Any student of martial arts or self-defense can attest: an actual fight almost never looks like it does in training.
At best, if you’re watching the fight take place, you may pick up on certain techniques that indicate what style a person studied. Rarely, if ever, does it look precisely like a training video or a demonstration in a studio. That’s because human beings, when they’re fighting, are operating off of mostly muscle memory. Little bits and pieces they’ve picked up, they’ll use as a toolbox, and you can watch a person try desperately to find the right piece for the puzzle.
Most fights don’t last very long. They’re usually broken up, or someone flees or, in some cases, the other person is incapacitated. Yet, in practice, sparring sessions can last upwards of several minutes or even longer. Why this disparity?
Accelerated heart rate. Fatigue.
Most inexperienced fighters cannot tolerate maintaining a heightened degree of “fight or flight” reflexes for an extended period of time before succumbing to fatigue. If the fight isn’t already over by this point, one or both parties will begin to let their guards down. We see it in boxing matches, MMA fights, and all sorts of professional athletic fighting competitions. It’s natural. It’s something that we need to be keenly aware of ourselves in our own martial arts and self-defense pursuits.
This is one of the core reasons why, outside of actual regular martial arts training, cardiovascular health is so essential to someone serious about surviving a life or death physical altercation. You have to not only be able to accept blunt force trauma from punches, kicks, grabs, and throws but also keep your own body in check throughout the process.
When survival is at stake, you can sometimes be your own greatest enemy.
Now, if you’re facing a professionally trained fighter, that’s a lot different from your average street thug or drunken brawler. A professional fighter will be sizing you up and prepared for the possibility of a longer fight. A drunken street brawler, mugger, or a thug with something to prove will look to finish a fight as quickly as possible as viciously as possible. Get in, get out.
Your job, in any actual physical confrontation, is to resolve the conflict as quickly as possible as well — through either fight or flight.
Flight being the keyword because you’re looking for an out. An attacker isn’t.
However, in your self-defense and martial arts training, you will need to know your strong suits. You’re probably good in at least some concept of a physical fight — whether it is grabbing, throwing, using your body weight to your advantage, or nimbly weaving your way out of an attacker’s path. If ground fighting isn’t your best suit, avoid it. Keep distance, constantly move. Focus on getting out of an attacker’s grabbing range and, if grappled or tackled, use your hips to position yourself to get out from beneath that person’s control.
There are also no rules in self-defense or fighting in general. In a martial arts studio, instructors will usually opt to remove a lot of the brutality in an effort to preserve their students from injury. In an actual fight, anything that is accessible and possible ought to be done — quickly, brutally, and efficiently.
If you can grab an attacker’s ear, you can rip it off. If you can gouge an eyeball, do it. Notice I say, “if you can.” Some martial arts teach this but actually doing it in a real fight can prove to be a lot harder than you think.
In my opinion, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu training is the closest you can get to real fighting. As a good friend of mine explained to me, a lot of martial arts are based on theory. You pull punches while training or hit pads. In Brazilian Jiu-Jistu, you can go 100%, and when someone taps, that means the fight is over. In a real-life fight, you either just choked them out, broke an arm or something that neutralized your opponent.
Your primary goal in self-defense is neutralizing an opponent to the point where you can exit. Anything and everything that is possible in the course of this ought to be done. But whatever you do, do it quickly. Because if you fail, you’ll only give your attacker more ammunition to use for himself.
And lastly, this is why we always practice on a near daily basis on our cardiovascular health, core muscle strength, and the martial arts school techniques we’ve learned. Developing that fast muscle memory will enable us to have to think less during a fight and act more efficiently.