Monday, August 21, 2017

Make war the Roman way.

Bellum Romanum
All-out war without restraint as Romans practiced against groups they considered to be barbarians.

Last week, I shared a video by Master Chim (linked below) about ineffective martial arts techniques and no matter whether you like, hate or don't know who Master Chim is, he raised some valid points about the way that martial arts are taught in modern times.  He asked good questions about the techniques being taught such as the double handed wrist grab or lapel grab and why students are taught ineffective, time consuming and often silly responses to situations that almost never happen and it got me thinking.

It's true that too many schools teach these techniques but I think it's also true that most students and even more teachers know that these techniques are pointless because it's VERY unlikely that a student would ever see these set ups being used in real life.  So why learn them?

I think the answers from teachers would be that "It helps the student get used to being grabbed" and while that is a nice sentiment, how does it really help students if they are learning things that they will never actually use?  Why not focus the student from the beginning on attacks that actually will happen such as a haymaker, shove, front kick, etc?

I was lucky enough to spend a long time as a bouncer at several different clubs and country bars and I have to say, the fights I saw never started with someone grabbing another person by the lapel or taking both of their hands to grab a single wrist of their opponent.  Fights usually start in a couple different ways and it's rare that they start with any of the attacks that students learn in most martial arts schools.  To further explain this, we have to understand that the majority of people who pick fights on "Da streetz" or in a bar aren't trained martial artists and often will use incredibly simple attacks simply because they are natural and the person doesn't know any better.  So why would we as teachers show anything but these in the beginning?  Why show students techniques that we know they aren't likely to face instead of the attacks we KNOW are most likely to happen?

I think it comes down to filling up time and keeping the students interested.  Traditional martial arts are very simple, that's why they are effective, so there is a limited number of things to fill up time during a students contract, leading the teacher to create situations just to keep the students engaged.  Most students don't want to hear that they should put in a thousand more reps on a basic technique and instead complain that they aren't learning more and teachers weakly give in to those complaints instead of teaching their students discipline and single mindedness during training.

You may be saying "That doesn't seem like such a big deal" without considering how wild some of these elaborations become.  Have we not wondered where people get ideas about secret dim mak techniques, qi projection, Lin Kong Jin and how they become so popular?  The simple answer is that those "practices" come when teachers want to keep their students entertained and paying tuition so they expound on mystical ideas that devoted students lap up because of the mystery.  Here are a couple examples, hope you laugh your brain out at how ridiculous these are

OK, so the last one I had to choose because of the music, gets me every time.  Please understand that these are both men who found fame in the past because they, some damn way, convinced students that their methods were effective and worth investing money, and most importantly, time into.

Great, so now that I have gone on a rant, let me tie this back into the title of the article and my feelings on martial arts.  I was listening to Dan Carlin's 'Hardcore History' podcast and he mentioned making war the Roman way and it perfectly fit my beliefs about self defense and how martial arts have been used throughout history.  He summed it up with a perfectly short statement of how the Romans would fight other groups who didn't play by the normal rules of Roman war and that was 'Bellum Romanum" or total war.  No stone left un-thrown, no house left standing, no resistance left to rise up again.  Individual fights would often take the same path as anything else would allow your enemy to get revenge down the road.

We look at traditional martial arts from a modern perspective, thinking that olden times must be SOMEWHAT like today in that most people aren't likely to experience life or death situations multiple times in their lives.  We view the past through our comfortable, plush lens and forget that several hundred years ago when our arts were developing, the world was a savage and downright scary place to live and you had to be ready to fight or run at a seconds notice.  The martial arts of the time were a response to that in that they taught how to fight and kill as quickly as possible, with no extra movements or fancy poses.  They trained to go from neutral to overdrive in a second because that was the only thing that kept them alive.  Gong Fu masters, along with masters of other Asian arts, where often brutal fighters and when I say brutal, I mean truly brutal in a way that few people today can imagine.  This isn't a reflection of their character but a needed response to the times.  We forget that fighters actually died regularly and while not every teacher engaged in Kumite style death matches, if they weren't prepared, someone who was could come and take everything anytime they wanted.  This led to a very high level of preparedness among real masters.

The last large scale use of this mentality was by Indonesian Silat fighters during World War 2 against the Japanese occupation.  Silat fighters didn't line up in rows and columns against the technologically superior Japanese military, instead they fought un-orthodox battles against the Japanese and it often looked like a hurricane of blades went through Japanese patrols.  This method of total war was so frightening and damaging to the Japanese that they were eventually driven out of Indonesia. 

