Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Mind the Gap - A discussion on the disconnect between the reality of violence and martial arts teachings - Part I

There is a growing gap between reality, the nature of violence, and martial arts training.  This gap is not exclusive to traditional martial arts (TMA), reality based systems (RBS) or mixed martial arts (MMA).  

Why is this happening?  What's wrong with the martial arts? 

Is it the techniques?  
Is it the application? 
Is it a matter of understanding?
Is it a matter of motivation?
Is it the teachers?
Is it the students?


The least serious offender are the techniques themselves.  A punch hurts, joints only bend so many ways, the body follows pain etc.  Most techniques will work, at least somewhat, if used in the right circumstances.

Application and Understanding:

These next two are part a big part of the problem.  Techniques only work if they are applied correctly, and if you understand how and when they will be effective.  If you don't take into account movement, momentum, desire, skill and action vs. reaction, then attempts at applying techniques are unlikely to be successful.  If you don't understand what happens after you apply a technique or as you apply it, you'll also be in a tough spot.


This may be the biggest issue forcing a gap between truly effective realistic training and what is being passed off as 'real stuff'.  This sounds very critical but I'll explain this more in depth later on.  This is the mind part, the 'why you're doing what you're doing' and your desired outcome.


Teachers can definitely be part of the problem, but from what I've seen, it's rarely a lack of physical skill that is to blame, any shortcomings come back to application, understanding and motivation.


Normally we think of students as being hapless participants in the process.  If they are lucky enough to find a great teacher, they benefit, if they find a poor teacher, they didn't know better.  Now, it can often be challenging to find a good teacher if you have no real experience or understanding of the nature of violence, but the student needs to take an active role in being responsible for the type and quality of their training.  They need to focus on figuring out their motivation.  Why are they taking martial arts in the first place?

Does this mean everything is flawed?  No.  What it does mean is that we need a deeper examination of what we are doing and more importantly, why we are doing it.

The next part will discuss some of the things that I've been seeing in the world of martial arts and why they are of concern.  I'll also delve more deeply into the points I've just raised and discuss strategies for closing the gap.

Train smart.


  1. I think that another problem with martial arts training that disconnects it from the reality of violence is training without context. We often don't train with specific scenarios in mind or an awareness of environment. This possibly comes under your application and understanding category so sorry if I've pre-empted you! Looking forward to the next article...:-)

  2. Wow. I'm sitting here redrafting my introduction to Injury Science, Pain, and the Martial Arts. The introduction commences with a definition of aggression which includes both offensive and defensive aggression. This, I argue, is the very heart of the tactics and techniques of the martial arts. ... I'll change that now to argue that it is the original DNA of the tactics and techniques of the martial arts.
    Book #3 which I've commenced working on is also relevant to your blog. Beyond Fight-or-Flight. This looks at the evolved response to threats, and uses that model to understand and study the tactics and techniques that are designed to improved on the evloved resposne.
    New yudansha SueC - the scenarios are an interesting issue. I was once asked by a private student of many years that we need to put a face to the 'mythical attacker' we always talk about in the martial arts. I could already see a problem. Statistically, women are attacked by people they know in the majority of cases. Not quite sure how a women's self defence course or teaching women martial arts would go if you started off by explaining that you are teaching them tactics and techniques that they will probably use to defend themselves against thier partners, relatives, or friends. ... Having said that, we do need to have a better understanding of violence and aggression.

  3. Old yudansha John C (sorry, couldn't resist!)- you're right to say women are most likely to be attacked by someone they know. A study from Denmark in 2004 described the profile of a female victim of violence as this:

    "During one year, 0.3 percent of all adult women experience physical violence, which is
    either reported to the police, treated in an emergency department, or both. In half of
    these cases, the perpetrator was a present or former partner.
    4 percent of all adult women (approximately 64,000 women) report to have been
    exposed to physical violence during one year. Two thirds of these cases were intimate
    partner violence and less than 10 percent was violence in the workplace.
    More than half of the self-reported violence is minor physical assaults.

    "The female victim of violence is most frequently a young, single woman. Police reported violence is most frequent among women not in the labour market and women
    in low-paid jobs. Self-reported violence is more frequent among highly qualified
    women than lesser qualified women"

    The link for the full article is:'s%20Violence%20against%20Women%20-%20the%20extent,%20characteristics%20and%20measures%20to%20eliminate%20violence%20(2004).pdf

  4. Sue,

    Training without some form of context is somewhat like spinning your wheels. This is where an understanding of offender types and environment come in. Your point if very valid and I'll be speaking specifically to it shortly. Thanks. Thanks for the link as well to the article on violence.


    I think we, as martial artists, need to focus more on tactics and techniques taking into account our 'evolved' techniques. Our perception, reaction, and view of violence has changed greatly, some of which is influenced by proxemics.

    Sue and John,

    I've quite a few thought on the state of 'women's self-defense' as well. I'll be discussing what I see as major gaps in much of the instruction out there.

    Thanks very much to you both for your comments and additions to this post.

  5. Journeyman, another strong post - I couldn't agree more with regards to motiviation. The intent of what you are doing makes the difference. If you are doing this for fitness, keep things light and be super careful of contact and injury. If you are doing this as a martial art, then its time to step up and be serious whenever you are doing something. Zanshin - constant vigilance and alertness.

    While on the topic of (women's) self defense, I think the best I have ever seen (upon reflection) was a course taught by an iaido/jodo instructor. His goal was to: i) get people used to some contact - pain/bruising is okay; ii) doing nothing is not an option; iii) do anything you can to get a 10 second head start.

  6. Yamabushi,

    It's fine to play at martial arts for fitness, fun and camaraderie, but what's dangerous is when those same people feel they are now competent fighting machines. A serious mind is necessary for all things beyond this.

    The instructor you mention seems to be on the right track for women's self defense. I share some very similar thoughts.

    Thanks for your addition to my post.