Martial arts – let me ask you a question…

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Today we have a fantastic guest post from a good friend of mine with a rich history in Martial Arts. Declan Lestat runs Aikido Shugyokan in Minnesota as well as holding black belts in Kung Fu & Kickboxing and is a JKD instructor. Here he writes a great article on why exactly we train in martial arts! Hope you enjoy!

Let me ask you a question. It’s a question that, if you’ve been in the martial arts for any period of time, you’ve probably been asked or pondered over countless times.

Why do you train in the martial arts?

You may have more than one answer, maybe it changes over time (Like mine does). Maybe your answer is vague and only you would really get it. Maybe you don’t even know.

Here’s another question, this one a bit tougher but quicker to answer.

Why do I train in the martial arts?

Maybe I train for street fighting. Maybe I want to compete. Maybe I’m of an age and level of experience where I don’t need to train formally in self defense so I attend classes for other reasons like fitness, stress relief, interest in other cultures. Maybe I want to make friends. Maybe I’ve been training so long it’s just a habit now. There’s even a chance I train because *gasp* It’s fun!

I know exactly why I train, but the point is that anybody else – obviously – couldn’t possibly have a clue. And of course, I don’t really know why you train. I could maybe guess, but I don’t know for sure.

My point?

The other day, somebody I’d never met and didn’t know and never had any contact with before or since, commented on a video I shared: “Aikido is ineffective. For self defense learn wrestling.”

Like I’d asked him.

But to be fair, he’s far from unique. Post anything on Facebook or click on any clip on YouTube and you’ll find similar comments, though many not as polite. The comments are usually from people who don’t understand what they’re even watching, thinking chi sau or randori are being presented as actual examples of “street effective” technique and not as what they actually are – exercises. They’re no more street effective as push ups or squats, but no less important. And don’t get me started on the morons who rant about a clips obviously filmed for entertainment or demonstration purposes.

Still, my critic made a major mistake in assuming that a: The clip was supposed to represent a self defense technique (It wasn’t), b: That I don’t know what does and doesn’t “work” in the street, and c: That I train for the same reasons as he does.

But from the point of view of a practitioner of, say, MMA, Aikido is indeed ineffective. I know this, because many of their proponents aren’t too shy about telling you this on YouTube. Unfortunately for them, I don’t train Aikido for self defense. I train in Aikido for personal growth reasons. Thanks to Aikido, I have greater respect for all people (Which is why I held back on responding to this guy’s comments), humility, empathy, mindfulness, self control… So when I look at an MMA champion like Conor McGregor, I’d have to say MMA is ineffective.

But then again, what is “Street effective”? 2 minutes on YouTube will reveal thousands of clips to make you think. I found one of a BJJ guy taking down a boxer, but just when I was thinking I should train BJJ for self defense, I found another clip of a boxer defeating a BJJ guy. One of my best friends has had precisely zero martial arts training and I’ve never seen him lose a fight (And I’ve witness many!) so maybe we’re all wasting our time.

Then again, growing up in, at the time one of the most violent cities in Europe, working private security, managing city center pubs, and sheer bad luck had given me the chance to experience a lot of nasty situations close up. And even though I have multiple black belts and decades of training, on the relatively few occasions when I was too unlucky/stupid to control a confrontation enough to prevent it becoming physical, guess which system has kept me safe? Guess which martial art has put down the bad guy for me every time?

Aikido. And here’s me saying I don’t train in Aikido for self defense!

So is Aikido effective then? I wouldn’t say that. I would say that on those occasions when I had to defend myself I did so successfully, and that’s all I could say. If I’d used boxing or Muay Thai or Judo, the same would apply. It’s not the style that was effective. It was the fighter. More accurately, it was the fighter on those specific occasions. Was I just lucky? Don’t care. Could I defend myself successfully again? Possibly. Would I use Aikido again? Couldn’t say. Every situation is different. I could beat Mike Tyson tomorrow, walk around the corner and get mugged by a 14 year old. There’s not many things in the world as random and unpredictable as a street fight, after all.

This doesn’t apply to the obvious charlatans, of course. If someone posts a “Street lethal self defense techniques” comprising of ballroom dancing, then you may be inclined to offer a correction if you have the expertise. That’s a stated promise that fails to deliver.

