The Deluded: The Most Dangerous Enemy in the Martial Arts

During a TV show, the bad guys were discussing an upcoming event.  One of the bad guys made a comment about people who are deluded.  The other responded with something to the effect that we can’t let the deluded run the show.  Delusion happens to anyone and everyone.  The only ingredient needed is resolute faith in something no matter the actual evidence.  On an episode of Dr. Phil a woman said she was 1000% percent convinced that she was pregnant with multiple babies and had been pregnant for multiple years.  She even believed she had more than one uterus.  It didn’t matter if top notch OB/GYN’s did ultrasounds, blood work, or anything else that conventionally shows pregnancy.  She didn’t care about the evidence, she only believed what she wanted to believe.

In the martial arts delusion is an insidious snake.  I see, read, and hear about people getting into things that are pretty questionable.  “No touch” martial arts is right at the top of the list making the rest of us look like snake oil salesman.  Folks fight about what is real, and what is not real in forums, on Facebook and etc.  At the end of the day everyone looks the fool. Its an unfortunate side effect of the delusion.

Delusion in the martial arts can be silly, but also downright dangerous.  One’s ego can get in the way and make that person believe they are far more capable than they actually are in their skill.  Sketchiness in the effectiveness of technique could mean that a person’s skill in actually stopping an attack is questionable.  This means danger for the martial artist because if I don’t stop the knife headed towards my torso, I’m probably going to be very injured, or dead.  I once saw a video of a guy taking the knife-wielding psycho attacking him to the ground for grappling and ended up getting stabbed in the abdomen multiple times.  Clearly he was deluded into thinking he could handle the attacker with his (BJJ?) skills.

The most unfortunate part of this is that someone taught them to think like this.  I have on occasion watched people walk into the dojo with obvious ego problems, but most of the time when people walk into a school they really don’t know much and are starting from scratch.  Whatever they believe, they probably learned from their instructors.  Obviously avoiding delusion is an important martial skill.

How DOES one avoid delusion in their training?  Because delusion is grounded in believing things that aren’t true the greatest cure for delusion is humility.  Humility, for those who are unsure, is a “modest or low view of one’s own importance.” (Oxford American Dictionary).  Below is a list of ways to make an honest and true assessment of one’s skill and the effectiveness of technique.

  1.  Be comfortable with saying “I don’t know.”  It’s okay to admit to not having all of the answers, or knowing enough.  It’s in your best interest to be honest enough and say you need help from those that are more experienced.
  2. Question the effectiveness of a technique in a real world scenario.  So many techniques are passed down from ancient war methods that worked for certain scenarios but won’t necessarily work quite the same way in current times.  To be sure, we CAN learn distance, timing, and such by practicing ancient methods, but we have to realistic about wielding a modern version of an ancient weapon.  Will it stop someone? I suggest learning the technique as is AND seeing how to adjust and make it work for a real attack.
  3. Practice, practice, and practice.  Try different things, use different modern versions of a weapon (a han bo and a baseball bat can be used similarly), work with different body types and levels of strength.  I learned a lot about grappling by requesting various guys to grapple with me and make it difficult for me to get out of whatever pretzel shape they put me in.
  4. Bug the experts.  Look for people who have experienced real violence, who have a realistic view of the martial art they teach, ask questions.  Like, tons of questions.  Not the disrespectful kinds of questions, like “How could THAT possibly work??!!”  I’m talking about realizing you know nothing and asking questions that dig deeper into the actual technique.
  5. Pressure test yourself.  Sparring is an excellent way to see how well you know your techniques and your level of skill.

Keeping it real, staying humble and maintaining the mind of a student will keep you safer than you realize.

The Most Important Martial Skill: Humility

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The line between arrogance and confidence is very thin.  Once crossed the budoka becomes something I don’t want to encounter on the mats, or anywhere else for that matter.

Arrogance is a human problem.  We want to believe that we are (always) right, more skilled than others, or possess a quality that lords it over others. Arrogance shows up in various ways, such as being unteachable, or bragging about prowess.  In truth, arrogance is often a symptom of fear.  Facing the weakness of one’s body or mind is difficult and hard to admit.  Perhaps this because of what other people say to us about us, or perhaps one doesn’t want to be seen as weak and therefore vulnerable to attack.  Whatever the case, arrogance has no place in the dojo.

A confident person has no need to brag or puff up their knowledge in front of others.  Rather, a confident person can rest in their skills and knowledge with no doubts or fears.  Confidence is gained when one can measure their success against standards set by other people.  Generally, in the martial arts, this is in the form of belt tests and the like.  Then their true skills will shine through when needed without every saying a word.  Most people can spot someone with real skill versus a braggart.

The key component to confidence, and what makes a person that way as opposed to arrogance, is humility.  Among other things, humility is defined as a lack of false pride (a.k.a. arrogance).  Humility is characterized as being other focused, bending low to receive, serving others, and etc.  A humble person realizes some key things about their training: they don’t know everything, they have much to learn, and need guidance from experts to be their best.  This comes with allowing themselves to be molded, guided, and taught by another.  If one is too stiff-necked they miss out on the best parts of training.

Sure, it’s great to achieve things and move forward in training.  But let’s remember who helped us get there with grateful hearts.  When we martial artists are on the mats, let’s keep in mind our greatest skill so that we can get the greatest amount of training.