To start, I want to make an important point. The other day I noticed an online reference to my page on Why Most Martial Arts Don’t Work. Someone posted a link to the page, and another person commented that my page/site couldn’t be trusted because I’m only trying to sell something. I do sell a book that can be found on my site, but everything else on my website and blog is free, including instructional videos. I try not to push the book, as I’m sure most of you reading this have already noticed. I do this because I’m passionate about self defense and martial arts, I enjoy teaching, and I genuinely want other practitioners to understand what works and what doesn’t…how to train realistic, functional material.
When I mention other styles, teachers, or training methods and explain why they don’t work, the point is not to put down other systems or people, and the point isn’t for me to make money. (I haven’t taught martial arts for a living since 2007.) The point is for you to see examples that shed light on inefficient and ineffective training. Why? Because I hate to see people wasting their time, doing something they think will work, when it will likely fail in reality. I’ve been there. I don’t want you to be there too. So with that said…
Is your training realistic? Here’s an easy way to find out: Does your sparring look like your other training? If not, then your training probably isn’t realistic.
If you’re not sparring, then you have a problem. Your training definitely isn’t realistic.
Many people tell me their techniques are too dangerous for sparring. Anyone who thinks that simply doesn’t know how to spar properly. With protective gear and/or lowering the intensity of the sparring, any technique can be used in sparring. 100%. In BJJ chokes and arm breaks are trained. You just don’t take them all the way. It’s not a problem. In my teaching/training, sparring includes eye strikes, neck hacks, neck breaks, and groin kicks. It’s not a problem. You simply wear protective gear and/or watch the contact and intensity. You gradually build up in a safe and responsible manner.
What is sparring? It’s testing your techniques against an uncooperative and fully resisting opponent. If you’re not doing that, then you have no idea if your techniques and training methods will actually work, even if they seem to work perfectly in the training room! Many people who train traditional martial arts do not realize what an uncooperative and fully resisting opponent means. Here’s an important post on that.
So if you do spar, does your sparring look like your other training? In my experience, in most schools it does not! In most schools (outside of the sport systems), training and sparring look entirely different. This is a serious problem.
A Popular School
I was talking to someone yesterday about a big, popular school in my city. Some of the teachers are very good, and highly skilled. I imagine they could handle themselves in most self defense situations. I wouldn’t want to fight them if I could avoid it. But most of their training is very inefficient and ineffective, it looks nothing whatsoever like their sparring, and it would not stand up to a fully resisting and uncooperative opponent!
Fortunately they do spar. But their sparring is basically just kickboxing/MMA. Great. However, what is the point of all the other training they do, if they are using nearly none of it in sparring!?!?
Their training looks very cool. It looks really impressive. Sometimes I look at it and have to think twice before I remember that things don’t actually work that way myself! But no one is actually applying the techniques and combinations that are used in training.
If your training partner is attacking and then standing still with his arm out in the air while you execute a combination of counter techniques, then what you are training is likely unrealistic. If the defense you are practicing would not work if your opponent continued to attack, then it is likely unrealistic. Unfortunately, this is how most traditional martial arts training happens.
It’s not the best video, but take a look at the following kali empty hands video I made as an example. The first (ineffective) techniques I demonstrate require unrealistic distancing, that the attacker only attacks with one or two strikes, that he does not follow up, and that he does not resist. The more functional applications I demonstrate (not as well as they could have been demonstrated) in the second half of the video are not like that! Those techniques do not require a cooperative opponent. They do not require specific attacks, and they work even if the opponent attempts to continue to attack. Here’s the video:
I get emails from people nearly every day who tell me that they agree with the material on my website. Yet when they send me video links or tell me about what they are doing, it usually turns out that they are practicing ineffectively themselves. They think that everyone else is practicing an inferior system, but their system is realistic. Their system has been around for centuries, it has stood the test of time, it was created and used by a woman monk, it has been used on the battlefield, etc., etc.. This is really unfortunate. Through training in a semi-cooperative environment, we humans are easily and quickly conditioned to believe that ineffective material works! It works in the training room, so we think it will work in reality. But what people fail to realize is that their training partners are only attacking in certain ways, that they aren’t really resisting, that they aren’t really being uncooperative.
There are two things you must do in order to make sure your training is functional. First, when you try your techniques, tell your training partner “don’t let me do this”. You’ll probably need to repeat it, as we naturally begin to cooperate with each other in training. Second, make sure that when you train it is nearly indistinguishable from when you spar. If the techniques and combinations you are training are not the same ones you’re using when you’re sparring, then there is a problem with the techniques, or a problem with how you are training them.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you all!