So how does all this talk of war relate to how modern martial artists should prepare?  Well, it's simple.  You need to prepare for a situation where you must go all out to defend yourself against an opponent that won't stop if you stomp their toes or apply a wristlock against them.  You have to prepare for fights that aren't one on one.  In those instances, striking a fearsome Kung Fu pose or using the delayed death touch won't stop the bad guys from applying an instant death touch via stomp or stab  

It's a hard pill to swallow that all of our training will be properly expressed in a second or two of strikes but that is reality.  We don't get long, drawn out battles where we can suddenly turn the tables once the bad guy has stopped to gloat or the orchestra changes their music (my Kung Fu fights have professional music playing to keep the suspense up, I'm sure yours are the same way).  We have to respond with full force once we know that we can't walk away.  I think most people know that point, the point where things have gone very badly and there is no saying "I'm sorry, here is my wallet".  Some people will respond with "But that's illegal" but it's simply not when you can truly show that you tried to walk away but your life was threatened.  Another example could be the recent attacks in Europe.  During the stabbing attacks in London, no one would say that responding with full force was inappropriate, and since those situations are the most serious and life threatening, why not train for those and know that you don't always have to go wild if your brother in law gets drunk at a family Thanksgiving?  (Related side rant that relates here)  It always amazes me when teachers say their arts are too deadly to use for sparring as it's an admission that they aren't in control and don't chose the way they fight.  If you can't chose your level of intensity, you aren't in control.  

The long and short of this article is that I don't teach my female students to try and joint lock someone my size.  I don't teach them to 'put their dukes up' when we talk about fighting.  We don't even discuss the old trope of "Stomp their foot and you can run away" as I've seen that not work a few times and more tellingly, most people don't use it because it's naturally not very effective with today's boots and cushioned shoes being something that everyone wears.  If one of my female students asked me "What do I do if someone grabs my neck?" my response is never some convoluted and precise pairing of shouting 'HELP' and twisting his pinkie to release his grip.  I teach what works and if a man my size grabs one of my female students by the neck, the only proper response (legal as well) is not to tie up her hands with grabs and locks but simply to use both of her free hands to strike and demolish the attacker by hitting the eyes and throat, a justified total war approach when her life is actually threatened.  Don't take this as me being overly macho or trying to turn my students into modern Berserkers but instead see that the only logical response to a smaller, weaker person being grabbed by the throat by a much larger and stronger attacker is to fight with everything they have to make sure they go home safely at night.

Silly techniques combined with a false sense of nobility that many Westerners use to whitewash the history of their arts in an attempt to avoid having to 'Put up or shut up' have made traditional martial arts look weak in our modern world.   False nobility is a shield against being called out for making insane claims of skill, ie "I'm a scholar boxer" or "That's not how gentlemen act" and I believe have also contributed to the rise of worthless martial tactics, as the teacher creating them hasn't had enough or any fight experience to draw on when setting up training scenarios.  

Look at what is taught in your school.  Are the techniques realistic to actual fights?  Do you emphasize training against rear bear hugs instead of rear naked chokes?  Why train it when only a strong and experienced wrestler or thrower would even attempt throwing from a rear bear hug and you aren't likely to get into a bar brawl with them?  Why train against lapel grabs when it's almost a certainty that the bad guy will start with a shove or wild overhand punch?  If you aren't convinced completely when you answer this, are you sure that you are learning the right techniques you will need?

I'm just asking for you to look at your art and ask if there are any worthless techniques that can be put aside in favor of more likely needed defenses.  We have to make the world see the relevance of traditional martial arts again before our reputation is totally gone.  

Train hard and be great.

Here is the Master Chim video I mentioned earlier.  Whether you agree with him or not, he raises good questions.

Jesse Conley is the owner and instructor at Stone Tiger Martial Arts,
located in Vancouver, WA.
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  1. Just a comment:
    Indonesia's Independence Day is on 17th August. We celebrate it as a public holiday, but not related to martial arts whatsoever.

    Nice article though.

    1. I corrected it, thank you. I was absolutely certain that I had watched a documentary about how Silat fighters were celebrated as a source of Indonesia's independence though. My apologies for the mistake.

  2. We look at traditional martial arts from a modern perspective. goldenslot


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This is a blog devoted to the Chinese Internal martial arts. Our school is located in Vancouver, WA and currently accepting students for group classes, and limited private sessions.