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Are My Traditional Martial Arts Useless?

Are My Traditional Martial Arts Useless?

OldManKarate Vulture Tactics

I have been involved in the traditional arts for over thirty years. In that time, I have lost many a fight and won some as well. The martial arts are a lifestyle for me. Gone are the days of me wanting to measure my skill with fist and foot. I draw from the spiritual side more heavily as I age and with this mindset, I have time to reflect on the journey that brought me along the river of life.

A lesson I learned long ago, two decades probably, is that the traditional training I had received was lacking some pretty basic skills. First and foremost was the concept of pressure testing in an open no rules environment.

This type of hard striking is rough on the body and even rougher on the psyche. I kept losing and for the life of me could not figure out why. I did very well when faced with an opponent that practiced the style I did, but once I stepped out of that safety net I was lost.

Image: Vulture Tactical is a group I have been training with recently. They are the brainchild for Bruise Labs knives.

It took three or four years for me to shift my training patterns. Gone was the concept that the Dojo and its stylized Kata drove my baseline for encounters. The Kata were useless I theorized. Who would attack me in the way the Kata dictated I questioned. What I was doing wasn’t working and I set out to rectify the problem.

I struggled with the realization that I wasn’t very good at my art and in truth was more interested in the art side than the self defense side. It was a humble day when I put the two pieces together and decided to expand my education. I accepted the fact that I could have the artsy spiritual aspect of martial arts practice as well as the hard hitting realistic street thugary survival instinct I had been missing.

And this poses the question of what is thugary? Did I use this word out of place? Maybe. But it also shows a difference of opinion or educational baseline that may be skewing my world view. So be it. In simple terms it means at some point you need to dip your hand in the dark side.

So how did I do this?

It involved me sucking in my pride and searching out teachers from the traditional and what would come to be known as combatives or self defense training. I left my old martial arts school where I had been for many years. In looking back, there was a final day that was the reality check I needed. The new senior instructor told me to not teach any techniques that hand punches to the head or face. He did not want the children to learn bad habits.

I was flabbergasted.

His comment was timely, for several years earlier; I had focused on firearms training involving pistol, shotgun, and different rifle platforms. I was pretty good and enjoyed the range time.

As the years progressed and I approached that fateful day and the instructor’s comment, my opinion of the traditional arts had continued to decline.

I now wanted to focus on self defense as the primary physical manifestation for my skill. This adventure has been with its own set of ups and downs.

Tiki Seminar Bar Stool vs Knife

Tiki Seminar Bar Stool vs Knife

I find the self defense or combatives groups to be just as stuck in their own world of training as the traditional martial arts. The combative groups love drills and how they can disarm or knock your head off from any hand to hand encounter. That’s great, but, and this is a really big but, this group has holes in their skill set too.

I say this as a traditional guy and as one that also does the self defense training. Both groups lack essential skills and they are for the most part opposing skills.

The traditional side tends to excel at punching, kicking, and hopefully movement theory. A well done Kata has its place, and those that embrace a full spectrum of practice methods can excel at these basic skills.

What the traditional group lacks is force on force and realistic pressure testing. They need to get out of the Dojo rules paradigm in expecting everyone to attack them how they want to be attacked.

Where the combatives group excels is in realistic encounter preparation. They like a simplistic approach to problem solving. Or how not to get beat down and win by any means necessary.

They also incorporate weapons into their training. Not kata weapons, but blades that cut, clubs that break bone, and firearms that punch large holes in large people.

OldManKarate Bruise Labs Knife

Working with the Bruise Labs High Impact Training Knife.

Where the combatives group typically lack skill is in movement theory. You can spot them immediately if you have spent enough time learning body dynamics. These guys are so unstable its frightening to work with some of them, and I find myself cringing when it comes time to do armbars or head locks.

It’s also the punching and kicking that gets in their way. Any grown man or woman can punch, but it takes quality education and practice to learn to do it with skill and power. This skill set is not usually seen among the combatives group. However, I do find many traditional martial arts teachers that have left the Dojo and started teaching self defense combatives. They bring a level of the punch kick dynamic that seems to be impacting the future of how self defense it taught.

It makes me wonder about the long term survivability of these combative arts. And yes I refer to them as arts. Maybe there are in their infancy and are disliked by the mainstream, but in fact, this no holds bars self defense training may be the future of how adult martial arts will be taught.

Is there a solution?

I don’t know. Most of the group that do the combatives have a disdain for the traditional martial arts as do the traditional arts guy look down on the combatives.

I still practice and teach my traditional art. I also train with the combative group when I can. My training and what I teach have changed over the years, and I find I am less focused on pretty techniques and more on the practicality of skill. My opinion of Kata has come full circle and I find myself once again enjoying its practice though with a different understanding; that it is the syllabus to the art not the panaceia.

I will say this though, if reading this has sparked some interest or concern in you, take the time to look the other direction for training. You don’t have to commit twenty years of your life to the pursuit, but maybe you need to stop hiding in the Dojo or slinking around twenty dollar seminars hoping the big bruiser can teach you something worthwhile.

You have chosen the martial arts or self defense combatives training for a reason. Identify that reason, and make certain to keep a goal in mind. If you get lost along the way that is fine, but don’t spend decades of your life chasing a false dream.

