Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Exposing a Striker’s Weaknesses


Mr. Lewis, It seems that many MMA fighters with strong backgrounds in the striking arts are often frustrated when wrestlers or grapplers close the gap and go for a clinch position. They often look like fish out of water and end up in a bad position against the cage/ring or on the ground. Is there a lack of quality training on fighting from the close or clinch position in modern kickboxing and boxing gyms or is this a position that simply favors grappling and wrestling?

This question gives rise to the greatest dilemma facing some of todays inexperienced MMA trainers—what are the unforeseen, educated techniques and cross-martial arts disciplines I need my fighters to work on most? Pay attention to this old axiom:

“You don’t win in the fight, you win in the preparation.”

Are grapplers supposed to be superior to strikers? Then how do you explain what happened when we see a non-grappler like Maurice Smith, a karate-based kickboxer, knock-out a string of world class grapplers in MMA matches? Does that make the strikers the rightful owners of the ultimate martial arts discipline? How then do you explain why Renzo Gracie was so effortlessly able to take a much taller (six foot, four inches) world champion kickboxer to the mat, and then force him to tap out in just one round?

To best fully grasp the importance of this question, make sure you avoid the tendency to demonize one martial arts discipline, such as the strikers, in order to glorify another, like the grapplers. We are all guilty of this meaningless practice. The many ways the various media are promoting martial arts and today’s MMA sport contributes greatly, directly and by implication, toward causing the propensity for us to drift into that pattern of thinking.

We become fixed on the unchallenged, unproven idea that one martial art is superior to all others. A theory or concept only becomes a fact when it has been tested in a realistic model using acceptable standardized criteria, and the results are supported by verifiable evidence based on the use of reason and logic. This procedure exists in our military, but not in today’s martial arts; we still base most everything on theory and myth—not data. You put the fighters inside a phone booth, and the grappler is going to win. If you allow eye and groin strikes, fish hooking the eye and mouth cavities, head butts, bleeding techniques, biting, etc, then perhaps the striker will have the advantage for victory.

This above type of back and forth, pendulum shifting from one discipline being favored over another has greatly packaged martial arts into two forms, strikers vs. grapplers, or the kickboxing against the jiu-jitsu. The use of this equation diminishes the importance of a fighter’s footwork, his set-up skills, his aggressive defensive maneuvers, his mental thinking method, his ability to focus, one’s controlling the momentum, conditioning strengths, expertise in timing, breaking an opponent’s rhythm, and this list becomes endless.

We have become blinded as to what is most important. After all, is it not these factors, a fighter’s attributes and skills combined, that makes it possible for his strikes or his grappling techniques to work in the first place? Before anyone can claim that martial arts builds character or integrity, this question first deserves an answer. Without being able to out-think your opponent, or without the effective power or speed, or the obstinate will power to execute in the face of any danger or against overwhelming odds, one’s grappling or striking techniques have no meaning.

Mistakes are made

Now take a second to ask yourself this question, which deserves some thought. If any grappling discipline is superior to the striking arts, then why are all the smart, top grappling fighters taking kickboxing and boxing lessons? Why also, are all the top striking champions adamant about exercising serious grappling training? It is not because they wish to switch over to a different art form, it is because they know all disciplines are limited and they do not want to get beat.

These smarter fighters know that there are cardinal rules they must learn and practice in order to maximize their chances of either not getting hit by a striker, or finding themselves caught in a compromising clinch, upright or on the ground, with an expert grappler. Their tactical training evolves around making sure they know how to avoid any compromising weaker position that may surrender the advantage to an opponent. The rule of thumb as to when do you not use something is: “when it is more dangerous to the user than the opponent.”

There are three basic reasons why this rule gets broken: (1) the fighter doesn’t listen to his coach. (2) The fighter didn’t do his homework. (3) The fighter allows his opponent to out-think him.

I recently received a comment on my Facebook page: why does it appear that many MMA fighters on TV seem to be training to “get hit?” The sport is new and still in transition. Mistakes will be made as the sport continues to evolve. At least, once in a while, we can all enjoy a “Mike Tyson” type real fight, very unlike some of those boring you-touch-me or I-touch-you type point-fighting matches I had to endure back in my earlier days.

Remove the Blindfold

For every victory you show me by a striker over a grappler, I’ll show you ten fights won by a grappler over the striker—and vice versa. There is no room for an argument here. In the end, it’s the fighter, the individual, who wins, not the art form or fighting discipline. This type of thinking is an out-dated school of thought.

I have always said that in a match between opponents, it is not what you see, but what you don’t see that is the secret. Sometimes one opponent is just tougher, and he wins not because his skills are superior. There are two integrated forces or faculties at work here. This collective structure of a fighter’s attributes (his speed, physical strengths, conditioning, rhythm, timing, and accuracy) together with his technique skills (tools such as offensive weapons, aggressive defense, pocket control, bridging the gap, setting up attacks, etc.) have to be appropriately exercised by one’s use of an effective process of mental actions.

As a member of the first combat unit to go to Viet Nam, let me leave you with one last thought. If you are fighting in a war, where would you like to be when the war ends…at home, or standing on the battle field with the troops who fought with you? This same premise carries over into the fight game. All fights start in a standing position; if you know how to fight, they will end that way, one standing, one not. To answer the original question, you are right—what you see is what you get! Although your question contained its own implied answer, I hope I have been able to help you see the unseen.

A fighter’s ultimate weapon is the efficacious use of his mind, that which we call consciousness. Either you are taught how to properly use it, or a smart opponent will help you shut it down. Read some of my earlier old school quotes:

“He who fails to prepare, prepares to fail.”

"The real fight is not what takes place between you and your opponent, the real fight is what takes place inside your head."
Joe Lewis

Great Christmas Gift for a friend or teacher!

limited supply of 50 photos, fcfs


  1. Mr. Lewis.

    I have a question off the subject.

    My wife bought me your training manual last year as a christmas gift and I love the book. It is by far the best kick boxing manual I have ever seen.

    I like the drills and combos. I was wondering if you have a south paw version of the techniques or at least a few words on how to apply them as a south paw. (didn't see it in the book)

    I'm sure I am not the first south paw to learn the techniques.

    I don't train in a JLFS school so don't have an instructor to ask.

    please let me know.

    Chris DeNorch
    Denver, Co

  2. Great question:
    If you teach facing a class, you have to learn how to reverse everything anyway. One of my las boxing coaches was a southpaw and he had to learn how to flip everything around just as the orthodox trainers have to reverve for their southpay students. A smart coach will learn to do this on his own and eventually he'll see how easy it is.

    One reason this is important is because sometimes in an altercation or in match competition you'll get wounded on one side (like a broken rib or foot) and will have to be able to switch over to continue fighting.

    Use my e-mail address: Joelewiskarate@msn.com

    Joe Lewis