Fighting Lessons From The Door

I often get asked what was the impetus for Crazy Monkey Defense? To be honest, it began for personal, selfish reasons. In my formative training first in Karate as a kid, then later on in Western boxing as a teenager, before moving on to Muay Thai — as well as dabbling with several forms of martial approaches through various instructors, and an in-depth exploration into what was then the Virginian birth of MMA in the mid 90’s — I always felt let down. While there were things I learned that were invaluable, it often was overshadowed by hours upon hours of training in techniques that seemed ill equipped for the realities of the fight out on the street.

Luckily, (or unluckily) I spent a considerable amount of years outside some of the roughest nightclubs in Johannesburg. As the head doorman, fights didn’t happen weekly, but rather nightly. This testing ground, a laboratory of reality, left me questioning the very core of what I had been taught by others, and the value in much of what had been circulating in the world of martial arts. I threw all my Black Belt magazines away because of this, realising that much of what was peddled in them in respect to self preservation was junk.

After each altercation, it became clear to me, that much of what is taught in the world of martial arts, much of what is passed of as workable in a fight, just doesn’t show up as promised. Now, of course, I could have simply sucked as a student. Arguably, I was that kid with two left feet. I didn’t really show much ‘talent’ for the fight game. My concerns were put to rest after witnessing countless other people getting into fights both inside and outside the clubs, convincing me even further that little that was taught in the Dojo showed up when it mattered most in a real fight. Regardless of the method or style a person claimed their allegiance too, almost all fights without exception, ended up looking like really bad boxing, with at times some shitty kicks thrown in, and a tumble on the floor for good measure. Fights in other words were always messy, unpredictable, and chaotic. Nothing resembled the neatly packaged attacks and counter offence taught in the schools of ‘learning how to fight’ back then, or even now.

This convinced me that, at the very least I had to find a better way to deal with all this mess, confusion, and unreliability of the techniques and strategies I had been taught. To be brutally honest, I wasn’t having much luck either. My first year of surviving working as a ‘bouncer’ came down mostly to luck, and for the fact that I never worked alone. After that first year, frustrated, I made it a point to figure out what will, and won’t work in a fight. Not a fight on the mat, or in the dojo, or even in the ring, but out on the streets where making a mistake doesn’t serve up a convenient standing eight count. I found myself throwing away almost 70% of everything I had learned, and everything I thought I knew. What I was left with was solid boxing techniques, with a few low line kicks, some good old fashioned knees and elbows – but that still left 70% missing that needed to be attended too.

Here I Go Again About Defense

An important lesson I learned working the door is that when a human being is looking for trouble, and has no compunction to swing his fists at you, he resides in the world of the scavenger. These people are opportunists, and will take any advantage of weakness if presented with one. Scavenger Fighter Types have no issue sucker punching you, or if they see you distracted or apprehensive they will pounce. It was clear to me, that trying to fight back, once you had taken physical punishment wasn’t a good strategy. Said another way, if someone just clocked you really hard in the face, and all you were seeing was stars, fighting out of that put you at a serious disadvantage. It’s hard enough fighting a person when you are all there, let alone when your head is spinning. After a few incidents where I came close to being knocked out, it dawned on me that without the ability to actively defend those initial incoming blows, what ever tools I thought I had in my fighters toolbox meant little.

This saw the birth of the Crazy Monkey hand defensive action. Most people, and even those who teach martial arts don’t fully understand how important defense actually is. For most it’s an after thought, if at all. Much of the time in training is often spent on offensive action, or counter-offensive action built of drills where the ‘defender’ has a clear idea on how and when their ‘opponent’ will attack them. When defensive action is taught it either comes in the form of blocks allocated to specific lines of attack, and or, evasive manoeuvring. I learned the hard way that both these methods are fatally flawed in real interpersonal violence.

