Cross Training in Boxing and Kick Boxing
Gary Avery, Kudan
9th Degree Black Belt
Tracy's Kenpo Karate
First, I want to make it clear that I believe that the Kenpo system is the most efficient and scientific system of self-defense that exists. I started in the martial arts in 1964 in another great system that taught me that no man or system has all the answers and to be open minded when it came to learning new techniques or ways to apply a technique that you already know. Simply put, if it hits you when you didn’t want it to and it hurts - it was good and you had better learn how to do it and defend against it (adapt or become extinct). What made me a convert and proponent of Kenpo was the very fact that it was so encompassing (kicks, hand techniques, grab arts etc.) that you could become an efficient fighter no matter what physical attributes you possessed.
Students tend to be offensive kickers or punchers, aggressive slammers, counter punchers, or counter kickers. The only difference between the under belts and the upper belts was that the upper belts could do the techniques better and had a much more varied arsenal to draw from and more variety in how they delivered the techniques (different rhythms and different angles). They also had greater power (pound for pound) than the under belts because of the hours they practiced striking the heavy bag or other training objects. It was common when I was an under belt to spend 1-2 hours two or three times a week striking the heavy bag, as well as your regular martial arts training.
In the old days when people were still civilized, before the proliferation of lawsuits, we opened our gyms to anyone who wanted to come in and work out. The work out could consist of a friendly work out or escalate to a full contact work out. There were no weight divisions in the old days and you took on all comers. That was incentive enough to keep in shape at all times. Mr. Joe Lewis (heavy weight kick boxing champion) came into our schools and gave a couple of seminars and I was first introduced to some boxing concepts. He broke them down conceptually and related as to how they could be used in karate. After his seminars, I started applying the concepts in sparring. Prior to that time, I hadn’t had much respect for boxers because I had managed to break several of their ribs with my sidekick, several times, when they came into my gym to work out. My instructor had similar experiences. They simply couldn’t penetrate the sidekick and when they did manage to close the gap, I used knees on them, which was just as devastating as the kicks. However, what I found after using the boxing techniques was that they added to what I could already do. My hands were simply better and more efficient being able to use my hands more ways than prior to learning the boxing techniques. I didn’t throw out the baby with the bath water and quit doing what I had already been doing that worked well for me. I just added the new moves. I still had my step through punch, ridge hand, back knuckle, and reverse punch, as well as eye strikes and so forth; but, I also had 15 or 20 more ways to use my hand combinations when I was in close to my opponent. Later, after I closed my schools in Louisville, Kentucky, when kickboxing started to become popular, I spent several years in a gym with boxers, wrestlers, and three different styles of karate. It was the only gym I had ever been at where everyone simply did their own thing and got along well with each other. Sometimes we would wrestle, sometimes box, sometime kickbox, and sometimes do karate. One quickly learned that there were individuals who were street tough and efficient in all three disciplines. I had wrestled in high school and college and bench-pressed well over 300 at the time so the wrestling was not so foreign to me as the straight boxing. There were a couple of people in the gym who had boxed professionally, so it was easy to pick up different ideas concerning training techniques. As I worked out with the different styles, I noticed myself adapting for their strengths and taking advantage of their weaknesses. They were always trying to do the same thing so it always pushed the window concerning adaptability. I believe I am a more rounded individual because of my experience. Later, I started training some kick boxers and incorporating much of the boxing and karate into my training routines. By cross training, I saw individuals improve at a much faster pace than they did by training in only one art.
Good boxers move differently than do karate practitioners. The best way to relate is to think of boxing as a broken rhythm attack. Good boxers move to their opponent and there is a slight delay before they execute their attack. They actually move first and strike second. This allows them to block an opponent or slip an opponent’s attack. They don’t move in and strike simultaneously because they don’t want to move into an attack. The easiest way to knock out an opponent is to catch them perfect as they move towards you (like two cars hitting head on). Boxers also deliver combinations differently than karate practitioners and deliver the same techniques at different angles and rhythms as well as off the timing of their opponent’s attack. Their angles often come from the outside where most karate attacks fight for control of the centerline. Good boxers are also harder to hit perfectly because they vary their head movement and distance continually. They also have many mitt routines, defensive and offensive drills, which develop the muscle memory to react to a stimulus autonomically. In essence, sometimes you simply react and don’t even know what you did. An analogy to this is using a grab defense without any thought what so ever. If practiced properly, the grab arts become autonomic. Boxers also have many great routines concerning strength training and stamina and by varying your routines, you never get bored concerning your workouts. They also make greater use of equipment than most martial artists do. Nonetheless, they also have some weaknesses that can be exploited by a savvy martial artist. Because they don’t cover the gap the same way as a martial artist, one can close the gap with a back knuckle and use a ridge hand on them. One can also kick them readily with both offensive and defensive kicks. They often run into the kicks and often try to duck under when they shouldn’t and get a knee in the face. This said, they are used to taking punishment and often can fight even after having a broken jaw, ribs, etc. It has been my experience that it takes more punishment to stop a boxer than the average martial artist (Why? Most martial artist don’t do enough lower and upper abdomen work and don’t do enough medicine ball routines). Boxers are also very weak concerning joint locks and chokes and because of their weight distribution, they are easily taken off their feet. However, they are strong in avoiding the full force of a blow and can recover more readily than a martial artist when hurt in a confrontation. Most confrontations with anyone who is truly tough will start without many words being said. One person will simply try to drop his opponent with one blow or a series of blows or take him off his feet unexpectedly and beat him unconscious on the ground. Grapplers will try to either choke you out or break a joint when they get you on the ground.
Kick boxers are harder to exploit. They train with many of the boxing routines, are generally in better shape than a karate practitioner (not as good shape as most boxers), and are used to getting hit and often roll and avoid much of the power when they do get hit. They (most kick boxers) have weaknesses too which can be exploited. They generally cannot protect their groin very well, are not used to defending against ridge hands, and generally don’t grapple well. It is also easy to attack their kicking foot with elbows and shatter their instep because many of them kick upward at an angle. They generally can be hit with sidekicks and low gravity wheel kicks all day (most karate students don’t have a good side kick even though they think they do). When taken off their feet, they will either give you their back and in which case are susceptible to a leg vine and choke or reach for you (being over extended) and allow you to get an arm lock on them.
Grapplers can be exploited too. They often come in with their heads down and are susceptible to uppercuts, knees, and strikes downward behind the neck. It is also easy to blind a grappler with the thumbs and you can often strike their groin. This being said, they have strengths too. Most martial artists, judo and jui jujitsu excluded, have little to no ground defense.
Thus said, one can easily see that each system has its strength and weakness. If one wants to be the best fighter he can be, then one needs to at least know your enemy and be able to exploit his weaknesses. Many people are training in several martial arts at the same time and I personally feel it is imperative for your ability to defend yourself that you learn more than one art and learn how to exploit the weaknesses of any potential attacker. You had better be able to fight from a distance, fight while closing the gap, fight inside, fight after being grabbed, fight on the ground, and be in shape so you can fight long enough to win. Remember even a Rolls Royce isn’t worth one cent when it is out of gas and your buddy has a full tank!
I try to cover all bases when it comes to teaching my students how to fight; and, if I am proud of nothing else I have done in the martial arts, I am proud of the individual thinkers that I have produced over the years. Most are very adaptable, very efficient in their art, and have the attitude that if it works use it!