Making Contact

My opponent's left hook penetrated my defense, landing squarely on my right jaw. It snapped my head with more force than anything I'd ever experienced before. I literally saw countless little blue stars.

This happened during the last round of one of my full-contact kickboxing matches I had in my early twenties. Just to illustrate how hard I was hit, when it finally dawned on me that when referee, Kerry Roop, then the kickboxing heavyweight champion of the world, was standing in front of me, giving me an eight count, I looked at him a moment and said, “Kerry, what are you doing here?” I literally thought I was at home in my own living room and couldn't understand why he was there.

Needless to say I lost that fight by a split decision. I did, however, come away from it having learned an enormous lesson. That guy really hit me. I saw stars. But I was back in the fight, clearing my head through sheer determination. I learned that I could be hurt, and that I could fight back in spite of it.

You might ask yourself, what does all this talk about kickboxing have to do with self-defense. Well, nothing really. It's the kick-boxer's training that does. It is my opinion that if you are not training, at least to some extent, using full contact, you're not preparing yourself for the real world.

If faced with a potentially violent situation, it would be a good idea to have already experienced what it's like to be struck in the face, knocked on the head or whatever. Otherwise, your fear of getting hit or of being hurt might cloud your judgment. That would definitely hamper a successful outcome in the event a confrontation was to escalate into something physical.

So you want to begin training full contact? First of all beware; it has been known to deflate egos. What I suggest you do is seek out a club that specializes in it. This way you will receive years of knowledge in an instant. But if your intention is to remain where you are, and you have a few friends who would like to experiment, this is what I suggest:

Outfit yourselves with as much safety equipment as you can, but allow for as much mobility as possible. Equipment might include boxing gloves, headgear and mouth guard, pads for your feet, chest, knees, elbows and shins. Men might want to wear a groin cup and women a protective bra.

Of course, your objective in full-contact training is still to be more of a pitcher than a catcher, but I guarantee you will be hit. Go about it slowly. Have an agreement with your partner as to how hard to go at first. Have someone supervising your sessions. Accidents and tempers do happen. Try out techniques you're really fond of. What you are going to learn is what does and doesn't work in an out-of-breath situation.

Now, I'm not saying you have to leave your world of traditional martial arts behind. All I'm suggesting is that you open your eyes to the reality of your training. When it comes to self-defense it is not important how many bricks and boards you can break. It doesn't matter what you call your art. It you are not using full-contact training, all the fancy techniques in the world won't amount to a hill of shiny first-place trophies.

If your club doesn't advocate full-contact training you might want to ask your instructor why. Next time you are immersed in a self-defense class look around you at all the satisfied faces. Do you know what the students will be doing? They will be doing exactly what they want to believe is true. It's what I call block-punch-kick-put-the-bad-guy-in-an-arm-bar-and-I-won't-get-hurt type of self-defense. It's what people want, so it's what they get.

There is absolutely nothing mystical about self-defense. There are no secret techniques. There is only you and the person, or persons, waiting to do you harm. If you've never fought, and I mean really fought, how will you know you can?

Till next time, stay focused…

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