“That Won’t Work,” and Other Bullshit Martial Arts Stories

It seems that martial arts, like politics, creates a lot of division between people.  One of the biggest bones of contention in martial arts is and likely has always been what is effective and what isn’t.  I have never seen so many grown men and women argue over something so passionately as what will or won’t work in real violence.  I get an absolute knee jerk reaction when I hear people say, “that won’t work”, or worse, “you will never do that on the street”.  That last one really makes me cringe. 

I remember parroting some bullshit about what would or wouldn’t work in my days coming up as an instructor of Arnis.  “That outside block will never work against a person with a knife,” I would tell my students, and yet that block has worked many times against knife assaults, in literally every corner of the world, for people who were not even trained in martial arts.  There may be some better tactics for knife defence, but I did not say that back in the day, I said that it wouldn’t work.  I was wrong in saying that.

I can give a student what I believe is a better option when it comes to knife defence, however when push comes to shove most people will instinctively put up their arm when a knife attack is aimed at the neck, head, or upper chest.  The same is true of a blunt impact weapon attack to the same area. 

The reality is this reaction has been keeping Homo Sapiens alive since the stone age, our continued survival is partially because of instincts like this.  And this instinctive “oh shit!” block can be improved on with training.  Or you can throw it out because “it doesn’t work” and develop defensive tactics that require more work and training because they are simply less natural.  In the end however they may be better tactics. 

If you get the feeling that the concept of things working and not working to counter real fighting may not be as cut and dried as most instructors like to make it out to be, you are right. 

Fighting is violent chaos and many tactics that work against some people, or in certain situations, will not always work.  It will always depend on so many factors that it is impossible to say that any technique is the right technique until the situation is upon you.  Then you will know what worked by how you fared after the event.  One thing to keep in mind is that something that worked well in one situation may not work in another. 

One of the best examples of this kind of attitude is comments such as “disarms don’t work”.  I have to say when I see that comment, I spend a few minutes mocking the person who says it, but then I move on to ignoring or answering them, depending on the tone in which it is asked. 

The reality is that there are no perfect knife defence techniques, in my opinion there are not even any high probability techniques of empty hand knife defence if the person attacking you with the knife is intent and aggressive.  Also you must understand that if someone is intent on causing you injury with a knife… they probably will cause injury to you, and I believe they are 60% likely to kill you.  (According to the statistics given in the Dog Brothers Die Less Often DVD’s)

The reality of knife defence and knife disarming is very bleak.  However going into an edged weapons assault without any fighting tactics is even more bleak.  Knife defence is usually at best the ability to minimize damage until you can either escape or defeat your attacker, and disarming tactics are only useful if the opportunity to do a disarm presents itself in the chaos of a violent knife assault.  However if you do not have disarming skills, you will not be able to use this tactic. 

I do have anecdotal evidence of disarms working from students who have had to defend against knife assaults.  However, this and the countless stories from knife assault survivors who disarmed an attacker are not the point, nor is the point to defend my own belief systems about training.  The point is that if we close our minds to other training methodologies and ideas we limit ourselves. 

If I could go back in time to when I was young, I would still have trained in FMA and Muay Thai, but I would change a couple of things.  I would have stayed longer in Judo, because being able to smash people with the earth itself is a very effective skill when it comes to real violence.  I would have found a hard Karate system and gotten a black belt in it, because the benefits of Karate are so many I could write another complete article on it, but for now I would say for the mental and physical toughness that comes from traditional Karate.  (Shotokan or Kyokushin would be my top choices) I would also have spent a lot more time grappling, maybe even getting to blue belt in BJJ.  It is not too late perhaps, but at 56, after a heart attack I may just stay in my lane now, but I will encourage all of my students to spread their wings. 

The problem was that as a kid Judo bored me.  If I knew what I knew then, I would have spent more time in it.  There were several reasons I avoided Karate, the attitude that forms are a waste of time, too rigid, too much bowing, they wear pyjamas, and so on.  What an arrogant ass I was, I could have gotten so much emotionally and physically from the practice of Karate. 

Do not get me wrong.  I believe wholeheartedly in the base I have.  I just think if my mind was more open I could have so much broader skillsets and tactics.  This is not a regret, but a cautionary tale for those of us who get caught in the trap of knowing.  Knowing in your heart that you have the right answer already might just keep your from learning a better answer.  Remember we are not talking about mathematical absolutes in fighting, we are talking about shades of truth in an equation that is chaotic, fluid, and situationally specific.  How can you hold the absolute truth in that kind of equation?  The answer is you can’t .  At best you can have higher or lower percentage tactics. 

The statement “that wont work in a real fight” should perhaps be changed to “that is not a high percentage technique”.  However I am sure most of us can see things that are just complete bullshit when we watch martial arts videos on social media.  But we need to keep in mind that a lot of what we are seeing has context that we are not seeing, so instead of just scrolling past and telling yourself what you do is better, take the time and ask a question to find the context.  Who knows you may get surprised by the answer, and find something new that you can add to your skillsets.    


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