Oftentimes, students have trouble getting a throw or takedown to work. Ninety percent of the time, the problem they’re having can be worked out using a teaching tool I use called, “The Triangle of Balance.”
The triangle of balance is as follows. Your partner, stands on two corners of a equilateral triangle, whether it is pointing forwards or backwards. The third, invisible corner (marked with a red X on both triangles) indicates the direction in which your partner’s balance is weakest.
The easiest way to off-balance your partner in order to throw them is to draw them in either of these two directions. Conversely, if you try to throw someone against the direction in which the triangle is pointing, whereby the two corners on which the partner is standing are in a line, it will be much harder to throw them.
Whenever a student is having trouble throwing or taking down a partner, it is usually because they have not sufficiently taken their partner off balance. Sometimes it is because the partner has stepped in an unexpected direction. Sometimes it is because the student attempting the throw has not positioned themselves properly in order to off-balance their partner. By using the triangle of balance, students can often figure out how to alter their position in order to more efficiently off-balance their partner for a throw.
While the triangle of balance was taught to me by my Sensei, Ed Hiscoe Shihan, there is a well-written book called The Science of Takedowns, Throws, and Grappling for Self-Defense that effectively demonstrates the main principles at play when it comes to throws and takedowns, including balance, position, momentum, and leverage. It provides a useful reference point for analyzing the effectiveness (or lack thereof) of your throws and takedowns.
A strike to the solar plexus, as demonstrated in this video by MMA fighter Megumi Fujii, is an effective way to subdue an attacker without causing injury. The solar plexus is a nerve motor point that, when struck, causes temporary motor dysfunction to the surrounding muscles, those which are used for breathing. It’s not simply a matter of having the wind knocked out of you. For a short period of time, you have trouble breathing both in and out.
One day I was sparring with a student of mine named Alec. He was the youngest in my class at 19 and oozed natural talent. That being said, on this particular day, he was keeping a very high guard to stop incoming blows to his head while ignoring any kicks I aimed at his body. After the first 2-minute round, we took a short break, giving me the chance to address the weakness in his guard.
“So Alec, I noticed that you’re not blocking any of my strikes to your body,” I put forward.
“Yeah, I just figure I’d rather take a shot to the body than a shot to the head,” he replied, with the cocksure attitude that goes hand in hand with youth and talent.
“You do realize I’m not striking with any power, right?” I queried. “And I’m aiming at your solar plexus.”
“I still think I can take a shot to solar plexus, even if you were hitting with full power.”
I looked at him, a tiny smirk playing across the corners of my mouth, betraying my intention. “Okay then. Let’s do the second round.”
In the second round, Alec came at me with a right cross for his first attack. I sidestepped the blow, snapping a quick roundhouse kick to his solar plexus, making solid contact. Alec grunted as he received the blow, pausing a moment before continuing the round.
Again, he came at me, leading with a couple of jabs, following with another right cross. And again, I do the same sidestep-roundhouse kick combo, hitting home on his solar plexus. He stopped, knees buckling as he ineffectively gasped for air. “I have to stop,” he croaked before crumpling to the ground.
I let him regain his composure for a couple of minutes and get back on his feet, after which I approached him. “So… what did we learn?” I asked him with an admittedly cheeky tone.
“I said I could take one shot to the solar plexus, not two!” he retorted sheepishly.
“And that wasn’t even full power. That was about 50% my full power.” I knew I wouldn’t need to use full power to make my point. I wanted to him to learn a lesson, not hate me.
His eyes widened in disbelief. “I think I’d rather take a shot to the head than your full power kick to the solar plexus.”
The second blow would have had even more effect than the first due to the overload principle. When striking nerve pressure or motor points, if you attack the same nerve point twice, you’ll notice a significant increase in effectiveness the second time around. That’s because the first blow weakens the nerves, causing them to be more sensitive when struck again.
After that sparring session, I never again saw Alec disregard incoming body shots.
This video demonstrates the full effectiveness of a strike to the brachial plexus origin (located on either side of the neck). We target this nerve motor point regularly in Can-Ryu Jiu-jitsu in self-defense techniques.
The first time I saw this video was on Professor Sylvain’s (founder of Can-ryu Jiu-jitsu) Police Pressure Points training video, for which I was used to demonstrate the application of various strikes. It continues to be the best example of the effects of a strike to the brachial plexus origin that I’ve ever seen.
We teach a number of striking methods to this area, employing elbows and forearms in a variety of ways. An important thing to remember when striking this location is the use of what we call T.O.T. (Time-On-Target). This involves leaving your strike on the targeted area for ¾ of a second to allow the fluid shock waves to transfer from your striking surface into your target. This greatly increases the effect of the strike to the brachial plexus origin or any other nerve motor point for that matter.
And what are the effects? Here’s a breakdown:
Light strike: Momentarily stuns the brain. (We call this a ‘brain burp’ in training.)
Moderate strike: Split-second knock-out. (I’ve experienced this myself a couple of times in training.)
Strong strike: Full knock-out with a stunning effect that can last for a period of time afterwards (as demonstrated in the video).
What makes a strike to the brachial plexus origin really useful for self-defense is the fact that it is easily court-defensible. This is because it is a non-injurious strike that is considered not to cause any long-term damage. It is therefore seen in the eyes of the courts as a “humane” way of incapacitating an attacker.
So sure, the pimp in the video was feeling the effects of the strike as he eventually walked away, but he was walking away.
In many classic and modern martial arts training tales, masters attempts to free their students of the mental traps they set for themselves, traps that prevent them from getting the most from themselves and their training. They often do so by applying logic that seems self-contradictory. This teaching method comes from Zen philosophy.
Earlier this evening, another student, Peter, was added to our class. He is not new to us. He originally started training in our class last summer, but had to stop because he had to move for his career. With it being his first class back, he was extremely eager to learn and get back into the game.
While working with a particular takedown, Peter asked question after question about where his foot should be, how to get his body into proper position, where his hand should go, etc. So dedicated was he to improve quickly that I’d just finish answering one question and he’d immediately launch into the next. (more…)