Let’s talk about self defense.
No matter who you are or what you do, conflicts will appear in your life. Oftentimes they can be pretty mundane. We all know the challenge of navigating disagreements with friends, family co-workers… The list goes on. Navigating around conflict is something you will be forced to do very often in your life, and no one is immune to it.
Why? Because conflict is simply the clashing of your will against reality. It doesn’t always have to be with another person; it can be against a facet in your life. Many people, myself included, need to balance the demands and obligations of hectic work schedules with family needs, fitness goals, and much more. I can think of the parents of our Little Ninja class for example, who have to navigate busy schedules to find the time to bring their kids in to train. We all have different strategies to cope with conflict, and some ways are very effective while others aren’t. This paragraph shouldn’t be particularly enlightening. I think we all can accept this as fact, so I don’t feel the need to belabor this point further.
The point of this is the fact that we are always coping with reality, and make no mistake; if you are in a fight, you are in conflict with a dangerous reality. When dealing with the very real dangers of an actual physical fight it is vital that we take a realistic approach to our training. A real fight doesn’t lie! The challenge for martial arts is to develop our ability to manage the challenges of fighting in our contemporary world. Modern fights are fast paced, exhausting, highly emotional situations that can involve weapons, multiple attackers, unconventional/unexpected methods, and most importantly they involve someone who is intent on hurting you. They sometimes come from the people you’d expect the least, like in this story. In order to be effective in this modern reality, a modern approach to training is needed.
I have developed a lot of trust in the scientific method in regards to evaluating reality. Science is the method of exploring natural phenomena by rigorously testing falsifiable hypotheses to continually develop our knowledge of reality.
There are numerous martial arts in the world. Some study striking, others grappling, others weaponry, and many feature some blend of all three. All martial arts by their method of practice make certain claims about reality. I have discussed before the importance of integrity when teaching self defense. Let’s watch this video of one instructor’s claims when faced with reality:
Yikes. You can see very easily how fast this instructor’s claims fail against reality when faced with an unwilling opponent. When tested, his claims about his “kiai” fall short. Unfortunately, he has students that he has trained in this system that is meant to protect them in a real fight. His defeat is his own, but I feel empathy towards his students; they have been sold a falsehood, and they have not been prepared to deal with real attackers.
Before I continue, I want to make an important distinction: a martial arts school that doesn’t train for contemporary self defense is fine as long as the teachers are up front and honest about that fact, and those teachers do exist. In short, it is fine to preserve an art for the art’s sake as long as that is how the art is being taught.
My plea to students who study contemporary fighting is to test the claims of their art honestly. We try to create an environment at Discovery that fosters questions from students and encourages exploration of our methods. We encourage students to be aware of their own emotions in high stress situations, and to fight accordingly. It’s important to us that our students have the opportunity to test what works for them and what doesn’t as they grow in rank.
What are some things you can do as a student to make sure you are studying in a way that will prepare you for a real fight? How can you test the claims of your training?
- Ask questions. If your teacher doesn’t allow you that opportunity, or tells you to do something because it is simply “how you are supposed to” should send up a red flag. You don’t have to be outright skeptical of everything you see, but if you question something or need to learn more, ask why you are being taught what you are.
- Is the danger of fighting “breezed over” or are you given simple “one size fits all” instruction?
- Does your instructor make realistic claims? No art should be promising you the world when it comes to fighting. I have yet to hear of a martial art that will help you take on a 20 person gang of peruvian knife fighters. If you got into that fight, you might want to be careful of what bars you are walking into. Think with some humility, and make sure your self defense school does the same.
- Test your ability against increasing resistance. I have an article that discusses a way to do this.
- Even if you are training at a low intensity, ensure that your training partner is delivering honest attacks and isn’t giving intentional misses and easy falls. Train against realistic attacks! There is a large difference in training against a huge lunging knife attack vs. someone rushing in with a knife. Which do you think is more likely to occur?
- Evaluate the limitations of a technique. For example, when dealing with a throw, have your partner “dirty up” your technique to show you how and when your throw can fail. Every technique has (many) counters that you need to be aware of. You will build this knowledge over time and study.
- Try your techniques when you are tired; be safe and know your personal limits!
- Keep the impact of your emotions in the context. A real fight may catch you off guard and unable to “hold your ground” and you should learn to respond in this mental state. You may be scared, confident, angry, upset, the list goes on.
- Go live. We offer a randori class alongside optional sparring for our students in order to help them test their abilities and techniques in a safe way while maintaining realistic, variable intensity.
- Learn the origins of your techniques and art. Evaluate why it was originally developed.
- Learn who your teachers are. What is their background. Can it be verified? Have you seen them in action?
- Try your techniques against larger, stronger, faster, and more experienced students. What modifications will you need to make to be successful for your body type and experience?
Wow, I could keep going with this list. Bear in mind, our school studies self defense. Self defense has a very simple goal; to get you home safe at the end of the day. In incorporates the need for awareness, danger prevention, and if a conflict becomes necessary methods for handling the fight as efficiently and effectively as possible. Our training centers around this goal, and we try our best to prepare our students with a well rounded skillset that will help them deal with a large number of situations. We work with everyday people; not everyone is a highly skilled athlete or fighting paragon, and we make sure to address that with how we train you.
When you practice something enough, it will become art to you in its own time. Prolonged study of the science of fighting will train you to use effective strategy, timing, distancing, leverage, posture, position, and much more until you don’t really have to think about it. One of the harsh realities you will face in a fight is that there really isn’t a whole lot of time for thinking… that is when your artfulness will need to manifest.
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What else do you think a martial art needs to do to be effective?