By guest author Matt Klein
Many martial arts schools teach children as a sidelight to their main focus: adults. They are not that interested in children, and only do it because it represents a sizable chunk of their school’s income. Children are routinely thrown into adults classes or treated as “miniature adults.” A school that can focus on the needs of children will be very successful, as there are few that get it right. To be a successful martial arts school for children, it is important to recognize how teaching them differs from the teaching of adults.
Americans do not usually see themselves, when they are in the United States, as representatives of their country. They see themselves as individuals who are different from all other individuals, whether those others are Americans or foreigners. Americans may say they have no culture, since they often conceive of culture as an overlay of arbitrary customs to be found only in other countries. Individual Americans may think they chose their own values, rather than having had their values and the assumptions on which they are based imposed on them by the society in which they were born. If you ask them to tell you something about “American culture,” they may be unable to answer and they may even deny that there is an “American culture.”
(from Handbook for Foreign Students and Scholars)
A few minutes prior to the start of class, karateka (students) enter through the front door, immediately bowing to the sensei (teacher) and/or the kamidana (dojo shrine). The karateka remove their shoes, and enter the changing room to don their training uniforms.
When I hear a professional martial arts instructor advising their students to be more natural, I cannot help but feel contempt. Could any help be less helpful?
What is the most natural method for safely evading a knife thrust, while simultaneously positioning oneself for an effortless disarm and throw? How does one naturally reverse a guillotine choke? People who know the answer to these questions don’t need an instructor or a class; for the rest of us, more detailed guidance is appropriate.
With that said, I am a strong advocate of “natural breathing” for martial applications, in contrast to the more exotic approaches advanced in some dojos.
My teachers have disagreed on many things, but in these two points they are all in accord:
- If you want to excel in martial arts, you must touch hands (spar) with as many people as possible; preferably, hundreds or thousands.
- For a great achievement, you must use the correct training methods in a disciplined fashion. Avoid deviant and inferior methods, and refuse to entertain the people who use them.
In theory, there is no contradiction between these two ideals. In practice, compromise is required. Nobody agrees on what the correct training methods are, and everyone measures their progress by a different standard—except for those who reject the concepts of “progress” and “standards” altogether.
Of all the frustrations that hinder interaction among martial artists from different schools, lineages and styles—money, reputation, physical safety—this is perhaps the most difficult to address: everybody else is practicing incorrectly!
In the past few years, mixed martial arts has enjoyed remarkable commercial success. Some fans imagine that its popularity is a result of its vast technical superiority over traditional martial arts styles. But neither MMA techniques nor training methods are particularly innovative; much of what you see in the competition ring was pioneered decades or even centuries ago.
The recent success of the MMA product is best explained with a sociological model, not a technical one; and this model predicts an inevitable fall from grace. MMA will decay, like every style before it, into a traditional martial art.
Shield and spear
To the ancient Romans, the concept of a non-violent martial art would be nonsensical. Their literal definition of martial was “belonging to Mars”, the god of war. Modern usage of the term martial arts, however, is hardly related to military strategy and tactics.
Today, most popular martial arts are practiced without arms. Considering this shift in focus, from immediate and practical skills to more abstract and long-term benefits, it is reasonable to ask whether violent destructive potential is still necessary at all.
Is a non-violent martial art worthy of study?
You will fight like you train, as the saying goes, and there is some truth in it. If you have never tried to apply your martial art against a fully resisting opponent, it is unlikely to work as well as you would hope. Therefore, a practical martial arts curriculum should include a variety of common attacks, drilled with realistic speed and power.
A reasonable conclusion, isn’t it? But a surprisingly popular school of thought goes much further, contending that:
You should always train as if fighting, as this is the only way to improve your fighting ability.
This is nonsense, and every martial artist should understand why.