Wednesday, November 2, 2016

11 Common Questions About the Martial Arts - ANSWERED!

I'm an active participant in online martial arts communities and on Quora's martial arts topics, and over time, you see a series of questions that get asked over and over and over again.

Here's my answers to the most commonly asked questions I've run across online.

1) WHAT IS THE BEST MARTIAL ART FOR STREET FIGHTS?

This is literally the most common question out there. There are more variants on this question than I can possibly list.  Note, this is not the same question as #2, below.

Here's my answer:

Ameri-do-te, obviously.

Learn more about the most effective martial art in the world HERE.

Okay, seriously, though...

There is no such thing as a "best" martial art for "the street".  The "best" martial art is the one that suits your personal temperament, strengths, weaknesses, your own ethics and morality, and the laws of where you live - and one you enjoy and can stick with over time.

Every martial art style has strengths and weaknesses.  There is no unbeatable martial art or unbeatable martial artist.  What matters most is that you are enjoying your training and are finding it useful for your own life.

2) WHAT IS THE BEST MARTIAL ART FOR SELF DEFENSE?

This is NOT the same as "street fight" as that's mutual combat, and this question is about protecting one's self against aggression.

In my opinion, any martial art school that does the following is useful for self defense:
  • Talks about the differences between self defense and fighting
  • Doesn't rely 100% on martial arts techniques for self defense - talks about de-escalation and removing one's self from dangerous situations as part of training
  • Is realistic about the potential consequences of using your martial arts training in a self defense situation
If all of those are taken care of, the rest is all about your preferred strategy, and all of the things I said in question 1 above apply.

3) HOW CAN I LEARN MARTIAL ARTS ONLINE?

Short answer: you can't.

Long answer:  actually, it's more complicated than that.

This question is not usually asked by experienced martial artists.  Experienced martial artists know that you can supplement your training with online materials, but you have to have a base of martial arts learning already to do so effectively, and few would claim that you can earn high rank or skill in a martial art with online training only even with that base.

If you have zero martial arts training and you want to try to learn a martial art online, though, it's next to impossible to learn to be a skilled martial artist.  You can dance around in imitation of doing martial arts by copying stuff you see online.  It's martial arts-ish.  You'd get as much out of taking online dance or baton twirling lessons, though.

The key element missing in online training is timing vs. an incoming attack. Timing isn't just about speed or power, it's about recognizing what is happening and reacting appropriately.  That can't be developed if you never see incoming attacks or counterattacks.

There is no substitute for putting the time, money, and effort into finding a teacher and training partners and doing the work it takes to develop martial arts skill.

An example of the HIGH QUALITY skills you can learn online.
Yes, you can learn other subjects effectively online, and become highly skilled in those subjects (history, accounting, mathematics, engineering, etc.).  But martial arts is more like surgery than it is accounting.  Would you allow a person who earned his degree 100% online perform surgery on you or your child?  No?  I wouldn't allow a person who's only trained online to teach me or my children martial arts, either.

4) WHAT'S THE BEST MARTIAL ART FOR WOMEN?

Everything I said above in question 1 and 2 above applies to women as well as men.  While sexism is a problem in some schools, generally speaking, most martial arts gyms are welcoming and friendly to women.

5)  WHICH ACTOR OR FAMOUS FIGHTER WOULD WIN AGAINST ANOTHER IN A FIGHT?

I'm not going to list all of the variants of this question out there.  About half the time, this question involves Bruce Lee fighting somebody.

The answer is, of course, is that Master Ken wins all fights, even ones he isn't involved in.

And he'll do it with the Thrust of Freedom.

Ok, again, seriously though...

This is not a martial arts question.  It's a nerd or fanboy question.  It's the same as debating which super hero would win a fight with another superhero (Captain America vs. Batman for example) or whether the Enterprise could beat Battlestar Galactica in a battle.

If I were a moderator of a martial arts board, these sorts of questions would always be moved to an entertainment area and out of the martial arts area.

(The correct answer to who wins in a fight, Captain America vs. Batman? Batman, of course.)

6) WHY DOES IT COST MONEY TO TRAIN IN THE MARTIAL ARTS?

This is the real question behind "how can I train online or at home" questions.  The real issue is that people want to learn how to be fighting bad-asses on the cheap or for free.  A variant on this question is "I don't have the money to train" or "I don't have the time to train" but "how can I be a good martial artist" regardless...


There are teachers out there who do teach for free or very inexpensively, if you look hard enough.  Many of these are very high quality teachers.  Much of the time, they teach in public parks or in their home garages, often at very irregular schedules, and they can stop teaching at the drop of a hat.

I studied tai chi in the park in Las Vegas for free via Meetup, and last I checked, it's no longer being offered, which is too bad, because it was fun and useful.  I shouldn't expect anything from a person teaching for free though, including rank.

