Tuesday, December 7, 2010

What are you training for? Think hard and answer honestly...

J.C. over at Bujutsu: The Path made an interesting comment several months ago.  From time to time it rattles around in my head.

We had been chatting about martial arts and the pros and cons of different styles and the effectiveness of some techniques we'd been working on, and how some people are critical or others or have strong theories of what will or will not work and who knows what else when he said, somewhat in passing:

"There's faster ways to learn how to fight"

That statement has bounced around in my mind since then.  Any readers of this blog will know the emphasis I put on learning realistic techniques that can translate to the real world and work in dynamic stressful situations.

I have also met lots of people out there that are examining and exploring their martial art to gain a deeper understanding and to compare what they are learning to what they need to know to defend themselves, should the need arise.

Some enlightened artists are discarding some techniques.  Others are discovering ways to apply a learned technique or are discovering deeper layers to their art which translates into real world usability. A few are abandoning what they study or are at least supplementing their training.

Many are moving towards the many Reality Based Systems out there, feeling that they strip away all that 'other stuff' and just teach pure technique.

All these things are good.

Two simple but important questions that you need to ask yourself:

# 1. What am I training for?

# 2.  Is my training reflective of my goals (#1)

These are mental checks that should be done from time to time to make sure you're on track.  It's a simple but effective way to keep yourself on the right path.

If your goal is purely self defense, and time is of the essence, perhaps a reality based system is right for you.

If however, you just like the fitness and camaraderie of it all, well, you don't need to be as selective.

Can you have different goals?

Yes, but they can't be conflicting goals.  My main goal is learning a realistic effective flexible martial art that works on the street, under stress, every time.

My other goals are to improve myself, perfect my character, find inner peace and banish ego.  These goals compliment each other, and often work in tandem.  My main goal, however, is always my priority.

It is possible that as I continue my journey over the years, my focus may shift.  If it does, it will likely be as a result of mastery of my primary goal.  I believe that this is the process Morihei Ueshiba went through when he created Aikido.  He moved towards the loftier goals of self improvement and harmony, but only after he had mastered several different disciplines and styles of martial arts.

If you feel your training is not reflective of your goals, you need to figure out why.

Most important, is your head in the game?  Do you approach your own training in a serious manner?  If you don't, it doesn't really matter what martial art you take.

It's rarely the martial art itself.  Each art has strengths and weaknesses, it is the students and the teachers that are most often lacking.

My suggestion is to cross train.  Take a reality based seminar.  Try out a different art for a bit.  See what's out there and if that training lines up with your goals.  Don't abandon your art in favour of a 'quick fix', however.  Most true martial arts are just that, martial systems that were proved in combat as some time.

I found that while taking some seminars, watching videos, experimenting in this and that and doing some reading, that I kept seeing Jiu Jitsu techniques.  It confirmed that my style, and more importantly, my Sensei, was teaching a relevant and effective system.

Know yourself.  What do you want to get out of training?  Almost everyone you talk to who takes any martial arts will say they're in it for self defense.  I believe that they believe that they are, but I suspect that for many, it is not their primary goal.  Their approach, mindset and expectations don't always match up to their words.

This isn't always a bad thing.  It's not wrong to put a priority on the social aspects of martial arts study.  It can boost physical fitness, improve confidence and teach a few good techniques to almost anyone.

In fact, the true understanding of combat application may be unrealistic for some.  Many people have never been in a real fight in their adult lives, and many never will.  There's no frame of reference from which to measure training against real world violence.  For those that have, or for those who's profession comes into contact with violence, it's a different story.  So know what you want and need.

I read a thought provoking post over at the Chiron blog touching on this. Worthwhile reading.

One interesting thought that emerged for me as I was chewing on these topics is how difficult it is to know how well you are doing if you abandon an established system with a curriculum and grading system.  If you focused solely on reality based seminars and courses, how would you know how you are doing?  It's not like you typically get a black belt in a reality based system.  A counter argument could be that a black belt in a martial art which isn't taught with a focus on real world application isn't an indicator of anything either (if your only goal is reality self defense).

What started as an innocent comment from J.C. sparked quite a bit of thought on my part.  Sure, there are faster ways to learn how to fight, but I'm not sure there's necessarily better.  I feel I could teach a seminar on reality self defense.  I have taught new police recruits in restraint and control and arrest techniques with success.  There are some pretty good crash courses out there for self defense.  For many, this is enough.  For me, I expect a little bit more from my training.

I guess at the moment,  I'm majoring in combat, with a minor in self improvement and perfection of character.


  1. You had very clear objectives when you started out and chose the martial art that seemed most likely to deliver what you wanted. I'm sure your past martial arts experiences/life experiences/job experiences have helped you to form such clear aims for yourself.

    I don't think everyone is in that boat when they start out - I would think that a lot of people's objectives are a bit wooly.

    Take me for instance: You said, 'Many people have never been in a real fight in their adult lives, and many never will. There's no frame of reference from which to measure training against real world violence.' That's me! I didn't choose my martial art for any other reason than the club was convenient and I liked the instructor. Karate kind of chose me because it was nearby! Not good reasons for choosing a martial art I know but fortunately I fell on my feet and accidently chose the right martial art for me.

    As you've probably realised from my blog I've become a pretty dedicated karateka over the last three years and I think this is because karate taps into something that is already inside me and brings it to the fore. I like the physicality of it, the test of strength and endurance, the mental and intellectual challenge of it. I think these things have always been part of my make up but have been a little dormant before I took up karate.

    As for the self-defence aspects - I would never have thought that I would actually enjoy fighting! I didn't join my husband in jujitsu initially because I didn't think I would like getting thrown about or getting hurt. I've toughened up a lot since then! Now I love the throws and grappling side of it. I am probably better at the partner work than the kihon.

    As I have progressed my understanding of myself and what I want from a martial art are becoming clearer. The self-defence element is now much more important to me but the 'budo' side of things also remains very important. I don't think I would be satisfied by a purely reality based system - I think that would make me merely a fighting technician rather than a martial ARTIST.

  2. learning to break sombody's leg is fast....learning to use less violent control techniques and becoming adaptable to various other styles takes time... as does mental strength and focus.

  3. Sue,

    Thanks for the thoughtful comments. I am lucky that I know exactly what type of training I want and need. My demands (strong words) have clarified over the years due to my experiences in life, work, and a variety of martial arts. My motivations and/or expectations were not nearly so clear when I began my journey, before time, age and career molded my needs.

    I can't agree more that sometimes you find a martial art and sometimes it finds you. As I've talked about in the past, it's really more likely it's the teacher that makes the difference, not the art.

    Everyone who goes into any martial art must have self defense somewhere on their list of motivations, even if it's a minor one. That is why I am concerned if the training doesn't have real world application. Even if someone is less concerned with learning self defense, after a few years, they may assume they know how to take care of themselves in an altercation, and have a false sense of confidence. This is dangerous and what I take issue with. Clarifying training goals and understanding the limitations or applicability of what is being taught is really important.

    As for what I want, I kind of want it all. The last line of your comment really sums it up. I too want to be a martial artist, an artist who can really fight if all else fails. Thanks again.


    One of the reasons I continue training is to learn just what you mentioned, less violent or more controlled techniques that can subdue and control an attacker, versus just 'smashing' them into submission. Shutting down an altercation before it can escalate and get dangerous for everyone involved. Mental strength and focus allow you to minimize or avoid problems all together.