The Strongest Karate (check out his blog here) left a comment on my last post that go me thinking. The comment was in reference to my assertion that before you could discard a technique, you really need to learn it first. It’s in the same vein as Bruce Lee’s ideas on ‘keep what is useful, discard what is not’, a central concept in his vision of Jeet Kun Do.
The Strongest Karate said the following:
"Very informative post.
You make the distinction that one must understand a technique fully before they can decide whether it is useful or not. I agree with this, but it does present us with a problem: one may have to practice every technique 10's of thousands of times before they really understand it and, regrettably, our lifetimes just aren't long enough.
This, I suppose, is why the arts are passed down the generations, but then I run the risk of throwing away a technique that wasn't useful to me (due to size/strength/injuries/other limitations) but would be perfectly suited for someone else. "
I agree with him. We can’t master every technique before deciding to keep it or throw it away. My concern is that many martial artists are too quick to throw something away. If it didn’t go right, or it was hard, or it felt awkward or they simply weren’t good at it the first couple times, they throw it away, citing the ‘keep what is useful, discard what is not’ mantra. Doing this without at least exploring it to discover a deeper understanding is a mistake.
I’ve had serious doubts about the usefulness of techniques that I initially learned. At the time I was convinced they’d end up in the mental trash bin. I continued to work on them when required by syllabus or by Sensei. Over time, some of these have become some of my preferred techniques. Had I discarded them at the outset, I would have denied myself several valuable tools. It took exploring the mechanics, the application and the variations to give me enough insight to determine their value.
This brings me to the next point touched on in the comment.
“This, I suppose, is why the arts are passed down the generations…”
Good point. To a degree, we must have faith in our art and our teachers. This is not to suggest we should blindly follow without thought or question, but if you’ve managed to find a good teacher of high skill and character, you must accept a degree of the teachings as being valuable, even if not immediately apparent.
This leads me into one of the powerful arguments in favour of keeping the tradition in traditional martial arts (TMA). With a move towards the next reality based system (RBS) and the increasing popularity of mixed martial arts (MMA), we run the risk of losing what it took hundreds of years to learn, a comprehensive and complete system of effective, battle tested techniques.
I’m saying this over genuine concern that with each new generation, we are increasingly getting ‘watered-down’ versions of what were once truly combat arts, or martial systems. I’m not slamming MMA or RBS; I’m actually a fan of both, for different reasons. What I am saying is that when you strip away large portions of a TMA’s system in favour of a ‘quicker-fix’ or rules based system, valuable history can be lost.
Not everyone is pursuing TMA for the long haul, and this is fine. RBS and MMA are viable and effective options, each with their own focus and value.
A significant challenge for teachers is to maintain and teach techniques that they may not feel are overly effective, for them, at least. A technique that doesn’t work particularly well for one, due to height, weight, gender, flexibility, health etc. may be perfect for someone else. So must a teacher maintain a group of teachings and techniques that they wouldn’t necessarily use themselves.
What I fear is that martial artists, who start in TMA, but too quickly discard ‘not yet fully understood’ techniques in favour of a less traditional method, end up being the next generation of instructors in the martial arts. This if fine if their instruction is confined to RBS or MMA, but it is an insufficient knowledge base to teach anything else. You either have TMA systems not being passed down with the historical knowledge and understanding, essentially fizzling out, or you get unqualified people teaching an incomplete system. Both are equally troubling to me.
You can see this all over the place. It’s one of the reasons finding a good qualified teacher can be so challenging. Many people, who I consider to be masters, are giving up on teaching. I suspect this is due, in no small part, to society’s ‘quick-fix’ mentality. The ‘now generation’ want it fast, and want it easy. While I agree a training environment needs to be comfortable and respectful, too many students want to be coddled in their pursuit of a shiny belt. The faster the better, and don’t make it too hard…
I’m not a fan of some of the ‘old school’ methods of training that resulted in unnecessary injuries, but by and large, many students have ‘gone soft’ and are loath to experience pain or discomfort at the hands of a serious teacher or in training. Sadly, the schools that provide a ‘no touch’ position on training are attracting a large student base. This is also problematic for new students who don’t know any better. Again, for fitness, fun and camaraderie, this is all fine, but for those seeking skills to protect themselves and their loved ones from real violence, they come up short.
I’m all for kid’s martial arts programs. They build confidence, discipline, self control, and the kids have fun and develop social skills while getting fit. It’s tough to be critical of any of that. What I do have an issue is when the only real difference you see between the ‘kiddie-class’ and the adult class is the age of the participants.
Obviously, I have strong opinions on the topic. This is because I believe that TMA are just that, traditional martial arts born on the battlefield. Tried and true techniques tested in (often) life or death situations and real combat.
Perhaps ironically, the state of mainstream martial arts may be feeding the problem, or causing what I see as the decline of good TMA. If students taking watered down martial arts are critical in their thinking, they may seek out a RBS to get real combat skills. Or they may be attracted to MMA, which, for all its faults as a true combat art, does incorporate real and hard training against resisting opponents. A hands-on sport based style can be better than a hands-off McDojo.
So, if students are creating a market for real combat skills development, they may naturally find themselves seeking out RBS. And if qualified TMA teachers are frustrated with the business of martial arts or the desires of mainstream or ‘soft’ students, they may naturally find themselves instructing a RBS program.
This can be good but also creates the very situation that I see as the problem. When the TMS turned RBS teacher stops teaching, the next generation is only left with what was taught in the RBS. Lost then, possibly forever, is the more comprehensive, and complete TMA system.
So you either get TMA schools teaching watered down versions of a combat art and subsequent teachers who don’t have a complete understanding of the original art and its application or you get branched-off RBS systems which miss out on the larger body of work.
I’ve done a pretty good job identifying the problem. The harder part is coming up with the solution.
If your goals of learning go beyond just the down and dirty of a RBS (which is valuable and more than sufficient for many), find a good TMA instructor and stick with him/her and the art. Give the system and the techniques a chance before making any rash decisions about their worth. Ultimately, I agree with the concept of discarding what is not useful. Just make sure you’ve done enough of the work to make that assessment. And, as always, keep an open mind.