DES­TI­NA­TIONS

then you think of Sin­ga­pore, you might imag­ine an ex­otic Asian lo­cale where sailors, pi­rates and as­sorted colo­nials or­ches­trated trade deals with eong Kong, Ja­pan and South­east Asia 150 years ago.

Black Belt - - CONTENTS - By An­to­nio Grac­effo

in “get­ting (Ka)Popped in sin­ga­poreI” Black Belt’s Asia cor­re­spon­dent hits the mat in a top­notch training hall that spe­cial­izes in ka­pap and catch wrestling.

My re­cent ex­pe­ri­ence there, how­ever, re­vealed that it’s a hy­per­mod­ern, ex­ces­sively clean and in­cred­i­bly safe is­land na­tion off the tip of the Malay Penin­sula. In spite of its small pop­u­la­tion of 5.5 mil­lion, Sin­ga­pore has one of the high­est in­come lev­els in the world and a cor­re­spond­ingly high qual­ity of life.

For mar­tial artists, Sin­ga­pore is a gem await­ing dis­cov­ery. As I learned, it’s home to hun­dreds of mar­tial arts schools, and all of them are just a sub­way-ride away from wher­ever you hap­pen to be. SIN­GA­PORE’S MAIN eth­nic groups — Chi­nese, Malay, In­dian and Euro­pean — each brought its own brand of mar­tial arts into the coun­try. Chi­nese styles taught there in­clude tai chi, wushu, wing chun and san da. The Malay arts are rep­re­sented by silat. The Western ways in­clude fenc­ing, box­ing and wrestling. Sin­ga­pore is also home to one of the largest MMA pro­mo­tions in Asia, called One Cham­pi­onship.

At least a quar­ter of Sin­ga­pore’s work­force is for­eign. That means it also hosts peo­ple who teach aikido, judo, karate, kendo, taek­wondo, capoeira, sambo, kali, Brazil­ian jiu-jitsu, krav maga and muay Thai.

Ob­vi­ously, a per­son could spend years in Sin­ga­pore learn­ing mar­tial arts — and never have to ven­ture more than a few miles from home. Un­for­tu­nately, I didn’t have a lot of time, so I fo­cused on two rel­a­tively rare styles: ka­pap and catch wrestling. I was amazed to find these seem­ingly un­re­lated arts taught at the same chain of acad­e­mies. THE FIRST TIME I shook hands with Teo Yew Chye, he ro­tated his mitt in such a way as to bend my fin­gers back­ward and put me on the floor. He hadn’t warmed up first. He didn’t look like he’d ever touched a bar­bell. He wasn’t even sweat­ing. This, I dis­cov­ered, is the fun­da­men­tal dif­fer­ence be­tween sport fight­ing and self­de­fense. To be use­ful, a self-de­fense tech­nique has to be sud­den, sim­ple and in­tel­li­gent. It must al­low a smaller man, a woman or a non-fighter to de­feat a big­ger, stronger op­po­nent.

Those are the goals Teo keeps in mind when he teaches at the Mod­ern Street Combatives academy. His fo­cus is ka­pap, an Is­raeli art whose name means “face-to-face com­bat.” The sys­tem is used by anti-ter­ror­ism police, but ev­ery­one is free to train in it. Even those who lack phys­i­cal strength can ben­e­fit from learn­ing ka­pap, in par­tic­u­lar its small-joint ma­nip­u­la­tions.

Teo be­gan study­ing ka­pap after his brother was at­tacked and killed in Jo­hor, Malaysia. He be­lieves that if his brother had known how to de­fend him­self, he’d still be alive. A suc­cess­ful busi­ness­man, Teo dis­cov­ered that many of the com­pa­nies he works with have con­cerns about their ex­ec­u­tives be­ing at­tacked over­seas. He wanted to rem­edy the prob­lem and help save lives, but he said he didn’t know what to teach.

He al­ready had a black belt in taek­wondo but thought the art lacked street ap­pli­ca­bil­ity. Also, in neigh­bor­ing Malaysia, ma­chete at­tacks are fairly com­mon, and there’s noth­ing in the taek­wondo arsenal to pre­pare a per­son to de­fend against that type of at­tack. He de­cided to train in a sys­tem that could pre­pare him to han­dle the un­pre­dictable. TEO’S SEARCH for the right mar­tial art led him to ka­pap. De­vel­oped in the 1930s for the Is­raeli army, it fo­cuses on forg­ing phys­i­cal fit­ness and build­ing fight­ing spirit, as well as prac­ti­cal weapons skills. To do so, it draws from box­ing, judo, ju­jitsu, karate, and knife and stick fight­ing.

Al­ways one to re­fine his skills, Teo earned a level-4 ka­pap in­struc­tor cer­tifi­cate un­der Col. Chaim Peer and Maj. Avi Nar­dia, then stud­ied the Dy­namic Com­bat Method un­der Richard Ryan and catch wrestling un­der Tony Cec­chine. He also got cer­ti­fied in Gra­cie Combatives.

