Karate and Subject Control

Many grappling arts are designed for subject control: the opponent’s ability to threaten you ceases when he is under your control. That means your objective in the encounter is to restrain his ability to move, and you do it by using a pin or lock. Wrestling, east Asian grappling arts, as well as defensive tactics’ arrest techniques for law enforcement and military applications, take this approach.

There is also the possibility of adding a finishing technique if you are facing a threat of extreme violence.

For the purposes of self-defense in striking arts our objective is generally different. We want to stop the threat without remaining in contact.

Whatever techniques we may use – strike, throw, lock, press or seize – in civilian self-defense we want to break off contact.  Our option then will be to stun the opponent with a quick atemi waza and escape, or to disable the opponent – by blunt force trauma, dislocation, pain, or even by intimidation.

There is a full range of subject control techniques in traditional karate. These include joint manipulations, take downs, throws, ground techniques, restraints and others. We use them to break balance and to incapacitate. But for civilian self-defense we do not generally do “subject control”. We do not want to hold onto a thrashing bad guy. You have to do something with him. If you release your control, he becomes a threat once again. If you hang on to him you may tire before he does.

We use the non-striking techniques in our kata for destabilization and incapacitation, briefly, but maintaining subject control is not generally our objective.

In the violent fury of a lethal force encounter – when you are in range for grappling and seizing -you are also in range of your opponent’s weapons – head, hands, feet, knees, elbows, fingers, shoulders, hips and teeth, to name a few. This is not a good place to be. It is especially not good if you are not in full control of your opponent’s balance and attention.

In traditional karate we have a huge range of techniques we can use very effectively. We have a vast, and possibly under-explored, range of interpretations offered to us in our kata.  We may get too focused on “what the move in the kata means” – as if it meant only one thing. We focus narrowly on figuring out “what our opponent is doing.” Those are important questions of course.

We will add to the good results we get from interpretation of kata, and the choices we make in combative training, if we are clear about what our objectives are in a given interaction.

Post by Jeff Brooks

Copyright © 2019 Jeffrey Brooks

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