It is not uncommon for people to take martial arts lessons for years and still not be able to use their arts in real situations outside the training hall.
Why is that?
I think before we discuss this topic it is first necessary to answer the question of
"WHAT DOES FIGHTING REALLY MEAN?"
Fighting is a word that is being thrown around quite often in the martial arts media. A lot of “Martial” Arts have become mere forms of fitness (e.g. boxercise, tae bo) while others are used for artistic and character development. Another major trend is to turn martial arts into sporting events/competitions (UFC, Pride, K1).
It would be wise for students to realize that there’s a difference between sport competition such as UFC and real fighting.
One is based on ego/winning and public entertainment, while the other is based on necessity and survival.
Here are some things that set the difference between sport competition vs. a real fight:
1. In sport competition there is consent, real fights are based on surprise tactics (i.e. posturing, insults, asking senseless questions etc. in order to set you up for a sucker punch)
2. In sport competition, the distance is wide (usually 15 feet or more) while more street fights happen from 4 feet or less - making most countering tactics very difficult to pull off due to the limitations of human reaction time from such a close distance.
3. In sport competition there is a probing phase prior to any real engagement such as circling around to “feel it out” with feints, jabs etc.
On the street, in real fights, criminals are not dumb enough to warn you like that nor do you have the time to pace a few rounds. You have 10 seconds before more bad guys shows up.
4. In sport competition, taking the contest to the ground is a good tactic; in real street fights the tactic would be suicidal due to the reality of multiple opponents. People who pick fights are cowards and therefore, most travel in packs.
5. In sport competition there are weight classes, obviously in real fights there aren’t.
6. In sport competition there’s a chance to study footage of your opponent and that gives you a chance to adapt and devise a strategy against him.
In a real fight, you have no idea what the guy can do and therefore you cannot apply specific strategies, but rather you have to operate out of universal principles.
7. In sport competition, you do not have to worry about weapons and multiple opponents.
I hope the above list will give you an idea of what a fight is compared to a sport. Perhaps that is why more than one MMA great fighters have talked about this difference when they taught self-defense. Ironically, it seems the only people that ignore the difference are their fans.
Now that we have a better idea about the differences between a street fight and a sport competition, let’s talk about the difference between learning how to fight vs. learning a true martial ART.
LEARNING HOW TO FIGHT:
When someone is training with the sole objective of just learning how to fight, they will learn all the tricks of the trade like:
- how to recognize threats
- how to read body language
- how to move in and shut people down with the right timing
- how to deal with blocks /covers
- how to chase and hit openings
(and many others)
Along with fighting skills, there should also be supplementary fitness training to enhance the performance, not only for the quality of the fighting techniques but also to allow the defender to run fast and long if necessary. (i.e. if faced with multiple opponents or weapons etc).
A person that goes through this type of training for a intensive period of their lives will have a strong will and body, refined fighting skills and natural confidence but whether it will improve the quality of their lives, their character or their relationships is highly unlikely. In fact, over-training in fighting can sometimes make a person overly aggressive.
Explosive temper outbursts and uncontrolled anger can manifest itself for no apparent reason due to over-training. This is expected; after all, what do you think will happen if you spend most of your waking hours dealing with and studying real world violence? I guess you become that.
To quote the great martial artist Geoff Thompson “If you are around shit long enough, you start to smell like it.”
LEARNING MARTIAL “ARTS”
Learning Martial ARTS is very different than just learning how to fight. Fighting, real fighting is about survival; Martial ARTS on the other hand goes beyond that.
It is more than a tool for survival. In fact, shouldn’t life be more than just the ability to survive? Martial means war or fighting but ART means a lot more.
It is Martial ARTS - so if one only learns the fighting side without the ART side, it is only half of the equation. It is Martial ART not just martial skill.
The “art” in Martial Art is not just about beauty and decoration. Art is defining quality, creativity and is based on your awareness in relationship with your “opponent”
Looking at training in that context provides you with a tool, a mirror to look at yourself in training. It will give you a chance to get to know yourself in a very
direct, realistic and honest manner.
Approaching martial ARTS in this way will allow your training to be more than just about winning and beating people up.
Awareness in relationship will show you a lot about yourself: your compassion, your anger, your fears, your courage etc. Some will face it, get to know themselves better, evolve and grow.
Others may run away, go into self-denial and say "Hey, stop showing me who I am, I don’t want to know myself better, I don’t want to improve my life, I just want to be able to kick other people’s asses."
But, ironically, no matter how many people you beat up, it will never bring a deep sense of joy unless you have slain all those internal demons.
And ironically, down throughout history, the people who have fought best were the ones who knew themselves the most.
And that’s the difference between learning how to fight vs. learning martial arts.
Learning just how to fight is merely based on fear and survival and while learning Martial “ARTS” is also about fighting it is also about being creative and knowing oneself better and therefore improving one’s life.