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.
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.
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.