Recently I’ve noticed some extremely disturbing trends in the current martial arts world. Now I realize I may piss off a lot of cohorts by writing about this generally hidden-in-plain-sight issue in the industry, and I’m okay with that potentiality. The martial arts world simply does not provide what the majority of people want nor what they need. A paradigm shift would seem to be called for, as it would in any other industry during evolutionary processes inter-field but, alas, it simply won’t happen in this instance. I just don’t see it. That would take self-reflection. Doing heavy research in a vast number of areas. Handing in our pride, ego and maybe even all those colored belts. (I’m willing if you are)
We are bass ackwards in our view. Title-whoring. Idolatry. Politics. Pecking orders. Elitism. Hell, racism. Skewed histories and downright lies. We are a service industry and people pay us (like a plumber, carpenter, janitor, electrician) to provide them with something needed, hopefully with honesty and ethically. NOT to get a mountaintop guru that feeds them the bullshit they want to hear. We assume secretly that people are stupid and laugh about it behind closed doors with other killers-in-their-own-minds. They, the public, are not. This is, quite possibly, the most information-savvy public in the history of humankind, at this very moment. I hate to say it, but they are often the ones laughing at us.
The majority of instructors, I’d be willing to bet, have never done any market research on what the average citizen is actually looking for. From most average folk that I’ve talked to, the perception is two-fold: 1. The pyjama-wearing, barefoot, color-belted, screamer who hits air and goes through multi-cultural rituals that usually don’t pertain to his/her own. 2. The tough guy who walks around glaring at people and acting out on misplaced child opportunities to express him/herself demonstratively. Very rarely does the cerebral professional whose goal is to train you to stay out of the dangerous spots come to mind. We are missing a huge demographic that will never find themselves on the inside of a “dojo”. They see a never-ending supply of vast physical responses to all situations, outdated methodologies, no classroom time or analysis of current crime and reverse-engineering to address it. A systemic linear curriculum. (From my experience, which may or may not be correct from your vantage point – and that’s okay – violence is not, linear that is: it’s organic, fluid and varying and graduating suddenly on a sliding scale of escalation.)
We continue to play these parlor games of long-term syllabi and progressive learning curve, oftentimes being negligent at best, putting our students directly in harm’s way at worse. Teaching what in the real world would amount to murder. (16-cut lethal knife solution to single right cross, anyone?) No address of local laws. Post-event LE interactions. The varying phases of adrenaline. Spatial considerations. Situational and environmental awareness. Internet safety. Defensive driving and car safety – in the plainest terms, not like Jason Bourne, just learning how to simply drive defensively. Anatomy. Psychology. 1st Aid. What constitutes self-defense and what not. Body language – both yours and “theirs”.
Most seemingly do not understand, don’t care, only pay lip service as it’s boring content or worse, don’t even know about the difference between social and asocial (dueling/matchfighting and violent one-sided crime/victim selection) violence nor the difference in prep for each being unique unto itself. And when this is brought up, one gets the stereotypical response. “Come to my club and we’ll see who knows about violence!” “I’ll meet you at this time and this place to discuss this further” “If I were there, I’d kick your ass.” Listen, when I say the vast majority of martial arts don’t work, I’m not saying physically they’re not capable of being functional. (although this is another issue entirely, just not for this article) What I am saying is they simply don’t address modern needs, modern scenarios, modern problems, modern criminals nor modern legal/ethical/psychological/moral complexities. They don’t. At least not the way the majority teach them. We teach 95% physical, 5% mental. What people face is 95% mental (physiological/emotional/moral/psychological), 5% physical. Ass-backwards. I’ve far too often heard from instructors: “Okay, Johnny, be situationally-aware out there, alright? Great! Now let’s get back to hitting the heavy bag (grappling/striking/cutting ad infinitum)!” Meanwhile, Johnny is left to wonder that something really bloody important was just glossed over at the expense of curriculum/syllabus. As he has no clue of what “situationally aware” means, what he’s supposed to look for and what it means even if he does.
Here’s an axiom I always revert back to, it helps me both sleep at night and look in the mirror the next morning: “I teach nothing that I wouldn’t use personally to defend the lives of myself or my family.” Now, I know this will be perceived as a macho testosterone-filled statement but, in actuality, this also means not taking myself out of their lives and putting in jeopardy my ability to provide for them stupidly and irrationally. It means analyzing situations, both in the moment and well-before (visualization/risk analysis) so I have a plan of assessment as to what constitutes worthwhile and what simply doesn’t. (HINT: Social media doesn’t) It means not getting killed or seriously-injured nor doing the same to anyone else out of pride or ego. It means not screwing my family over with a mountain of legal bills post-incident. And it means not making important decisions with either my lizard brain or what’s conveniently-covered by my boxers. (boxers vs. briefs will be left for a future article) Now I know most would say they want someone who’s been there/done that with regards to violence or at least pressure-testing/resistance-training, and this I agree with. (Delivering damage is different than “squaring off”, all other avenues being exhausted) But I also often ask this as well, to play devil’s advocate, which allows for some thought a little further down the rabbit hole of context on one’s experience with said violence: “Can someone who simply can’t ever seem to stay out of the shit, away from violence, teach someone else counter-violence or personal protection?” It is a fine line and there are those out there who come from both worlds but they are becoming increasingly hard to find.
Maybe this is an overreaction. Maybe not. But we run the risk of becoming redundant in the martial arts world. A caricature of ourselves. Stagnant. We walk a fine line of self-importance that quite honestly wouldn’t be tolerated in another line of work or other industries. Hammer and nail theory. Evolution is good. Healthy. Self-assessment and self-realization are the pillars of that evolution. Ego, politics, status and status quo are the destroyers. I’ve chosen not to play the game any longer. The mirror? Well, still having problems but that’s a matter of prettiness or lack thereof, not ability to look.