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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Tough Guys

"The tougher you are, the less you need to prove it." - Lawrence A. Kane

I was re-listening to an interview Mr. Kane did with the Warrior Traditions Podcast on his book The Way of Kata, when he made the above statement. It got me thinking (or perhaps, re-thinking) about some stuff that's rattled on an off in my brain for a couple of months.

A bit of explanation, to begin with.

People who do combat sport or martial arts tend to like to classify things. I suspect it probably has something to do with the sort of type-a personality that tends to be attracted to this sort of thing. I don't really know. In any case, there is the tendency to do it, as evidenced by the different ways in which people break down these physical activities. A lot of people out there are familiar with the very popular "hard style" vs "soft style" distinction (which I find a lot useless, but that's another post entirely). Over the last decade or so, another set of classifications has emerged. This one creates the supposed dichotomy between "Traditional Martial Arts" (TMA), Combat Sport, and Reality Based Self-Defense (RBSD). Practitioners of each tend to like to bash practitioners of the other through the Internet, because that seems to be what the Internet is mostly for. Occasionally, reasonable discussion occurs.

I hate those labels, personally, because I find them inaccurate and useless, but they are out there, and I know they will be placed on me. In particular, the RBSD label is often applied to the Personal Defense Readiness program that I teach and train.

One of the common accusations leveled against RBSD is that training in it creates a very hyper-aggressive, paranoid mindset that is not only unhealthy, but ultimately probably not productive for producing safer students. Rodney King speaks about this in an interview on the Warrior Podcast, and Matt Thornton of the Straight Blast Gym has written extensively about it as well. I know I've seen others right about it as well.

The truth of the matter is, until recently, I never had any idea what these guys were talking about. In all the years I was training with Coach Blauer and the BTS staff, I had never run into people with sort of violent, paranoid, destructive mindsets that so many people accused self-defense practitioners of having.

Then I went a did a seminar. I'm not going to say where, or what system the participants practiced. It's not important. What is important is that I saw all of this stuff.

I had guys telling me that, despite my repeated instruction, they couldn't possibly slow down during drills. They simply weren't capable of it.

I had guys telling me that if someone got as close to them as I was showing, they would "already be breaking them".

The longer it went on, the more uncomfortable I became; I did my best to try and explain why we were doing things the way we did them, but I think that my discomfort with the aura of fear and aggression really negatively influenced my own teaching. I just wasn't enjoying what I was doing.

I also found that the more students told me about how dangerous they were, how deadly the things they knew were, and so on, the less impressed I actually was with them. It just seemed like so much posturing, with not to much substance.

This isn't limited to RBSD folks; I have had plenty of "tough guys" come through Sityodtong too. The guys who talk a lot of crap about how they want to fight, how they're "going to put us on the map" (honest quote), how no one can hang with them on the street (as though it matters).

Not one of these guys has ever made it as a fighter. Most of them haven't even made into the ring. They usually give up long before that. The ones who become fighters are the ones who keep their mouths shut, their heads down, and just come in and work.

Every really tough, dangerous individual I've ever met (and I've met a lot) has been a quiet, humble, and genuinely nice person. The guys who talk a lot seem to me to still be frightened of the things that drew them into the martial arts in the first place. Instead of dealing with the fear, they've just found a way to cover it up.

It makes me think about the kind of information and values I'm communicating to my own students. Am I really helping them to address their fears? Are they walking away more confident from each session? Or am I just making them feel "tough"?

I'm pretty sure I'm on the right track, but being me, I always wonder.

Got a whole lot of stuff rattling around up here right now. Not sure how it'll all come out, but it's a fun journey so far.

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