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Aren't all martial arts the same? Part 1

In this two part post I am going to provide my opinions on the fundamental differences between the broad variety of martial arts styles available today. This isn't meant as a finger in the eye to any 'style' or way. Just one persons observations on what may be going on and the potential confusion that exists for people wishing to become a student of the martial arts. In this post I want to discuss the differences in styles focused on personal defence and styles focused primarily on competitive combat sports.

I fully appreciate how contentious an issue this is and equally how protective martial artists are of their "own style". It is absolutely the case that, as students, we are sold the line that the art we are learning is the absolute, the ultimate and that there can be no equal to this. The truth is that all too often this is mantra of a less than honest, and wholly insecure, teacher. There is no one "ultimate style" and there will never be. So please do not dismiss this as being a slur on any martial art, in the end we all study to improve and develop ourselves and there is a solidarity and strong common bond within this fact.

In recent years the evolution and success of mixed martial arts has been massive. Today (and far from the original premise it was established for) the sport of MMA has become an end in itself, providing it's own style of combat sport. To be successful, participants need to have capability in all areas standing, wrestling and ground grappling. Without question it is a demanding and physically challenging sport. However, contrary to the widespread belief held my many, it is a sport not a system of fighting. Consider this, the participants are in a match, where generally speaking their opponent is of a similar skill set and size. They perform under the protection of a set of rules and the supervision of a referee, whose sole purpose is to determine fairness and ensure the fighters safety. The constraints in which the game is played out could not be further removed from actual physical conflict between two or more people.

MMA is by no means isolated in this. Kickboxing, boxing, muay thai, judo, brazilian ju jitsu, wrestling and Olympic Taekwondo all have a similar end. The participants in these activities are largely existent in an environment based on a set of rules and often a limited, defined set of techniques and scoring targets. They meet their opponent at a predetermined time and place and effectively "duel" to determine the victor. More often it is the case that it is the athletic ability of the participants which is the primarily important factor (i.e. the fittest, fastest or the most agile) not necessarily the knowledge and technique used. In the second half of this post I will discuss the philosophical differences between combat sports and martial arts, however here I am more concerned with what this can mean to the 'effectiveness' of the style as a system of personal defence.

True physical confrontation and conflict does not occur at a predetermined time or venue. It does not allow for rules or time outs. There is no referee or indeed an opportunity to win by scoring more points. Yes, the athletic ability and physical attributes of the individuals can be a determining factor in the outcome, but in the chaos of the moment this is often negated and let's be honest no street fight is going on for 5 x 5 minute rounds, so that need for supreme cardiovascular fitness is just not so much of an issue. Physical confrontation is visceral, violent and sudden. There is no opportunity for the mind to be prepared, no opportunity for the body to be warmed up and no opportunity to research your opponent. You are in the chaos from the get you sink or you swim.

In my view, unless the "style" you study is embracing this fundamental truth it cannot legitimately claim to be providing students a system of personal defence. Unless the techniques being learnt are rehearsed until they are unconscious motor responses. Unless the techniques being provided are simplistic in form and maximise effectiveness in purpose, realistically a student is engaged in little more than a cardio-kickboxing class with a slightly different philosophical base. In the instance of combat sport, the exposure to confrontation is sanitised and whilst many "fighters" believe they would swim...the reality is that in the moment they sink faster than a concrete block.

Effective personal defence is simple. Often it is the basic techniques which we learnt as beginners, performed with an unswerving commitment and purpose. It is a fundamental understanding of targets and an appreciation that the whole body is a legitimate target, not just those that score points. It's an appreciation that fear exists and so do monsters and in light of this in the moment you will have to find that inner strength to overcome your own personal obstacle. Finally it's the true appreciation that it's down to you. No referee. No points. No timeouts. You fight now because if you don't the best you can hope for is a visit to the local emergency room.

Thankfully the world isn't as bad as the media portrays. We can walk the street in relative safety. However, monsters do exist and bad things do happen. Effective martial arts aren't however the stuff of movies and fighters highlight reels. Effective martial arts are base and direct.

For information on our approach personal defence or any of our sessions please do

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