Friday, February 28, 2014

What Should NOT Be Your Chief Reason For Studying The Martial Arts

There are many great reasons for studying the martial arts. Self-defense, the thrill of competition, and personal development are only a few of them. However, there is one thing which should not be your chief goal: to become an all-powerful war god (or goddess).

Most people who have this goal would not frame it in those terms. That being said, when you hear what they want to accomplish, it is apparent that this is what they are truly after. If someone wants to defeat Jon Jones or Ronda Rousey with both arms tied behind their back, clear out a biker bar with their bare hands, or take out a team of Navy Seals with their pinky, they really don't want to study the martial arts. They want to become a god and have chosen self-defense as their path to deity.

Maybe your fantasies aren't that extreme. Maybe you just want to be able to manhandle a 22-year-old Olympian...and you're a 45-year-old white belt. Maybe you want to show those street toughs who hang out in front of your apartment building who's boss...and you're a 100-lbs. college girl who's only been to one women's self-defense seminar. The fact is that having unrealistic expectations of what the martial arts will do for you will cause you problems. Best case scenario, you quit when training does not live up to what you saw in Jet Li films and miss out on all of the benefits that self-defense provides. Worst case scenario, you put yourself in a dangerous situation after a week in the dojo and get yourself killed.

No amount of martial arts training will make you invincible. No matter how many black belts you get, you can still be beaten by someone who knows how to exploit your weaknesses. Not to mention that bullets are faster than your hands, baseball bats are stronger than your legs, and knives are sharper than your elbows and knees. Also, if a bunch of thugs jump you on the street, they aren't going to line up and fight you one-on-one like they do for Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan on the big screen.

So whatever your goals are, make sure that they (and your training) are realistic. You will not only be more likely to become a successful martial artist, but you will have more fun as you do it.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Choosing A "Base" Style And My Personal Choice

If you are serious about studying the martial arts, then you should try out several different styles throughout your lifetime. If you do, you will be a well-rounded fighter who can handle most common street attacks. While no one is invincible, having a variety of techniques (which you have internalized through intentional practice) will greatly increase your odds of survival in this increasingly dangerous world.

That being said, there does come a point when you eventually have to commit to a "base style." While you should keep the most effective techniques from the other martial arts which you have practiced, it is much more fulfilling to have a deep understanding of one art than to just know the basics of twenty different ones. It's like the difference between getting married and serial dating. It may be more stimulating to always be with someone new and exciting, but you will only truly be happy if you commit your life to the "one."

In August of this year, I will finally take classes again. I haven't been able to train since last August due to personal trials, a job loss, and having to move. However, after getting hired this past November, I am finally getting back on my feet. During this time, I have given a lot of thought to which style will be my "base" style. After all, I am already in my late twenties; it's time for me to move beyond the "martial dating" phase and walk down the self-defense aisle. I still plan to study Brazilian jiu-jitsu, catch wrestling, and capoeira, as well as resume my Krav Maga training this fall with Steve. However, these styles are going to be the equivalent of my male buddies. My "bride" style, the one which I will commit my life to wholeheartedly, is going to be Kung Fu. In particular, I want to earn my fifth-degree black belt in Pai Lum under Pastor Michael McClure at the Valour School of Self-Defense in Delray Beach, Florida. He is a sixth-degree black belt under Professor James Cravens, who in turn studied under Daniel Pai himself.

I decided on Kung Fu for one main reason: it is really fun! When I was a kid, I loved the idea of fighting like an animal and copying the movements of the tiger, crane, praying mantis, snake, and dragon (a.k.a. dinosaur, but we'll get into that later). For several months last year, I finally got to do it, in addition to fighting like a leopard. I had an absolute blast training under the guidance of Pastor McClure and his daughter, a third-degree black belt who has also taught the martial arts overseas. Additionally, the kata did wonders for my health. The more I did them, the younger I felt. They were like a macho version of yoga: I became more flexible, relaxed, focused, and alert. Also, I started noticing many similarities between the self-defense techniques of Kung Fu and Krav Maga. This validated my belief that Kung Fu is still a deadly martial arts system, in spite of criticism that it has received recently by members of the MMA community.

