April 20, 2018 sensei

      Combinations Are defenses against a punch, choreographed responses to different types of attacks.  They have many names across the martial arts but (in my experience) every art has a version of them.  This makes them different than forms because there are plenty of martial arts that have no forms.  What makes there partner exercises so universal?  Why practice a specific response when (in reality) timing, type of attack, size of the attacker, and a hundred other factors will make it so you never use that entire choreographed response?  And finally, how can we practice for a real defense situation and avoid injury at the same time?

        The universality of combinations is impressive, to say the least.  Our style of Kenpo karate has a list of 108 combos that can be learned. (Most students only learn 20-30 though)  In Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu you spend whole classes practicing arm bars and chokes, learning every subtlety to the move while your partner offers little to no resistance.  Every boxer has spent hours in front of the bag and/or mirror throwing the same combination of punches until their body moves by reflex alone.  Combinations are universal because we have no better way to introduce movement and then practice the subtle positions required to make them work.  Hitting a small pressure point through clothing takes A LOT of practice, catching an arm bar with control requires a carefully placed hip and a sneaky setup, and a great combination is only useful if you can through it from a balanced and protected position.  Can you think of a better way to gain these skills?
      There is any number of factors that determine how you respond to an attack and whether in a sparring match or in a fight, I have NEVER used a full combination in my defense.  Why, then, do we spend hours practicing them?  We practice these choreographed responses because the objective is not to pull combination 8 out every time you see a hook punch but to show you one way of blocking it and then a possible way to follow it up.  I have never chosen to use combination 3 in a reality situation but the block is one of my go-to moves.  Combinations add tools to the toolbox they do not fix the car.

       The last question is a question of safety.  If we practice for the sake of reality we need to replicate reality.  How do we prevent injury while doing so?  When it comes down to it, it’s about building trust.  We start slow and learn to trust that we have control over ourselves.  We learn to trust our partners have control as well.  In more time we learn to trust our control over our partner and (a little scarier) we learn to trust our partner’s control over us.  In the end (with a lot of practice) you can move are full speed, tossing your partner, and being thrown without fear of injury.

      Combinations are universal for a reason; they are practiced so they can be dissected into their parts, and we stay safe by starting slow and building trust.  As with everything else in the martial arts, combinations have many reasons behind their practice and execution.