Put into perspective: if you took only four strikes, say a jab, cross, lead hook, and rear uppercut, you have 24 possible combinations. Think about that for a moment, in the moment someone attacks you (often by surprise) you truly think you are going to be able to read which of the 24 combinations are now barrelling towards your head, and then be able to choose the appropriate defensive action (or even offensive action) you were drilling on the mat? What happens when a person can use all their physical tools at their disposal?

In the first instance when considering blocks allocated to different angles of attacks, it assumes that you will know, or be able to read what an opponent will attack you with. One only has to try get that right on a night club dance floor, with strobing lights to quickly learn that this is isn’t going to work. In the second instance when one considers evasive manoeuvring, it isn’t any better than the first, that of blocking. Even if you can get out of the way of the first punch, more will be coming, not mentioning knees, elbows, kicks, etc. Try evading some punches in a moshpit and you will quickly learn you wont be able to get out of the way for very long. These defensive actions also don’t take into account that in reality, prediction is the enemy of success. Fights are chaotic, and as such, you will be hard pressed to know exactly what a person will be striking with until the moment it is virtually upon you. This makes it often way to late to respond with a specific block for that attack, or to do the right evasive moves to get out of the way.

While no fighting method is ever full proof, I worked around the ‘blocking’ problem by going to what all humans tend to do as one of their default ‘defensive’ mechanisms — by raising their hands, and attempting to cover their heads. I have always found it interesting that the people who don’t default to this cover are often those who are trained in some form of martial arts, and end up learning the hard way by being knocked out. Or if they are lucky to survive the initial onslaught, realising they are taking heavy damage to their operating system (i.e., their heads) go to a cover response anyway. Many MMA fighters when in trouble do this cover response too, but have no idea how to convert that to a high percentage defensive action for a fight, and end up getting smashed in the process as their opponent will invariably drill through their cover at some point.

The Crazy Monkey hand defensive action took time to develop. I learned early on, that simply going into a cover response while much safer than trying to block, parry or evade, wasn’t enough. Someone with heavy strikes could still break through. This is when I developed the Hunchback stance, which allowed me to, as best as I could, lock down all the openings. Then this was followed by ensuring that I always faced the opponent attacking me, or what we refer to in CMD as the Square Hip Principle. I noticed that once someone was unable to deal with the incoming strikes even though they had their hands covering their head, they would invariably begin to turn and give away the side or back of themselves. Facing the opponent square on, no matter where he moved to, solved some of this problem. I then realised that it was imperative to have my hands moving at all times. Not only did this make it harder for someone to hit me, it made the incoming strikes glance off my forearms (preventing the smash through described earlier), and it made it easier to pick up those strikes coming in as well. We call this Riding the Storm in Crazy Monkey Defense.


The Birth of Offensive-Defense: CM2

As time went on, the defensive action evolved. My initial defensive hand action was great when at a distance (or making distance) from a striking opponent, but not so great when I had to move in. Tweaking the hand defensive action, and adding in evasive movement, saw the birth of CM2 hand defense. This allowed me to close the gap on a striking opponent, while still keeping really safe, and putting me in the exact position I needed to be to unleash devastating midline strikes. CM2 hand action also allowed me to get out of a bad spot when an opponent was almost on top of me.

After using these defensive actions in real fights, and having unbelievable success with it, it dawned on me that defense doesn’t only keep you physically safe, but psychologically too. Knowing that anyone who decided to take me on would be hard pressed to simply take me out with a few punches, bolstered a sense of confidence that anyone truly needs when having to go hands on with a person bent on your physical destruction.


Defensive-Offensive Striking

Even though fighting outside the doors of nightclubs forced me to evolve my fighting game, it was clear that no amount of defensive action will stop someone who is bent on your destruction. Having great defense is an asset, but it’s pointless if you then discard it, and open up when striking back (which I see way too often even among professional fighters who should know better). These considerations evolved into what I have termed Diving Board strikes, which is the ability to remain covered, while firing counterstrikes back. Nowhere is this more important than the good old jab and cross. Not only do straight-line strikes form the primer for all other possible strikes to proceed from (such as hooks, uppercuts etc), they also offer the best defensive-offensive cover, with the least chance of error.

