The theories and thoughts on self-defense and the martial arts are nearly endless. Everyone has their opinions on such things as traditional vs. non-traditional, artistic vs. realistic, single art vs. cross training, form vs. formlessness, street fighting vs. training hall, ground fighting vs. stand up, to choosing where to take lessons and so on. Here are some of my thoughts on these subjects.
The "BIG" Secret I feel to martial arts training and being classified as being "good"
I almost don't want to talk about this subject, because I feel it is a trade secret since very few seem to use it. I have seen hundreds of people go through the motions of martial arts and never seem to get this concept. People love to do drills, copy forms, and perform techniques, but they still miss this critical aspect and key "glue" concept. I am purposely delaying talking about the concept as I am not sure I should just hit delete......... :)
Okay lets take a trip down memory lane. If you were to ask people for the name of a martial artist, I think we can all still agree the main name said would be Bruce Lee. I had a eureka moment a couple weeks ago as I have been talking about this concept for years and been focusing heavily on it in my teaching to others over the last year. I was sitting watching Enter the Dragon in High Def and enjoying the splendor when the opening intro to Bruce Lee came on. He was explaining to his young student how to strike and he used 2 words that sum up the concept completely........"Emotional Content" there it is, the secret is out, every martial artist will be immediately better. Wait a sec, this movie came out in 1973, whew! I have called it intent in your motion, but it means the same thing. Now as Bruce said we aren't talking about anger, we are talking about having a meaning and purpose to your training movements.
I watch people do empty hand, stick drills, knife drills, forms and technique and they just mimic the motions and laugh the hole time. This is why when it comes down to a crunch they cave. You have to simulate the attack event as much as possible in your training and if you don't you are in trouble and the skills wont come out how they should when emotions are injected.
There it is the "BIG" secret. I know you may be saying, this isn't a secret and everyone does it, but it just isn't true. Go troll Youtube and see the martial artist perform their motions, emotional content is missing from the majority of them. I cant say how many drill based seminars I have been to where people joke and laugh and act like bobble heads while they train. They can do the drills fast and perform the actions, but when asked to improvise or are pushed outside of the motion or changes in range they crumble.
Once again my 2 cents, but I see the difference in my students and I see a change in their level of confidence in truly understanding the motion and being able to apply it.
Many martial artists are now cross training in many martial arts. I think this is good to a limited extent. I think it is important to have a style to work off of and have a very very solid base in. This way everything has a relativity factor as you proceed. Most people cross train in other arts that fill gaps in their own. The problem is most people don't go deep enough in any one style to see that what they are looking for was there. As all arts progress with a teacher who understands concepts and not just techniques gaps are filled the longer you are there. Of course there are exceptions to this and it is usually the sport arts or competition arts that people find lack. It is not because they are missing huge concepts, but because they are learned with the idea that competing is the ultimate goal, and in every competition there are rules and safeguards, even the "No Rules" fights. Now some of you out there are probably calling me a hypocrite right now due to the fact I talk about other arts on this site that I am working with. My situation is this, I have reached certain levels within my original art that I need to have expanded. I am an infant in the martial arts, so there comes a time when you must evolve and this evolution must come with guidance. I have put my focus into the Indonesian/filipino styles because I have found the "proper" guidance there that I need to evolve my style, understanding and teaching. With the learning of these concepts, parts of my original art become more clear and I see that the concepts were already there in different forms. So in other words I am studying other styles, in order to see what was there within my base art. Confused yet? Example: I have begun my journey down the kuntao/silat lines within the last little while and in these styles I see a shortened distance version of Kenpo. Now I am sure some of you are disagreeing with this but hey you are still reading aren't you. We all know Ed Parker took concepts from a lot of great arts and people, but he was someone who understood physics and motion more than any of us ever could. Uncle Bill (de Thouars) says "effective is effective" It all comes down to what works. Arts that are hundreds or thousands of years old that were developed for self-defense in war time would not still be around if they didn't work for the people that used them. So be sure not to fall into the trap of a little of this and a little of this will fill all the gaps for you, for you will never see the connections true form, all you will end up doing is saying, in this situation grappling would work and in this situation JKD would work and so on and so on. There are some ways of training however that people can't do or don't like and this is what it comes to, but there are tons of different ways of approaching teaching concepts and theories. Look at people like George Dillman who brings out very deadly moves that are within the simplest of katas. Look at a great deal of taekwondo kicks and put them on the ground and you have effective ground fighting and do your Kenpo on your back and escaping from the ground comes into play. To be a true martial artist you have to be able to look at all angles and possibilities of something and not just say well it wouldn't work in this situation, with some adjustments and a different view it may work in the last situation you would have expected. And remember the true grandmasters of the martial arts become people who understand things like anatomy and physics. So if you enjoy the way you train and feel you are constantly learning then stick to your style until you feel you cannot learn anymore or no longer feel your mind in it. But beware, I have had many students who have felt they have learned enough when in fact they have chosen to quit looking. I have not even come close to knowing even a fraction of what there is and I learn something new every day from my students when they don't even realize that they are teaching me. As my students get better I look to get them looking more at what they do and evolving on their own with less guidance from me. Sometimes this is taken as the teacher having less things to teach them, when in fact the opposite is true and they will never see that. By letting someone continue his own evolution at a point it is easier to guide them once you see which path they have taken. As teachers we must help up until the junction arises, let the path be chosen, then once again help until the next. We cannot know all the paths but through or own experiences and mistakes with ourselves and others we can give guidance and gain knowledge. I think I got a little off topic, but by now you have probably quit reading anyway.
