Saturday, 24 March 2018

Don't disrespect other styles- We just don't do that...

When I had decided that I wanted to learn martial arts I was not content with just going to a dojo to train.

As my belt rank went up higher and as I interacted with black belt students I have realised that the only learning you are truly guaranteed to get from your dojo is learning by experience.

In Karate a lot of teachers have become teachers by attaining the required belt rank (In South Africa that is 2nd Dan and up...) and then choosing to teach. Knowledge of martial arts philosophy and history is not a requirement for any of these belt ranks. 

I on the other hand wanted a full martial arts education. Part of my reason for this was that I love books and I love knowledge.

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I must say, however, that part of the puzzle in learning martial arts is gaining experience in fighting or at least sparring to truly understand what it is that you have to learn.

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So- I was only able to understand the styles that I have learnt after having experienced the controlled combat that one gets on the dojo floor.

Some of us may have experienced actual violence outside the dojo, but I truly do not recommend that anyone actively goes and seeks out that kind of experience unless it is your job to do so.

Now... Let's start moving towards today's post.

A short time before the internet was around I have taken up Karate at our Shukokai dojo in a town that was known back then as Ellisras. I was 14 at the time.

Now- back then most people who have seen Karate knew about JKA, which was the only known vehicle of Shotokan at the time and also in many places the only known style of Karate.

My Sensei made a point of having us understand that we were not doing JKA. He would also demonstrate from time to time the folly of kicking from a bent leg like JKA (being vulnerable to being pushed over), having a wide forward stance like JKA (nobody walks like that in real life and besides, your groin is open to attack!) and standing with hips facing away from the opponent like JKA (your hand is now too far to reach the target in time. It slows you down!).

Well... All in all we Shukokai students believed that we were practicing a style far superior to JKA because our techniques were simply better conceived. 

Imagine the surprise you get at an event called the "All-Styles Championships"...

In traditional karate circles here all-style competitions are not a strange phenomenon. I was a green belt when I took part in my first all-styles tournament. That would be the second belt in your second year of karate training if you have passed all your other grades in the previous year and the current year.  

So- when the match-ups for kumite were called out I was at ease to see that I was fighting a JKA guy.

After all- with what we have learnt of these guys this match was going to be a piece of cake, right?

Think again...

I remember the last point being scored against me was a punch in my back before I could finish my back kick. These guys knew how to fight... 

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<p><a href="">Tea, Martial Arts and The Way - clip from 霍元甲/Jet Li&#039;s Fearless</a> from <a href="">neeraj2608</a> on <a href="">Vimeo</a>.</p>

Anyhow- more surprises and experiences have of course followed after then.

The 90's was also a time when the Gracie brothers were making headlines in martial arts magazines. During that time I have read a number of issues of a particular magazine called Fighting Arts International of which Terry O'Neill was the editor.

Issue by issue we could see how no-rules matches and open tournaments increased to find an answer to the public's question on which style is the best. What came to be later on as we know is MMA which in turn has actually evolved into a fighting style on its own...

The advent of social media actually took this ...umm... can I really call it an ongoing debate... well... whatever it is... it brought it to a wider audience and now- instead of having to wait for the next month's issue of Fighting Arts to read someone's opinion in the letters column I now only have to log onto any of my social media accounts and find this kind of stuff in the comment section.

Now- I think you, the reader will agree with me that we often do not know that level of experience or level of achievement of a commentor, but we find that many of these commentors are quick to deride any given martial arts style at the drop of a hat.

I am well aware that there are also many people who would tel them to change their attitudes, but I have not yet seen anyone who tells these commentors what I am to tell you now-

These people don't understand fighting.

Sure- you can show me your certificates and your belts and so on. Chances are that I know what you had to do to get them, but still- you don't understand fighting.

The simple test that the Gracies have chosen to determine which martial arts was superior is a simple one. Two fighters from different styles fight each other and then see who wins. You think this is a good test?

Well- the world has many incidents where a cocky martial arts student (and believe me- in some cases it is even a black belt) gets his ass handed to him by a person who has not studied ANY martial arts in all his/ her life. So- are you now going to conclude that it is better not to study ANY martial art and just rely on what Nature has given you?

