Universal Fighting Concepts


The more you learn of different fighting styles from around the world and through history, the more similarities become obvious.

Bartitsu and other mixed martial arts function not only because one style will fill a gap that the other leaves, but because many of the core concepts are shared. Today, we’re looking at the important ideas and priorities that seem universal to winning a physical confrontation. This applies to armed and unarmed forms of combat.

Please note that this list can be taken as general advice, but your particular martial art may have reasons why they approach things differently. Listen to your instructor.

You must see your opponent. You can try to attack or defend blindly, but you’re really relying on luck.

  • Don’t let opponents get behind you. Some coaches will therefore advise never to do spinning kicks or spinning back-fists, but we’ve seen them work when done quickly.
  • Put the sun at your back so you are not blinded but your opponent will be.
  • Wearing a helmet or mask will provide protection, but may sacrifice vision. The trade-off is up to you.

Attack vulnerable points. A successful hit that has no effect is as good as missing, unless you hurt yourself in the process.

  • When using strikes, try to avoid the solid parts of the skull. Go for the jaw or the throat.
  • Keep a good defence for your vulnerable points.
  • Don’t attack into a guard unless you’re deliberately trying to harm the shielding arm.
  • In armoured combat, you must attack seams between two plates or gaps in the armour.

If you don’t see a vulnerable point, create one.

  • Feint. Fake attacks, jabs and surprise movement may cause your opponent to flinch and open a different target.
  • Consider your follow-up: When you successfully hit, they will guard that area and create an opening elsewhere.
  • Invite your opponent to false vulnerabilities. When they attack towards a target you deliberately opened, they will open a target for you (as long as your invitation doesn’t get you hit.

Moving forward is easier than moving backward.

  • Related to awareness and seeing your opponent: you can see obstacles and terrain in front of you, not behind you.
  • Making your opponent retreat is both demoralizing and physically impedes strong attacks.
  • The forward momentum of your body adds to the power of attacks (in cases where impact is necessary).

The longer you fight, the weaker you become. And stupider.

  • Regardless of your physical fitness, everyone gets tired. Despite what we see in movies, taking a hit and seeing your own blood seldom makes you fight better.
  • Taking any blows to the head may cause mild concussions and disorientation, leading to dizziness, miscalculations of distance, or more severe impairments.
  • When muscles get tired, you may still be able to throw strong attacks, but you will lose precision quickly. Be ready for your opponent to start swinging more wildly the longer you fight.

General fitness (the ability to do work over a period of time without impairment) is often the deciding factor.

  • Running, jumping rope, pushups and other activities that bestow endurance, mobility and strength will pay off in a physical confrontation.
  • The stressful nature of a confrontation ignites the fight-or-flight response, which ironically can make tactics and judgement difficult. The heart pumps fast and the muscles are primed for action, so your raw physical ability may outweigh years of theory and any number of cool tricks.

This is not an exhaustive list.

For my Bartitsu students, many of these clues fit into our 5 priorities:

  • Awareness: Keep your eyes on the opponent, and get behind them.
  • Avoidance: Don’t get hit, get away.
  • Alignment: Stay upright. Take them down.
  • Action: Take control by moving forward.
  • Adaptability: Use the environment to your advantage

For my Performance Combat students who are studying stage combat, consider these concerns of real fights when choreographing your next fight.

David McCormick Head of Stage Combat at Academie Duello and certified Instructor with Fight Directors Canada. Head of Bartitsu at Academie Duello, the longest continuously running Bartitsu program in the world.
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