It’s a classic scene. You’re at the kitchen table or in someone else’s home and your mother will quietly but firmly tell you to “Sit up straight,” or “Stand up straight…” Who’d have thought that you should have perhaps listened to that advice as it would serve you well, as it relates to your martial arts journey. I’ve witnessed and trained in a lot of different styles; sometimes for fun and sometimes to add a little something to my self-defence repertoire. And of all things that I’ve learned over the decades, one of the most important ones is to maintain a proper posture and a good centre of balance.
Standing up straight and keeping your weight centred are integral aspects of martial arts and self-defence. When you lean or all your weight is moved forward over a single leg, you put yourself at risk and expose areas that you should probably be thinking about protecting, instead. It often seems that so many arts are willing to allow practitioners to overreach, stand on one leg through extended techniques or have their heads bobbing and weaving every which way… Don’t even get me started on the concept of holding your hands in FRONT of your face.
Have you ever had that ONE friend who, when you were younger would suddenly push you for no good reason other than being a jackass? No? Just me? Alrighty, then… My point is, if you’ve ever experienced this you’ll notice that you can fall over quite easily once your centre of balance is no longer directly below you. And just to be clear, I’m not referring to issues surrounding forms or pre-arranged techniques; I’m referring specifically to issues surrounding a real-world combat scenario where you need to defend yourself.
I’ve always noticed that a strong tendency with some people who fight is to bob and weave their bodies back and forth to avoid strikes. I suppose that if you’re faced with an actual fight, you’ll do whatever is necessary in order to avoid being struck and to ultimately win. But if you bend at the waist in order to avoid a punch, your centre of gravity suddenly finds itself over open air, which will leave you vulnerable in a way that’s much much than what the above-mentioned jackass would cause.
I’m going to be a bit of a bully for a moment and pick on boxers because they’re the best example. They’re definitely not the ONLY ones, but they have a tendency to bend and sway in a variety of directions and what’s worse, they do it with the torso OR the head. I’ll remind all of you that I categorized this post under the “opinion” tab, so there’s no need to lose your cool. The worst is when I’ve seen people who do that frowny, lowered head posture that they believe makes them look so bad-ass. In reality, you’re obscuring your field of vision and exposing sides of your head that will get you smacked!
In traditional Okinawan karate, we’re taught that not only are extremely high kicks dangerous, as they expose the groin and various other areas, they throw off your centre of balance. A quick, prepared opponent can take advantage of this and send you spiralling to the ground. Once you’re down, the game’s pretty much over unless you have increased skill in defending against a standing opponent who’s dropping his boot down on your head. (Cue the voice of Obi-Wan Kenobi… “Don’t do it, Anakin! I have the high ground…)
The same applies to hand techniques and you head, as well. If you overreach during a strike, you face the possibility that someone quick who may have training in grappling (or even someone who doesn’t) could grab your hand and drag you forward. Once you’re off balance, you’ll be too busy trying to regain your footing to avoid the plethora of strikes that may come at you, immediately following your stumble. And anyone I’ve ever sparred against who’s taken the chance of lowering their heads to give me a frowny look has usually been rewarded with a hook punch to the visual cortex.
Although getting into a real world fight scenario is a fluid and unpredictable situation, you should bear the following things in mind:
- Stand up straight and keep your centre of gravity beneath you;
- Keep your hands in front of you, but don’t block your face. You don’t want to obstruct your view of the opponent;
- Keep your head up. Avoid burying your head in your fists as you’ll be unable to see and/or block, if your opponent decides to throw a kick or some other technique at you;
- If you’re going to perform kicks, be reasonable and keep them at waist-height or lower. High kicks may result in a loss of balance; and
- Don’t overreach! You should be able to know the distance of your reach. If your opponent is outside of your reach, the proper recourse is to step in BEFORE punching, not try to overreach.
You can get into the proper mindset on all of those with one simple method: drills! Drills, drills, drills! Keep practicing and build that muscle memory. If you develop safe habits and techniques in training, you’ll have a much better chance of doing the same in the streets if you find yourself in a fight situation. ☯