You ask some good questions about what it means to be a fighter. Obviously, there are many levels to fighting and I’m NOT a high-level fighter by any means. I would say that very few who practice martial arts are. It takes a lot of work across multiple disciplines, especially if you want to train non-ranged weapons too. It’s something you need to dedicate your life to. At age 43-44, my instructor’s instructor checks off all of those boxes (and he’s also a black belt in Judo, which is why we have to learn a lot of japanese names for our throws and some other techniques!). Fighting (and professional dog handling) is all he’s ever really done. I don’t know anyone else like that.
Most of what I speak of in this thread boils down to training specificity and how your training has the potential to carry over in a violent situation. Let’s start at the bottom.
First off, everyone has a puncher’s chance. There are no guarantees in a fight. If you get caught off-guard for whatever reason, you can go down and get your ass whooped no matter how much you’ve trained.
Second, you’ll only become a fighter if that’s what you’re trying to do. There’s nothing wrong with starting every roll from the knees or your butt and leaving guard-pulling as your only way to reliably get someone to the ground, which loses a lot of reliability if they aren’t wearing a gi and trying to punch you in the face. I know more than a few people who train this way, have no takedown game, prefer to flow roll all the time and meet every single goal they’re trying to get out of jiu jitsu (or seem to, at least). There’s nothing wrong with that.
I think a good baseline measure for the effectiveness of your training at the blue belt level would be the ability to reliably handle a somewhat larger and stronger aggressor with some common training, like some boxing and high-school level wrestling. I know some blue, purple and even a brown belt who would likely fail this test miserably. That’s fine, so long as they’re meeting their training goals. Fighting a trained fighter is when you start to get to the next level, and that obviously takes more training and more fighting.
Regarding pressure and levels of violence in training norms, I think that is valuable. Very valuable. I bounced a little before I trained jiu jitsu. I did fine insomuch as I never got hurt too bad, but I’d get worked up. I’d use too much brute force at times, an unmeasured response if you will. I’d escalate when things didn’t need to escalate, just because of the adrenaline. I was also pretty damn scared at times. Outside of bouncing, I took a very severe unprovoked beating about 15 years ago and had absolutely no response as it was happening. That really sucked.
Lately, with two years of fairly consistent and high-quality mat time at what I’d call the hobbyist level, my heart rate barely goes up when things get chippy (and for whatever reason, they have been since right before Christmas). The last asshole who grabbed me got put on the ground (with my clumsy but still-effective Sasae, since you’re a judo guy) and seen out the door without incident and without either of us getting hurt. I stayed calm and delivered a measured response. If things had gone further, I think I would have stayed calm then too, or at least a lot calmer than he was, and made better choices as the encounter unfolded.
You don’t get that if you’re not being put under the stress of a realistic struggle on a regular basis, which includes lots of pressure and discomfort along with training in a fatigued state or with otherwise limited oxygen supplies. Getting whapped in the head is also a good inoculation to violence. We don’t train bare-knuckle boxing, that would be dumb and reckless, but palm strikes and incidental hard contact to the head and body are something that will better prepare you to respond effectively when the time comes. If someone’s trying to punch you, chances are you’re going to take some rough contact even if they are relatively inept. Can you brush that off and continue the fight? What’s a fight-ender to you? For the best and toughest, it is being physically unable to continue via knockout, strangulation or a mortal wound. Even a guy with broken bones can continue to fight if he’s so determined.
The more you train and the more elements of violence you introduce and become familiar with, that needle will keep moving over to the right when it comes to what constitutes a fight-ender for you.
At this point I’d weigh them at 40/60 importance weighted toward training, with my training becoming more and more effective in that regard as I build a more complete skillset. My instructor’s never been in a fight and I’m 100 percent sure, 100 percent sure that he would have won every fight and violent encounter I’ve ever been in. Easily. He shows up when I’m bouncing a lot lately, and I secretly think he’s hoping that shit gets out of hand at some point.
I don’t believe it is because I’ve seen the products of a system where handling violence is prioritized about as well as it can be from white belt to blue belt. I’ve also seen the products of systems where it isn’t. I’d be totally comfortable with any blue belt from my instructor’s school having my back at the door, even the female ones. (Watch the first part of the video I linked, both those gals are late white/early blue belts). These blue belts aren’t super-heroes, but if they can avoid getting knocked out (which isn’t that hard against aggressive assholes), they are going to have a skillset that they’re ready to put into use to good effect. All of them. They are ready to put up, and prepared in a way that your average or even above-average aggressor won’t have an answer for.
This is true, and it’s another deep rabbit hole you can go down. The weapons training we do is fairly limited, but better than nothing. Our default is to attack the right hand. We try to think about stuffing weapons draws when we see a hand go to the waist. We work on this, although not nearly as much as general grappling. It’s still on the radar and get’s some attention.
What I like about the system I’m training in now is that it assumes that people are there because they want to handle violence with their bare hands. It also assumes most will quit between 6 weeks and one year in. The curriculum is organized and taught in a way to prepare the students as well as possible in that time, prioritizing high-percentage techniques and tactical pathways geared towards combat over sport. This general notion carries up until roughly purple belt, when you start getting deeper into the chess-match of grappling.
Great comments, and thanks for chiming in.