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.
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.