Does your martial art suck?
As we head into the third decade of the 21st century, the internet is full of video clips that showcase fighting matches between MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) fighters, and representatives from traditional martial arts, ranging from Kung Fu to Tai Chi, from Karate to Aikido, and many others. And, in almost every case, in every country in the world, it’s pretty enlightening to see how even an average MMA practitioner is capable of demolishing supposed “expert” martial artists. Like clockwork, the traditional martial artists get knocked out, choked out, critically injured, or simply overwhelmed by the sheer physical and tactical superiority of their MMA opponent.
It’s even more telling to see the look on the faces of those who are so easily defeated – a look of shock, bewilderment… and often, outright disbelief.
So, in the face of such obvious evidence, does that mean that “traditional” martial arts have grown irrelevant, or have been a giant hoax all these years? Personally, I don’t think so. But – there are some very obvious and important lessons for anyone watching.
Any beginner – someone who has never learned a martial art or method of self defense - who walks into an Elite Defence Academy International Krav Maga class will tell you that it’s a positive and life-affirming experience.
We embody a culture of friendliness and respect, and to us, someone walking into a club is like someone visiting your home – we take pleasure in welcoming them, making them feel comfortable, and establishing common ground so we can have an enjoyable conversation together.
We’re definitely not one of those stone-age Krav Maga groups that tries to demonstrate how legitimate or tough they are by beating up first-timer beginners or trying to prove a point based on ego and testosterone. (And if you’ve ever had the misfortune of encountering so-called Krav Maga “instructors” who do this, then for heaven’s sake, please don’t judge the entirety of Krav Maga based on idiots like these.)
So, if you’re a beginner or a visitor to Elite Defence Academy International, we show you what we do, we meet you at your current level of capability - and that’s where your journey starts, carefully, gently, and respectfully, should you decide to join us.
Here’s the thing, though: we don’t continue to wrap you in cotton wool all your life. There comes a point at which a certain level of physical challenge is introduced, and as you progress, you most definitely are required to get stronger, become more aggressive in your fighting capacity, and more resilient in dealing with physical and psychological challenges.
Now, we don’t do this recklessly, or with the intent of injuring you – exactly the opposite, in fact - but we’re very conscious of what it means to actually fight for your life in a desperate self-defense scenario. The blunt truth is that the level of physical exertion, mental stress, and emotional paralysis in a real life fight far, far exceeds what most people think is required. Surviving and prevailing in a life and death situation is not pretty, or orderly, or comfortable. It is insanely chaotic (both externally and internally), and the levels of discomfort are extremely high. (By “discomfort”, I’m talking about physical pain, adrenal stress, burning oxygen debt, subliminal panic and fear, and a hundred other factors that cause untrained people to freeze up and give up under the shock of an attack).
This acclimatization – the process of becoming realistically tougher - also doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a process of intelligent adaptation – and it has to be. If you walk into a gym and a bodybuilding coach decides your goal should be to squat with a barbell equal to your own bodyweight, he doesn’t just slam you into a squat rack and load up the barbell to the max. Of course not! You would be critically injured, or maimed for life, unless you knew how to squat and already had a base level of decent strength.
The logical method is to start out by learning the correct technique, and then gradually add weight, increment by increment, until you reach your goal. That could take six months; it could take a year. And even a halfway competent coach will be guiding you every step of the way.
The same process, the same philosophy, applies to learning Krav Maga. You start out in a very supportive and nurturing environment, but when you’re ready, the training wheels come off. For some people, this can happen over a period of many months, while for others, it can happen a lot more quickly, of course. The key here is that we go at a pace you can handle, and will never beat on you for the wrong reasons.
BUT – and it’s a very big and important “but” - we will never lie to you. We will not tell you that you’re capable of reasonably defending yourself if you’re not. At some point, you will need to step up to the plate.
I believe that this is the critical mistake that has been made by so many “traditional” martial arts over the decades or centuries of their existence. They have fallen into the trap of living in their own bubble, believing that what they teach is still “real”, when in fact it has long since lost its practical relevance in a sea of forms, rules, and pretty traditions. Even worse, many fall into the deception of believing that what they do is the “best” martial art (whatever that means), because of pride, and loyalty to tribalistic concepts that grow increasingly abstract as time goes by.
And, in order to further justify their belief, they train and spar against people who are doing exactly what they are doing – so you see Karate practitioners competing against other Karate practitioners (straight punches, fancy kicks, hopping like kangaroos), you see Wing Chun practitioners competing against other Wing Chun practitioners (formal stances, outstretched arms, linear chain punches), and you see Tai Chi practitioners competing in “push hands” contests where they stand still or walk smoothly and do cute hand and arm waving as they try to uproot or push an opponent.
In extreme cases, you even see videos of fake “internal energy masters” throwing people around without touching them, as their students flop through the air or do somersaults and lie twitching on the floor. It’s so embarrassing to watch that you wonder just how easy it is to dupe some people into believing such rubbish.
Am I being disrespectful in saying that? Absolutely not.
In my martial arts journey over the past 35 years, I have been soundly beaten in training by masters of Karate, Wing Chun, and Tai Chi, among many others. And they were good at what they did. They were extraordinarily skilled.
I’ve also trained with and sparred with MMA fighters who have competed at an international level and in the UFC, and I generally do not believe that in an unarmed one-on-one fight, with rules, that there is a more formidable opponent to face.
I have also experienced genuine intrinsic energy personally in the context of the traditional martial arts, and in my appraisal, it is a very real tool that can be used in certain contexts to powerfully injure or to heal – provided that you’re willing to invest half a century of practice in its study and use.
But beating a version of me in training, or a display of the amazing strengths of their respective martial arts by the masters I’ve trained with, is still not exactly the same as going to war physically against someone who is equipped with more versatile tools, who is thinking multidimensionally, and who brings a savage level of physical power, aggression, and lethal intent – aided by weapons - to the table.
And, in many cases, we do well to remember that the average criminal out there is tough. He has survived more hardship than many of us can imagine. He does not follow rules; he understands that it is quite literally kill or be killed in a fight, and he has no moral objection to killing you, in any possible way that he can. In his own way, he actually thinks like a streetwise MMA fighter: he will do anything and everything to win, and he usually has the advantage of surprise, deception, ambush and shock on his side (oh, and weapons too) before his attack even begins.
So here’s my point: if you train in a Krav Maga class as though you’re going to do the bare basics, cruising in the comfort zone, and then imagine that you’re going to get through a self defense situation smiling and unharmed, you have a rude awakening coming somewhere down the line.
And that awakening could be too late. It could cost you your life.
At some point, a person training to become a deep sea diver has to leave the swimming pool and get into the ocean. The person training to skydive has to jump without an instructor attached to him.
At some point, a trainee firefighter has to confront a real, out-of-control fire. At some point, he will be in a burning building, and then there are no excuses and no illusions left to fall back on.
And in all of these situations, if the training has been inadequate, if the physical preparation has been neglected, or if reality has been ignored, then that person will very likely die.
Krav Maga is no different. We are not training for a martial arts contest, or to impress anyone with how pretty a technique is. We are training for that one, life-defining moment where everything hangs on our ability to win using any and all means at our disposal, where our physical and mental strength will either aid us or fail us, and where our training will be held up to the very stark mirror of reality.
Knowing this, how would you change the way you’re training right now?
Give it some thought.
Want to try out a Krav Maga class? Take a look at a list of all our clubs, and treat yourself to a one-month gift voucher!