For many years, rightly or wrongly, anyone who is a black belt in a martial art has been viewed by the general public as being deadly in a fight. Is the brick smashing killing machine image pure Hollywood myth, how good would a black belt be in a street fight?
Fitter than they would otherwise be.
Any black belt who regularly participates in martial arts classes, rather than just teaching, is going to be fitter than if they didn’t. Some fights are over in two seconds but many situations can last longer and it pays to be fit. However if you train four hours a week but sit in an office for forty are you going to be as fit as a roofer or painter who doesn’t train but does hard manual work for forty hours a week and cycles to work?
Having a plan.
An experienced street fighter will have a plan, often simple but tried and tested. It might be to keep talking calmly till they get in close enough to head butt the other guy, this is a plan that I have seen pulled off with devastating effect. A black belt will also have a plan, as with an experienced street fighter he won’t just lash out wildly. For instance he may launch a flurry of head shots drawing the other guys attention high and then sweep his feet from under him. No plan is foolproof and requires the right situation but it might work. A plan even a bad one carried out with heart and commitment is better than no plan.
Timing distance judgement, balance and coordination.
If you have practiced a martial art diligently and consistently for several years you will have improved in the areas listed above. Take balance and coordination as an example of factors that figure in a fight. Any black belt trained in a style that kicks will be balanced enough to deliver effective attacks with the legs if the opportunity arises and coordinate this with hand strikes in a flowing manner. Legs are longer and stronger than arms and if you have been trained to kick it is an advantage but only if the situation is right. A bad kick is worse than no kick,in the heat of the moment you probably need black belt level experience to pull off an effective kick at anything above knee height.
Confidence and the moral high ground.
Often a fight is won or lost on the above qualities. Your confidence or lack of it will show in your body language and even in the tone of your voice. Past positive experience will breed confidence and being awarded a black belt adds to this. Confidence is basically knowledge plus experiance, training in any martial art will give you knowledge but only real fights will give you experience of the real thing.
Really having a justifiable reason to get involved in a street brawl will give you the moral high ground. The discipline and self control that it takes to gain a black belt would tend to counter the impulsive hair trigger nature of a hot head. Hopefully most black belts would not get dragged into a confrontation without a very good reason. Having a good reason to fight means you can let go and really do the business.
Close or long range.
If eighty percent of a black belts training has been in a long range kicking style and they find themselves in a nose to nose confrontation in an overcrowded bar all that practice maybe next to useless. However outside the bar on an empty dimly lit pavement against an opponent who has had a couple of pints, one well executed spinning kick to the head might be all that’s needed.
Years ago, as good as a black belt might be at their game, their skill was often limited to fighting at one range. The recent trend for cross training has made the modern black belt more likely to be at least proficient at different distances.
The difference it used to be said between English karate black belts and Japanese karate black belts was that the Japanese black belts had all done Judo for at least a couple of years when they were young. Cross training is nothing new in Japan!
Ability to take pain.
The ability of individuals to take pain can vary greatly. A blow that might be strong enough to knock the fight out of one person might when landed on another individual only serve to make them more angry and determined. If your going to be in a fight you are probably going to have to take some pain otherwise it’s not a fight it’s more that you just beat someone up!
You can’t fight a war without casualties.
The very nature of good martial arts training is about making the mind or spirit stronger by overcoming the limitations of the body, sometimes called fighting spirit. A person who has reached black belt in a style that puts a great deal of importance on being able to absorb strong blows unflinchingly is going to have a considerable advantage in a fight.
Pain is only weakness leaving the body.
~ French Foreign Legion saying
You have to have an awful lot of skill to counter someone being that bit bigger and stronger than you. This is true especially for junior black belts, a lad of twelve with a competition winning Kata might come unstuck against an older kid. A slightly built lady black belt might initially put an attacker on the back foot with a spirited and unexpectedly fast opening combination but if the attacker is really determined size and strength will be what counts in the end.
While an older more experienced black belt may have a lot more to offer as a teacher they are unlikely to be as good in a fight as they would have been ten or even five years before. As you age you tend to mellow, a good thing in everyday life but not a good thing in a sudden violent situation. Some martial arts just by the athletic or even flamboyant nature of their techniques are really a young persons game. There are exceptions to every rule and the late Charlie Nelson of New Yorks Snake and Mongoose school certainly knew how to make use of surprise and deception even in his sixties. When a seemingly harmless old man suddenly spits in your face following up instantly with multiple attacks it’s very hard not to be totally overwhelmed.
To be surprised is to be destroyed.
~ Martial art saying.
Charlie would not have survived one round in a Tai boxing ring but then he would never have stepped in one. Using his apparent harmlessness to choose his range, that snake like spit came out of nowhere. No sport or keep fit in Charlie’s school just pure street survival.
How long is a piece of string?
A good black belt might be a mild mannered librarian who has never had a fight in their life and if we gave them a score out of ten before they started martial arts training it would have been three. With years of effort they may double that score and become a six, and feel rightly a lot more capable and confident.
Another black belt in the same class who towers over the librarian, is an ex rugby player who loved a good fight when he was younger. We may give him a seven out of ten before he starts his martial arts training and as a black belt he becomes a nine.
The mild mannered librarian may be more of an inspirational role model to others when despite being slightly built with glasses moves very quickly and hits hard. The ex rugby player might be just glad that he now has a controlled way of getting rid of aggression that doesn’t get him in trouble with the police!
Most martial arts would be classified as unarmed combat but with the present trend for knives to be used in street fights things have moved a long way from the days of a one to one fair fight. Once upon a time the fairer sex would walk away in disgust or try to stop a fight happening. The girls of today are more likely to pile in themselves and add to the confusion. A modern black belt will have above average self defence skills but he will also be equipped with the knowledge hopefully that when it comes to a street fight it’s hardly ever worth it.