Sunday, March 30, 2014

My counter-response: In Defense of Sport Martial Arts

+Owen Johnston wrote a thoughtful response to my post In Defense of Sport Martial Arts on his blog, here.  I appreciate that, and I thought I'd counter-respond here.

"The major problem with sport martial arts, especially the Asian flavors, is that they are so watered down from the original and effective traditions that it’s a wonder there are any effective techniques in them for self defense. Sport karate and TKD are especially horrendous. You’re taught to tap your partner with a clean shot that is very extended and easy for the judges to see, and then back off. Also, ground work and therefore, ground defense are not allowed at all (in general). All of these are just terrible habits to have.

Also, the techniques that are allowed are generally going to be dangerous to use, especially in TKD. It’s like they intentionally do pretty much everything wrong for self defense. Head level kicks, but no leg kicks allowed? Wow. Multiple head level kicks without setting your foot down, spinning kicks, aerial kicks, etc. The punching skills are subpar and infrequently used."

I can't disagree with this point in general, but would submit that this is not the ONLY thing ALL sport schools study.  The viewpoint that tournament training is the entirety of their martial arts education is, in my opinion, a bit limited, as I have seen examples where that is simply not the case.

"Also, I have never seen any American style TKD practitioner actually use a substantial amount of blocking, parries, or useful kick evasions. Almost every single one I’ve watched literally only moves backward and forward in a straight line to dodge, which isterrible. Also, the kicks are humongous and easy to see coming. Combined with the hands being left down all the time, and the bouncing up and down on the feet in a light stance, and a lack of close-in fighting ability, and a lack of punching power, these make American style TKD just all wrong for self defense."

This has not been my experience every where I've lived.  I have lived all over the country, and I'm finding that this is dramatically different from region to region (because the "flavor" of TKD is different from place to place). Here in Texas, that isn't true of many schools I've personally witnessed, but there's a lot of teachers here who studied directly under Jhoon Rhee (or once removed) and there is a huge influence from the old "Texas Fighting Circuit" of sport karate (see Chuck Norris - he's from that era).

"Most wrestling lacks submission work, but the structure and positional dominance are useful. Can be combined well with bare knuckle boxing for a fairly useful street self defense system. Sport boxing, not quite as much, but can be modified."

Believe me, in his prime, my Uncle could tie you up and make you hurt pretty bad - they did and do study those techniques.  I think you are a little sheltered on this score, because there is ample evidence out there if you look for it of sport boxers engaging in self defense "on the street".

"Judo – for self defense, a traditional Japanese Jiujitsu style or Aikido would be preferable, if you can only choose one. Aikido doesn’t emphasize strength in any of the throws, while sport Judo does in some throws. The mechanics are different. Also if you look at older Japanese styles of Jiujitsu, the applications were necessarily battlefield oriented, therefore still effective for self defense.

Judo can still be modified, however, for self defense. The first thing is learning how to make it work when not in a gi. Looking at athletes such as Ronda Rousey will provide inspiration." 

Here you are completely missing my point. At no point did I suggest the sport arts were better than self defense arts for self defense.  I said that sport arts aren't completely useless for self defense. So, Ronda Rousey, a sport martial artist, isn't completely wasting her time, then?

"Fencing and shooting – you can’t exactly carry weapons on the street except if you have a concealed weapons permit. Martial arts weapons, usually you can’t get one. Not sure why, but hey, law is law. So these are no go. Yes, fencing can help with footwork, but since you can’t exactly carry a sword around, you still need to train specifically for the situations you would find yourself in on the street or in a bar or wherever."

Fencing helps with spacial awareness, movement, and learning to spot subtle movements in preparation for violence.  It also can easily translate to a cane, which you can carry around.  Is it the best thing to study if you're primarily concerned about self defense?  No, probably not. But if I were primarily concerned about self defense (and I am), I wouldn't practice any sport art (and I don't).  But I can't deny the utility and value of what they do and study.

Guns - depends on where you live.  Concealed carry is not the only way - many states have open carry as well (usually one or the other, not both).  Living in Texas, I'm pretty sure I'm around people carrying guns whenever I'm in a public place, as it's pretty popular here.  In my opinion, a great way to get over the fear of guns is to get trained and shoot them at a range.  Fear is the mind killer, after all - if you freeze mentally and emotionally when you are presented with a gun, it's hard to react properly. So even if you don't carry, it's still a good thing to train.

But the study of weapons in general - the FMA's, kobudo, etc. - are inherently practical IF you are able to study them with the idea that a technique is a technique, and it translates very well to other objects found in your environment.  It's also practical because you may find yourself facing one.  And if you have not trained with and against a weapon, you have no idea what the strengths and limitations are.

+Funker Tactical - Gun & Gear Videos has a great video talking about this point regarding knives here:


I also saw this point vividly illustrated in a TKD black belt test I attended last weekend (for the record, it's not a sport TKD organization - they're very self-defense oriented).  The fail I saw these otherwise very skilled self defense martial artists commit via weapons was truly epic. But these gentlemen did not regularly train with or against weapons, so of course they failed - the basic idea of controlling the weapon didn't occur to them, as you don't do that vs. an empty hand. 

THIS is the biggest gap for the sporting arts, but, I think it's a serious and obvious problem for most of the empty hand self-defense arts also, as the example above clearly illustrated to me.

