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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Everything Works (Except When It Doesn't)

First night of a weekly on-going self-defense class. Seems like a good group...we'll see how it evolves.

Got a variation on a question I get a lot after class. It's not a bad one, but it's just...complicated.

The format is basically "does X work for self-defense", where "X" is a technique, or in some cases, an entire martial art.

The answer, of course, depends. The other answer is, the question is really problematic.

(For the record: the fact that the question is complex, and honestly, problematic, isn't the fault of the questioner. We've been taught to think about self-defense in this way. It doesn't make sense, but we keep doing it. It's an understandable question.)

The question is problematic because it's not contextualized. Does a roundhouse kick work? Sure, maybe. If the scenario called for you to roundhouse kick the bad guy. If you're wearing heels, or in a subway, or pinned against your car...probably not.

And how are we defining "work"? If you elbow someone in the face, and they don't drop, but the force is enough to make them flinch so you can hit them again...did it work? Or does it only count as working if you shatter their nose? Does a shattered orbital count? What is "working" mean here?

When you start applying this question to entire systems, the whole thing just becomes a mess. Does Muay Thai work for self-defense? Yeah, if your fight happens to occur in a place where you can apply the things you learned from Muay Thai.

Rory Miller points out that if your fight happens to look like the martial art you trained in, you'll probably do well. An Aikidoka who is grabbed by her wrist and threatened is in great shape. A boxer who is dragged to the ground is not. Does that mean Aikido works and Boxing doesn't? (No. Just depends on the scenario.)

(Aside Two: There is a particularly toxic and irritating brand of marketing for martial arts and self-defense which relies on this idea, and it pisses me off. "Those other martial arts don't work! We teach REAL techniques for REAL combat. That sport/traditional/modern crap doesn't cut it!" It's obnoxious, and usually is put out there by people who will decry Muay Thai as being a sport and then follow up by showing you how to elbow and knee someone.)

Tony Blauer has an expression that goes something like "I don't care how you hit as much as I care that you CAN and WILL hit if you need to." That pretty much sums it up. A knee in the balls is a knee in the balls. I don't care if you learned it from Muay Thai, PDR, Tae Kwon Do, or will cause some level of injury or pain to the person you're kneeing. And in the moment, you're just's not about the style anymore.

(Aside Three: Coach Blauer also points out that it's possible to succeed in SPITE of your training, which is a whole other can of worms. )

That's the problem with "does X work" as a question it. It might. It might work very well. It also might fail catastrophically. Without more info, there's really no way to know.

1 comment:

Andy said...

Do you think there is also an element of seeing whatever you've trained in, in the fight?

I remember reading a story about Peyton Quinn where he talked about being held up at a liquor store, and ended up holding onto a guy and he used a grip that he learned in Judo or something.

I don't take that as Judo is the ultimate self defense system but rather its important to utilize the skills that you have...and that's probably the most important skill?