The thing is- to win a fight- you only need to deliver an attack against which is not being defended or attack at a time when it is not expected.  These conditions apply to all of us, regardless of what style we practice. It becomes harder to fulfill these conditions of course when you have two contestants facing each other with the full knowledge that they are trying to beat one another... Still- whoever manages to do any of these two things- or who does it more than the other guy- wins.

And the Universe does not care what method or what technique you sue to do so- as long as it fulfils the condition.

Now- away from competition- we still have to answer those people who want to talk about what works in a real fight. Right?

Well- you know- fighting is almost as old as mankind itself. I am saying this under the assumption that Adam and Eve had experienced a period in humanity's history where no fighting was necessary at least until Cain had come around.

Now- would you believe that the Chinese had long before even the 18th century already observed the act of fighting with all of its emotions, all its problems and all of its consequences and analysed it?

In Shaolin it is said that Kung Fu stands on 3 legs: Force, Technique, Tactics.

I have spoken about this before, but let's refresh our memories. Force refers to visible qualities like strength, speed, reflexes, agility and so on... This is what we call external force. Things that are cultivated with active effort. It requires you to break a sweat.

We also have internal force, however. Although the effects thereof are visible how exactly the results are achieved cannot be seen. A conditioned mind, high pain tolerance, being impervious to fear or emotional stimuli... these are all the result of inner workings that we do not see. The quality of these inner workings we call internal force.

Now- martial arts do of course have ways to train and develop different kinds of force, but force is also possessed by different persons in different quantities.

Moving on to technique... Technique is the method of attack and defence. Different methods exist. Some may be more efficient than others. In martial arts styles we find that some choose a specific striking technique for its speed while another prefers a different one for its power. From Where I am typing I cannot imagine any untrained person to have technique of any kind and I will say that those fights in which untrained persons beat martial artists are fights where they were either more cunning than the trained opponent or simply just stronger/ faster.

Then we have tactics...

If you have been studying martial arts for a long time now and have spent many hours in the gym or at the dojo you would know that tactical cunning will only get you so far...

Still- it is a factor that determines the outcome of a fight. Superior tacticians are known to beat their opponents seemingly without effort.

Now- the Universe really does not care what training background you have, who your teacher was or how much you know. Those 3 factors are what gets weighed in a fight and nothing else.

But that is all talk...

In martial arts we get to do. In fact- we learn by doing and by seeing things happen for ourselves.

So- here are a couple of things that you can do to get over this myth that one style is generally better than the other for winning a fight:

1. Play Tekken 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. 6 or 7: Choose any character. Finish the arcade mode with it. Then select any other character.  Then play against someone else. Let that person pick whoever he/she likes and then see how the match ends... Simple, but also clear.

2. Spar with someone, but with both allowed to use only one technique (eg reverse punch/ gyakuzuki): It may be silly, but it works well to show you that what techniques you know (which is basically the largest distinguishing factor between styles) is only part of what determines your success in combat. It is actually interesting to note that Japanese martial arts masters like any Kendo master or a Karate master are capable of winning a fight with something as simple as a single whack over the head or a stepping punch. These attacks seem simple and can be found in a large number of fighting styles. Still- the fact that these attacks work have nothing to do with under which style they are being performed.

And so I have written paragraph after paragraph about combat efficacy, but that is only part of what a lot of martial arts styles are about. Many styles of martial arts have practices derived from combat that are used for other purposes such as maintaining or restoring health, attaining enlightenment or even just developing physical strength. I am, for instance, not so confident to use Taijiquan or Xingyi in a fight as I am with Jeet Kune Do or my own style's combat form, but still- the core strength and mental focus that I have gained from just practicing these arts can't be denied.

Like I said- I was fortunate enough to have learnt these things and have applied them to what I have experienced to understand what I see and do. I know that many people have not heard this from their teachers.

At least I can hope that if you have read this post you will know that whenever you feel like ridiculing this style or that- someone may be out there reading what you say and knowing that you actually do not know enough about martial arts...

To the ones who have realised the things that I have written about without having been taught- respect! :)

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