It's a beautiful thing to watch an athlete, outmatched on paper, employ strategy to overcome the favourite.

Effective strategy can enable competitors and participants to overcome otherwise apparently superior opponents, not only in competitive martial arts, but in real-life combat and sport.

But of course, there's no substitute for in-person training from a good instructor who knows your strengths and weaknesses and can provide feedback specific to your abilities. Given that strategic literacy can take anyone, regardless of their level, to new heights, it remains strangely absent - a least in my experience - from many martial arts schools.

Judging by many of the questions already posted to this stack, there's clearly a thirst for strategic knowledge in the M.A.S.E. community. Is there scope for greater strategic emphasis in your martial arts training?

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    Anecdotal: Strategy is part of competition training and explicitly tested as part of 1st and 2nd dan gradings in the DJB (German Judo federation), but explicitly within the sports ruleset. The self-defense curriculum (including in gradings if chosen as part of it) involves strategy as well. Sep 5 at 12:52
  • @PhilipKlöcking. That's good to hear. I'm not sure how long it takes to get to 1st dan in Judo, but do you think there's any reason why it not be taught any earlier? Sep 6 at 3:04
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    Oh it is. For an adult, you can get a black belt in about 4.5 years if fully dedicated. From the first belt on, you have to show the techniques applied in a lively, "comprehensive" situation and be able to explain why this situation makes sense for the technique. Self-defense can be chosen for the first time for green belt gradings, ie. should only be taught after technical foundations are laid (~2 years in). Before that, all applications are within the ruleset of Judo. For black belt, you have to develop and present a strategic system from grip to ground for the first time though. Sep 6 at 7:58
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    Mind, you can choose from green belt on whether your applications shall be in judo-specific or self-defense situations. Most judoka don't choose self-defense since it is still rarely taught but coaches are encouraged to offer it in training and seminars are offered on that for licencing Sep 6 at 8:01
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    As of the question and downvotes: Generally, questions that basically ask for what single people think or experienced, ie. opinions or anecdotal evidence (as opposed to more or less verifiable or objective facts), are a bad fit for StackExchange sites. Your question changes from asking for personal, martial art specific experiences to asking for specific, broadly applicable strategies. I suggest omitting any and every information that is not absolutely crucial for the question at hand...and focus on a single question with exact criteria defining a good answer. Sep 6 at 9:49

There's an important discussion to be had here on Strategy vs. Tactics.

Strategy is going to be very dependant on the situation you are training for/find yourself in, and tactics will be dictated by the larger strategy.

To provide examples, if training for self defence the strategy is to avoid putting yourself in dangerous situations, deescalate where possible, and then use force to escape if the first two elements fail.

Tactically this means I will avoid poorly lit areas, as well as areas where alcohol is consumed - particularly making sure I am clear of these areas by the time pubs/clubs/etc close. If I can't avoid these areas (for example I work for one of the organisations in London who hand out shoes/water/etc to clubbers and stay with people for safety until their taxi arrives), then I will undertake deescalation training prior to going there, employ LEAPS, etc. If I then end up in a physical altercation, my strategy is to escape with as little harm as possible, and the tactics I use will be dependant on my training but may include preemptive striking, covering, disabling my opponent, and then running to a known place of safety.

For your question being more sport focussed, the strategy will be determined by the ruleset and your skill set, for example a BJJ-er in MMA may have the overall strategy of taking the fight to the ground, then applying a submission to effect victory. A kickboxer on the other hand may have the strategy of remaining on their feet and finishing by KO/TKO within the 1st round due to deficits in their conditioning.

The tactics used to achieve these victories will then be more granular, so the BJJ-er may decide to attempt to use striking to facilitate a specific grab, throw/takedown from that grab using a technique they're confident with which has a high percentage success rate, manoeuvre to their preferred position i.e. side control and submit from there.

Strategy in competition is therefore something which needs to be developed over time based on your evident strengths and weaknesses, but which also for professional fighters will account for the strengths and weaknesses of the scheduled opponent. Chuck Liddell is a good example here - decent level of wrestling and strong kickboxing, strategically aiming to stay on his feet and strike to a win, tactically using specific wrestling defences to stay up then high percentage strikes to reach the KO/TKO.

For most of us competing at tournament level we'll only have one set of information to work off of, which is ours, as we're paired with partners on the day, however a decent coach should be able to watch the upcoming opponents and develop a mini-strategy (i.e. "This guy always closes quickly because of his short reach, so our strategy is to stay at a distance and focus on kicking to score).

There is in my opinion massive scope for club level martial artists to look deeper into developing strategy on an individual level - this is something often overlooked especially where there isn't a high level talent pathway (in the UK for example wrestling does this much better than most kickboxing or karate clubs).

The issue arises where the club is too large and not enough attention can be paid to individual development - everyone gets taught a very middle of the road method and the strategy often boils down to (especially in points fighting) "be the first one to make contact."

To finish, I often use a training exercise where I will give people different win conditions (we're a self-protection not a sport focussed club - sport club mileage may vary here except in MMA where you can focus on grappling/striking win conditions with different members). For example one person is aiming to achieve a hold and maintain it, the other is aiming to disengage and reach a certain location in the dojo. These would be the strategy level thinking, and then in the moment the students have to work through to the position tactically based on end-state and starting position.

EDIT (as the question changed while I was answering and for Tl;Dr)

There is more scope for strategic education in most club level martial arts. Professional fighters have the advantage of knowing their opponents in advance and can develop strategies based off of this knowledge and then decide on tactics to achieve the goals set out in the strategic view. While club/tournament martial artists often miss out on this, they should be able to develop strategies based off of their strengths and then amend the tactics used on the day depending on who they face.

Coaches need to put in more work in club level settings to develop strategies with their students/athletes and then modify tactics during competition.

  • Thanks Rob. I apologise for the changes made to my question while you were composing your answer. I shortened it considerably after feedback re. the downvotes. Sep 6 at 11:55
  • Not a problem - I was doing it at work so wrote it over the course of about 3 hours in drips and drabs. Sep 6 at 12:12

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