“Freestyle,” by David Shevitz

“Hover around a group of students who are fast approaching their brown or black belt tests, and you’ll find that one topic routinely dominates the conversation: freestyle. And to be sure, there is something about sitting down, exhausted from the technique portion of your test, facing off against 3, 4 or 5 skilled ukes, each of whom presumably is there for one purpose: to take you down, that makes you think…”

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  1. bruce baker says:

    Freestyle … there is no grappling or striking in freestyle, or is there?

    Striking a subject from behind with a stick or with something thrown while two others attack from the front .. that is not cricket .. is it?

    Lions, Tigers, and Bears .. OH MY!

    There is .. a LOT of cooperation in freestyle practice because we don’t want to hurt each other as we increase the danger level so the “Monkey in the middle” doesn’t hurt the attackers and we can all go home unhurt. (Probably not politically correct to mention the old children’s game we played in my child years of late 1950s-1960s but still a valuable tool for multiple attackers later in life)

    And, I ask .. when two grapplers grapple, attach themselves to the defender, while one or two other attackers attack, how proficient is the monkey in the middle?

    These are the valid questions I ask, and more often than not I get shuffled aside as the smile comes over the face of the person I am asking questions .. changes the subject.

    In the end, when you get to know people in many different styles of martial arts, they all start talking about the injuries they have either experienced or seen as the “UNSAFE” scenario occurs in freestyle. Be it an accident or a mistake as the “play” gets too rough .. someone always gets hurt.

    And ya know why someone always gets hurt? They get hurt cause they forget .. these techniques are dangerous and were once the foundation for Warriors to injure or kill people.

    As much as we make it a “FUN” game of Monkey in the middle .. it is serious business.

    There is ALWAYS .. and I mean ALWAYS … a technique or some dirty trick that can overcome the person in the middle, you just have to figure out what that is, just as the person in the middle has to figure out how to escape.

    The escape point may be when the teacher says,”… everyone … ATTACK!!” and there are ten or more attackers, which is pretty funny when that person in the middle doesn’t know when or where to run and is overcome as everyone laughs when they stop in a circle around the stunned defender.

    Far too often, we train with a limited mindset, as if Freestyle was a reward for the rest of the hard work for training. Freestyle is no more important than any other part of your training or any other thing you do. It is merely … PART OF THE CURRICULUM .. no more .. no less.

    Brown belts, black belts, white belts, or any other colored belts… won’t help you when real SOBs attack you. Your awareness, your wits, your skills will be your allies, and how you adapt to the situation as it unfolds .. that is what you supposed to be learning from Freestyle, to recognize a changing situation.

    What I want is for reality to set in. I want the commons sense of what you are supposed to be learning set in, not this playful look at training.

    You are gonna break bones, injure people if they are trying to kill you. It won’t be the playful freestyle of practice, and it certainly won’t be pretty. You might even die if you make enough mistakes in a freestyle attack for people who are trying to injure or kill you.

    Does that wake you up? I hope so, cause that is what you are supposed to be mindful of during training, even though you are doing your best to keep the practice at the safest levels of possible so no one enters the “danger zone” of injury, your mind is suppose to be aware of what your techniques are capable of doing.

    Excuse me, because I really don’t like it when people write these light-hearted blogs or articles about training and free-style as some kids game, like “monkey in the middle”.

    IT AIN”T NO GAME!! In a real attack, the “book of dirty tricks” comes out and all the practice you have had in the safe dojo .. might not be enough to save your life.

  2. bruce baker says:

    Just to be fair about my thoughts, I was thinking about throwing objects, like tables, chairs, sticks, stones, even people throwing themselves to tackle and grapple instead of the normal Freestyle we know as freestyle.

    ANYTHING, but the normal safe practice, just to keep some people up to speed with what I was thinking for my previous comments.

    Eventually, in freestyle, you have to consider and train for these strange attacks or strange scenarios, right?

    What would you do if four or five chairs or objects about that size were hurled at you at the same time? Freeze, or treat them the same you would four or five attackers in a safe practice environment?

  3. …now i’m reacting to Bruce – not much cooperation in full speed freestyle when i came to shodan. Frank Doran and Bob Nadeau worked out a timing-distance practice they called Frankenstein Walk. no attacks beyond outstretched arms. no throws. just blends at the right distance and everything working at about 1/4 speed. when i teach it, i count the pace so folks don’t “cheat” by going faster… (still didn’t help when my cocker spaniel and i got charged by a pitbull last year 😉 )

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