements. I practiced and continue to practice those movements extensively. After all this, though, I still felt weak, or not confident that I could prevail. Who knew what type of individual I would run into at the event, a wrestler, judoka, jujitsu fighter, or…..?
My next problem was how I felt about my ground fighting ability. I started solving that by getting some books and videos and grabbing my brother and some friends to wrestle on weekends. We practiced all the different techniques and skills. The mounts, side mounts, guard, etc. After getting competent in them we moved into where I would continually put myself in a weak position and my training partner in a strong position and then try to find a way to get the upper hand. Lastly we moved on to submission holds, arm bars, neck chokes, and leg bars. Still after all of this, I felt I was still missing something. I had been in many fights by this point in my life, but not in a long time and I couldn't say they were of any sort of caliber as to what I was going to be against. Then it hit me, I needed to know how my Taijutsu relates to other martial arts. Not just street brawlers, but skilled fighters.
Thus, my next important point is that you should know how your martial art "feels" against other styles. I am not saying you should go looking for fights, but you should know how your skill matches up. Try finding some friendly people or friends that would not mind training with you. Let them use their art and you use yours. The way I did it may not have been the best way, but I learned more about my skills in 3 months than I would have in 3 years.
I knew of some of the local martial art instructors around town and asked them if I could train with them. I continued to train at our dojo and just added these other opportunities on every week. I went to a judo school, jujitsu school and a Brazilian jujitsu school. I wanted to learn some pins, submission holds, and how to counter their movements. Little did I know what was in store for me. Although all the instructors were cordial to me (and I am grateful they allowed me to train in their classes) I got the impression that their senior students wanted to teach me a lesson
or show me how strong their skills were. They were relentless at trying to beat me. And yes, they sometimes succeeded. I will recount two specific incidents in this training where I think I learned a lot about my skills. Normally the last half of training at all these schools was left to doing three-minute rounds of randori (free sparring). After about five three-minute rounds you realize whether you are in shape or not. At the Brazilian jujitsu school I was matched up against a senior student who I outweighed by 30-40 lbs.. I had agreed to try to compete in their style as much as I could. I was not allowed to do any kind of strikes; grappling
As the buzzer went off , my opponent and I circled each other. I thought for sure I would be able to topple him. Much to my surprise he was a very skilled grappler. There were several moments where I knew what I wanted to do to end the " fight", but I could not, due to the restrictions placed on me. Though he tried to throw me, he could not. I threw him and had him on the ground, but I was confused. I did not have any real experience with submission moves on a skilled grappler. He quickly escaped and choked me out. We had three rounds like this; I would find a position of strength, not know what to do, he would escape and then choke me out. In a sense, I knew what to do but was not allowed to; my tactics would have been called brutal or unsportsmanlike. So I continued to be belittled, but losing your ego is part of strengthening your spirit. The last round I had had enough. Both of us feeling extremely exhausted, we went after one another as the class watched. He attempted to jump up on me and apply a typical jujitsu arm bar with his legs across my neck and my elbow over his abdomen while he was pushing with his pelvis and pulling with his
wrists. As he had his back on the ground and my elbow in his joint lock, I curled him up and slammed him on the mat. He released his grip as the force shot through his body. I then mounted him and choked him. Though I am sure everyone thought they had the best of me, it did not matter. Through losing I won. I learned more of their skills then they did of mine. I had the ability to recognize all the flaws and openings in their techniques. I learned why good ukemi [ground-hitting skill] is so important to keep on fighting. Out of this lesson I was still quite impressed with this martial artist. I wonder what would happen if I met him on the street and did what comes naturally to me? He had taught me a lot, more than he will ever know. So I thank him. Although I had to use strength to curl him up, I understood how my Taijutsu would come into play against his martial art. My biggest obstacle had been not being allowed to do what I was trained to do. Because I was under restrictions on what I could do, I had the difficulty of resisting what came to me naturally. That hesitation could mean the difference between life or death.
The next great lesson I had was when I was put up against an individual who outweighed me by 75-90 lbs. He exceeded my height by 6 inches and was much stronger than me. I really had no strategy on how to beat him within the rules I was subjected to. We circled and then he lunged at me and we locked up in a grappling hold. He immediately tried to pick me up and throw me. He succeeded in picking me up, but he could not topple me; I caught my balance as he tried to throw me. He was quite quick for his size, because he then immediately shot to my side and got me in a head lock. I used my Taijutsu to escape and ended up throwing him in O-gyaku (a shoulder bar). Since his style of martial art had no real ukemi, he hit the ground quite hard, head first. I kept him in an arm bar until he slapped out.
Then he taught me my next major lesson. As I released him and turned to walk away from him, he jumped up and tackled me to the mat. I was not being aware. Regardless of why he had done that, whether it was right or wrong, I should have been ready. He then grappled with me on the ground for a while, until I ended up choking him out. This time I was very careful as I stood up from him. Zanshin [maintaining awareness even after finishing a technique]: what an important lesson.
I will end my retelling with that experience.
These were the some of the lessons that helped me succeed. These are the things I want to get across to everyone. I do not think one martial art is better than another; it is just the fighter, the warrior. Some martial arts help you to become a better fighter and a better person faster and with less effort than others. As long as you work on your basics, see how your art encompasses other arts, and have faith in what you are doing , you should be a formidable warrior. For me, the teachings I have received from Havens Sensei and Manaka Unsui Sensei have made the difference. Again I thank them. My experiences were still not truly real fighting, though; you must understand that. I was still confined to some rules. Make sure you understand the difference between when someone wants to fight you and when someone wants to kill you! I have had the unfortunate opportunity to be in both scenarios. It's a whole different mind-set. We have a great martial art here at the Jinenkan. Practice it. Believe in it. Believe in your teachers. But mainly believe in yourself!