By |2017-05-10T09:43:19+00:00May 3rd, 2017|Self Defense, Something To Think About, Training|8 Comments

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  1. Dan May 3, 2017 at 2:26 pm

    I don’t think I’d ever call TMAs “useless”. I may rather say less effective or efficient in some applications. A ranged attack from a gunman is probably best stifled w disciplined fire from a shooter versed in combat marksmanship. But, anyone relying on their pistol as a magic talisman will be assuredly overwhelmed by even a moderately practiced TMA. I certainly wish I had begun a TMA journey much, much earlier in life, and thus would be much more adept in training into the Modern Combative Culture as I am now. You’ve seen me, you know first hand where I’m most lacking is in the areas easiest for the rest of the group who are bridging the gap between the TMA and the MCC. (BTW, I hope I’m not so unstable as to make you not want to train me, as I value your instruction highly.)
    As a non TMA noob, I grasp the importance of Combative, but don’t advance in the skills as quickly as my TMA counterparts. Theory comes readily, but not so much the practice. Where the TMA guys seem to have little trouble w the practice, provided the grasp the Theory, the Theory being that combat differs from the Dojo, and thus must be addressed differently, with modifications or adjustments made to the strict Katas.
    Nevermind all the mental, spiritual, and physical discipline the TMAs instill in their practicioners. Easier to flow from strict and hard form to a little “fast and loose” than vice versa, to me anyway.
    All this is my very limited opinion, but I hope it helps.

    • OMK May 3, 2017 at 6:49 pm

      Good opinion Dan.

      You touched on a key aspect and that is the unknown. TMA and Combative groups are too standoffish. Maybe more beers and steaks around the bonfire will rectify this.

  2. Cecil May 4, 2017 at 2:24 pm

    They are the Yin and Yang of the whole. We need both. And, training in complimentary disciplines.

  3. Alistair Rae May 5, 2017 at 2:07 am

    This is a difficult one. The problem with traditional martial arts, you practice killing blows which you can only do under controlled conditions or someone dies.
    The thug stuff comes from diluting this to cause injury and not death.
    Too many martial artists do not understand what they practice and go through the motions only. Traditional karate is one killing strike and only this. The tekki katas are the most brutal and effective, but few people bother wiyh them because they are simple and not good in competition. Every strike in tekki shodan is designed to kill., so the bunkai must be carried out with complete control. Ten no kata is tately practiced now either. Its simple its boring, but includes all basic tdchniques for self defence. Old masters in okinawa usuall only know about 5 katas because this is all they need for self defence. In modern shotokan, tekki shodan is a brown belt kata, before, it was a white belt kata so that we could start with the fast side movement to avoid the dtrike and not block it.
    Its unfortunate the way many arts have gone. Eg I see in mma attacks around the waist to take the opponent down. This exposes the neck. Traditional martisl artists would just break the neck. This of course is not sllowed under the rules.
    Givhin Funakoshi said that you can only truly understand 15 katas in a lifetime. Most people disagree because they dont understand what is involved in complete understanding of a kata.

  4. Peter O'Toole May 5, 2017 at 7:30 am

    Yin, Yang, beer and steak, an excellent combination. 🙂
    As a traditional martial artist who has more recently become involved in self-defence, I completely agree with your analysis. I do see more and more TMAs opening their eyes now to the strengths of combatives and pressure testing. We are incorporating more and more scenario training and situational awareness into our sessions whilst trying to retain and improve the skill sets learned through years of traditional martial arts training. Keep up the good work

    • OMK May 9, 2017 at 3:06 pm

      Thanks Peter,

      We do the beers and steaks quite often with one group and never with some others I train with. I have never been able to get the different groups to come together. It’s like having extended step-families. They all know the other exists but no one will cross the visitation line.

  5. Aaron May 7, 2017 at 11:05 pm

    I was wondering what your thoughts would be after that training. I’m looking forward to hearing more.

    A couple of my thoughts, coming from the more “combative” side of things for about 8 or 10 years now:

    1) Regarding Longevity I don’t see one combatives style lasting as long as some of the traditional martial arts have. The key to a combatives system’s rise is typically it’s relevance to the culture and place in history it finds itself. Fairbairn/Sykes/Applegate’s methods were born prior and during WWII and although they influenced a lot of the modern thought on the combatives community they don’t enjoy the number of adherents they once did and newer, more refined, methodologies have taken their place. The Victorians had a number of combatives systems and they have all but died out completely, mostly relegated to old texts and a few recreationists here and there….and I’m not convinced that’s not as it should be.

    2) Although I’m combative in focus I really enjoy training in some of the more traditional arts when the opportunity presents itself. I think there CAN BE a lot of value there, depending on the culture of the instructor and the training group that’s present. It’s a rare day you see me train in anything other than jeans and a t-shirt, but it does happen. I see a lot of value in exposing yourself to the movement methodologies from those in other arts and I love finding out things I had no idea I didn’t know previously.

    • OMK May 9, 2017 at 3:10 pm

      Part of the issues I see is the tough guy attitude. So many from both camps think of themselves as warriors when in fact they are citizens playing warrior at skills. And once they choose a group that meets their ideology of the warrior mindset, it is difficult to introduce something new.

      I will add. I am not a warrior and make no claims to be or have been. I approach my practice for self defense and personal betterment. They may or may not be mutually exclusive.

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