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!
Great post! Fully to the point! I’d just like to add two more issues to consider. 1) Self-defense training can always only be a crude approximation to reality for lack of the factors fear and adrenaline and the effects of that on your performance. 2) Some people/styles do martial arts for the art’s sake (e.g. katas). That’s fine in my opinion, as long as it is not sold as self-defense. Just my two cents.
Thanks Nico! I agree with both of your points. 🙂
The Leave The Arm Out There exercise is called One Step Sparring. It is only part of traditional training, it has a purpose and it works. I have only seen two clubs that do not spar. They are the extremely rare minority.
Hello… There is no good reason to train anything that requires the “attacker” to leave his arm out in the air, and I have seen this done in MANY martial arts. “One step sparring” is fine as a training exercise, but there is no need to do it with unrealistic attacks. 🙂
Hello ,very good article and right on the money ,i have train years traditionel Karate but i never had the feeling that i could defend myself and i was wasting my time,i try mma,sanshou and sparring what a differents,there is a lot of BS in martial arts ,when youre a black belt and you notitisted your tecniques don,t work in a real situation then its most be painfull for your confidence etc.Ilike the traning methods but its hard to find a training partner here,and no schools like yours here pitty.Merry cristmas and happy new year Greeting.
This is a great video showing the BIGGEST problem in self defense. Extremely useful points here.
Also, check out one of the father’s of boxing Mendoza. He taught a few basic principles of boxing. The FIRST was that you should never cross parry because it exposes you to un-blockable strikes with his other arm. I know in wing chun the cross parry is used, but it is VERY rarely a practical technique in boxing for good reason. It does have it’s place when you include clothing though.
You made some excellent points. Katas are close to worthless for self defense as is karate. Boxing, wrestling and jiu jitsu are all good for self defense.
Thanks for uploading your videos! I love the sincerity in the content! And you are absolutely bang on re: self-defense training with sparring and testing techniques with resisting/uncooperative energy!
One thing I do believe is that sometimes people need to do dead drills like leaving the arm out in order to train/develop certain skill sets or body mechanics. Some of the techniques you demonstrate require coordination of a variety of movements which can be a long process to learn if one is one coordinated or simply does not get enough repetition on movements. Only after being competent in certain drills or training modes can one feel confident in using them in sparring. Thanks again and Merry Christmas everyone!
Thank you Herman!
I agree with you for sure that people need to drill techniques before sparring with them. I wrote a lot about that progression on my training page. I didn’t mean to imply otherwise with this post. However, I don’t think the drills need to be completely dead for long. In the “introduction” phase of a technique, it needs to be shown with 100% cooperation and very low intensity. This phase usually requires only a few minutes. Once you move on to the “isolation” phase, the technique is trained in a semi-cooperative environment, by itself, but with increasing intensity and resistance as appropriate for learning. Once the practitioner is comfortable with the technique in isolation, then you can move into the “integration” phase, adding it to the sparring mix. This process works extremely well, and there is very little need to practice in a dead way…and really no need to practice in a way that doesn’t resemble/mirror reality.
Of course, the “isolation” phase, with non-sparring based drills, can and often should be done forever. There are always improvements that can be made from drilling. So I’m not advocating sparring 100% of the time by any means.
Your website is very good. If you can, do a video or article on realistic solo training.
Good idea Steven. I’ll try to do that in the not too distant future. For now, there are videos on these two pages with some solo training material:
Regardless of whether gunting as a technique class works or not I do know you’re not supposed to train it the way you demonstrated: as singular techniques with no follow-up. Not unless you’re first learning the technique or you’re isolating the specific motion (target practice).
The way I was taught is to immidiately attack his face after the gunting (it’s called Filipino boxing for a reason) and not to stop to see if it worked or not. The boxing analogy here would be to throw a combination of strikes right after a defense instead of allowing him to strike a second or third time.
