Monday, December 4, 2017

What is "Wrong" in the Martial Arts?

There's a few videos floating around the internet of a specific martial arts organization out there that makes the rounds of the online martial arts world every now and then.

It's videos from the World Martial Arts Association in New York (I will call them WMAA-NY as I belong to a WMAA myself - the World Modern Arnis Alliance, which is also, funnily enough, headquartered in NY- and I don't want there to be confusion here). They do a version of Tae Kwon Do called Chung Do Kwan.  Here's one of their videos I saved down long ago, if you haven't seen what they do:

Most folks don't think about what they're seeing here other than to comment about how "wrong' it is, and to point and laugh. I admit, that's my initial reaction too.

But I have been wondering WHY this group does kata this way.  There HAS to be a reason.  People don't do stuff for no reason. These are presumably intelligent people who possess the internet and television and have seen the most organizations that do the forms they do DON'T do it that way.

I know there's a reason; I just couldn't think of one that made any sense.  Until this week, when a friend told me that he has spoken to folks from this group,  

Here's why they do this: they do kata this fast because real fights happen at a fast speed.  So they're trying to make their forms "realistic" to fighting.

While I don't agree with the execution of what they're doing (especially since I've seen their "sparring" videos), that does explain why, and now it makes more sense. 

It's common to look at martial artists doing things a certain way and declare them as "wrong".  Wrong, in the martial arts, really does depend on your point of view and your strategic choices.  When we say "wrong", we mean it's wrong based on the strategic choices we, ourselves, have made and we disagree with the choice other people have made.

Take chambering.  Lots of eastern martial arts styles chamber punches either at the hip or along the rib cage.  Like so:

To the guy on the left, the guy on the right is "doing it wrong". But is he?

Well, maybe, if he's doing the same style in the same lineage.  But if he isn't, it's just a different strategic choice being made, not doing it "wrong".

And if we were to ask combat fighters, like boxers or the folks in Muay Thai, they'd all say that's no place to put that hand at all.  It's really "wrong" to them, coming from their point of view.

In Arnis, the hand that I'm not currently using to use a one-handed weapon with is called "the live hand". We typically keep it in the general region of the center of our chest, ready to deploy to grab, or to hit, or to manipulate the weapon. It's where we "chamber" it, if you will.

Like so:

See where my left hand is?
I've been studying nunchaku videos a lot lately and I've noticed that some groups are chambering the empty hand where they might chamber a punch in their forms (like one of the two dudes above)  There are plenty of Okinawan nunchaku videos that do chamber like I do, but plenty who chamber at the hip/ribs.

To me, this is "wrong".

BUT... is it really "wrong"?

On the one hand, it just might be a habit carried over from their empty hand training. On the other hand, that might be a deliberate choice to chamber that way, but I just don't know the rationale.

To put it another way, it might be "wrong", or it might be a choice that I don't understand or I just plain disagree with, based on my training and the strategic choices I make based on my training and what my teachers advise me to do, based on their superior experience.

Getting back to our friends at the WMAA-NY above, it seems to me like they took a reasonable idea about training, and then went extreme with it.  This happens when an idea takes hold and nobody questions the execution and don't pressure test it.

This is not an uncommon occurrence in the martial arts world, by the way.  Weapons forms are the perfect example. They've evolved from forms that teach you to fight with whatever weapon you're working with, to performance and dancing with a prop with little to no practical value. Because it's very difficult to test weapons, you end up with bo spinners and katana tossers and rainbow-taped kama dancing.  I've defended this sort of thing even though it's 100% NOT something I agree with (here), mainly because I do recognize that it IS a talent related to the martial arts, even if it's not fighting per se.

Exhibit A.

The WMAA-NY guys are an outlier, sure.  But it's not like they don't know what they are doing and they don't have a good reason for doing what they do.  We can disagree with it, and we can argue that the execution isn't helping them with their primary concern (being able to adjust to the speed of a ral fight), but it doesn't make them delusional, as many of us have claimed they are.

I think they're "wrong", but I understand now why they might not see it that way.

Was there a time when you thought something in the martial arts was "wrong", but then later understood the strategic choice being made and changed your mind (or at least, granted it was a valid point of view)?  If you cross-train, do you sometimes struggle with conflicting strategic choices?  Let us know in the comments!