"most" serious fights don't start with two guys putting their "guards up", squaring off and going at it.
I would agree with that. However, what I fundamentally disagree with is the concept in karate of single strikes ending a fight against a larger attacker. Perhaps for someone with many, many years of training. But that is the exception not the rule. Once engaged, a person is best served by protecting their head.
I began training in TMA in the mid-70s, and am still quite active. I recognize the power generation capabilities from a hand chambered on the hip or ribs. I recognize that a strike from a hand chambered at the jaw does not have similar power. But it's a trade-off. You can get power from a chamber at the face, and you need to learn how to. I have found that training in both is an excellent way to develop maximum power.
However, many TMA schools don't teach to strike from a chamber at the jaw.
I will, respectfully smile disagree with one area---most TMA systems do target the chest/torso/abdomen
My experience is quite different. I have found in a broad range of systems three things:
1. The kata themselves predominantly have strikes to the torso region. The kata themselves predominantly have blocking movements where the blocking hand does not come above the shoulder, or significantly above the shoulder. There are occasional strikes in kata to the head area, but they are the exception, not the norm.
2. The practice of basic applications and bunkai, most often involves counters to the torso. If we look at traditional bunkai from the 60s, 70s and 80s, that we find on youtube, there is a heavy emphasis on counter strikes to the solar plexus.
3. Kumite, at least free sparring, typically has a heavy emphasis on strikes to the torso. In many schools and tournaments, strikes to the head are forbidden. Kicks to the head are allowed, but in general, no strikes to the head are permitted.
I am not arguing that the practice of these traditional strikes to the torso have no value. Karate systems emphasize hard striking, whether in kata, in application, or in free sparring. In order to practice with a minimum of injury, there is good reason to restrict striking to the torso.
However, it is my experience that many schools never teach the important changes that enable a student to transition from "dojo" fighting, to fighting in self defense, where it is likely, a big attacker wants to strike you in the head multiple times.
The more that dojos provide both the concepts of useful targets, and the need to protect the head with hands held high (once in a fight), the better they serve their students, at least those who come to learn how to better protect themselves.
UFC and other MMA venues have pulled away the curtain hiding the wizard of Oz. For too many years, karate teachers have peddled false information about the effectiveness of their systems. What has been exposed is the fiction surrounding the emphasis of one-strike to the abdomen, whether in application practice (bunkai) or in free sparring systems based on points. Against a larger attacker, the chance of a one-strike victory is low. The chance of a one-strike to the abdomen victory is ridiculously low. One needs effective combinations of strikes that can only be achieved through proper training.
The idea that kata provide all the tools one needs to defend oneself is increasingly becoming an obvious fallacy. I am a dedicated student of kata, and my self-defense movements are based on kata. But I also recognize that if I am lucky to get a punch in, I need to be able to quickly punch more times, very fast.
A double strike in kata is rare. A triple strike, almost non-existent. And where they are found, (Kusanku Dai, Pinan Yondan, Jiin, Jion, Gojushiho) they go to the torso. Kata are also missing hooking strikes to the head. These, done properly, require the back heel to come off the floor, something rarely done in karate systems. Kata routinely have movements where one walks forward one or more steps. This is rarely found in modern systems where shuffling is far more common. Kata is routinely practiced with lots of pauses. This may be a good way to train at times, but fighting combinations need to flow at maximum velocity.
These concepts found in karate, and other TMAs, may be useful training mechanisms, especially over several decades, especially if training is 10 hours a week and not two hours a week. But if one cannot commit to decades of training 500 hours a year, one should still be able to improve their self-defense skills with some reasonable investment of training.
All students of striking arts should routinely train
in combinations of multiple strikes to the head. Fans of MMA see that multi-strike combinations are frequent, and defenses often include multiple strikes.
When one goes to a cardio-kickboxing class, one finds lots of training in multi-strike combinations. My experience (which is quite limited) is that the teachers don't have the best boxing training. There is far too much punching without optimal body rotation needed for maximum power.
TMA systems, (I am most familiar with karate) have training, including kata, that really leverage body turns for power generation. I find that when I train in cardio classes, that I rotate far more than everyone else. I teach my students that if they choose to train in a cardio class in the future, that they are best served by remembering the lessons they had in turns and how good body mechanics allow maximum generation of kinetic energy transfer to a given target.
I believe that over time, karate schools will adapt, as they must, to ensure that they are meeting the goals of students. If students primary goals are to learn self-defense, then they will figure out a way to meet those goals. If they don't, they just might not get enough students to survive.