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Sympathy For The Goon
Combat Arts Pitfalls for the Big Man
© 2014 James LaFond
If I specialize in anything as a fighter and coach it is preparing for and taking down bigger stronger men. As a weakling this happens to be the ecological combat niche I am forced into. I even have my own methods for minimal commitment checking and sprawling I call ‘goon surfing’.
Ironically I find myself coaching some very large and extremely strong men, and working alongside other trainers’ specimens as well. There is a trend I have noticed in combat arts, a trend that may very well be perpetual, that I would like to address. First permit me to set the stage.
The Goon Dilemma
Big men get hit harder and receive more shock to their neck relative to the force delivered due to their greater weight. Very few martial arts people, or even fighters, realize this. The heavyweight division sees so many knockouts only partially because of the power of the men. An even greater factor is their bodyweight, which, even if they are caught micro-shifting their weight into a punch, or just standing strong, amplifies the effect of head shots. Hitting a flyweight is like, well, swatting a fly. Hitting a heavyweight, well, that’s more like swatting a big beetle—a big crunchy mess.
Fat men experience more pain in weapon fighting, as fat propagates nerve endings.
Really large men do not derive the same benefits from fencings masks and stick fighting helmets, and gloves.
Strong men, and big men alike, and particularly big strong men, feel social pressure to use their strength and size, which retards their learning curve.
Smaller, more experienced fighters, often react fearfully to the larger sparring partner and amp things up, hitting him harder. Even among instructors, and particularly among ordinary higher ranks in traditional arts, ego and insecurity plays a part in causing injury to, and loss of, big students.
A big man typically accesses combat arts with a desire to intelligently apply himself to learning how to use skill rather than brawn, as he knows himself to be a big target for vicious little men, and is likely to have been relatively uncoordinated as a youth.
Conversely, the typical instructor or high level contact fighter, got into the combat arts either because he was picked on by older/larger youths, or because he was already good at beating people up and wished to formalize his skill set. In either event, that mean little welterweight in your gym is a real and present danger to the novice heavyweight.
What follows are four recent examples from my experience that illustrate [in the first three cases] the dilemma of the big man in the gym and dojo, as well as one solution.
Hapkido Joe
This big bruiser is now an instructor with a big ego. Last year I was at a seminar with my superheavyweight when this heavyweight instructor asked to use my man for an uke. I told Cory to tap in a hurry; that this guy is a showman with very little sensitivity. Even after my man tapped, this smaller goon, so thrilled to be looking like the little evil master, kept cranking shoulder holds, disabling my man for weeks. It was his loss. Cory recovered, and then reconsidered learning grappling from this guy.
This is basically why I am not a martial artist. Guys like Hapkido Joe do not fight, they get their rush doing demos, where they inevitably feed their egos at the expense of the hapless Japanese version of the stooge known as an uke. I have politely asked this man to spar with me, though he towers over me. He avoids this; in other words, has that sense of the goon’s vulnerability to the mean little man, which he so enjoyed at Cory’s expense. Fighting is not nearly as dangerous as a martial arts demonstration where you literally hand someone with a big ego a body part and trust them to give it back. Anyone who has leant a favorite toy to a friend as a child ought to have internalized this lesson.
Judo Man
I was once at a seminar where a judo expert was puffing out his chest and strutting as he explained how to do a throw. He selected the tallest man in the class as his uke. Now, I am no judo guy—don’t even know the terms—but I know that it is easier to toss tall men who you can get your hips under. I also know that taller men are at greater risk of spinal injuries, as they have the same number of vertebrae as us midgets with more space—and hence more leverage—between them. This uke complained of pain after the demonstration and is still struggling with a nagging back injury, which has kept him out of stick fighting, as the pivots really bother him. It has also cost him some lost hours at work.
Cliff is a big, strong hard-working dude who has become disenchanted with martial arts programs as the instructors always pick him as an uke and beat the crap out of him. The one boxing gym he trained at for a month has closed. Mister Frederick explained this to me and asked me to work on Cliff’s balance, fluidity, and relaxation through boxing and weaponry drills. Mister Frederick knows that is my specialty, relaxing the fighter through continuous light contact immersion so he can find himself. Cliff has a lot of work to do but is willing to do it.
When I checked with Mister Frederick as to how Cliff was doing in kenpo he informed me that one of the black belts kicked Cliff in the groin and dropped him. The man who did it is a cool dude I have sparred with. He was just naturally amping up for the big man, for whom walking into something is a bigger deal than it is for the rest of us. Hopefully that is just a bump in the road for Cliff. When he comes back I will have a lot of amateur psychology ahead of me to repair the damage that kick did. Again, this is a good karate crew, who do not beat on their people. But the stop and go nature of karate sparring and the large tool kit makes train wrecks like this always just one step away.
The Heavy Hand
Craig is our boxer who spars with an excellent tough-as-nails pro. He has sick one-punch stopping power, but knows how to dial it down. The last time he hit me at half speed I felt my right eye roll around in the orbit. A couple articles down on this page you can see a YouTube video of him dropping big guys with knife stabs to the fencing mask. So when Mister Frederick saw me gloving up Craig to spar with Angel [a superheavyweight MMA fighter] he could not bring the waivers back quick enough! Mister Frederick is a crafty old dog and he has seen me work with both of these guys, and has seen Craig fight. He was envisioning Craig [160] kayoing Angel [260] in the first round.
I had different plans. I need to be able to trust Craig to keep a cool head if he wants me telling his mother I’m going to look out for him when he competes. He’s an ‘in-the-trenches’ pocket brawler, and he needs to let that go so he can get away from the occasional Easter European monster as well as hunt down those tall rangy middleweights. I told him, “You are just going to tap and move, just put the glove on him. If you want to fight pro you have to be able to control those tough-as-nails monsters you can’t knockout. But, after you start schooling him, he is going to break drill discipline, and start loading up. You have to promise me that you are going to stay cool and dominate with movement and position.”
He just nodded and made me proud. This sparring session exemplifies how you bring along a combatant without injury, and without injuring his man, to be able to carry and milk weaker partners and survive against stronger opponents. The session went for 6 untimed rounds so I could call a break just as it got sloppy, or hopefully on a high technical note just before that brawling point.
1. Both fighters just jabbed.
2. Angel punched and Craig played defense.
3. Craig punched and Angel played defense.
4. Craig jabbed and Angel threw everything.
5. Angel was supposed to just jab, but was getting schooled, so started throwing everything. This retarded his learning experience, but gave me a chance to make Craig throw only straights and jabs against the whole sloppy arsenal of the MMA man. Angel, conscious of his breech, did keep the power under wraps. If Craig had hooked with him it would have escalated into a gym fight. I encouraged Angle to mug Craig and work the clinch and Craig to post the jab and cross.
6. Now, that they were both good and tired, I let them go at it. Craig was now so convinced of the wisdom of the straight to Angel’s southpaw body, that he refrained from uncorking the hook and finished the session on a technical note with a nice upstairs-downstairs-upstairs 1,1,2,1.
If this had been a stop and go karate session, skills may have been honed, but the fighters would not have enhanced their relaxed combat state or their sensitivity nearly as much. For this reason and those cited above, I encourage big men to avoid the traditional arts in favor of contact weaponry, MMA, sport jiu-jitsu, boxing, or any other continuous contact combat form that uses behavior conditioning methods alongside purely technical solutions. The same thing that makes a continuous contact fighter so effective, are those very methods that limit his training injuries. And for the big man, this goes double.
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