The High Guard

I last wrote about the importance of guarding your head. Remember, if you’re hit in the body you may be hurt, but you can still defend yourself. On the other hand, if you’re hit in the head and knocked unconscious, your opponent can drive a tractor over you and there’s nothing you can do.

This leads me to the concept of blocking versus cover. Blocking is a  lower-level concept in which one tries to move a hand to block or intercept a blow. The problem is that when blows start coming in fast and furious, like they do in real life, it’s easy for a blocking defense to be overwhelmed. A person who blocks often must transition from blocking, which is defensive, to punching, which is offensive.

A better concept is cover, which can be found in boxing. The idea is to cover your vital areas, particularly your head, so that no matter how many punches are thrown, and whether or not you see the punch, your hands/arms form a natural barrier. Ideally, a covered position is one in which your arms are coiled to strike, so that you can hit non-telegraphically.

I have applied the concept of cover to weapons. I want to be in a stance that protects my head when the blows start raining in. Imagine that there is a second opponent that I am not aware of. Even if I am aware of a second (or more) opponent, I still prefer to be in a covered position to help shield my head against multiple attacks coming from several different angles, some of which I cannot see.

Note how I must bring up the stick to guard my head.

My head is completely exposed.

Like a boxer's guard, my hands are up near my head.

As a last ditch defense, I can defend my head with a slight movement upward.

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12 Responses to “The High Guard”

  1. I see it differently:

    Covering is a lower-level concept; it is what one does ONLY when overwhelmed by strikes, it almost instinctually used when your blocking/deflecting skills do not match the striking skills of your attacker.

    There is no offense in covering, it is your last line of defense and if you are at that point you either gain enough will power to offense your way out of it or you just cave in and take the blows the attacker wants to give you.

    My levels are based on skill required:

    Very High: To move out of the way of the attack and striking at the same time. By ignoring his attack it has no chance to hit you as you are not there to be hit. Requires great timing and speed, in THAT order.

    High: To parry the attack and strike back at the same time. Your attack interrupts his.

    Medium: To block and attack at the same time. Your block stops his attack cold which takes more force than a parry.

    Low: To block then attack. Too slow, he will always be one step ahead.

    Very Low: Covering up. No defense is possible, purely defensive.

  2. Oh, btw; boxing is a poor example as it is a sport. In boxing there is only one attacker, a ref, rules, and time limits. You can cover up in a boxing match and get separated by the ref.

    On the street if you cover up you die.

  3. James,

    Interesting ideas. I tend to agree with your hierarchy.

    Be careful, though, not to confuse “cover” with “covering up.” I agree that covering up, trying to roll yourself into a ball like an armadillo, is poor strategy.

    My concept of cover is an offensive stance that is protective. If you look at my preferred stance in the lower two pics, it is offensive.

    I agree that the best strategy is to negate the opponent’s attack via mobility and control of range. To your “very high” bullet point you might add the stop hit, to burst in on an opponent and blast him as he tries to initiate an attack.

  4. James, I have to respectfully disagree with you on your assessment of boxing and associated methods of evading and attack. While it is true that “covering up” isn’t the way to go, using a stance/ posture that provides a protective platform is very effective (e.g. Peek-a-boo style, Crazy Monkey, etc.) because there will be times, fighting a boxer for example, that blocking, parrying, et al won’t work-you’ll be too slow. Secondly, an appropriate covering posture can actually damage an opponent when he hits you (e.g. punching into your forearms/ elbows of a high guard) this has the added advantage of not moving you out of position or range for an immediate counter attack, which often times evading will unless you’re fairly well versed in subtle movement, and I think that this is where the triangular footwork of FMA’s has a great added benefit to boxing. I agree that moving and hitting is always the most preferred method and in order to be truly effective it requires that you be able to fight with either lead forward and to change seamlessly while hitting with power from either side. There is an old saying in boxing: “Be First” and this may allow you to do this, but employing a stop-hit is even better-simply beat him to the punch. IMHO blocking, parrying, etc. are really elevated forms of patty-cake in most cases and it is a rare individual that can pull it off and counter quickly enough. Ironically, the ones who seem to do that best are boxers. When adding a stick into the mix, again it is better to employ merging or what the Dog Brothers have coined “attacking blocks” because picking off an incoming stick or blade without simultaneously doing damage is a waste of time and puts you squarely on the defensive. Having a covering guard that allows you to be protected, move, and hit simultaneously is inherently faster and allows you to concentrate on the number one goal which should be to put your adversary down and out as quickly as possible. To paraphrase Musashi-Think only of cutting your opponent down. Far too many FMA practitioners waste their time clacking their sticks together as if hitting the other guy’s rattan has any value. Protect your mellon and smack the other guy in his, if you can do it all in one motion, so much the better.

  5. Tommy, I am aware of the Stop Hit and I would add is as very high. However, you seem to not understand what I said as you are talking about the same things I talked about.

    When I say parry it is not down as a 1-2 combo, the parry is done either with one hand parring and the other striking at the SAME time, or the attacking hand parrys as it goes forward; think of right cross coming in and a left jap contacting the right arm from the outside as it makes it’s path to the face when used with stepping to your forward left.

    When you talk about damaging the hand/forearm by covering we take it to the gunting level from FMA. Blocking the stick is only done out of kindness to our training partner, in reality we strike than hand or wrist aka defanging the snake (A very important thing here: I always tell our students to count on nothing! Hit the hand and if he drops the stick fine, but don’t expect him to drop the stick, don’t even look for it, just hit the hand and keep on with your attack: attack, attack, attack=flow-flow-flow). To practice this we put on boxing or hockey gloves so we can hand the hand relatively hard and fast without causing damage.

