Monday, May 16, 2011

Full-Contact Strategies

Jean-Yves Thériault is a living legend in Kickboxing. The website of the school he now teaches at gives the following biography of his accomplishments.

"Born on January 15th, 1955, he began his Martial Arts career in Jiu-Jitsu in 1972 where he achieved the rank of blue belt. In 1976, after only six months of training under the direction of Kyoshi John Therien he won his first Kickboxing competition. Two and a half years later, and a lot of hard work and determination he became the Canadian Middleweight Kickboxing Champion. In 1980, he won the title of the World Middleweight Kickboxing Champion, a position that he held for 15 years! He is a natural athlete who trains extremely hard, and has the greatest disposition. His ring name is "The Iceman" due to his intimidating icy stare and his cool demeanor in the ring.

Since he became a Champion, Jean-Yves has worked with many groups and charities, such as, the Big Brothers, Children's Wish Foundation, Laucan and numerous others. He is author of a book on his winning techniques and has a series of video cassettes on the science of combat sports. He is the subject of an hour and a half film produced by the National Film Board. He was voted Athlete of the Decade by the Sports Writers Association of his home province, New Brunswick.

Since his retirement on December 1st, 1995, (a 3rd Round Knockout of Marcus Reid) Jean-Yves still trains 5 days a week and teaches classes exclusively at all Therien Jiu-Jitsu & Kickboxing Schools. He is a role model for all Martial Artists today; he is humble, honest and down to earth. He is a devoted father and a friend to all of his students.

Today, Jean-Yves has also become a world-class promoter for the sport of kickboxing. With the aid of his friend Kyoshi John Therien, he is giving new, young fighters the opportunity to realize their dreams in the “Iceman Amateur Kickboxing Circuit.” He is a true ambassador for the sport giving back so other ambitious athletes can realize their dreams."

In 1983 he and co-author Joseph Jennings wrote a book entitled Full-Contact Karate. This book was essentially a primer for training and participating in full contact sport karate, specifically the kind that was then being promoted by the Professional Karate Association, an international Sports Combat promotion which was in many ways the UFC of the late 70's and early 80's. While much of the book discusses the specific techniques and rules of PKA full contact competition, the tips in the final chapter provide useful advice to any karate stylist, whether he chooses to compete or not. From the book,

Chapter Ten
Winning Fight Strategy
Page 197

"Your fight strategy and style begin to take shape in sparring sessions. Often a student will attempt to adopt the style of another fighter, which is a mistake because no two fighters are alike in their approach to the sport. Even though fighters sometimes look similar in posture and technique, they are quite different because of physical abilities and mental attitudes. It is best to constantly look into yourself for development because succesful fight strategy must be an ongoing process, using your own judgment along with the recommendations of your coach as ways of improving your fight game.

Experience has shown the following 25 points to be the most important in developing a full-contact karate figher's ring strategy. Study them and apply them to your training.


1. Your best beginning strategy in a bout is to fight a defensive fight with a strong offensive mental attitude. This means leaving deceptive openings, tempting your opponent to take chances, and then taking advantage of it when he exposes a weakness.

2. A successful fighter is a thinking fighter, who wins with a sharp mind capable of making the right decisions in a split second. This skill is more important than just using your physical abilities to slug it out. A smart fighter can outmaneuver a slugger, wearing him down and picking him off at will. Fight with your brains, not your brawn.

3. If a technique works, keep doing it until your opponent picks up on it.

4. Use a variety of techniques. If your opponent protects his head well, avoid the head and go to the body.

5. Learn to fight from the center of the ring, keeping control of your opponent and maneuvering him where you want him, such as into the corner or against the ropes.

6. When caught against the ropes or in a corner, use your front leg to keep your opponent off you. Escape the ropes by slipping to the sides. When in a corner, the only escape is straight ahead; fight your way out again by using your front kick to the midsection.

7. No matter how superior you may be to your opponent, never carry a fight longer than it takes to achieve victory. Trying to please the audience by keeping the fight going for more rounds could mean disaster because you are increasing the chances that your opponent will slip in a lucky punch that could knock you out.

8. If you see your opponent tiring, turn on the pressure, which will burn him out more quickly.

9. Never get involved with judging or decisions. If you feel bad calls are being made, tell your traininer and have him take care of it.

10. Listen carefully to your cornermen in between rounds. Your coach is capable of seeing mistakes and openings in your opponent that you may fail to recognize. Apply his advice and evaluate the results. If it works, fine; if not, seek another route.

11. Since you must execute eight kicks per round [this was a PKA rule], pay attention to the kick counter near your corner. He will hold up cards showing the amount of kicks you have thrown. It is wise to get your kicks in within the first half of the round when your stamina is at its strongest.