At the same time, I'm not blind to Kung Fu's main weakness: groundfighting. That's why I will cross-train in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, which I consider the self-defense equivalent of my male best friend. However, at the end of the day, the lessons I learn from other systems will ultimately be used to improve my development as a Kung Fu practitioner.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Three Major Types Of Martial Arts: A Final Word

Now you know the general strengths and weaknesses of modern self-defense systems, combat sports, and the traditional martial arts. As you embark on your journey, it is important to remember that what I have written in my previous three posts are just that: generalizations. My posts are based on my personal experience in Shotokan karate (a traditional martial art), Krav Maga (a modern self-defense system), and amateur wrestling (a combat sport). My knowledge has been supplemented by many hours of research at the library, reading martial arts magazines at Barnes and Noble, watching documentaries on TV and the internet, and being a hardcore UFC fan. That being said, I don't know everything, so don't limit yourself to the styles which I mentioned by name in my previous posts. Each martial art is unique, and it is up to you to do the research necessary to find the one that is right for you. Take an honest assessment of your personality, body type, and martial arts goals, and try out several different styles. Once you find the one which is the best fit for you, commit yourself to that fighting style primarily and supplement your training with techniques from complementary styles to ensure that you are well-rounded. For example, if you choose karate, incorporate some grappling moves from judo and some weapons' defenses from Krav Maga so that you can defend yourself from the most common street attacks. The key thing is to ensure that you know enough to defend yourself in realistic self-defense scenarios. It is also important that you have fun and develop your character as well as your body. Provided that you are practicing a style which allows you to do all of those things, it really doesn't matter what you study. Just make sure that you are training in the system which is the best fit for you.

Friday, February 7, 2014

The Final Type Of Martial Art: Traditional Martial Arts

Traditional martial arts systems are the most common form of self-defense out there. While this is my favorite type of fighting style, it's not a good fit for everyone, so carefully weigh the pros and cons before you commit to this type of system.

Modern self-defense systems focus on survival and combat sports focus on winning a competition. Traditional martial arts systems, in contrast, focus on personal development and physical health. You will learn many techniques which will help you escape from an assailant or win a duel against a fellow martial artist. However, your chief goal is to overcome your shortcomings and refine your character through developing discipline, patience, humility, and other virtues. In other words, your goal is to defeat yourself. For this reason, the traditional martial arts are a lifelong pursuit. Some examples include karate, Kung Fu, Tae Kwon Do, and Japanese jiu-jitsu.

The chief benefit of the traditional martial arts is that they exercise your spirit, your heart and your mind in addition to your body. They also provide a very deep knowledge of their particular aspect of fighting. Essentially, they are the graduate-level courses of self-defense. In addition, they include many exercises which not only improve your health, but add years to your life. The most famous of these are the kata, which are basically yoga poses for warriors. Others include breathing control and meditation. These systems also teach you the traditions and history of the nations which they come from, so they are a fun way to gain insight into another culture.

The main drawback of the traditional martial arts is that they include many techniques which have been rendered obsolete by modern weaponry. You may know twenty different ways to disarm someone with a spear or a katana, but will that help you against a gangster who is packing heat? Additionally, many of the techniques have only been utilized effectively by the master who developed them. This will make them difficult to learn for a student who does not have that master's body type and personality, if not impossible. The combatives tend to be unnecessarily complex, and you must memorize far more than you could ever realistically use in order to progress in the system. Defenses against modern weapons are usually not taught until you are a first-degree black belt, which typically takes 3-4 years of consistent training to earn. You rarely practice drills for multiple opponents, if you do at all, and many of these drills are not practical unless you are a young, athletic man. Furthermore, most of the traditional martial arts only focus on one area of fighting, which can get you into serious trouble if your assailant takes you out of your element (i.e. you are a striker and they take you to the ground). In the United States, the most effective techniques (such as groin attacks and eye gouges) are typically removed from the system for fear of offending parents or to prevent lawsuits resulting from the actions of irresponsible students. If they are taught, they are generally withheld until you are an adult or a first-degree black belt. In other words, your six-year-old son or teenage daughter might be stuck using pressure-point strikes against a 200-lbs. sex offender because the instructor you picked made your sensitivities more important than your child's safety.

You should study this type of system if you are truly passionate about the martial arts and want to cultivate your character as well as your body. Ideally, you should already have a basic knowledge of self-defense and want something more fulfilling than one-upping a fellow warrior in the ring. That being said, if you are a professional fighter, the traditional martial arts will give you an edge over your opponents by improving your technique, focus, and endurance. You should also study the traditional martial arts if you want to teach self-defense for a living or if it will help you in your profession (i.e. you are a police officer or security guard). The traditional martial arts are highly beneficial for physical health as well, so they are perfect for you if you are a mature adult who wants to get back into shape and improve their quality of life. Not to mention that, if you are interested in the culture which they came from (for example, China or Japan), this is a cool way to learn more about their history and customs.