Thursday, September 6, 2012

A Deeper Understanding: Is Your Art Battle Tested?

A Deeper Understanding.

So many things to talk about.  What a month!  I was away from blogging for longer than I expected, but in hindsight, it was a nice refreshing break.  I did actually manage to completely un-plug from all things electronic for over a week.  No news, no television, no internet.  It was very freeing, and a little unnerving.

I’ve had some great and intense martial arts training and experiences followed by a complete break as well, which is also good for mind and body.

I can’t fit everything into one post, so I’ll touch on one highlight.

I had the opportunity to train with a master of ‘Classical Jiu Jitsu’.  Now I often refer to ‘traditional’, but I’ve not often heard of ‘classical’ being used to describe the art very often.  I do understand the difference between modern, or ‘gendai’ systems and more traditional ones, and I do know that my own style is heavily influenced by the small circle theory, but I got the opportunity to explore the ‘classical’ side a bit more.

At the end of the day, of course, it doesn’t really matter what you call it, good Jiu Jitsu is good Jiu Jitsu, but I did get to make some interesting observations.  In experiencing this master’s style, I was able to gain a deeper understanding of my own style, and that of many martial arts, I suspect.

On the surface, there are some fairly obvious differences in the way techniques are applied.  Bigger motions here, smaller ones there, emphasis on this or that, but nothing more than you might see from Sensei to Sensei, or school to school.

Two major things did stand out though:

#1.  In classical Jiu Jitsu, the ending of a technique was normally the complete destruction of your opponent.  This stems from the very fact that the techniques contained in the classical system are as closely connected to true ‘kill or be killed’ nature of the battle field of feudal times. 

Many of the techniques adapted for more modern styles contain more options.  You can more easily choose to control first, then break, then maim etc.  There is a more escalating scale of options.  There are fewer of these options in a more classical style. 

The movements also tended to target larger areas, or entire limbs, a throwback to the need to deal with armored opponents, with a focus on the areas that remained vulnerable, such as joints.

So, modern styles may contain more options, and have been adapted to deal with modern realities, which are arguably a benefit, but the classical roots are still there. 

Which brings me to my second major observation:

#2.  We have altered many more destructive techniques to allow for safer training.  This may seem obvious, but it goes deeper than that. 

We alter techniques to allow us to apply them to our training partners.  That makes sense.  You can’t train if you’re injured.  Many techniques end with a break-fall, a roll or a tap.  What some practitioners may not know is that the ‘original’ or ‘classical’ systems often simply did not contain an opportunity for any of these things.

Many of the throws and techniques illustrated (notice I didn’t say demonstrated) did not allow the opponent to break-fall, or to ‘go with it’.  After the illustration, the technique was then adapted, or altered, and demonstrated on the uke, to allow them to, well, survive it. 

I realized that this doesn’t just apply to Jiu Jitsu, it applies to most martial arts with classical roots.

I can’t say these concepts are completely new to me, but I’m now realizing just how many areas have been adjusted in modern styles.  This is not a criticism, just an observation.  Having a more scalable set of options in an advantage in many ways, considering our modern times and legal considerations. Also, this doesn't mean that the altered, or 'softened' techniques aren't effective.  They still work.

It is important, however, to understand the original, or ‘parent’ techniques, to obtain a deeper understanding of your chosen art, whichever one that may be.

I hope everyone has had a great summer.  Train well.


  1. Glad youre back!

    Traditional? Classical? Modern? For most people these are typically seen as marketing buzz-words (a sign outside a dojo reading "Traditional" Karate, as opposed to "Karate" attempts to impart perceived value to a prospective student). And even when the terms are used by someone in-the-know, it can still have multiple meanings.

    As for my own style? Kyokushin Karate was created by a Korean/Japanese man based on Japanese arts, based on an Okinawan art. So to think that it is anything but "Modern" would be an exercise in mental gymnastics! Yet its effectiveness is found in its simplicity: hit hard and train hard.

    Is Karate battle tested, though? Yes - but not in the way most people think.

    Karate was not used in battles the same way Jiu Jitsu was, but if you ask enough service men it won't take long to hear stories of loosing the use of a primary weapon and falling back on a simple technique to disable, kill, or stall an enemy until they could use a gun or a blade. This isn't exclusive to Karate; I could hardly think of a MA out there that couldn't find examples similar to this. So, yes, these "civilian defense arts" are battle tested, just not in the way that Donn Draeger wanted.

    Still, this ignores the main point: the value of battle tested martial arts. Well I am not a soldier and hopefully will never see the inside of a battlefield that doesn't involve my PS3. So using "battle tested" as a litmus test for deciding on a MA's worth is amateurish at best (I know this isn't your point of view). I need something that is going to work in my life, not the life of someone who carries an M4 and hand grenades.

  2. Thanks Brett, good to be back.

    You are right about buzz words and marketing. Some of these words mean very little, but they sure do conjure up images of powerful stuff.

    You make some great points. I would respectfully suggest that Karate, in its many forms, has been battle tested to some degree. I don't miss your point, however, that not all techniques and concepts need be life and death types. Hit hard and train hard and react fast. These can be applied to any type of confrontation. I also agree it's important to tailor training somewhat to your most likely reality. Let's just hope the worst violence most of us will have to experience is from the comfort of our couches, armed with a remote and some snacks.

    Thanks for commenting.