    In our stick fighting school the very first thing we do is triangular joggging rather than in a circle or on the spot the reinforces in the brain and body stepping off at an angle, then we work on triangular stepping both basic and advance footwork patterns. We have three main ones from FMA and two other very similar ones for both the Scottish angles and the Irish angles.

    Our motto is Advance Everywhere. My personal motto is don’t spar, attack.

  6. James,

    You make some good points and I agree with most of what you write, I merely was trying to illustrate that boxing techniques do have a place on the street (even with a stick). Naturally it needs to be “streeted-up” a little bit but it works well, at least from where I’m at. A simultaneous parry and strike is a good thing, as long as you stand your ground, but I have seen a good fighter throw a hook over the top of the parrying hand and land a clean shot. That would not have happened if the straight had been picked off with the elbow/ forearm up high to defend. But hey, if you can make it work, more power to you!
    With respect to de-fanging the snake, I used to be a firm believer in that idea too, but not too much any more. If you’re using a blade perhaps more so, but not too much with a stick. I’m not saying you’re wrong because it has merit, I’m just saying that I personally no longer see too much value with that tactic in a stick vs. stick or stick vs knife (bladed opponent) scenario. I have seen too many guys take hard shots to the arm, retain their weapon, and keep coming forward and now you’re out of position. I personally would rather maintain a bit of distance unitl I see an opening and then explode into the defilade with an incapacitating strike. Of course, I prefer a heavier, longer stick which makes this more effective. I’m not sure what you prefer so I can’t comment on that point, but individual results and preferences will dictate to a greater or lesser degree. The downside to a heavier stick is that it makes multiple quick abanico style strikes impossible so that probably accounts for my more economical approach.
    Either way, thanks for the response and best wishes in your training!

  7. Thanks for the best wishes.

    Because we practice a street style there is no prefered length as you never know what you will pick up. We use both 28″ and 36″ sticks, we also use 5.5″ stick but to a much smaller degree, and we exercise with a 48″ stick. We teach single grip, double grip, and baseball grip and students are expected to mix them up as it suits them. In class everyone uses the same length at the same time unless we want to mix weapons, but each person has their own stick and it could be my teachers Blackthorn, my own ??? but Blackthorn looking stick, my hardwood stick with ball, or another students Dollarama stick.

    We break our training into stick, stick & hand, empty hand against stick, and stick & ground. There may be crossover but that is the main way we train first year students. Many of the joint locks we do with the stick are the same with empty hand. We don’t focus on knife much with first year students but it’s hidden in there.

  8. Frederico Says:

    The big problem I see with covering is that Darrin is a fan of big and heavy sticks, and I don’t see how a quick move from that pose in the last image would protect you from a strike with a baseball bat, and even if it is better than to get hit directly, you would surely not be able to recover in time to counter or proper block a second strike. But if you are not talking about heavy sticks, then forget I said this.

  9. Frederico,

    You’re absolutely right that my upward wingblock won’t stop a baseball bat.

    But the block (and I don’t prefer blocks) is an example of a last ditch emergency move I can make to save my butt at the last second. As long as my hands are up, I can help protect my head.

    Remember, the worst thing that can happen is a clean shot to the head that knocks me out.

  10. It’s good that we can discuss this as students of the arts.

    Two people spoke about speed in relation to other posters; please remember that while I can move a lighter stick than I can a heavy stick, it doesn’t mean that Darrin can’t move a heavy stick faster than I can move a light stick. So yes, one person’s technique and style can win against another person’s technique and style. It sounds basic but is something we should keep in mind.

    Also, one thing I’m not sure people are keeping in mind is distance. If I face someone with a baseball bat a wing block wouldn’t be my first attempt but if I did use it I don’t have to limit myself to stick/stick contact as we talked about before, I can move in close with a wing block to the arm which would mean less force from the attacker and me being in a position to use my other hand to palm the face, poke the eyes, hit with the stick tip, etc. In self-defence there is no sparing (trading off techniques) you just take control of the situation. In the beginning of any assult the attacker has control and you need to take that from him and put him on the defense.

  11. Where Darrin is coming from is that the closer his hands are to his head the faster he can defend against a strike to the head.

    When I hold the stick I do not use either of the low positions shown in the photos. I use a middle position with the stick out front ready to attack the attack and not defend.

    Attacks are going to be a challenge or surprise. If I am surprised the attacker is already close enough to land an attack at least once at which point I will not be doing long range techniques until I can disengage from my attacker. If it is a challenge, and I can’t escape, then there will be more distance between me and the attacker at the start to respond. By challenge I mean an attack where the attacker confronts you first with words of intimidation, surprise attack is when the attacker uses force first without words.

    Too many people think of stick fighting as two guys in a gym with sticks when the reality is: 1. He has a stick and you don’t, 2. You both have sticks (may be of different size and materials), 3. You have a stick and he doesn’t, 4. One person has a stick and the other has a knife, 5. All multiple attackers have sticks and you do/don’t have one, 6. Multiple attackers have a mix of weapons and you have a stick, 7. You have a stick but then loose it during the fight.

  12. Frederico Says:

    Thanks Darrin, I understand your view.

    If you take a completely offensive posture(and in self defense, specially against multiple opponents that is a most reasonable posture to take) and assume you will be only attacking, that guard is probably the most powerful and offensive there is. in any case I also think it is much better than the others you show.

    That would be my First or second option depending on the situation too. the only different thing I would to would be the body posture a little bit in the other side to use torso rotation to power the strike. I’m not a strong guy and I need to generate all the power I can for my strike to be a threat to my opponents. In that view, having a shorter rotation of the stick would also weaken my attack so I Like that you, with that Guard have a good 180º rotation there.

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