Reality and Training in Combat.

There is one single concern that I have with a number of modern and traditional combat and martial arts systems and that is just how much ‘reality’ is involved in the respective training.

For example, it is more and more common to see terms like ‘reality based self-defence’ coming up in advertising. That is a good thing, if what you are being taught does actually deal with reality, and training for realistic situations. Yet sometimes it quickly becomes apparent that this may not be the case at all.

For example, a good illustration of a technique might be one that is given [post] being punched in the face or struck in another area by your attacker.. If your training is continuously that that your attacker faces you head on and telegraphs their attack and your training is to counter that attack by the use of technique A, B and C, then that is great for learning techniques to use in self-defence, but is not realistic of being attacked, and is perhaps more the reason why it can be that people that have some training in a chosen martial art or combat system can simply freeze or go into a windmill attack pattern of wildly punching in all directions.

Let me state that training with compliance and telegraphing attacks are very much a valid way of training, if you don’t have compliance during the use of Aikido/ Jutitsu locks and throws then collarbones and shoulders can easily be broken or injured. Your partner is offering you the use of their body to train with and it should be done so in a manner that emphasises respect and thanks. Yet it is also just as valid to acknowledge that there are other training methods that give you the full training picture in self-defence training.

Going back to my point about being punched in the face. It is unrealistic to expect when you are attacked that your training will kick in and you will simple evade the first set of blows that come in. It is incredibly difficult to read an attack at the best of times, and it may well come from the side or even behind as is the case with the current phenomena of ‘coward punching’ in the media at present. It is a valid part of training to experience being hit albeit with safety pads and other PPE. You need to be able to pass through the feeling of shock and be able to respond with your training in such a situation and experiencing training along these lines is vital to the full training package.

At the local Krav Maga club, new students are often surprised that once warm ups are completed that the roller door is rolled up and students are moved out to the bitumen  car park for training..  At the advanced levels your training starts from getting up from your back on the bitumen surface, sometimes whilst in a chokehold.  Scratches and ripped clothing happen from time to time as a result. On other occasions when the roller door is taken up, students are put into the cars parked there and have to learn techniques to break chokes from the driver seat from a passenger sitting in the rear of the vehicle. On other occasions training can be held inside a charted public transport bus both stationary and moving. All are valid attempts to make people understand that your training has to be more than just the security of the mat and a compliant partner to do predetermined techniques.

It is fair to say that my thoughts on Krav Maga is that it is a wakeup call to both traditional and modern combat and martial art systems. It is a system that cuts away the fluff and teaches you basic techniques that are both brutal and effective. Yet seeks to do so in a manner of realism. Yet there is no reason why traditional martial arts and combat systems cannot be taught in the same way and cannot be as effective if your organization is prepared to go deeper into the syllabus to find the correct training techniques for these type of attacks. The Korean Martial Art of Hapkido has no shortage of techniques that involve striking, locks and close combat. It is a pre-requisite to join the police force in Korea that you have a black belt in Hapkido. In Japan a black belt in Aikido or Jujitsu is required for the same reason. Yet I guarantee you that when the local police officers use these techniques that they are used in a way similar to how they are taught in Krav Maga.

Perhaps your training is along the lines of Wing Chun, Karate or Muay Thai. You may be surprised to see just what your syllabus can extend to – [if] your Sensei – Sifu is willing to teach it in a different environment away from the Dojo / Kwoon. Yet at the same time if you are turning up for your training nights and you find yourself asking questions about how choke holds are broken, or what should you do if you find yourself on the ground. Then take it to your Instructor and have an open discussion about it and let them answer you from the content of the system. If the response is “we train standing up because the fight is not meant to go to the ground”. Then you do have a problem that you should follow up on and perhaps look for answers outside of your organisation. There is little point in proudly wearing a coloured belt that you have trained for with the expectation of realistic self-defence and not feeling that you have gained the answers that you are looking for.

No one wants to find themselves in a situation where you have to use your training to both defend yourself and to hurt people. Yet it is also a true saying  that [“you should walk a mile to avoid a fight, but when one starts, do not back down an inch”]. You training has to be both realistic and effective in the best possible way. If you are not training for realism in attack, then you are not being honest with yourself and you should be prepared to challenge yourself to go further and deeper into your training accordingly.

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Eleven Martial Arts Myths.

Sadly there are no shortage of myths and misconceptions when it comes to training in Martial Arts or Combat Systems. Here is a short list of Eleven that you will come across, or may have already come across in your own journey!

(11), “You must train in the most popular style”. – Most Martial arts and Combat Systems all have their time in the sun with popularity in the media and the community. We have all seen the rise and fall of different Martial Arts / Combat systems  and governing bodies thereof. What is guaranteed is that what is popular today will likely not be popular later on. Basing your choice on simply what is popular in Hollywood or the media is a good way to set yourself up fail.

