I was recently asked to give some advice to a young, new martial artist. I thought awhile as to what I could give as training advice that would carry though out a person’s life time as a student of martial arts. “There is no definitive right and wrong in training”. Ok, so what do I mean by that? It seems to be a universal habit of martial art teachers to teach something and make the assumption that what they do is correct and what other styles and people do is wrong. That, style X won’t work, that stuff is bull crap. However if you ask style X they will say style Y won’t work and that it is crap. If you have been around long enough you will see the trend that many teachers think that what they do is great and everyone else is subpar. So a self reflecting person would then ask, what is the truth?
Of course there is right and wrong. I am not naive enough to think that learning self defense against an attacker wielding a banana is credible. That being said, there is debate among credible arts as to what is “REAL” and what isn’t. How can anyone debate what is real? I mean real is real. It should be self evident. Shouldn’t it? Well no. At the inception of an art is a foundational philosophy. This philosophy has a presupposition of a rule set. The philosophy gives rise to a narrative of what combat looks like (its reality) and narrative conditions the methods of training. If these abstract concepts align and are working in unison then the combat methodology works, its functional. Of course the opposite is true as well. When something is missing, the art is unbalanced at best, to completely dysfunctional at worst.
I often hear “There are no rules in a street fight”. That’s not true. The biggest rules are the rules of physics. You can’t jump 100 feet in the air or fight from the tree tops like a B- rate Chinese kung-fu movie. So the first rule set is Newtonian physics that apply to all other rule sets. The rest of the rule sets are applicable to the circumstance on the individual level. They are interconnected to the narrative in a somewhat circular fashion. At a baseline level we all know there are rules for sports and every sport will have its own particular rules. Rules are based on intent. A judo match has a different intent then a boxing match. Judo Aims to throw and Boxing aims to punch in an effort to outperform the other to achieve a win. Then there is the bar room fight. What is the aim of it? This is a manifestation of very old primate dominance behavior. For the most part it is all about puffing up the chest, making loud noises and using physical violence to make the other primate submit to prove ones dominance. The rules here are based in biology and are subconscious. Its conspecific aggression and it is very different than predator behavior which has the aim of killing the other. We see predator behavior during war. Soldiers don’t waste time yelling insults at each other. The objective is to remove the other from the battle field. In doing so there are “rules of engagement”. For police there are rules called department policies. Civilian, law enforcement and military all have a different rule set that is part and parcel to a reality of that segment of society. The society has bestowed upon the segment group of individuals an authoritative power which corresponds to the acceptable level of violence which is embedded in a rule set. It’s important to understand that the rules where there first! They are really old, perhaps millions of years old. They are encoded in our DNA. As a species our innate behaviors manifested these rules before we could articulate them. Our societies grew out of these rules and later we codified them.
We can categorize these rule sets by the authoritative power. In its most simplistic form we can group them as civilian, law enforcement and military. Each one inhabits its own reality. What holds true in one reality does not hold true in another reality. We can subdivide these 3 groups down to sub segments and again each one will have its own version of reality. A functional combative art will grow out of the reality it is designed to be applied in and the individual will create a narrative in their mind to describe that reality. Now there are also arts that were created outside of any reality. They were designed abstractly. Unfortunately this is the bulk of the martial arts today and if they were not originally created in the abstract then due to the original “reality” going extinct the art was repurposed to fit another. These types of arts hold a false narrative in comparison to the reality. To tie this back to where I started, remember the training methods of an art are conditioned by the narrative. What we often see today is a miss match of training and narrative and/ or an instructor trying to apply one narrative to a methodology of another reality.
Does technique X work, depends on whose reality and rule set you’re applying it to.