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  • Writer's pictureJackie Bradbury


Updated: Jun 29, 2021

Recently a martial arts friend posted a picture of himself doing a joint lock on his Facebook wall.

As often happens, somebody just had to comment on the photo that, based on that single still photograph, my friend doesn't know legitimate martial arts and would get creamed in a real fight.

Because, sure, a single photograph is a completely accurate evaluation of martial arts skill, right?


Yep, it was just another salvo in the Style Wars we all play.

In some ways, though, the "it won't work in the streets" guy is also coming from a completely legitimate point of view. In others, he's full of crap.

Here's why:

The effectiveness - or ineffectiveness - of any given martial art depends on a lot of factors - the individual above all - but here's some things that need to be considered:


Where is what is being learned supposed to be used?  Against whom?  In what conditions?

When you train a martial art, you're not just training your body, but you're also training the brain.  You will see the world in a specific way because your martial art is partially designed to teach you that world view.  That's why understanding the context matters when you evaluate how "effective" any given martial art is.

There are lots of examples of how shifting context opens holes in lots of martial arts styles.

An obvious example is that Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is generally considered one of the "top" martial arts styles.  However, it loses a lot of effectiveness when you throw in someone who is trained in knife fighting.  BJJ doesn't cope with that situation very well (it can, and there are people who train that, but generally speaking, that's not their forte).

That doesn't mean that BJJ therefore sucks.  It just means that there is a hole in their training based on shifting context.

It is very difficult to effectively train against all conceivable scenarios and situations.  And that's ok. It's unfair, though, to take a martial art style out of its context and then declare that it sucks.


What risks does this style teach a person to take in order to achieve a specific goal?

Which risks are unacceptable?

In my style of Arnis, one thing we are trained to do from a very early point is that we "check" the incoming striking hand.  One main explanation for this is that it is there to prevent an incoming punyo punch (there are actually other reasons, but this is the big one).

But there are plenty of FMA styles that don't bother with it. Why?  They figure that the risk of a punyo punch is less problematic than something else they want to do. 

There are plenty of risks I'll take as I believe the payoff will be better for me, or I think that the size of the risk is small enough that it's worth taking.  One example we were talking about the other day involved discussing the risks involved in a particular counter-move in a version of right on right tapi-tapi.  Long story short, it ended up with my low line wide open for a strike.

And yes, those suck.  BUT.  My opponent's high line was wide open as well.

All things being equal, if I have a clear head shot open on my opponent, and the opponent has my torso or knee shot wide open, who'll win that fight?  I will! 

But I did say "all things being equal", didn't I?  What if we have blades vs. blunt weapons?  Then maybe that low line strike is far, far more problematic.  Maybe I wouldn't want to take that risk.

Your preference in martial arts style - and strategy - is all about which risks you believe are there, and what risks you're willing to take.  For some of us, the risk of being overwhelmed on the ground is too great, especially against multiple opponents, so they prefer to train to get back up versus staying on the ground.  This doesn't make ground fighters wrong - it just means that they don't find that risk as unacceptable as others might.


Are you sure you understand what you're talking about when you say (x) martial art won't work in real-life applications?  Or that (y) never happens in real life?

Let's take "the street". Which "street" are you talking about?  I don't hang out in bad neighborhoods, I don't typically drink in bars... my street is basically this one:

Traditional martial arts won't work in a real fight?  Except it did.

BJJ won't work in a real fight?  But it did.

Knife disarms don't work in real life.  Except when they do.

I can do this all day, folks.

Comments like "that wouldn't work in real life" depend on making certain assumptions about the scenario involved. And often, those assumptions are based upon limited experience and the training - if any - a person has had.

I live in suburban Missouri.  It's about as safe a place to live as anywhere on the face of the Earth.

I should not make the mistake of assuming everywhere is like my neighborhood.  I should not make the mistake in believing that all communities have the same values and the same rules.

So as you can see, change the scenario - the context, the risks involved, and the assumptions you make - and your martial art may NOT be the bee's knees.  Or it may be better than you think.

Either way, it's unfair to judge a martial art style based on a completely different context, assumptions, and risk assessment than what it's created for.

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