(10), “X and X Martial Art will make you a better person”. – Generally untrue, an idiot that trains in martial arts will simply remain an idiot. The techniques will do little to change a person, it is on you to change your own attitude. The founder of Aikido stated openly that Aikido is not the way, but may well lead you to the way. Martial Arts can thus be a step on the way to reaching that goal of self-improvement, but are usually not the whole box and dice if that is your goal.

(9), “Martial Arts are Spiritual and Religious”. – It is true that some Chinese Martial Arts were practiced by Shaolin Monks and it is true that the Martial Art of Aikido has some philosophical content as well as the general techniques. Yet in modern  Martial Arts / Combat Systems there is no connection at all with any religious or spiritual content unless people deliberately try and make it so. Many Sensei’s / Instructors come from all manner of backgrounds be they religious, agnostic, atheist or otherwise. Much like politics or your choice of football team, it is has no bearing on what you get taught when you train.

(8), “Martial Arts are for Males”. – Entirely untrue, no shortage of females train in martial arts as well as people that are transgender. Your gender is no guide on what you can and can’t train in. Some of the hardest Krav Maga practitioners are women that serve in the IDF.

(7), “Well., well you couldn’t do that in a real fight”. – Don’t mistake viewing compliance in martial arts training as a suggestion that it has to be practiced the same way on the ever elusive ‘street’. Here is a tip, most if not all Martial Arts and Combat Systems have various techniques where compliance in training is used for the simple reason that if your training partner does not comply then they will come pretty quickly off the mat in massive amounts of pain with a broken arm-shoulder-collarbone or wrist. Few insurance companies are willing to insure training centre’s where serious injuries routinely occur because of the content of the training.

(6), “X style is more effective than X style”.-  A quick look over the internet will soon see no shortage of people foaming at the mouth and boasting about how one Combat System or Martial Art is superior to another. More often than not these people have never even actually trained in the style they are waxing on about.. A martial art such as Taekwondo can often bear the brunt of this, likely because of the sheer number of McDojo’s in the Taekwondo system, yet at the same time no shortage of MMA fights have been ended via knockout by a well-placed Taekwondo style  kick to the head from a serious practitioner.

(5), “A Coloured Belt is indicative of increased ability”. – Sadly not a very true indicator at all. No shortage of White Belts can hand you your coloured belt on a plate in a sparring match if you want to go that way. Despite the image of a black belt, many people that train never grade at all and several systems simply don’t use the belt system. Don’t make the mistake of simply assuming that a White Belt is a novice practitioner as a chap I knew in BJJ did when he went to show off to his friends sparring with a white belt only to discover his partner was a seriously hard Judoka who did not see things the same way as he did and ended up looking like a clown.

(4), “You have to be co-ordinated and flexible to train in Martial Arts”. – Sadly this impression can be given by the McDojo movement who ensure that their ‘katas’ have as much gymnastics component as possible for public demonstrations in order to advertise the club to new members. In terms of Co-ordination here is the thing, you will be taught hundreds of different techniques over the journey. Some will click with you and some wont. It is not necessary for everyone to do a flying shoulder height roundhouse kick to be proficient at martial arts. Any decent Sensei or Instructor will quickly recognise the different capacities of students and work with them not against them. Flexibility and Co-ordination comes with the hours you are willing to put into practicing what you are being taught. If it really matters to you, simply add some Tai Chi or Yoga to your training routines.

(3), “it’s best to start out in a traditional style”. – All traditional styles were modern styles at one time or another and there can be strong differences between schools of the same styles, pre WW2 there were 33 separate styles of Jujitsu for example and various modern jujitsu schools take lineage from several of them. Your style should have the capacity to evolve as needed, rest assured the founders of it did not intend for it to remain locked into techniques that could not be evolved to meet different challenges. Start your journey wherever you please, just take the attitude that it is also okay to change to something else if it becomes necessary to do so.

(2), “Strength training makes you slow”. – Because the champions of MMA, Boxing and Judo never strength train… Hardly, hit any MMA, Boxing or Judo Centre where they train at the top level and there is strength training equipment galore. The reverse is more often the case, if you want to become seriously good at your chosen Martial Art or Combat System put in the hours and train, and at the same time be prepared to get out of bed and hit the gym for strength training and physical conditioning before work as a part of your overall training program.

(1), “I am too old to train”.-  As you get older you make the shocking realization that age is simply a number and it Is no indicator of physical fitness nor capacity. Many people in their 40’s are far physically fitter and stronger than they were in their 20’s. You can choose to put limits on what you can and cannot do, or you can embrace life with everything that it has to offer. No shortage of people have begun training in their 60’s and beyond and including in Martial Arts like Karate replete with all the kicking and striking sets. This battle is in your mind, not your body.

Surrendering to Violence

There is a saying that the use of, is often attributed to the founder of Krav Maga Imi Lichtenfeld. The saying is – “If a man comes to kill you, then kill him first”. On the face of it, it is a pretty logical response. Indeed, even the Dalai Lama who many look to as a source of theology on Pacifism is also recorded as saying on one occasion when interviewed on a radio station – “If someone comes to kill you with a gun, it would be reasonable to shoot them with your own gun”. For many people there is no question at all that in any case where self defence is required you are justly entitled to do what needs to be done in order to defend yourself.