We may not like what someone trains in but here’s the good news for us: Our approval isn’t required. To criticize an art or practitioner for nothing more than it doesn’t meet your personal training objectives isn’t worthy of a martial artist of any style. Minds are not changed with ridicule or fault finding, nobody has ever said “Wow, I totally thought I was training traditional Karate to be a lethal Jason Bourne style street assassin. The last 15 years have been a complete waste of time, I’m heading straight down to my local Gracie academy to sort my life out!” thanks to some chump on YouTube who probably doesn’t train seriously in any style, let alone a “street effective” one.

But together, with support and a little understanding, we may not change minds but we can maybe broaden minds on both sides of the debate. I think the reality and sport based arts could have a lot to learn from the more traditional arts as well as vice versa.

And a little unity in our community has to be a good thing.

The Cult of Martial Arts?

yoda force The Cult of Martial Arts?

The Cult of Martial Arts

So you join a martial arts school. Fantastic! Regardless of style, whether it be MMA, traditional martial arts, or pure self defence you could be there for any number of reasons. You could want to develop yourself further, in terms of knowledge, fitness, flexibility or being out of your comfort zone. You could simply want to add another social circle to your life. It doesn’t matter, you’ve taken the step to reach out and try martial arts, and as a result of this, your life will be improved in some way I’m sure.

Where we encounter difficulties however, is when we fail to question what we do, and why we do it. Questioning techniques, principles and the way we do the things we do it central to both the understanding of the student, and the instructor. The student learns more than simply the movements of techniques, but the depth behind them and why they are effective. The instructor then constantly needs to develop in order to be able to answer the student’s questions and improve their own understanding. This questioning of techniques and their effectiveness and use is what keeps everyone developing, as well as keeping the martial art true to form. If this questioning does not occur however, the unfortunate situation where a so called Master of the martial arts, who may well have many students and a successful school, gets asked to demonstrate on someone other than his students and fails to have any effect on them whatsoever.

Above we have an example of this. The `Shihan` demonstrates throwing a number of his students from a distance with just a wave of his hand? The force is certainly strong with this one, but some of the moves I think even Yoda would be scratching his little green head at. How does this occur? I counted at least 8 people in that demonstration falling over for the `martial artist`. They all look reasonably young, fit and healthy by their acrobatic falls so why on earth are they falling over when this guy waves his hand from a meter away?!

yoda confuse The Cult of Martial Arts?

Is it hypnotism? The power of mass suggestion? Or is it simply conformity? You find one student that is willing to fall over without you even touching them, as they are so eager to learn the secrets of the martial arts and unlock the mysteries within! Another student then comes with no previous martial arts training, sees guy number one falling over, and thinks this is just the way you train, it must be Ki, or Chi (or the force)!! Before you know it you have 8 or 9 people willing to fall over for you when you sneeze and you look amazing!! You market this as a martial art, and go around with your group of trusty rag dolls (who admittedly are really good at falling over stylishly), showing off your skills around the world, and generally being bad-ass. This is great, until someone who has training in a real martial art, and doesn’t believe in the power of sneeze throws asks to challenge you. That’s when this happens…..

hypnocar The Cult of Martial Arts?

This is unpleasant to watch as no-one wants to see someone get beat up, but it serves a point. What the hell was he thinking? And more than this, what were his students thinking? This is where we need to constantly question what we do in the martial arts. In traditional martial arts especially, there is a very high emphasis on respect for the instructor. Respect is great and one of the many things that can be learnt from the martial arts as I’ve previously highlighted here. Subservience and blind obedience to your instructor is not a good trait however as it allows the martial arts to become something else. What is being seen here is not martial arts, but a cult, where one all powerful and charismatic leader manipulates the minds of others.

The martial arts, and especially the traditional ones need to be kept alive in their intensity, effectiveness and ability to improve people’s lives. With the rise of MMA, softer, more traditional arts are constantly being questioned in terms of their effectiveness in today’s world, and videos and instructors like this tarnish the name of all martial arts. Blame also needs to be placed on the students who allow this ridiculousness to be continued and called martial arts. We constantly need to develop and evolve as martial artists, getting stronger, fitter, more technical and most importantly, questioning what we do! Martial arts are great and offer many benefits, but the above examples in my opinion cannot be called martial arts as they do not improve or develop anyone’s life, nor teach anyone anything other than how to be a fantastic, nimble, but powerless guinea pig!

Disclaimer – These guys could actually have special powers….If I trip up tomorrow I’ll know everything I have said was wrong and that somewhere, Shihan Sneezey throws just waived his hand……

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Not cool if this happens….