From Combat Sport to Street Fight

Written by Matt Jones

Bridging the gap from art & sport to real self-defence – part 4

Have you ever really — honestly — assessed your martial art or combat sport’s ability to deal with real, raw street violence, of the kind that puts people in comas and news headlines? If so, you’ll know that while some of the skills certainly cross over, the street demands a different application and attitude than art or sport. In this series of articles, reality-based self-defence instructor, sport BJJ coach and personal trainer Matt Jones explains how you can bridge the gap between art or sport and real survival skills. In this final installment, he shows you some effective ways to train for impact-weapon attacks.


Rather than just throwing out a few techniques for you to ‘fight by the numbers’, this series has been about providing concepts, training strategies and examples of how to tweak your existing skills to make you better prepared for the unpredictable nature of self-defence.

First, let’s look at some more ideas of how to train our skills and, most importantly, understand the value of varying levels of resistance in our training. The value of what we have covered in this series will be discovered only by working with partners with varying levels of resistance, ranging from very minimal to going as hard as you can safely manage. While training against a resisting opponent is vital, that does not mean you must go flat out with 100 per cent effort and impact all of the time. That level of intensity is not sustainable for all but a few unique individuals and it’s actually beneficial even for advanced practitioners to work with varying levels of intensity. This is because even very experienced practitioners can always learn new things, but it’s very difficult to expand and refine your skill set if you immediately try to implement new ideas under intense resistance. With that in mind, it’s beneficial to spend some of your training time going all-out to pressure-test your skills, some of it working at 70 per cent, and some of it at just 20 per cent pressure, when you are trying to work out something new.

Impact-weapon defence

The topic of impact-weapon defence is pretty scary for most people. Getting hit with a blunt object is naturally something to be scared of and defensive methods need to take this into consideration. If someone is trying to smack you with, say, an iron bar, it’s natural to feel fear and its debilitating physiological effects, so it follows natural that most of us will not have the presence of mind to perform a fancy disarm. With that in mind, we follow a very simple plan, as follows:

Plan A: If you can run away, do so. This requires that you aren’t trapped in an enclosed space and have enough room between you and your attacker to run without them striking you. If you have companions, you must be sure they will be able to get away also.

Plan B: If you can’t run, get so close to the attacker that they can’t land a good shot on you. This seems counter-intuitive but the reality is that the end of the weapon is the most dangerous part when swung, because it’s the end of the lever and it travels the fastest, thus it does the most damage if it hits you. Keep in mind that there are some tactics whereby people will thrust at you with the weapon rather than swing it, but once again you’re still better off to get in close and grab the person and/or weapon rather than stand out at range.

Once you’ve grabbed the assailant, your goal is to either control them in such a way that they can’t harm you, or do something to them that will incapacitate them enough for you to make a safe getaway. If you are working in security, law-enforcement or similar, you may have to hang around and control the person and perform within certain operational/legal guidelines. Even if you’re a regular citizen simply defending yourself, you must still be mindful of using a legally-defensible level of force. At this point of the situation (i.e. clinched up with the weapon-wielding attacker) you may need to use a high degree of force such as eye-gouging or biting to hurt the attacker enough for you to escape. If escape is not an option (for example, if a friend is present and is already injured) then you may need to use enough force to stop the attacker and enable you to control the situation until help arrives. This could mean fighting until the attacker is incapacitated to the point where they cannot pose a threat.

Impact-weapon counter

As in any post-conflict situation, call for assistance and check yourself for injuries by patting yourself down (this will let you know if you’re bleeding, as you can be stabbed and not even realise). Pat yourself down one limb at a time then check for blood and repeat. If you pat down your whole body before checking your hand for blood, you won’t know what part of your body the blood originated from and you may have even smeared blood over the rest of your body, thus presenting a confusing picture for emergency personnel.

So that’s our plan — we keep it simple.