Anyone who has had to fight knows that the physiological changes the human body goes through in preparation to fight distorts your vision, where you lose your peripheral ability to see anything else other than what is right in front of you. You also lose some of your coordination. This is why I tell my students all the time, “If you can’t keep everything tight both in defense and attack on the mat, what do you think it’s going to look like in a real fight, where your adrenaline etc is jacked up to its max?” It’s not uncommon to see someone who looks great in the ‘Dojo’ lose everything they were taught the moment when faced with real interpersonal violence. Swinging for the fences, even among so called trained martial artists is more common than you would think. This gets even worse when you either fight out of anger, or you are losing physically. Again, examples of this in combat sports abound.


The Reasons People Lose Their Shit

Working the door taught me that there are some very good reasons why this happens. Firstly, if what you train, doesn’t match what you will experience out on the street then it simply will likely not work. No human being when faced with interpersonal violence intuitively fights like a crane or a snake — a crane fights like a crane, just like a snake fights like a snake. Human’s well, humans fight like humans (just because there may be some correlation to the animal kingdom, correlation doesn’t imply causation). Knowing the best way to harness our innate survival mechanisms, working with our organic movement patterns is key to our personal survival. Copying anything that doesn’t equate to how humans truly engage with interpersonal violence is a recipe for death.

It’s actually quit easy to decide what will work in a fight. Go watch all the street fight videos circulating YouTube, then do a side by side comparison of self proclaimed self defense experts on what they teach. You will notice immediately that almost everything passed off as self defense, never shows up in real interpersonal fights. It seems so obvious, that I am still stunned why people keep buying into bogus methods of self defense, when on the same platform (i.e., YouTube) thousands of real street fight examples exist to prove otherwise. I know the argument, those fights are by untrained fighters. If you are trained its different, and you won’t fight like that. That argument is rubbish actually. We don’t apply that same skewed thinking process to any other performance endeavour in life, be that in sports, medicine or science. Why? Because we can see real experts at work. For most ‘self-defense experts’ we simply have to take their word for it that it will work. The taboo (and law against) fighting out on the street precludes most ‘self-defense’ instructors from showing us first hand that what they teach will actually work. As a side note, I think their should be a ‘UFC style’ event for self-defense experts, with an asphalt floor, with walls for the octagon, and a few cars and objects like tables etc thrown in for good measure. Now that’s something I would watch!

As I have noted elsewhere, the vast majority of ‘self-defense’ schools are in the relative safe neighbourhoods of the world. The snake oil self-defense experts are counting on this, and counting on their students not knowing any better. There’s a very good reason that in the most violent inner cities of the world there are boxing gyms, because boxing works in a real fight, and people living their faced with real everyday violence know that too. As such, if you are not sparring against uncooperative opponents you will be ill equipped to face a real interpersonal threat when you encounter one. Outside of all the innovations I made to my game out of necessity working the door, sparring literally saved my life. Without all the rounds of regular sparring I was doing nightly in the gym (and still do), I doubt I would have been able to have done as well fighting for real as I did.


The Goal of All Your Self-Defense Training, Needs to be Adaptability

Thirdly, once you have fought for real a few times, you recognise that under stress, the body has a mind of its own. As noted earlier, the physiological changes that take place in the moment leading up to, and in the fight, can throw you. Tunnel vision, loss of coordination, intense emotional responses, are only some of what you have to deal with. While I didn’t know the term back then, I found that being present (or what we now know today as mindfulness) was crucial to winning in interpersonal violent confrontations. In the moment of potential conflict any kind of second guessing, or planning what to do next, can spell disaster. You can think all you like about what you would like to do next, but that wont stop the opponent continuing to smash you in the face. What I learned was that by being fully present, increased my adaptability to the unfolding scene of violence that was presenting itself.

