Why join?

What can studying Integrated Martial Arts do for you?

There are many sides to Integrated Martial Arts (IMA) and many different benefits that can be gained from its study:

  • Exercise - Practising integrated martial arts is an excellent way to keep fit, combining aerobic, anaerobic and plyometric exercise, stretching, strength and stamina training. We take seriously the idea that training should be good for your long term health, and exclude practices that would be detrimental in the long term.
  • Self-Development - Integrated martial arts helps the individual to gain confidence and self-discipline, to train the mind and body equally. This type of training has benefits not just in training but in all aspects of life.
  • Self-Defence - This such an important aspect of our training philosophy that it is discussed in detail below.
  • Fun - Above all, training must be fun. The club also provides a very friendly social atmosphere - regular visits to the bar, termly club meals, and other events.

The philosophy of our self defence training

In a nutshell:

  • All 'ranges' of fighting must be trained: a self-defence situation may not start at the perfect punching-range; it may start in clinch or even on the ground. This is why we train all of these ranges.
  • Techniques must be habitual: when under attack, our ability to recall complex techniques diminishes; our skillset must therefore consist of simple techniques that have been practised many times. If you can perform a move 'in your sleep', you are far likelier to be able to do it under pressure. This is why we prioritise fundamental movements and techniques, ensure you get plenty of repetition and run classes all year round.
  • Live-drilling: it is important to learn every move gently, starting with low resistance (to get the technique right), but eventually to test your skills against fully resisting partners. Simply being used to physical contact and people 'making things difficult' for you is in itself an important part of your self-defence capability. This is why we teach techniques through 'progressive resistance' and ensure there is plenty of free play / sparring / pressure testing.
  • Everyone is different: people have different strengths, moves which come 'natural' and moves that are harder to grasp, situations in which we are more comfortable and situations where we are not. It is important to develop in areas which are not our 'strengths', but also to build on our strong points. This is why we have a broad syllabus, but also encourage more senior trainees to develop specialisms.

The long version:

The club differs from many other martial arts clubs in genuinely pursuing self defence rather than competition or ritual as a priority. One of the strengths of the University of Sussex Integrated Martial Arts Club is its emphasis on effective self-defence principles. When self-defence is the goal in training, there is only one arbiter of the usefulness of techniques: Would it work against a determined and bigger attacker when there are no rules, and against the type of attacks that habitually occur in a street situation? How can you defend against not a stylistic lunge punch, but an attempted rape? How can you deal with, not a jumping spinning whip kick, but a bottle to the head from up close?

The first principle of self-defence training is to train most extensively on the attacks one is statistically most likely to face in a serious confrontation. Home Office statistics, based on both reports to police and analysis of footage of CCTV video, provides us with the most common physical acts of violence perpetrated both against men and against women. In our club we use as the core of our self-defence syllabus the 10 most common attacks of men against men and the (very different) 10 most common attacks of men against women as determined by Home Office statistics (thanks to Jeff Nash for providing these). These scenarios are the ones that must be mastered and drilled until response is habitual.

Consideration of such actual scenarios shows the range of skills that are required in actual self defence. One must be skilled at a range of distances, and at both grappling and striking at those distances. One must know the art of slipperiness (escaping from being held), how to gain positional dominance over another (e.g. "clinch" work) and the art of generating massive impact. One must be comfortable both on one's feet and on the ground. Ground fighting is a vitally important self-defence skill, neglected in most martial arts traditions. In a rape scenario, you are likely to end up on the ground dealing with a bigger aggressor. Male-male confrontations also often end up on the ground if they are not finished in the initial few seconds. Further one must know the vital points, the points of anatomical vulnerability (largely overlapping the set of acupuncture points), that can cause intense pain or unconsciousness with small amounts of force, especially important for a woman to deal with a vastly stronger opponent.

Self-defence training crucially also involves negotiating the moments before an attack is made. Typically, for some minutes before an assault, a potential victim is being "interviewed" by the assailant for suitability as a victim. The aim is to fail that interview. That is ultimate self defence; you stop the situation from being physical before it has even started. An important part of this is how you form a non-confrontational non-aggressive "fence" between you and the potential attacker.

To work out a self-defence system covering these skills it is best to drop the arbitrary boundaries of martial arts styles but draw on the vast wealth of knowledge transmitted through the different martial art traditions. When combining new moves and principles, however, they must be integrated in a coherent way, to make a system, not an arbitrary collection. Relatedly, there is no point simply having a list of moves to do in different situations. In a real situation you do not know what is coming. You do not have time to think through 100 possibilities. There must be simple effective favourite responses that can deal with uncertainty, and trained using drills that recreate to some extent the uncertainty and chaos of a real situation. Finally, there is only so much time each week to train on different skills. There must be core practices in each skill category that are repeatedly drilled - core strikes, core throws, core locks, etc. The role of the instructor in the long run is to provide a number of different response options; then the student can, after sufficient training, choose their favourite (suited to them as an individual) and then drill their favourite responses repeatedly.

In order to train functional coherent self defence responses, we present students with self defence scenarios which they deal with under conditions of progressive resistance. These drills will encourage thoughts like: "Why did I do that?? I should have done X!" Or: "That was difficult! How could I deal with that better in future?". That motivates one to mentally link the situational cues that immediately preceded one's actions to a better action (having worked out or been shown what a better action could be). The next time the situation occurs the response will be better and the new link consolidated. So a repertoire of cues and constraints linked to responses is established, involving the learning of micro-second timing depending on subtle changes in balance and feel, that can only be achived in two-man situational drills.

An example is the "clinch" drills we do. In the first instance they teach getting a "tie" position - a position of contact in which you restrict the options of an opponent. Just as the non-contact "fence" restricts options and hence often brings the encounter to a peaceful end, so a tie restricts options and may dissuade - while you are vocally peaceful and allowing a finish without lost of face. (We prefer them to traditional sensitivity and trapping drills for the same ranges because they mimick the positions you are likely to find yourself in real self defence.) We work on clinch, ground, stand up drills, and drills for the transitions between these phases of a fight.

Self defence is not pretty, although the effectiveness of techniques can be mind blowing. Martial arts for self defence do not usually involve flowery techniques. Minimal effort for maximum effect. Sometimes an opponent hits the deck and you won't have noticed the potential victim had done anything at all, when that "victim" is skilled in integrated martial arts. Nonetheless, the better physical condition that you are in, the better you are able to effectively and explosively defend yourself, and so training does involve a full conditioning of the body with exercises specific to the fundamental movements required in different self defence situations.

People from different styles train with us because nothing we do is style-bound. Self defence training is not about learning abritrary rules, it's not about learning a Japanese tea ceremony. It's about what might save your life one day. The universal nature of human bodies - there are some directions joints do not bend, there are some forces weak anatomical areas cannot withstand - means stylistic background is irrelevant to the usefulness of this training. Integrated Martial Arts (IMA) covers pre-fight positioning (forming the "fence"), pre-emption, clinch work, unbalancing at various distances, locks and throws, generating impact, pressure points, and groundwork.