You know, you should really check out The Stick Chick Blog. She’s sassy, smart, and funny. I really enjoy reading stuff by a martial artist who knows her stuff. She practices Presas Arnis and Kobudo (Okinawan Weapons), very different from what I study in a lot of ways, but I find some of the themes she writes about translate over to any martial art style.
Last week she wrote a blog titled “The Myth of Wasted (Martial Arts) Time” that busted the myth that only certain styles of martial arts are worth pursuing. Many people believe that if it isn’t usable on the streets, or sticks too closely to tradition it isn’t worth the time spent learning that style. I’ve ready many online forum debates where a dude in one style poo pooed a dude in another style because second dude’s forms and katas weren’t practical in a street fight.
It IS sometimes true that what we learn is impractical in a street fight, it’s foolish to claim otherwise. However, as I’ve learned some of what we are taught is not meant to work in a street fight, it’s meant to train us to move and think a certain way. A lot of martial arts curriculum start with really basic stuff, like how to block a certain way, then add to this basic concept with each level. In Ninpo, when we teach blocking, we start with a basic circular motion with a back fisted blow to the inside of the forearm close to the wrist. As the student progresses, we advance closer and closer to the armpit. Each advance down the arm teaches another (painful) location to strike for maximum effect. When we teach parry blocks (from Classical Ju Jutsu), we simply teach a person to move their arm and hand outward to meet the opponents strike. Both have practical purposes in that they teach the student how to respond to threat. But most importantly, these different methods of blocking are choices we can make in a fight depending on what is happening. Not every blocking style is useful for every strike. Much depends on the angle of the strike and body position.
I often train with the bokken, a wooden replica of a katana. To be sure it is impractical, not to mention illegal, to carry a sword around in public. Duels to the death just aren’t a thing anymore. That doesn’t stop me from learning various strike patterns, stances, etiquette, and kata. While learning to use the sword may seem useless, what does it give me in terms of an actual fight? It teaches me how to use any longish weapon like a stick, a baseball bat, or an umbrella to it’s greatest affect. Etiquette and kata teaches me awareness, automatic response (sometimes muscle memory), and ways to effectively wield my weapon. Some of the kata and strike patterns aren’t that effective in an actual duel, but that’s not the point. The point is to provide me, the student, with an opportunity to practice the principles in Shuhari (守破離). Shu is obey and protect the technique (learning the basics), Ha is detachment and digression from the technique (breaking with the traditions and basics), and Ri is separating or transcending the technique (the movements become natural and instinctual). Eventually I will be able to transcend the kata and be able to make choices (click on link for another great blog by the Stick Chick on this exact topic) in the moment in how to respond to a threat.
If you are a martial artist and look down your nose at other martial arts as “ineffective” take a moment and reflect on what you learn. Is it always useful to maximum effect? Does every repeated training techniques actually help in a fight? The answer is likely “no.” Arrogance has no place in training no matter what you do or how you do it. I suggest that we all take a moment and appreciate that each style is an art, and all arts have techniques that while only useful for certain kinds of art do add to the technique over all.