All those com­po­nents were then merged into Mod­ern Street Combatives. I know what you’re think­ing: Most of the arts Teo stud­ied are renowned for their street ef­fec­tive­ness, but one — catch wrestling — sounds like a sport. The ver­sion of catch wrestling Teo learned and now teaches, how­ever, is a type of fast grap­pling in which you in­stantly move from setup to sub­mis­sion at­tempt to fin­ish­ing hold un­til the job is done. I NO­TICED that most of Teo’s training sce­nar­ios were based on com­mon street at­tacks such as an as­sailant grab­bing you from be­hind. To es­cape, he might launch into a stand­ing sub­mis­sion such as a fig­ure-4, dou­ble wrist lock or kimura. He ended al­most ev­ery self­de­fense se­quence with, “Or you can just grab his balls.” When he demon­strated on a stu­dent, the man im­me­di­ately re­leased his hold and col­lapsed into the fe­tal po­si­tion, cup­ping his pri­vates.

My first thought was, you could prob­a­bly teach peo­ple that groin grab in 20 sec­onds, and then they would

never need to learn any­thing else. But what fun would that be?

Some of the self-de­fense tech­niques Teo taught me were based on wrestling — for ex­am­ple, gain­ing con­trol of the arm, step­ping to the out­side and then push­ing up on the op­po­nent’s chin un­til he falls back­ward. In self-de­fense, he said, in­stead of push­ing the chin, you can ap­ply up­ward pres­sure against the bot­tom of the nose or drive a fin­ger into an eye un­til he top­ples. Teo is a mas­ter of at­tack­ing the eyes, ma­nip­u­lat­ing the small joints, as­sault­ing the throat and, when all else fails, bit­ing. AN EL­E­MENT of catch wrestling that dif­fers from Brazil­ian jiu-jitsu is the wrestler’s habit of tak­ing his op­po­nent to the ground and then kneel­ing on him in a way that causes max­i­mum pain. For ex­am­ple, Teo would take down a stu­dent and place his shin on the per­son’s an­kle or calf. A vari­a­tion en­tailed kneel­ing on a shoul­der or el­bow.

Armed at­tacks, of course, are some­thing sport fight­ers never face, but Teo has man­aged to ac­count for them, too. The pri­mary dif­fer­ence be­tween de­fend­ing against a knife at­tack and an empty-hand at­tack, he said, is you can’t make any mis­takes when a blade is in­volved. In sport fight­ing, you some­times have to take a few punches to de­liver some, but against a knife, you can’t af­ford to take even one. It’s im­per­a­tive to gain con­trol of the weapon as quickly as pos­si­ble and with­out be­ing touched by it, he said.

Against a knife, Teo teaches his students to use their fore­arms to strike or push the arms of the at­tacker and thus re­di­rect the slash. Catch­ing a knife is al­most im­pos­si­ble, he said, so it’s bet­ter to re­di­rect, drive the at­tack past you and then take con­trol of the arm. Once the knife hand is un­der con­trol, nu­mer­ous sub­mis­sions and take­downs are pos­si­ble. Just make sure you pre­vent him from switch­ing the blade to his other hand. “THE KEY THING in self-de­fense is de­cep­tion,” Teo ex­plained. When an at­tacker comes at you with a knife, you don’t want to show your hand by act­ing ag­gres­sively, he added. It’s bet­ter to pre­tend to be com­pli­ant or afraid so he’ll re­lax his guard a bit. Of­ten, this will cre­ate an op­por­tu­nity for you to coun­ter­at­tack.

Not sur­pris­ingly, Teo showed a num­ber of tech­niques that be­gan with the de­fender rais­ing his hands in ap­par­ent sur­ren­der. But those hands were now po­si­tioned for an at­tack — like a down­ward strike to the op­po­nent’s knife hand, which would pin it against the per­son’s body. He’d then step to the out­side so the op­po­nent couldn’t counter with a punch. Fi­nally, he’d swing up from un­der­neath and smash the as­sailant’s groin.

See­ing a true mas­ter of self-de­fense in ac­tion made me con­sider my own sit­u­a­tion. As a sport fighter, I cer­tainly knew how to throw down, but fight­ing in a ring and fight­ing on the street are very dif­fer­ent. I re­al­ized that I lacked many of the ba­sic con­cepts and tech­niques needed for func­tional self-de­fense and that many of the moves I’d re­garded as go-to tech­niques would have been detri­men­tal to my sur­vival in a street al­ter­ca­tion. I had much to learn.

ABOUT THE AU­THOR: An­to­nio drac­effo is the first Amer­i­can to be awarded a Ph.'. in wushu from Shanghai Univer­sity of Sport. His book War­rior Odyssey is avail­able on Ama­zon.com.

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