As for the scenarios you find yourself "in real life" in the street, that is highly variable based upon where you live, your lifestyle, and  your gender (women are offered violence for different reasons, generally, than men, and children different than adults, and so on). You cannot ignore the numerous example of sport martial artists - male and female - using their skills in real life in self defense situations.  It's not a rare occurrence.

"I’m not even getting into MMA except to point back to earlier points I made about boxing, muay Thai, and wrestling. Well, I’ll also add, still, that Brazilian Jiujitsu is a sport style with some self defense leanings if you have the right instructor. MMA is a sport with rules, though, but fighting on the ground is a messy, dangerous affair for many reasons."

Yes, but they make the point that most real fights go to the ground.  If you take the time to look at footage of real fights - skilled people and unskilled people - this does happen with alarming frequency.  We can try to discount this if we want, but there's lots of evidence out there that we have to ignore.   You don't have to like it - I certainly don't - but there it is.

"As to the 3 reasons you list for why sport martial arts are great for the rest of us...

1. The biggest problem here is that the wider culture is still clueless as to the value of the traditional arts, and generally has a very negative perception of it. That’s a major reason why it’s so hard to successfully market the traditional arts in America. People see the sport flavors and think that martial arts are violent, or that they’re some kind of mystical Asian “woo”, or that they’re totally ineffective because of MMA and boxing."

Whose fault is that?  Sport martial arts?  Our ours, because we do a very poor job in marketing and informing the public?  And in which sport art, exactly, is "woo" promoted, and how on Earth is "boxing and MMA" totally ineffective?  Because that is simply untrue, sir.  I practice neither art -  both of those work very well in real life.

"Another problem is that when martial arts exploded in popularity in America as a result of Bruce Lee, a lot of con men took advantage of this and the fact that Americans a.) had little to no knowledge of martial arts before this (in general) and b.) need instant gratification. So, McDojo’s became a trend. Sport martial arts and Hollywood have destroyed the perception of the traditional arts. They also quite often get in the way of valuable self defense skills actually being taught. This is mostly due to the Hollywood-ized combat sports influencing people interested in martial arts to learn “how to do UFC” or how to box or how to beat people up in the ring or cage in general. Therefore, it’s bad business in general to not offer these things."

Shenanigans.
  • The popularity of Bruce Lee did not bring about the con men. Con men have always existed, and *gasp* some of them were (and are) Asian.  There's con men in every endeavor known to mankind.  There's nothing special or magical about the martial arts that makes us immune - once something becomes popular, that is going to happen. There are unscrupulous people in the world who will take advantage of people in every realm of your life.
  • So, all of the millions of Americans who spend years of their time and money learning martial arts skills for their entire lives are looking for instant gratification?  Psst - McDojos exist all over the world, not just the United States.  Yes, even Japan and Korea and the Philippines and Iran and whatever else society you care to name.
  • Your statement about Hollywood and the UFC makes no sense. The UFC is a relatively recent phenomenon.  Martial arts movies are made and promoted outside of Hollywood (not aware of many that glamorize the UFC in any case - care to name some?).  Yes, what is presented there - especially in movies and television - is unrealistic.  So what?  What does that have to do with sporting arts?
  • It's not bad business not to offer these things - there's hundreds - no, thousands - of schools that don't and do quite well, thanks.  If you are not doing well, is it the fault of the McDojo's - or yours?
"2. If you want to get into great shape, taking up martial arts isn’t the optimal way to do it. Certainly, the conditioning routines used in combat sports are indeed very effective, but those routines are generally used as separate workouts. Training your body for martial arts is like training for any other athletic activity. You need to focus on improving kinesthetic awareness / proprioception, mobility / strength in ranges of motion, building strength in the muscles needed for your activity, injury proofing your body through proper and intense exercise, and improving your cardiovascular conditioning. Specifically focusing on strength and conditioning training is what helps with this, no matter the chosen athletic activity. Frankly, I wish I could convince more martial arts instructors to get certified in fitness instruction as well and offer that as an additional program."

Again, you completely missed my point - I did not say that sport arts are BETTER than other kinds of training, I said it was ONE motivation people have and that's a path into the martial arts that can benefit those of us who are not sports martial artists.  I did state that I, personally, got into the martial arts - and I practiced a self defense art - because I think working out at a gym is boring and awful, and I wanted to get in shape.  I am a living example of this point, and over time, I've met many others like me (including a large proportion of women who started for this reason).  That being said, I agree, I think it's a great idea for martial arts teachers to do more in this arena, including seeking certification.

"3. I disagree with the gamification of martial arts because of the problems I mentioned above. A lot of people do think of martial arts as fun and that’s fine. Whatever motivates them, right? But the problem with it just “being a game” is that when it ceases to be a game and the results or progress aren’t coming, when it actually feels like the work that it is, most people get discouraged or straight out quit. I practice martial arts and train very hard in calisthenics because I love making progress, not because I find either one fun. It can still be very rewarding for me personally without it being just a silly game or sport."

Proper introduction of gamification techniques allows one to progress AND have fun.  I do not think you really understand what "gamification" is.

"Besides, all competition is driven by ego or greed anyway, and I have nothing to do with these as far as I can help it. Sport and competition don’t make you a better person. I don’t understand why anyone enjoys beating other people up in a cage or ring or backyard or wherever, or why anyone enjoys watching brutal, barbaric spectacles."

You are entitled to your opinion.  Luckily, we live in a big world - and a big martial arts community - that can accommodate different points of view.   We have room for all of us.