Choosing a Martial Arts School
Making the choice of where to train usually signs your fate on whether you will be one of the few who makes it past the first year or less. Most people just go through the phone book and who ever is there(a lot of schools are part time), that ends up being where they go and if they don't like what they see they will give up and say "well maybe its not for me". People need to check out a variety of schools and even participate in a class. Any good school will let you watch a class and even participate in it once or twice for free. The instructor should be open to any questions and not get defensive. You also need to make sure you know who will be teaching you. Many schools claim to have the head instructor doing personal training but once the student joins he is pawned off on someone who joined a week before him, in order to get instruction. The prospective student should also find out the format the classes are taught and whether contact is involved in the beginning and whether this will be something they want. The choice to join a school should be thought out and researched carefully. A great deal of styles may not be what a person wants. Most people just think martial arts are all the same when joining. This a common thought but unbelievably wrong.
Traditional vs Non-Traditional
Now first off by traditional vs non-traditional I mean teaching set stances, forms, combinations, respecting the art(bows, rules, etc)There are many schools cropping up everywhere claiming to teach realistic street fighting with out all the traditional rules. I have seen a few of these schools and I think they have missed the point. Most of these non-traditional schools are run by guys who have been in street fights and who have seen every ultimate fighting champion video as well as been to a few 2 day seminars in the states somewhere and have gotten their instructor certification or apprenticeship because they had the money. Don't get me wrong, I believe these people can defend themselves, but I doubt they have something that they can pass onto others. These guys know what it is like to get hit and to hit someone, how do you train that to a father or mother of 2 kids or someone who has never been in a fight? It is amazing what happens to someone's attitude when they get hit. I have fought full contact with no padding and the type of gloves they use in the UFC so I am aware of the effects. I have been dropped to the ground with a kick to the groin. Believe me I would rather it never happen again. These schools train to just keep straight blasting or eye gouging until the person is finished and they say things like "the navy seals train this stuff". I hate to be the bearer of bad news but a big part of the navy seals job is to kill people. Us in the public world have laws to deal with, especially here in Canada. Now those of you that are reading this right now and are familiar with the art I train, Kenpo you are probably saying what a hypocrite. The art of Kenpo is know as an overkill art but the students are trained or should at least be trained to use their skills like a dimmer switch and not just an off and on. A fist can become a palm strike which can become a slap which can become a push which can become a grab. We train 10 hits continuously in case 5 of them are blocked. That is for another discussion :). Now I believe that tradition has its place but can be overdone. Tradition builds respect into the student. From what I have seen tradition also makes the student more open minded to training methods. I am sure some of you are laughing at that. I believe unless the martial arts school is run like a cult and the teacher is teaching close mindedness students respect all opinions. Tradition also builds a base of knowledge which allows the student to develop his own tools. By teaching stances and all the different kicks and punches the student is exposed to more and is able to find their own strengths. These other schools that say "we teach the stuff that works the best" seem to forget that no 2 people are alike. I have met instructors half my weight(I am rather big) who claim to have the best techniques to defend yourself with. I have also seen people use things that I found useless for myself but they use to great advantage and outcome. I myself teach a great deal of things that I would never use, but I don't want to make that choice for someone else. This is of course all reliant on the teacher exposing his students to all ranges and types of weapons. The traditional instructor must also make the students aware of street situations and realistic concepts.
Tradition can also be bad though if the instructor refuses to make the students aware of reality. By reality I mean things like falling to the ground, defending yourself on uneven ground, weapons, environmental conditions (chairs, people, ice, cars, cement, glass, etc). I think though that with all that, any person starting in the martial arts should seek out a school that teaches the martial tradition as well as realistic situations.
People learning in the garage starting their own school
In my humble opinion the martial arts market is being diffused greatly. There are a lot of people starting their own school with next to no true understanding of all the aspects of martial arts. I have seen numerous people who think they have gotten all the information a school could give and move on to their own. I have also seen a lot of people who have learned from some guy in their garage and they are now running their own school. These people claim to have stream lined the system to make it quick and easy to learn. This is total crap. I have been in the martial arts for 15 years and I am still learning simple things all the time. These people claim to have their students capable of beating other black belts after only 6 months of training. I am not sure what is worse, him thinking that or him telling his students that. There is so much more to fighting than some crappy little slapping hands. I know this from fighting full contact and that feeling of someone blindly throwing something and connecting is something that changes it all. I have seen and worked with a lot of martial artists and the one thing that the good ones always said is that they were beginners and would never underestimate anyone. Anyone who claims to have that special magic to make his/her student be able to fight in only 6 months or a year is full of shit. I have worked with a lot of students and I have a very small number that I think could stand their ground with a large amount of people. Many people think they get into the martial arts to fight, but very few know or are willing to put in what it takes. That is fine with me because I think the martial arts should be learned, and not just so you can fight, although that has been my focus. So here is a wake up call to all the new school owners, take it from me, you don't have the magic and you aren't going to have a school of excellent martial artists. I am talking through experience.
More to come........