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I spend a good deal of time studying the martial arts along with training five times per week. I read copiously. It is hard to find good books on the martial arts. Most of what I have seen fall into the realm of “Karate for Dumb asses”. In some books I see a complete lack of understanding of the techniques that are trying to be taught and illustrated. I know that the proper illustration of techniques is no easy task so some slack may be due. Been there and done that. I may do it again in the near future.
I occasionally have a moment of weakness and look at a martial arts magazine or catalog. I am stunned at what I see. I see rooms full of young aspiring martial arts students standing in a crude and non-functional stance with horrendous punches. Come on, where are their instructors? Don’t these instructors ever make any corrections? I am sure that little Johnnie’s or little Suzie’s parent(s) are laying out $100 a month or more for their participation in “karate” class. I am sure they, the instructors, are handing out sufficient awards such as patches, multi-colored belts, and certificates for being able to scream “Yes Sir!” When I started training we had three colors of belts. White, Brown, and Black. We were allowed one patch, that of our organization. Now I see multicolored belts, and even camouflaged belts. I issue colored belts when I promote my students. I use colors for one reason: I know at what level I can work with that student without hurting them or scaring the hell out of them. The students like the sense of achievement and I have no problem with that. Just remember: all rank is artificial, including mine.
I read an article once titled “Dojos full of Pooh Bears” by John Graden. You can find it on the web. Get a copy of it and put it up in your dojo or dojang. The thrust of the article was that maybe we have lost our focus on what the martial arts really are: arts for war.
I admit that I have gotten soft these past few years. In days past we would do a 100-kata practice once per week. We would do 24-hour practices with two hours on, two hours off at least twice per year. The last practice was one-hour horse stance with 2500 blocks and punches. If we didn’t draw blood or knock someone out it just was not a good practice. Historically it is called “gasshuku” or special training.
Safety is a major concern in our training. If we injure our training partners there are no replacements. But does that mean we have to water down our training to the point of uselessness? I figure that I will not be fighting with pads and protective gear so why should I train with such. Being dependent on such protective gear builds a false sense of security. Getting hit hurts but I need to know what it feels like occasionally just to know I can keep going even though I take a shot to the nose. A good friend and a student of Aikido gave me a “T” shirt that pictured a little chipmunk holding a stick. The caption reads, “Protect your nuts”. Enough said about that.
We are a product of our training. In other words we will perform exactly as we have trained. I went through the Utah State Police Academy in 1983. During our course of instruction we were told of an officer that religiously went to the range every week. He would shoot his duty revolver at a bull’s eye target and after the sixth shot would dump his spent casings into a coffee can strategically placed next to him. The officer got into an armed confrontation in a restroom of a major retail chain store. Shots were fired. The officer died. The investigating team determined that after he had fired his sixth shot he stopped fighting so he could drop his casings into the strategically located coffee can. No coffee can was available so he used the next best thing: the toilet. His training cost him his life.
Are we doing the same thing with our martial arts training? If we train in a sporting martial system will we not respond in a fight as we have previously trained? Even the MMA, as hardcore and tough as they are will respond as they are trained. I teach my students that if they are taken down and are losing the battle they are to pat out and say “matte” which is Japanese for wait. When I do this, the students will let up on their arm bar or choke and I give them a quick shot up the side of their head and get away. Usually. Lately they have gotten wise to my treachery. They don’t always let up right away and that is just exactly what I want them to do. We need to train with an eye on reality and the bumps and bruises are just a bonus and a badge of courage.
An example would be the application of a sitting arm bar. Tori sits next to uke with one leg over uke’s neck and the other foot braced against uke’s torso. Uke is on his back. Uke’s arm is placed between your legs with the elbow above the pubic bone. Uke’s thumb is up and the little finger is against your chest (this anatomically locks the elbow). We squeeze our knees together and lift our hips and if we are doing things correctly uke taps out. But could you afford to do that in a street fight? I mean wait for a tap out? I teach my students to break uke’s elbow or dislocate his shoulder, which ever comes first without waiting for a tap-out. But we still must stress safety of our training partner so the break is simulated but is that hazardous to our training?
I suggest that we define the purpose of our training and formulate some goals then train accordingly. If our goal is to win sporting competitions then that is what we should go for with full intent of purpose. If our goal is to survive a possible hand-to-hand combat encounter in the nether regions of Afghanistan then that is what we should train for. I cannot put on the pads and “fight” with the availability of referees, judges, rules and conventions then expect the enemy combatant to pat out immediately when I put him in an arm bar.[Author’s note: if you are close enough to engage in hand-to-hand combat one or more of the following have happened: you have run out of bullets, you have previously broken your rifle over someone’s head, your knife is broken or lost, there are no rocks or sticks in the area, you have been compromised and your position is being overrun. You are probably gonna die.]
Enough rambling from an old fart. Train like you fight and fight like you train. TRAIN HARD.Write by phanmemgoc