People like to compare martial arts to chess. I am trying to learn some chess so I looked up basic tutorials which said a simple analysis for learning the game is to break up the game into three phases:

1. opening moves
2. midgame
3. endgame

This breakdown is simple yet makes it easier to understand a particular art’s approach and assumptions about openers and desired endgames. Different sport formats and rules all encourage different kinds of openers, midgames, and endgames. For example, sumo basically has two endgames: pushing your opponent out of the circle or forcing some part of his body other than his feet soles to touch the ground. This idea is also a simple way to compare and contrast judo and bjj. Bjj’s openers are similar to judo. The midgame – the heart of bjj – really starts where judo ideally has already ended by ippon throw or pin. Submissions are the preferred endgame which also exist in judo to a lesser extent. I’d sum up the difference as mainly due to the difference in nature of their midgames.

Mixing phases and ranges up in mma with fewer rules, things get more interesting. The mma theory of “phases” from bjj, roughly corresponds to JKD’s ranges of combat theory. However, it assumes a grappler’s game plan to start in a “free form” (striking) phase and end in a grappling phase – of course, that assumption no longer holds true as often now as fighters go in and out of ranges many times in a match. “Phases” doesn’t really equal “ranges”. It seems more helpful to view them separately. Ranges are mainly concerned with fairly discrete, relative positions in space. Phases are more of a plan and actual events unfolding over time which may or may not involve different ranges.

The meaning of phases as borrowed from chess has more to do with what is usually called the “game plan”. The classic striker vs. grappler match-up is interesting because each fighter has a distinctly different plan and each associated phase of the overall game plan is entirely different. They say chess is chiefly decided in the midgame and the analogy holds true in mma. It is getting difficult to predict the course of matches because midgame possibilities are growing very complex as athletes get incredibly well rounded. When two grapplers strike the whole time it can be surprising. In an extreme example, the upset of CroCop by Gonzaga was unexpected because we all thought his midgame was to go to groundwork and his endgame was submission.

This simple idea also sums up nicely why self defense is so much more complicated than sport or even real combat, which also has phases. With most combat sports, the rules dictate the type of endgame that is encouraged (except that mma has more possibilities). In combat, the endgame may be defined by a mission objective. The openers, midgame, and endgame may be completely unknown and impossible to anticipate in self defense. It could start and end with some fairly harmless shoving. It could be life or death from a sudden attack. There could be legal ramifications. Nothing is really known so this scenario seems like the most dangerous one. There are too many unknowns. There is a good article on JKD Unlimited about training for “the street” basically requiring mma + incorporating other stuff (rather than assuming one can add it spontaneously). That seems like too much for me (and most people) to pursue as already I am largely ignoring a lot of aspects of mma as a sport, and ma is just one interest out of many. The preferred endgame seems to be get away safely. If that is true, there are probably very different things to learn or emphasize from technical material from any particular art. Anyway, if I come across yet another fascinating art I know nothing about now, I’ll still try to understand the preferred range first but then try to understand what it prefers and assumes about each of these three phases of combat.