Sunday, April 25, 2010

Traditional Martial Arts vs. Reality Based Systems

This is a hot topic of late. Which is better, traditional arts or reality based? There seems to be an article in every martial arts magazine debating which is better and more effective. The internet is full of material on this hotly contested issue.

Reality based systems are big business. Are they a fad? Are they better than traditional systems?

Let me begin by saying something that I feel is often missed in both camps as they banter back and forth. Traditional martial arts were all reality based. The techniques contained were battle tested. If a technique didn't work, you didn't come home. Pure and simple.

So why the debate? Reality based systems tout that traditional schools are outdated and don't reflect the realities of modern conflict.

Are they right? Sort of.

Traditional martial arts were never called traditional in their day. They were a matter of survival. These systems had to evolve and grow and adapt to new circumstances. Look at Japanese Jiu Jitsu. It contains many joint breaks and throws. Why? Fighting armoured opponents. Attackers were protected from many strikes due to their armour. So combatants learned to target the joints which remained vulnerable for reasons of mobility. This knowledge of leverage and human physiology just so happens to remain relevant today as it is still effective, armour or not.

No system ever said "That's it, we don't ever need any new techniques" They adapted to whatever the reality of the day was.

So if this is true, why the debate?

It all comes down to teaching. I have studied several martial arts over last two decades, and you know what? They all contain techniques that would work in reality. The manner in which they are taught and the mindset of the student is what makes or breaks them.

I think the argument is really which teaching methodology is better.

Critics of traditional systems say that the techniques aren't realistic. When someone throws a punch, they don't leave their arm out there extended while you perform your defense/attack. This is true, of course. What may be missing is the fact that this slower, more exaggerated attack that just hangs out there should only be one part of the learning process. It should be a step to teaching a student the mechanics of a technique. Once the student has learned the basics, the attacker needs to pull back the attacking limb if it is not trapped. It's all about training progressively. The technique speeds up as time goes on, getting more and more realistic. If a traditional school never moves past the 'leave it out there' stage, then the teaching is flawed, not the technique.

I believe the reality based movement is a good thing for the martial arts. They are presenting material and teaching in a more realistic way. Traditional schools are starting to re-discover what already exists in their art.

I have previously shared my views on mindset in the martial arts. No where is this better illustrated than in the battle between traditional and reality based systems.

Reality based systems tend to be purely focused on real attacks. Most reputable instructors have been involved in real world conflict, be it in military, policing or security. Many instructors in the traditional schools have not been. I believe this to be where the main gap between the two exists. This is not to say you have to be a soldier, cop or security officer to teach and practice effective techniques. My Sensei does not come from one of these fields but I have no doubts of his ability to apply his techniques in a real situation. It all comes down to understanding. If one Sensei never really understands a technique or how to adjust it if an opponent zigs when he should have zagged, how can he/she teach it to someone else?

It comes back to mindset. People who seek out reality based instructors are looking for simple, effective techniques that will work on the street.

People who seek out traditional schools may be seeking the same thing, or they may be looking to improve their fitness, or they might like the social aspect, or the uniforms, or their kids might go and they want to share time with them.

All these things can be good, but will they teach you how to survive a violent confrontation? As students, we need to understand our own motivations for taking a martial art.

As for me, I take a reality based traditional martial art. The combination of my teacher, my mindset and the teaching methodology makes it complete. My journey is also about self improvement and seeking inner harmony.

Examine what you want to get out of your training and then find a teacher and a school that provides it.

In the end, traditional systems are actually reality based and reality based systems have traditional roots. So what are we arguing about?

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