I’ve wanted to share my thoughts on the raging and often very personal arguments that erupt from time-to-time between martial arts adherents on web forums and in the comments sections of videos and photos. The comments and claims that I’ve seen in these arguments often boil down to the title of this post.
It is in reality the self-same argument that we used to have on the kindergarten playground. “My daddy is stronger than your daddy!” or “My car is faster than your car!” until it would bubble over into some amateur fisticuffs, bloody noses and adult intervention. It seems to escalate radically online because there is very seldom application of personal restraint or, dare I say it, adult intervention.

Firstly, I would like to address the relevance of any argument about the effectiveness of martial technique. The effectiveness of any martial technique cannot be settled by debate and argument (no matter how logical, creative, vocal or personal the argument becomes). Think about it for yourself. How can one actually argue about the effectiveness of a punch or a kick or a block? Of course there’s only one way to prove whether they work or not and that is in direct application. As the old saying goes, “The proof of the pudding is in the eating”. A technique’s effectiveness can only be proved or disproved by actual demonstration within the intended context of its use.

For martial arts systems that train for sports fighting such as MMA and western boxing, the intended context of the use of the technique is within a ring during an actual sports bout. For martial arts systems that train for self-defence, the intended context of the use of the technique is within a real self-defence situation.

The same goes for arguments about the effectiveness of entire systems. And of course, in actual application in a fight between two or more people, there are a lot of other factors that come into play apart from technique and system, such as chance, individual skill level, physical attributes, mental control and determination. So even if the technique or system doesn’t work in one instance, it may just be as a result of a pronounced skill imbalance between opponents or as a result of extreme determination on the part of an unskilled opponent.

An illustration of this comes to mind in a story that I heard many years ago. This one comes from the South African Military. There was once a very large, strong, muscular and intimidating man who was in the South African infantry. He was barracked with a group of other men in his unit and he used to use his size, strength and fighting ability to bully the others and push them around. No one would stand up to him. Within the same unit was a small, wiry, quiet man who kept mostly to himself. One day, the bully decided that it was the little man’s turn. He picked a fight with him and started beating him. Eventually, he beat the little man to the ground. But the little man got up again. So he started beating him again until he knocked him down again. This continued for a while and although the little man was getting badly injured, he just would not quit. Eventually, the big man got tired and made a bad move. The little man seized his opportunity and launched a shock-and-awe series of attacks, beating the living daylights out of the big man. If the rest of the men had not pulled him off the big man, he probably would have killed him.

The little man had none of the advantages of the big man. He didn’t have the size, weight, strength or technique and yet he won that fight because his determination was much stronger. Now whether or not this story is actually true is unsure. It may just be an urban myth but it serves to illustrate something that is demonstrated often in life. The battle is not always won by the strong nor the race by the swift.
I have been in the martial arts industry for a long time now and I have seen many things. I have seen many approaches to the problem of self-defence. Some of the techniques and approaches, I might say are less efficient or effective than others based on an evaluation of my own personal preferences, strengths and weaknesses. However, in all this time I have not seen a single technique or approach that I can honestly say would be completely ineffective.

But perhaps the arguments about technique that we see from time to time are not really growing out of an earnest desire to understand martial arts at all. Perhaps they grow instead from the inner insecurities of the online critics. Perhaps they question their own abilities on some level and argue vocally in a desperate effort to prove to themselves and the rest of the on-lookers that they are actually effective through demonstration of superior knowledge.

Think about it. If there was no question at all in their own minds about whether or not they were effective, do you think they would be arguing over the effectiveness of someone else’s technique? Aside from genuine interest in seeing new approaches, they would not be at all shaken by someone else’s performance.

If you are one of the online critics, the type who argue ad nauseam over the effectiveness of technique in an effort to prove to yourself that you are indeed capable, I have one word for you.

Relax.

When the chips are down and the brown stuff hits the fan, it doesn’t matter what everyone thinks you can do. All that matters is what you can do and what you can’t do (to borrow something from Captain Jack Sparrow). The truth is that no one is absolutely sure that they are capable under any circumstances. If anyone says otherwise, they are either lying or deluded. If you’re talking about a self-defence situation, the danger level could vary all the way up from being attacked by your pet cat on the way to the toilet at night to being attacked by a crack squad of heavily-armed military operatives.

Time and chance happen to us all, and in the chaotic unpredictability of a self-defence situation, nothing is absolutely certain and anything can happen. But it’s OK. That’s life. It’s big, it’s beautiful, it’s scary, it’s unpredictable, it’s amazing and no one gets out of it alive. Making peace with this is one of the keys to being effective when in danger.

written by SiXiong Lester from CMAHC Australia
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