Saturday, September 13, 2014

Can martial artists actually fight?

Tricia Sullivan - SF author and fighter

Tricia Sullivan thinks not.
"Most people think of martial arts and fighting as being more or less synonymous. I see them as a Venn diagram of two sets that overlap by a tiny margin. This is because most martial artists don't fight and their training isn't directly based on what happens in a fight.

There are reasons for this. The problem of training for a fight is a tricky one. If an instructor puts students in an actual fight (as opposed to highly controlled drills with restricted moves), they might get seriously hurt. But if instructors can't create an accurate representation of a fight in the gym, trainees will never really be tested. To make up for the lack of fighting, martial arts typically focus on displays of fake combat that illustrate the combative moves that have been passed down through history. They may have non-contact or light contact fighting, but this only tests your ability to touch the other person with the techniques you have been taught--not your ability to hurt them for real much less take a beating yourself.

Most people who study martial arts study a system. Whether the system is historical (like kung fu and karate) or modern (like Systema and Krav Maga) the techniques are taught formally, with ranks, with semi-compliant drilling between members of the same school, and with a heavy dose of hierarchy that keeps everybody in their place. With a few exceptions (Gracie Barra jiu-jitsu is one system that grades predominantly through hard competition) the idea of all-out fighting is a theoretical one, kept well in the background.

But fighting is chaotic. It's often unpredictable. It doesn't systemize well and it's difficult to pass on as a body of knowledge. What people don't realize is that no matter how effective the founder of a discipline may have been in his (or in the case of Wing Chun, her) day, unless the practices of that system involve rigorous testing in realistic fighting conditions against non-compliant opponents from outside your system, you can never really know whether you can make their moves work for you.

..."      (continue reading)
The many comments are pretty insightful too.

Tricia is a prolific science-fiction writer as well as martial artist, the reason she's writing this post on Charles Stross's blog. I haven't read any of her stuff and I guess her reviews are mixed although her novel "Dreaming in Smoke" won the 1999 Arthur C. Clarke award.

She has follow-up posts here and here.

Sadly for those who devote their lives to the perfection of Karate, Aikido or Taekwondo, skilled practitioners often come off very badly in fights with drunken idiots. Despite lack of formal training, being large, aggressive and fearless takes you a long way in a fight as does the use of improvised weapons such as bottles, drinking glasses and ash-trays. The sensei complains that his or her victorious opponent wasn't following the rules.

Tricia has most time for Judo and Wrestling - at least you really get to grapple with opponents - but even MMA has to outlaw those injurious or  lethal moves which are decisive in real fights.

One of the videos Tricia embedded in her second post was this one, of a real street fight in Turkey where a gang set upon a guy who happens to be a boxer ...

... looks like boxing really works.