Outside of defense as primacy, offence that keeps you safe, and knowing what will arise in the body moments before interpersonal violence so you can manage it better – adaptability is probably the most important attribute to develop. One of the things I learned outside the door was that accumulation of techniques, doesn’t necessary mean more options. In fact, the more you think you know, the more likelihood you will fall victim to analysis by paralysis. The truth is, what I teach in Crazy Monkey Defense in 2-months right now, is for the most part enough to ensure that a person has enough of an edge when it matters most, in self preservation survival. The truth is, the key to successfully defending yourself isn’t anticipating and training for all the potential things that could happen in a fight, but rather, that you had developed sufficient game built off high percentage fundamentals that now allows you to be able to troubleshoot most situations on the fly.

Let me give you an example: In my Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu program Monkey-Jits trainers often ask me for a curriculum that spans white to black belt. Within that question lies the assumption that there is something remarkably different between what a solid blue belt knows versus a black belt. In other words, blue belts must clearly have the ‘basics’ down, while black belts are privy to the ‘advanced’ material. Yet, nothing could be further from the truth. Of course I could easily create a pretence of what could be considered basic, versus advanced, often disguised under complexity — but this serves no real purpose if the objective is game performance (which it should be, shouldn’t it)?

The truth is, I use mainly everything I learned during my formative years in Jits (white to blue belt) every time I roll. The only difference between myself and a blue belt is I have trained the fundamentals longer, my timing is better, I am able to hook variations together and of course I can draw on a vast well of experience in using those techniques. While there is of course some fancy stuff that comes up every now and then in jiu-jitsu, at its heart, in every black belts game you can see the very things we all learned in our first few years of training. The separation between basics and advance is an artificial divide, conjured up by clever ‘martial arts marketing’ to keep students interested in training long enough to maximise a return on investment. In other words, its about making Dollars.

This in itself is also nonsense anyway. Part of being a skilled coach is the ability to reinvent the fundamentals each night on the mat, that students continuously find immense value in exploring the nuances held in those techniques. At leat for me, people who want a neatly packaged A to B curriculum, suggests laziness on the part of the instructor. It is also a way to calm the instructors anxiety, believing that he or she needs to continuously be offering something ‘new’ to keep people interested and to ensure that their role as instructor remains viable (with all the short attention spans these days, and need for instant gratification, I can see why they think this way). The truth is, working the door taught me that less is more. The more you know, the more you need to worry about things going wrong. For example, any wilderness expert will tell you that for the most part you need only ten things to survive out in the wild,

1. Water catchment/filtration system
2. Access to a food source
3. Dental hygiene device
4. Source of heat and light
5. Material to keep warm
6. A knife
7. Natural insect repellent
8. Material to build a shelter
9. Natural self-aid
10. A compass

Much of the above can be found or made in the wilderness itself. Yet, walk into any camping/outdoorsman store, and you will be bombarded by one clever gimmick or technological survival item after another. Most of which you don’t need, and wouldn’t want to have with you anyway — not only because it would weigh you down, make you slower, but because in the case of technology, when it breaks in the wilderness (which it likely will) you won’t be able to use it or fix it.

Just like survival in the wilderness, there are no gimmicks when it comes to surviving interpersonal violence. People can try to sell it as such, but thats all it is, a clever sales pitch, pitched to an audience who truly don’t know any better. The bottom line, and working the door taught me this, you want to know the foundation, and be skilled enough with that knowledge to adapt it to most situations. For those interpersonal violent situations you find yourself unprepared for, the goal is simply to survive and escape at the first opportunity. I know people find this kind of advice uncomfortable, but the truth is you could train your whole life trying to learn to defend yourself, and you will never be able to cover all the possibilities you may encounter in the real world of interpersonal violence. I gave up on figuring that out after my first year of ‘bouncing’.

Ever since then, I have worked hard to create a system of fighting, Crazy Monkey Defense that offers its user a high level of usability, and achievement certainty. As system that actually is easily learned, retrained and deployable. I know many claim this about there fighting systems, but my approach didn’t come about solely from working in the ‘dojo’ on the mat, but rather, engaging in 100s of real world interpersonal violent encounters — the very laboratory that separates fantasy from reality.