You get what you pay for, folks.

There seems to be an expectation out there among some people that a person who has put in thousands of dollars and hours and years of work into becoming an expert in their field give should then give away that expertise for free or for less than a cell phone bill.

Heck, they aren't even thinking that they owe as much as Daniel-san owed Mr. Miyagi, as they won't even paint the teacher's fence or wash their car in exchange for training!

We don't expect this of accountants, lawyers and doctors - although many do free work as a charity aspect of their profession.  It takes as much time and effort to become an expert in the martial arts as it does to become proficient in those professions (maybe more, in some cases).

And we won't even get into the expenses of teachers providing equipment and clean and safe place to train - all of which costs money - or the insurance many of us are required to have in order to teach to the public.

Expecting quality martial arts teachers to teach for free or very cheap is unreasonable.

And saying you don't "have the time" to train... well, my friend, this ain't the Matrix, and we can't just upload Kung Fu to your brain. Sorry.

7) IS IT TOO LATE FOR ME TO START MARTIAL ARTS TRAINING?

This question is often asked by people in their late teens or early 20's.

It doesn't matter how old you are, it's never too late to start martial arts training.  I started a few months shy of 40 years old.  Other people start even later than that.

I think what people are concerned about is the perception, especially in the west, that you have to start as a kid to get any good at the martial arts.  This is not true, of course - although it certainly helps to start early, it's not 100% required.

There are special issues with older martial artists starting out - we don't heal as quickly and a hard training regimen too soon can be very problematic for us and keep us out of training for weeks at a time as we heal.  But if the school in question adjusts training to account for this, you should be good to go.

8) HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO BECOME AN EXPERT IN THE MARTIAL ARTS?

A variant on this question is "How long to become black belt", with the underlying assumption that black belt rank means being a martial arts expert (which isn't true by a long shot).

Malcolm Gladwell's famous "10,000" hours thing has been debunked, but the basic principle - that it takes hours and hours and hours of study, over a period of years, to become really good at something, is basically true, and there aren't many shortcuts around this fact.

Sure, being physically gifted helps a lot, as does innate talent.  Physical and mental limitations need to be taken into consideration also.  But generally speaking, thousands of hours of hard work is what it takes to become a martial arts expert.  That's it, and there aren't any shortcuts here.

There is no hard-and-fast rule, though, exactly how many hours of training it takes to become a martial arts "expert".  There is a lot of debate on what an "expert" really is in the martial arts anyway - that's a highly variable and subjective term that very much depends on the style in question and what "mastery" is defined as in each style or system.

9) DO I HAVE TO BE PHYSICALLY FIT TO BE A MARTIAL ARTIST?

Yes, but no.

Wow, that's clear, huh?

Ok, so, the thing is, to be a good martial artist, physical fitness is REALLY helpful.  Being strong, having low body fat, being flexible... all the better to doing really good martial arts.

It's not 100% required, though.  There are plenty of fat and out-of-shape, aged, disabled, or injured martial artists out there who can and will clean your clock in a conflict.

Will they win an MMA match?  Probably not.  Can some of them do enough damage to you in a self defense situation that you don't want to risk tangling with them?  Almost certainly.

I think the ideal here is to try to be in the best physical shape you, personally, can be in. That makes doing martial arts ten times easier for you if you do.

So exercise, keep your weight under control, and take care of yourself in order to be the best martial artist you can be.

A corollary to this question is the idea that a person has to be in top physical condition to teach martial arts.  This is absolutely not true, of course.  We don't expect football coaches, gymnastic coaches, and boxing coaches to be able to play the game they coach at the very most top level themselves in order to coach players.  There's plenty of fantastic martial arts teachers teaching world-class martial artists who are not, themselves, world-class martial artists while they are coaching.

10) DOES POWER/SIZE/STRENGTH MATTER IN A FIGHT?

Yes, absolutely.  That's why there are weight classes in combat sports.

What's really being asked is if a person who is out of shape or small or weak can beat a bigger person using superior technique, like we see in movies all the time.

My answer is yes BUT they better be quick about it. If the conflict lasts a long time - and 10 seconds in a fight is a long time - they will eventually get destroyed by a bigger, stronger, more powerful person.  Superior technique can absolutely help level the playing field (as can weapons), but staying engaged with someone bigger than you is asking for a beating, in my opinion.

11) IS A BLACK BELT A MARTIAL ARTS EXPERT?

Not usually, no.  Think of Black Belt as the martial arts equivalent to having a high school diploma in the United States.  You know enough to learn, now it's time to go to college or professional training to get good at it.  That's what training after you earn the black belt rank usually involves.


There's my standard answers to the nine most commonly asked questions about the martial arts.  Do you disagree with my answers? Did I miss any common questions?  Let us know in the comments!