Inspired by a recent Facebook dust up.
Evaluating any combative system is a process that requires thought, integrity, and most importantly, time. The time requirements have some flexibility; the more experienced you are at something, the easier it is to evaluate…to a point.
Experience gives you points of reference. If you’ve never gotten in a ring and tried to punch someone, you cannot separate good boxing from bad boxing, or understand why good karate might be bad boxing. If you have never grappled, the nuances that separate Brazilian Jujitsu from Judo will be totally lost on you.
Experience only takes you so far. Experience only lets you evaluate the information you have to work with.
Even the simplest combative system is a relatively complicated thing. There is only so far you can simply combat and still have a meaningful activity. Boxing reduces combat to a punching contest, but within that contest, there is footwork, angles, timing, evasion, deflection, a multitude of strikes, tactics, strategy…there is a reason it’s called “the sweet science.”
If you want to make an honest, in-depth evaluation of a system, you need to spend a solid amount of time training in it, and you need to spend that time with a good instructor. Of course, you can make superficial judgments faster, but recognize that they are superficial.
A personal example: when people find out that I teach self-defense, I not infrequently get asked for my opinion of Krav Maga. I guess it makes sense: when the Simpsons is making fun of your system, you now you’ve achieved a certain level of popularity. Now, the truth is I have had very little experience with any of the many and varied Krav Maga systems out there. I’ve seen a few articles, and maybe five minutes of video, tops.
My experience is totally superficial. Now, I confess, what I’ve seen hasn’t made me want to look further into the system, BUT, I also don’t feel fair judging it. It could be great. It could have a lot to offer. I just don’t know, and I won’t say that I do. I certainly won’t critique Krav’s overall training methods based on my limited exposure. Who knows? Maybe what I say was just bad Krav? Maybe I didn’t understand what I was looking at. Lord knows, if you filmed random clips of some of the things I’ve had my students do, you could come up with a very weird picture of what I’m teaching them.
How long is long enough before you can safely evaluate a system? I don’t have a concrete answer for that, but I’d say that you probably need to spend several months at the very least before you start getting a feel for something. Maybe longer.
Again, that’s not say you can’t try something and decide you don’t like it faster than that. I can tell you by watching that I have no interest in Shotokan Karate. Nothing against the art, it just doesn’t look like anything I want to do. But I’m unwilling to slag on it without actually suiting up and training for a bit first.