Also keep in mind that although a swinging/slashing action is the more likely way to use a number of impact weapons, it’s still possible for someone to cause you grief by thrusting with an impact weapon. They may thrust the end of the weapon at you with both hands in untrained or trained manner or they may thrust one-handed, as seen in numerous Filipino stick-fighting techniques. When it comes to countering thrusts, you will need to evade and deflect much as one would against the stabs of an edged weapon. Upon successful deflection or evasion of the weapon, the rest of our defensive method remains the same: crash into the clinch, stun/stop the attacker, then flee or control.

The training method

The only way to gain any useful level of proficiency in this type of self-defence method is (as always) via drilling and scenario training against a resisting partner. I train people against a resisting opponent from day one and this can be done safely and effectively if people are educated in the varied levels of resistance discussed at the start of this series. With that in mind, the person who is the ‘feeder’ (the one striking at you) must ensure they:
• deliver random strikes from any and various angles
• deliver strikes with random, unpredictable timing
• always look to make contact with their strikes, even if they are going light (safety equipment such as eye goggles, helmets, gloves and elbow pads can be used to ensure the safety of participants)
• always follow through and never just hold the weapon out at the end of their strike, because this ‘photo opportunity’ will not help the defender to learn proper timing and distance.

But how can people train with random strikes and contact from day one, I hear you ask? Simple. To begin with, the feeder/attacker will strike lightly enough that if they make contact, you will not be hurt. This could mean that they throw the strikes at you very slowly and lightly, fast and light, slow but firmly, etc. and then as you become comfortable, the intensity can be turned up. This is the best way to gain useful proficiency, not by training in choreographed patterns. Similarly, start out with protective gear and padded weapons and then gradually progress to using firmer weapons and less protective gear. When ready, progress to using non-padded weapons — a skinny rattan stick is a fairly good choice because it will cause pain (thus making you accountable and adding a realism to the training) but when coupled with a WEKAF-style stick-fighting helmet, groin cup and lacrosse goalkeeper gloves, it’s unlikely to cause significant injury. Keep in mind that training in this way (i.e. against the wooden stick) is something that participants must be ready for, and it should not be forced upon them. You may also want to add elbow-pads and knee-pads, as even a skinny rattan stick can do some damage if it catches you at full-swing on the elbow or knee cap. Even when you use padded training weapons, a helmet, gloves and groin-guard can still be a good idea because padded weapons (we use SMAK-Stiks) can still break fingers, damage eyes, burst ear drums and injure the groin. Training must be as realistic as safety allows, not simply as realistic as possible. Many people in training simply can’t afford to break a finger — if one of the surgeons or police officers at our gym breaks a finger simply because we didn’t bother using protective gear, then the benefit of the training was not worth the risks.

Timing the swing

Common mistakes

When it comes to the timing of crashing in on an impact weapon, there are two mistakes people commonly make in training. The first is not training the pre-emptive crash, and the second is waiting until the weapon has completely finished its swing before crashing in. Allow me to elaborate.

Not training the pre-emptive counter: If you refer to the adjacent photograph, you’ll see that I’m standing with the weapon down by my side. Anyone but a very skilled stick-fighter will need to chamber or raise the weapon in order to deliver a good solid strike. With that being the case, you should run away or crash in immediately; don’t stand back and wait for the person to raise the weapon in preparation to strike before you act. This is an extremely important to drill in training, because all too often you see defenders not making any action until the attacker has raised his weapon, which makes the defender’s job now much harder. Your pre-emptive action could be striking or clinching, but I advocate clinching because it accounts for more variables than if you rely on a one-punch knockout.

Waiting until the attacker’s swing has finished:
If you wait until the end of the swing before crashing in, you have wasted valuable time. It’s much better to practise crashing in at the instant the weapon crosses the mid-line of your body. By doing so you now have the time it takes for the weapon to complete its swing in addition for the time it takes to come back on its next swing. This timing issue is critical and you don’t want to give up crucial milliseconds if you don’t have to.

To finish, I hope you have taken from this series of articles some ideas you can implement in your own training to you’re your preferred combat art or sport more effective in the unfortunate event you find yourself facing real violence. Enjoy your training — train hard, train smart and train safe!