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At TKRI, almost everything we do can be seen as variations on a theme.  Bob says, “I only have two techniques, strike/throw or throw/strike.”  That may be an exaggeration.  But, in general, we are training to hit hard and put an opponent on the ground.  That’s what it’s all about.

Beginner’s have a tendency to over complicate things.  It’s difficult, at first, to see how the wide variety of techniques all have a few basic principles in common.  When introduced to a new technique, I find the best way to really “make it my own” is to analyze it in terms of a these basic principles.  Almost all martial encounters follow pretty much the same overall pattern, involving three phases:  1) Connect 2) Get an Angle 3) Put Opponent on the Ground.

These three phases roughly correspond to the popular MMA model of free-movement, clinch phase, and ground fighting.  However, for strictly self-defense purposes, we prefer to stay on our feet for maximum mobility.  Running away won’t score points with the UFC judges, but it is often the best way to survive on the street.

Anyway, I would like to present a few of the most important principles involved in each of the three phases.


During the free-movement phase, we need skills that will enable us to close the distance safely.  Our goal is to hit or grab the opponent without getting hurt.

  1. Avoid the Opponent’s Power – Almost all techniques will involve some sort of footwork that moves us at an angle off the opponent’s line of attack.  Also, bobbing and weaving type movments allow us to further avoid or absorb the force of an attack.  We do not oppose the force directly, because a bigger, stronger opponent will always win.
  2. Divide the Opponent’s Attention – We usually throw strikes to distract an opponent, while we move into a dominant position and secure our hold.  Often, the strike is intended to break our opponent’s posture, which creates an opening in his defenses to be exploited.  Striking combinations utilize the same principle by creating a reaction in the opponent, which sets-up the next attack.  Strikes are always part of a series of movements.  We do not expect a “one- punch knockout.”
  3. Take Out the Slack – No matter what type of hold we have secured, to effectively impose our will on the opponent requires that we are able to move his center as part of our own.  This means we have to take any “slack” out of the opponent’s tissue between our point(s) of contact and his center of gravity, so that we are moving as one body.

Get an Angle

Once we have secured a hold, we strive to apply force to our opponent in a way that he cannot resist.  To do this, we will take advantage of inherent structural weaknesses by utilizing one or more of the following principles:

  1. Break the Opponent’s Posture – Throughout the application of technique, we always strive to maintian a feeling of being “stacked,” as discussed in a previous article.  Conversely, our techniques are designed to misalign our opponent’s posture, taking away his power.  Ways to do this include:  twisting or lifting the shoulders, bending at the waist, moving the hips outside the area of the base, and moving the knee out of alignment with hip and ankle.
  2. Uproot – The easiset way to move an opponent off his base is to push through his center at an upward angle.  This principle is utilized by wrestlers as they “turn the corner” and lift an opponent, while executing the popular double-leg takedown.  Ideally, you should push upward at a right angle to an imaginary line drawn between your point of contact and the outside edge of the opponent’s base, the same way you would tip over a heavy refrigerator.
  3. Hip Displacement – Many of the throwing methods involve rolling the opponent’s hip up onto our own, creating a situation in which we momentarily support his body weight.  It is especially important to remain “stacked,” when perfoming these types of techniques.  Other techniques involve stepping into the opponent’s center and replacing his hip with yours, as you knock him out of the way.  The end result is the same…the opponent’s center of gravity becomes subordinate to our own.
  4. Dead Angle – Pushing an opponent at a right angle to an imaginary line drawn between his feet, usually causes him to take a step or fall over.  It’s very difficult to resist force applied across the narrowest part of your base.  Avoiding the opponent’s power line automatically takes advantage of this principle.  Many techniques involve applying force to the opponent’s “dead angle,” in order to upset his balance.
  5. Tripping – Blocking or sweeping an opponent’s leg is commonly used in conjunction with applying force to the dead angle.  This prevents the opponent from stepping to correct his posture.

Put Opponent on the Ground

Once you have effectively closed the distance, secured a hold, and broken the opponent’s posture, putting him on the ground is the easy part.  You will do one or both of the following:

  1. Drop Your Weight – With the opponent in a compromised position and his center subordinate to your own, just dropping your weight is often enough to put him on the ground.
  2. Remove Support – If you are supporting the opponent’s body weight on your hip or shoulder, you just toss him off, or get out of the way and let him fall.  A properly timed foot sweep effectively removes the opponent’s base of support and is another example of this principle.

Obviously, in a real fight, a million different things can happen.  But, training with these principles in mind should begin to develop an understanding of what it takes to make the techniques work.  The rest is up to you.

"Try to see yourself as you truly are and try to adopt what is meritorious in the work of others. As a karateka you will of course often watch others practice. When you do and you see strong points in the performance of others, try to incorporate them into your own technique. At the same time, if the trainee you are watching seems to be doing less than his best ask yourself whether you too may not be failing to practice with diligence. Each of us has good qualities and bad; the wise man seeks to emulate the good he perceives in others and avoid the bad."
Funakoshi Gichin


May 2020

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