It seems in the modern martial arts world there is a pair of popular terms being commonly used. Consensual violence, and non-consensual violence. In simpler terms, sport fights and self defense fights. I’ve also noticed there seems to be a belief in the traditional martial arts community that there are more, or extra concepts of fighting in regards to consensual violence, that just aren’t and can’t be covered in regards to non-consensual violence. I will not argue that the existence of rules and a referee make a difference, but I believe that difference is more on the surface than most realize.
I’ve seen people criticize those MMA and various full contact fighting sports of not effectively preparing someone for the ‘realities of a street fight where there are no rules’ and often allude to or directly reference biting, scratching, eye gouging etc. All techniques that none of those same people actively train, they may simulate biting someone, poking an eye, or hitting in the groin, but they’re not actually ever done in training by those same people.
In an interview with Joe Rogan, Bas Rutten brings up a very good point. He says something along the lines of ‘As a trained fighter for full contact, I won’t be able to bite someone if I get into a desperate situation?’ If you’re training to fight other trained fighters in full contact competition, what better way is there to prepare for a fight in a bar or a parking lot, at work or school? If you can land solid punches to the face in the ring against a trained fighter you can do the same in school or in a parking lot. If you can avoid getting hit in the face by a trained fighter in the ring, you are more than likely able to avoid someone trying to poke your eyes out on the street.
The basic concepts of fighting remain the same regardless of if a referee and rules are present or not. One argument I’ve heard is that you don’t get the opportunity square up before non-consensual violence begins like you do in a ring. While some times thats true, a simple search of street fights on YouTube will show you that’s not always true. Even if you’re sucker punched and blind sided having regularly been in a situation where you’ve been hit before can help you weather the initial storm, and provide you to have the capability of thinking and reacting appropriately. I’m not saying to be effective in self defense everyone needs to go out have half a dozen amateur MMA fights in their local league, but if your school/dojo isn’t putting you and your peers through regular or semi-regular heavy contact training you won’t really know how you’ll react to getting hit, you won’t know how strong your fight or flight urges are and which way you naturally lean.
I think the idea that there are some special techniques that inherently change the concepts of fighting for self defense when compared to full contact sport is a very flawed idea. If you want to focus more on realistic self defense, go out into a parking lot, or a park and train in your regular clothes. Training in jeans on concrete with gravel is very different than in a gi on a mat, or a smooth wood or tile floor that is regularly swept for safety. Do your kata where theres some sand and rocks present, do two man drill or a kiso kumite in the soft dirt. Watch videos of real world violence, and try to simulate or recreate the initial conditions like was the attack from ambush? was there build up to the attack like an argument you can recreate in your own words and the aggressor attacks when he or she is ready to? Was the defender already in tight quarters like a locker room that prevent large movements? did the act of violence occur some where the defend did or could have used objects as barriers between themselves and their attacker such as a car or a desk?
Scenario training, training in the real world, and in the sort of clothes you regularly wear will do magnitudes more for your self defense capabilities than mock bites and simulated groin strikes, or some other techniques that are ‘too dangerous to practice’ live or ‘too dangerous for sport’. The concepts of fighting will remain the same in the ring or octagon as they will in an unregulated environment assuming a lone attacker, who is unarmed.