Proper Turtling Philosophy
The way i see it, defensive success boils down to two tasks: capitalizing on opportunities and maintaining a realistic gameplan. Defense has always been clearer than offense, and always more reliable in tournaments. It doesn’t take as much practice to win with defense.
Imagine you’ve got two evenly experienced players. The offensive-minded player’s job is to create openings and capitalize on them. The defensive player’s job is to minimize damage at every opportunity while gradually chipping away at the opponent’s lifebar. If they’ve both been swamped at work for the past month, the defensive player comes out way ahead because the offensive player will fail to capitalize on an opening – drop a combo, mistime a crossup, get too close on a throw attempt, whatever. Generally speaking, you have to be more on-point to win with offense.
More specifically, the term “capitalize” conveys a different meaning to a defensive player than it does to an offensive player. It’s not simply a matter of dealing damage. Let’s say you bait an uppercut. From a rushdown standpoint, you want to punish with the most damaging combo possible, which also gives you the best chance of maintaining momentum. Depending on your opponent’s habits, sometimes it’s better to sacrifice a little guaranteed damage in order to set up an immediate throw mixup. Chaos favors offense.
Conversely, turtles should generally avoid ambiguous situations. Structure favors defense. If you’re confident in your ability to counter everything your opponent does, then you shouldn’t be gambling with offense, right? Thus, the defensive definition of “capitalize” is all about inflicting as much damage as possible while maintaining superior positioning.
Basically, the only time you should sacrifice damage is when it’s critically important to reset the match. For example if you’re trapped in the corner, it might be a good idea to opt for a simple knockdown combo or resort to throwing the opponent back into the corner so you can escape.
That said, you must remain mindful of your damage options. A solid defensive player always knows when they can finish off the opponent with one combo, and remains calm enough to execute it even under rushdown pressure. A poor defensive player gets overwhelmed by the opponent’s pace and responds to a missed psychic DP with a sweep or a throw. You have to be prepared to close out the match at all times.
A lot of this goes back to being realistic about the matchup and about your abilities as a player. If you go up against an opponent who likes to throw, you will get thrown. It’s going to happen. Sometimes it’ll happen three or four times in a row. Visualize this sequence of events and visualize your instinctive reaction, then ask yourself whether it’s the best course of action.
Certain tactics are too difficult to shut down completely. Everyone gets thrown, everyone gets crossed up, everyone gets cornered, everybody gets shot. There’s nothing you can do about exceptional offensive players forcing you to choose your poison, but you can certainly choose your psychological response.
At the end of the day, it’s completely up you whether you get frustrated by throws. Remember, it’s only like 8% damage. You can let that rattle you enough to walk into a psychic DP, or you can brush it off and punish that missed uppercut. Even if you get thrown two more times in the process, that’s still adds up to less than 25% damage. Is it worth losing composure and giving away a match over 25% damage?
On the topic of staying realistic, i’ve noticed an interesting self-perception phenomenon among the fighting game community. I’d say about 1/3 of the players out there are turtles and about 5% of the players out there think they’re turtles. Everyone in between is in denial. I can’t tell you how many times i’ve heard someone call someone else a turtle and thought to myself, “Wait a minute, you jumped back five times and spent the whole second round blocking.”
We tend to elevate effective rushdown players into stardom while creating a negative view of turtles or runaway players. That’s a natural inclination in any competitive activity, but only because offense is more exciting to watch. Don’t let that fool you into thinking that “turtling” is a dirty word. Realistically speaking, if you notice that your individual talents are geared more towards defense, don’t shy away from it – embrace that style and see where it takes you.