Traditional Martial Arts, Part 4

Traditional Martial Arts, Part 4

In this concluding part of the series on traditional martial arts, we’ll finally look at the last of the listed notions about traditional martial arts, and make a final statement on the subject.

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Point 3:Back in the old days, the fighting arts were primitive, and have now evolved, as seen in the modern systems, but traditional systems still cling to outdated techniques.

Let me provide an authentic quote, from a self-defense forum:

Dude, in the ring, guys like Jon Jones would win very easily against anyone who has ever existed. Also the techniques have evolved since Spartans, modern B.J.J. and Muay thai (yes, modern muay thai with lots of western boxing) are simply superior because they are the most up to date techniques we have. If there were any better technique they’d use them or at least they’ll use them in a few years.

To be fair, the above comment was actually posted in a discussion on whether or not modern MMA should be seen as an evolved form of the old Pankration, which of course is a different discussion.

The main problem with the idea of evolution in any particular discipline, be it martial arts or masonry, is that it has to be measured in comparison to what has been lost, and that what has been lost cannot be measured.

First off we need to establish one thing: Besides being ridiculously absurd, there is no historical evidence for systems having been developed for something like farmers wanting to knock down professional soldiers from horses using flying kicks, or any such mythical fantasies.

Civilian self-defense has always been the same thing. Methods of handling being attacked by another human being, the same size or larger, from a position of disadvantage. Nothing has changed, so nothing has been outdated.

There are a few arguable exceptions; techniques that were developed for specific purposes, often remnants from military training, but those aren’t really relevant for the discussion, either because they are still applicable (nowadays the Chinese aren’t the only ones with braided ponytails, for example, and the edge of a helmet could easily be replaced by a handful of hair, etc) or because they simply aren’t taught together with self-defense techniques today, even in traditional systems.

I’ll cover my back nicely and say that if you see an application of a movement that is not realistic or relevant today, the application is not the original one.

On The Subject Of Evolution:

Boxing is often held forward as the perfect example of technical evolution, and yes, generally, the boxers in ancient Greece, or even the boxers during the 50s, probably wouldn’t stand much of a chance against later champions, and the same goes for just about everything else. World records in all disciplines are continuously broken, after all.

This development is however largely separate from the practice of self-defense, which for those who truly feel a need for it has never been about technical perfection of the kind boxers seek. Just look at the difference between MMA champions and boxers. MMA champions in general have pretty lousy basics (outside of their possible specialization), because their game is a lot more varied than a boxer’s, and so they need more tools, and there is simply no time to master anything to the degree than you can begin to develop it, because they have a full hand trying to learn all the parts to a functional degree.

This is ten times more true for a thorough self-defense system, because in self-defense:

*There are way more situations a person can end up in (including being tangled in clothes, besides all the attacks that aren’t allowed or possible in an MMA-fight, as well as the risk of having to fight with injuries that would have stopped a professional fight)
*The conditions are far more varied (fighting in different spaces, with various obstacles, on different surfaces, etc)
*There are more hypothetical factors to consider (like possible weapons (carried or improvised), possible multiple assailants, and so on)

This does not mean that basics are not important. Good basics will always win the day. What it means is that while things like balance, speed and power are still vastly important, the concept of “basics” in a multifaceted system is expanded beyond individual techniques, taking the shape of… you guessed it: General principles.

When trying to prepare for everything, getting a practical understanding of, say, how to find, create and exploit openings for manipulating mechanical structures, becomes more important than cutting down your left hook – uppercut combination another tenth of a second.

Furthermore, the development of fine arts like boxing and jiu jitsu, as well as in other specialist fields, like Olympic high-jump or 800m dash, has been mainly about two things: Muscular structure and technology. We now know better than ever how muscles work, how to train them and how to complement the training with more training, and with rest, and with nutrition. We also have the technology to make sure every champion gets than ultimate training, and supplements for optimal nutrition-intake.

This has little to do with self-defense, which is not professional, meaning practitioners have neither the time, nor the money to use much of that development, and it has nothing at all to do with technical development.
We have technology today to build things that could never have been built ten years ago, and yet thousands of years ago, Romans and Egyptians built things in stone that we struggle to copy today. It’s been a long time since mankind mastered basic mechanics, and that’s exactly what fighting-techniques are about.

Final note

In a self-defense system, preparing well for everything, mentally as well as technically, takes a very long time, not just because of the many situations, conditions and factors listed above, but because we prepare to face all of this with an opponent who’s also larger and angrier than we, and who has the element of surprise on his side. Those are conditions you are not supposed to be able to handle.

Martial arts are not about becoming a superior fighter. It’s about slowly, inch by inch, through hard and long and difficult training, becoming less inferior to our attacker, and about preparing us for fighting that way; with the odds against us. Every self-defense fight is fought uphill, with the sun in your eyes and a sharp pebble in your shoe. There is no easy victory.

And that’s what traditional martial arts, with their long, varied and rigorous training, are all about.

Or should be.

Image credit:

Lars Fidler
Lars Fidler

A student mainly of Hardy Holm's (Chief instructor at Students of Goju Ryu) multifaceted system of self defense, Lars has studied and practiced self defense martial arts since 1997, and taught it regularly since 2007. Lars holds belted ranks and/or experience in other forms of martial arts as well.

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