12. Do not rush in wildly at your opponent; pace yourself, attacking only when the possibility of scoring is good.

13. When in trouble, avoid mixing it up with your opponent. Keep him at bay with jabs and kicks until you can clear your head.

14. Apply faking techniques throughout your fight to check your opponent's reaction and to upset his defense.

15. Never fight your opponent's fight; always stick to your major strategy.

16. If  your opponent tries taking cheap shots, never retaliate by doing the same because you may end up being penalized. The referee will eventually catch the rule-breaking fighter.

17. If possible, observe videotapes of fighters you are likely to face in your weight division. This is an excellent way to develop a prefight strategy by observing weaknesses a fighter may have.

18. In training, fight an assortment of different fighters; tall, short, slow, fast, aggressive, defensive. Each fighter will offer you a variety of challenges, calling on you to add and subtract tactics from your fight strategy.

19. Always have some idea of what plan to use in the ring, even for a sparring session. These tacics should be discussed throroughly with your coach prior to any amateur or pro fight.

20. Keep your fight game basic. Do not try any technique that may look good but cannot get the job done. If a technique can't do damage, don't use it.

21. Never fear your opponent. If you are in top physical condition and have prepared yourself properly, you will more than hold your own. If you opponent notices that you're afraid, it will make him more aggressive. By carrying yourself into the ring with self confidence, you will gain respect from your opponent, whether he shows it or not.

22. Strategy and psychology are inseparable. Never let an opponent psych you out, no matter what antics he tries to pull at the weigh-in or in the ring. When you react to his shenanigans, he will know he's getting to you. My psych game is simply to smile prior to the first bell. Smiling and showing no emotion toward my opponent puts him on edge because he's not quite sure what to expect from me.

23. To avoid injury, cease all hard sparring one week before a fight and always lay off, except for some light calisthenics, two days before a match.

24. During a match, occasionally execute powerful rear leg roundhouse kicks to your opponent's guard to numb his arms and weaken his defense.

25. Learn from your mistakes. Three losses during the early part of my career did more to build my determination to succeed and will to improve than if they had been victories. When you lose in full-contact karate you really have no one to blame but yourself. Go back to the drawing board with your coach and never make the same mistake twice."

As I said, these tips apply to Sports Combat, while we focus primarily on Self Defense at Dunham's Martial Arts. But it should be clear where we can apply each of these lessons. As Professor Anderson said, “there are situational approaches that are not interchangeable and there are those that are;" and Thériault's text has much it can teach us.

About preparing for battle. About the proper mental attitude to adopt. About the physical and psychological approaches to fighting. About overcoming our enemies, both within and without. Even tips which seem to apply specifically to Sports Combat, such as those about watching tape and how to use the ropes and how to adapt your training before a fight, contain truths which we can examine. Study your opponents. Understand terrain. Conserve your strength. These are the teachings of Sun Tzu as well.

Thériault closes with what may be his most important lesson.

Page 206
"In my opinion, the way you carry yourself as a person outside the ring is as important as your strategy in the ring. No matter what position you hold in full-contact karate, whether it be amateur or world title holder, your actions reflect on the sport and everyone involved in it. Although some boasting and chest beating are all part of the fight game, it should not be taken to an extereme that would discredit the sport. When a fighter begins making a spectacle of himself he makes everyone look bad. A disrespectful attitude will make your position, no matter how high, a sour one in the eyes of fellow fighters, promoters, and fans.
Be proud of and confident in your abilities, but at all times try to understand the position you hold and its influence on young fighters who are coming up. The example of sportsmanship you set should be a healthy one that others will be proud to follow. Good ring conduct is often rewarded with victory.
Full-Contact karate training not only builds a strong body, but strong character in individuals as well."

Drills -
Beginner: Practice defensive fighting. Allow your opponent to take the initiative and do not concern yourself with striking or countering. Focus first on not getting hit through the use of evasion and blocking. The strikes that you have practiced will begin to follow naturally and spontaneously as your defense improves and you are able to create openings in your opponent's position. Let the fight come to you.

Intermediate: Practice offensive fighting. Push the pace. Advance against your opponent with linear strikes, using Push Drags, Crossovers, and Step Throughs coupled with Front Kicks and Vertical Punches to pursue them through the space. Practice combinations of strikes while always remembering to return to strong stances while stepping and moving. Everything comes from your base.

Advanced: Practice counter fighting. Allow your opponent to initiate the action, but direct his movements towards predicted paths of motion through the use of baiting techniques, zone coverage, and angular movement. Draw him into your defenses and then attack when he is out of position. Defend from long range, strike from close range, and practice Max Protect positions to cover and move in critical range. Program your opponent's actions so that you control the outcome of the battle.

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