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Saturday, July 25, 2015

Shaw Brothers Silliness

I started this rant (and it is a rant, absolutely) a while ago, but couldn't find a clear hook to hang it on. Thankfully, some extreme goofiness from China came to my rescue.

A little bit of history. Like a lot of martial artists, I went through a period of time where I was really into (if not quite obsessed with) Hong Kong action cinema, and in particular the Shaw Brothers kung fu movies. One of the recurring themes in these movies was some kind of contest between experts in two different martial arts styles. Tiger vs. Crane. Karate vs. Kung Fu.  Shaolin vs. Ninja. I could go on, but you get the point. For most of my youth, these kinds of style vs. style discussions occupied a lot of our time. Then the UFC came along, and it turned out that these contests really didn't look anything like we thought they would. And yet, for some reason, people wouldn't let them go. And so we get stuff like this.

We have here what is ostensibly a contest between a Judo black belt and a Tai Chi Master. As a number of people have pointed out, this looks pretty staged. The Judo player doesn't move like a black belt, nor does he show the kind of tactical acumen I'd expect to see from a skilled fighter. But that's a secondary point, because honestly, I think the whole "style vs. style" thing is goofy and pointless, and that's what I'm here to make my case about.

So, for arguments sake, let us assume that this video is real. What does it prove? The Tai Chi practitioner made the Judo player stumble, and then declared victory. There are two possible formats that this kind of contest could occur in: sport, or self-defense ("street", if we must).


That stumble wouldn't qualify as a victory in any competitive format that I'm aware of. Winning by a single throw in Judo requires  "executing a skillful throwing technique which results in one contestant being thrown largely on the back with considerable force or speed. (" That stumble certainly doesn't fulfill that criteria. I'm reasonably certain it wouldn't score in any other grappling format that I'm aware of. Maybe it would count as something in push hands competition (I'm totally unfamiliar with that rules set)? 

In any kind of boxing or kickboxing match, the stumble would be irrelevant, as the whole point of those contests is to hit the other person really hard. Honestly, that clinch would have been broken up a long time ago in most of those formats. 

In an MMA fight, it wouldn't have counted for much of anything either. Maybe it would look good in the judges' eyes, but I have a hard time imagining a fight so close that a stumble like that would mean the difference between victory and defeat.

Basically, in sport, that "throw" wouldn't have meant anything significant. Declaring it a victory seems premature at best.

Self-Defense ("Street")

Even in that context, the movement still wouldn't have accomplished anything. Maybe the Tai Chi player could have used the space he created to run away, but unless that movement slammed the Judo player into a wall or some other hard object, even that might have been difficult. It certainly didn't cause any damage to the Judo player. Even with a context shift, I'm still not seeing how that movement counted as any kind of victory.

The Real Problem

Even if we accepted the claim that the Tai Chi master was victorious, this contest isn't representative of anything like a violent assault. In fact, it's really not representative of anything.

Martial artists seem to feel this incessant need to worry about how practitioners of various styles would fare in a fight against each other, but when you get down to it, that question is rarely relevant. For self-defense, it's certainly irrelevant. Judo black belts don't go around mugging Tai Chi guys for their lunch money. Or vis-versa. Violent assaults don't look like martial arts contests. 

If your concern is self-defense, the enemy you are preparing for aren't trained martial artists. That doesn't mean they aren't dangerous, it just means that they don't attack in the same fashion that trained fighters do. The question of whether or not you can beat another martial artist really isn't a big deal.

If your concern is sport, it may be worthwhile to consider how other styles train, if you are competing in a format where practitioners of multiple styles actually compete. Boxing matches, for example, are almost always contests between two boxers. Even if you get the occasional kickboxer/Nak Muay/MMA athlete who decides to enter a boxing match, those athletes are generally training in boxing, and will use the same tactics, since the rules restrict them from using anything else (Samart Payakaroon was a successful boxer and a successful Nak Muay, but he wasn't leg kicking people in the boxing ring). There are some grappling competitions that draw practitioners of multiple styles, and MMA fights theoretically allow anyone from any discipline to compete (though, as Jeff Burger pointed out during another conversation, some styles have a better track record than others). 

If you're not training for one of those sports though? This style vs. style stuff is just Shaw Brother's silliness. And the choreography isn't even that great. Let it go.

Friday, July 3, 2015

"You Must Train A Lot, Huh?"

Spin out from a FaceBook conversation.

There's two weird ideas about martial arts instructors that are both interconnected. The first is that being a teacher means that you must spend a lot of time training. The second is that you are exhibiting a great deal of dedication by spending so much time at the gym. Neither is necessarily true.

Teaching is teaching. Training is training. If you're doing it right, the two will rarely coincide. If you're teaching, you're focused on the students, which means you are providing instruction, supervising drills, and taking care of the hundreds of other major and minor tasks that go into running an effective martial arts class. Rarely does that leave you any time to train yourself. Depending on the class and the circumstances, you may get to work in for a drill or a round of sparring, but even then, you are (or should be) focused on developing your students, not yourself. It's not your time.

That means that, as an instructor, you need to carve out your own time to train. That can be challenging, bordering on impossible. It means that your training needs to take place not during class time, but during odd times that don't coincide with your classes. Many instructors I know train during the middle of the day, or do what training they do mostly through seminars or the occasional odd session with an advanced student. How much of this you can do will depend on your resources, but bottom line--teaching time isn't training time.

The level of dedication is arguable. For instructors who have other jobs, and teach for the love of the art or the love of coaching, I would agree that there is a great deal of dedication there. There is dedication in the life of a professioanl instructor as well, but it's really just the dedication of showing up for your job. No one says "Man, you're in the office five days a week! You're so dedicated!" You show up because it's your job. Granted, the life and schedule of a professional instructor, particularly a school owner, can be more hectic and harried than that of someone punching the clock in a cubicle, but it's still a job. Dedication only goes so far.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Natural, Redux

Had some good friends over on Friday night. Shared good whiskey, beer, and food. A wonderful time was had by all.

The friends included good friends who have a son slightly younger than my own son. Who likes to roughhouse, a lot. He was a fan of "hugging" when he was much younger, which lead to this post.

My son "wrestles" with me when he can. My friend's son wrestles with his parents as well, apparently.

Somewhere during the evening, our two boys started poking at each other. Which lead to some friendly flailing at each other, and quickly turned into a full-blown wrestling match. They were laughing and playing and having a great time (except when one or the other got too uncomfortable, or something, and then there was some crying...but it never stopped the action for long).

Of course, I was watching to make sure everything was copacetic, but I was also intrigued.

Things I saw included
  • Single and double leg takedowns.
  • A sprawl.
  • Transition to guard from the sprawl
  • Taking the back.
  • Half guard.
  • Up kicks.
There was a bunch of other stuff as well. I can't remember it all.

Was it polished and technical? Of course not. But it was there, and it was completely instinctive. These boys had never been taught a damn thing about wrestling/grappling/whatever...they just figured it out, playing and having fun.

Rory has an expression about fighting effectively being your natural birthright (or words to that effect...I'm missing the quote). Coach Blauer once said "if you give your body permission to do something, you will do brilliant things" (I think that's from one of the audio tapes, but I cannot remember which one).

I've never seen stronger support for that than this.

Two kids, whose age barely totals five, and they were figuring this stuff out.

We really do make things too complicated.