There are various groups of people that give people the impression that they totally and utterly abstain from and eschew any form of violence. Often these groups are coming from a religious point of view, the Amish and Seventh-day Adventists being one such example, yet even then the leadership of these groups may well not speak for everyone in the group and the groups views may appear to outsiders to be changing over time. The last general conference of the Seventh-day Adventist church for example saw the President Ted Wilson protected by armed security guards, and many in the community might rightly question what the difference is in defending yourself with a gun as opposed to having someone else defend you with a gun and the answer in my own mind is not really anything at all that I can think of.

Still you don’t have to be religious to be a pacifist, many atheists or agnostics can take up pacifism because of a belief in the ideals of individuals within the modern political groups, yet it is worth pointing out that historically groups from all sides of politics have often been quite openly the source of violence and fascism, be they leftists, centrists or conservatives, no matter how people may have tried to portray their views as idealistic and peaceful in intent.

My own experience when speaking with an avowed pacifist is that they generally respond by dodging any questions about self defence when asked what they would do in a specific situation. Often not unlike a politician you get an answer, but it is never the answer to the actual question that has been asked in the first place. It is my feeling that these people are simply unwilling to consider a realistic response to the sheltered cocoon that they exist in, a cocoon that is more often than not provided by people that do have training and guns and who do use their nations military to defend their country when required, yet that perhaps is simply a philosophical observation on my own part as opposed to their actual feelings, who really knows.?

It does however seem that violence and violent responses to acts of violence are quite common place in our modern societies today. Let’s be quite honest, if you train in any of the popular combat systems or hard style martial arts, your training is to respond with an increased level of counter striking and often pre-emptive striking to neutralize your opponent/s. We might as well go one further and admit that systems like Krav Maga, Systema and Jujitsu are designed to teach you how to not only injure your attacker but to take their life from them. Krav Maga and Systema are both in use in the Israeli / Russian defence forces and were both created and intended for that purpose. Japanese Martial Arts like Jujitsu come from a time when fights in martial arts were to the death and used both for self defence and in the theatre of war. If you look at the history of Daito Ryu Jujitsu for example you will see the name Takeda Sokakku, he was a trained killer who taught others and had killed several people with his skills in Jujitsu. Many of these martial arts use blades or other weapons as well as the open hand and simply are meant for killing, not just getting a touch or a pin and lock on your opponent.

Yet what I would like to point out here is that simply because a person trains in such a system, it does not indicate that they are then a violent person. Often it can be the very opposite, that often the fittest, the strongest, the most decorated veterans can be the greatest proponents of peace and non-violence. Often it is the show pony that acts out for attention, those people that are the genuine article rarely draw attention to themselves, nor have any need or interest in proving themselves to others. Experience teaches us that you don’t have to ‘give warnings’ or ‘have the last word’ in situations that arise, you simply step up and do what needs to be done.

The fact is that there very much is a place for peace in our world and many of us are desperately crying out for it. Yet sadly there is a price to be paid to have peace and that price is good people that are prepared to undertake acts of violence and war to keep others safe. I look at the freedom that we have in Australia and acknowledge and accept that it is only because of the sacrifice of so many World War Two veterans who made our country what it is has become today. People that never got to participate in it themselves, but gave their lives that their families might. Their sacrifice is nothing to take lightly and it’s a great thing to see the young people in our nation being so passionate about ANZAC day and other Veterans commemorations throughout the year.

In the Def Leppard song ‘God’s of War’ the use of violence is questioned along with the call not to surrender to violence. To the most part I very much agree. People should try where possible to eschew violence and should be advocates of peace. Yet at the same time there is little point to be gained in living in fairyland and being unrealistic about what can and cannot be achieved with non-violence. Whist the saying above, – ‘if a man comes to kill you, kill him first’ is attributed to Imi Lichtenfeld, at same time he also said “you must be so good that you don’t need to kill’. This is what we are striving towards through our training.

What I feel is an important part of peace is ‘reconciliation’. Depending on when you were born you may recall the time in 1981 when Pope John Paul ll was gunned down in an assassination attempt. He survived this attempt on his life, yet what I found interesting is how once he had recovered he went to the cell of his attacker, sat on the bed with him before the media and forgave his attacker and worked to be reconciled to him. Clearly the Pope had no requirement or call on him to do anything along those lines, he easily could have left him to his fate and gotten justice from the justice system, justice that he was rightly entitled to. Yet instead he chose a different pathway and made his own effort to find reconciliation and to offer forgiveness to his attacker. I don’t know if I could ever be the calibre of person that could do that in the same instance, but I know that I would like  to aim for that to be where I charted out the course of my own life to be. I have learned that even when a conflict is totally justified, there is always a place to strive towards reconciliation and peace, even if the current situation seems so far away from that place.

Let me leave you with another of Imi Litchtenfeld’s sayings,

‘Krav Maga, that one may walk in peace’.