I’m sorry but your video does not convince me of the validity of your point. It might very well be that strikes to nerves or muscles will do nothing but if the technique consists of a defense immidiately followed by counterattacks and you only show the defense and allow him time and room to continue his attacks then you have proven nothing: if you stay passive and do not counterattack of course you will be beaten, doesn’t take a genius to figure that one out.
As to the knife demonstration: there are different ways and methods of using a knife depending on one’s skill, mental state, whether one is sober or not… A cautious, trained individual probably won’t rush like you did in the video since you’re pretty much exposing your vital targets that way. You’re right the techniques of cutting the limb cannot be done in this manner and it makes sense to train against different types of attackers and attacks but why would it be impossible to step back or sideways to avoid his attack while attempting to cut him immidiately followed by a stab to a vital target? Without footwork to evade the attack it’ll be extremely difficult to effectively defend against a weapon even with one of your own.
I think you’re confusing early stages of training a technique with how it needs to be performed in sparring or reality. If people only learn these early stages and do no progress to more difficult, free form exercises and sparring then obviously they will fail but isn’t it the point of training to first learn a skill and then gradually practice to apply it full speed and with resistance?
The way I was taught (I do not claim expertise btw) is that gunting is no different than any standard boxing defense (slip, cover) but with an added strike. Even if you miss the strike or it does nothing you should still be in a good position to strike which in the end is what it’s all about, isn’t it? If you cover in boxing you immidiately strike when you feel his hand retracting, same as you would a gunting: if his arm retracts it’s your cue to strike, strike and strike again.
Thanks Zara. You make some great points. 🙂
Often times, if not always, after I upload a video I realize that I should have added additional material, didn’t say or show enough, etc.. This is another of those cases. So to address your points:
The beginning of the gunting concept, in unarmed fighting, is the biggest part of the gunting problem. That is why I only demonstrated the first step. Using an unarmed gunting nearly always requires the use of both hands/arms on the first beat. *IF* you were injuring your opponent or putting him on defense, that wouldn’t be a problem. But because you are not, when your opponent comes with a quick 1-2 combination (or more), the gunting idea puts you a step behind. What you are doing is effectively only a defense, and even if you do attempt to continue and counter on “2”, you will most likely be a slight step behind his 2nd movement/attack. Alternatively, if you had evaded with a simultaneous strike to an area that has a much greater impact, your opponent would generally be forced to defend, or be injured, etc. The main issue here is that there is nearly if not always a better option than striking the attacker’s limb. With sticks/swords, this is not the case…a gunting is a GREAT option.
As I believe I mentioned at the end of the knife video, I did NOT demonstrate the most effective knife vs. knife options. I demonstrated the way that many people train, and the problems with that training. You are correct that moving off line with a simultaneous cut/stab would be a much better option. Nevertheless, in my experience, with a knife (vs. a sword or stick), this idea is still much less effective in reality than the alternatives.
What I think you’ll see in more realistic sparring, where people are REALLY trying to hit each other…relatively hard…the guntings just don’t work very well. Can they sometimes work? Of course. Nearly anything can. But are they high percentage movements? Hardly. I can’t think of a time in unarmed fighting where a gunting makes as much sense as MANY other options. In knife vs. knife, it’s about the same.
Regarding doing the gunting when the arm is extending and striking when you feel his hand retracting…in theory this is a great idea. In practice, any decent striker is going to have his second attack coming out as the initial attack retracts. You’ll have a VERY hard time hitting faster on the 2nd beat, particularly if you used both hands on the first beat.
If your cover put you in a better position than your opponent, than there are exceptions. But in self defense I would always strive to either strike simultaneously, or to get to a much better position.
I share your opinions on why martial arts tend to be ineffective on a real situation. The sequence of hits is so unpredictable and fast that there are no enough time to react or know what movement you should do, and also is easy to be euphoric in a fight and this make things more difficult. I think that you should keep with your own martial art, on select the best techniques in all circumstances based on your criteria… http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/the-pleasures-of-drowning
I totally agree you. So informative article. Thank you