4 Myths About the Martial Arts (Non-Martial Artists and Newbies Believe)
Updated: Aug 27
Depictions of martial arts and martial artists are everywhere in our culture.
Television, books, comics, video games, movies, even music.
Oh, you know I couldn't mention "martial arts" and "music" without posting that song, right?
How we in the martial arts are portrayed - the reality vs. the fantasy of it - has changed over time. However, there are some pretty common misconceptions about the martial arts still going around and are believed by outsiders and newbies.
BLACK BELT IS AN EXPERT
This might be the most commonly believed myth about the martial arts. That holding the rank of black belt makes one an expert in the martial arts.
Hoo boy, this one is FALSE. I am a black belt, guys. And no, I'm far, far from an expert in my art. I have a looonnnggg way to go before that happens, if ever.
Inside the martial arts community, we'll say, "Black belt is the first step of the journey", which is true - it represents "mastery" of our basics in most arts. It does NOT represent understanding an entire system.
But we do a very poor job in communicating this outside of our community.
Heck, we do a poor job INSIDE our community, in some quarters. How many fraudulent grand masters and "sokes" have earned a legitimate 1st degree black belt in a legit martial arts system and then went on to found their own "styles", thinking they knew all they needed to know in their base art? I can think of two off the top of my head.
I think another reason this myth persists is because we focus on that rank for children to achieve in the martial arts. We've created "Black Belt Clubs" and we use the rank of black belt as some sort of ideal state of martial arts achievement. In some schools, we even treat black belts very differently than non-black belts (they enter the mat differently, deference is given to them, etc.).
This reinforces this myth.
A related myth is that a black belt is an unbeatable expert fighter, but I think this one is dying slowly as combat sports have become more popular (most of those fighters typically hold black belt rank in a style or two). I think this myth is more often than not reinforced by some bad marketing on our part more than anything else these days.
THERE IS A BEST MARTIAL ART
This is a common question asked by people contemplating studying with us.
"Which is the best martial art style?"
The answer is, outside of a very few notable examples of terrible martial art styles - such as Yellow Bamboo - there is no such thing.
The truth is that each martial art style represents a strategy, and nothing more than that. Which martial art is "best" is a completely subjective thing, based upon what strategy you prefer, your personal strengths and weaknesses, what you want to achieve in that style... there are so many variables based on the individual that it's almost a meaningless question.
I tend to prefer weapons study over empty hand. This is because I am a short, dumpy middle aged woman and I need every advantage I can find in conflict. Others are different, and can choose differently. I studied tae kwon do for a time, and decided it isn't for me. It doesn't mean TKD is a bad martial art - far from it - it just means it didn't suit me, personally. I've recommended people to TKD schools more than once that I thought were good!
This is why every time this question is asked, most of us answer, "Try out the schools near you and see which one you enjoy the most".
THERE IS A PERFECT MARTIAL ARTS TECHNIQUE
There seems to be this persistent belief out there, by newbies and people training by themselves without a teacher, that they can come up with the perfect, unbeatable technique and that's all they'll need.
No. There is no such thing as an unbeatable technique.
The truth is, there's always upsides and downsides to everything we do. Some things have greater odds of success than others. Everything - and I mean everything - can be countered.
What we do is that we understand what the weaknesses and odds are, and we learn to cope with failure when it happens (as it will). The kicker is that, even within a single style, some techniques work great for some of us (better odds) while the same technique will be epic fail for others!
There's many reinforcements in pop culture for this myth, including:
✔ A desire to be a martial arts "master" quickly (if you only focus on one thing, you don't have to work on anything else) ✔ The "Mortal Kombat" video game series (and games like those) ✔ The Crane kick scene from "The Karate Kid" movie
MARTIAL ARTS IN POPULAR CULTURE REFLECT REALITY
This one is the hardest to overcome with newbies and outsiders, because they don't want to believe this is true.
What you see portrayed of martial arts - empty hand fighting and weapons fighting - in the media is, outside of specific and rare examples, always artificial in some way.
Fights on TV and Movies? Always choreographed and staged for safety and dramatic effect. It looks cool because it's entertainment. Believe me, if I hit you in the face with a metal bar - even in the weak strike Oliver Queen delivers below - you won't just go "arrrgh!" and come back to train more any time soon. This stuff sucks with RATTAN.
Weapons in video games? They're there for game mechanics, not reality. If reality were important, a steel katana wouldn't weigh 10 pounds in Skyrim (real katanas only weigh a few pounds, guys) and you couldn't hit a guy 20 times with one and lose a fight.
UFC fights? There are things they can't do and rules they must follow.
Dog Brothers? They wear safety equipment.
In regular daily training, we have these rules that we follow, usually for safety, and thus, aren't 100% representative of what reality might be. It's impossible to simulate reality perfectly in training.
The desire to get as real as you possibly can is admirable but carries many risks and usually most of us want to be able to train more frequently than every six weeks or so (average healing time).
Heck, the consequences of punching, kicking, and hitting people (empty hand, with weapons, and including use of firearms) are rarely shown accurately. Fights go on WAY longer than they really should, usually because they have their own little internal story line to follow so that we can enjoy the fight.
Fights in popular culture are as real as Hogwart's.
So those are four myths that non-martial artists and newbies believe. Did I miss any? Do you disagree with my list? Let me know in the comments!