Most people like to act tough, especially those who are trained to fight. There’s a “never back down” mentality that kicks in when someone aggressive is challenged, but real fights never quite turn out the way we see it in the movies. For example, one of my favourite movies that just came out recently (recently, being a loosely-used term) is Creed II. The movie has the kind of inspirational tone one would expect from a Rocky spinoff; the protagonist is defeated by a larger, stronger opponent and is laid up in a hospital with severe injuries. Once he recovers, he goes on this wicked training montage to train and build himself back up before defeating the antagonist in an awesome rematch.
It’s very 80’s, which means I absolutely love it. Despite the unrealistic nature of it. Most people who suffer such injuries will usually call it quits and step away from fighting such opponents. Even in the most traditional of styles, we see a sort of expectation that you’ll hammer forward, even when the odds are against you. I’ve never been one who much felt this way, which makes sense when you recognize that I live my life trying to eliminate suffering and propagate peace. But even Sensei used to say, “If you’re going to fight, make sure you win…” I believe he was mostly referring to competing, which our school never did (officially). But it certainly applies to how we train.
I’ve always been a firm believer in drills. Correction and repetition are important in order to establish muscle memory and make it more likely that your body will react properly in a “real fight” scenario. But you’ll notice that the majority of dojos practice these drills by stepping forward, stepping into the opponent or meeting an attack head on. And there’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s also important to perform drills where the practitioner is stepping BACK. Most schools or dojos don’t recognize this, but it can be extremely important if you find yourself in a real fight.
Stepping back while performing drills holds many benefits. The first one is that it can be helpful in better positioning yourself to block an incoming attack. Sometimes a strike may be close enough to be effective against you without leaving you any room to block properly. Another benefit is that you may need to back away in order to set YOURSELF up for a particular attack. Although one needs to recognize that a real fight scenario likely won’t leave you with enough time to “plan out” an attack, a preferred technique that you’ve worked extensively may need some setting up.
The last point is that there is no shame in stepping away from a fight. If you can avoid the fight altogether, that’s always the best option. But if it means protecting yourself or someone else, avoidance isn’t always an option. This is where backing up or “tactically repositioning” becomes important. Maybe you need that little bit of space to examine and reevaluate the situation in order to make a proper decision. When you get right down to it, backing away isn’t cowardly but quite smart, in terms of finding a way to win your confrontation.
Never back down? Well, I’m not saying you should always quit or give up. You should never give up. But backing down is not the same as giving up. I’ll always be more than happy letting some ‘roided douchebag think he’s the tougher one, if it means I walk away uninjured and safe. As long as I can do without it being at the expense of someone else’s safety and/or wellbeing. The lesson here is that in very much the same way as a karateka should be ambidextrous in his or her techniques, said techniques should also be practice stepping in or stepping back. ☯