3 Dirty Words I’ll Never Say As a Martial Artist

3 Dirty Words I'll Never Say As a Martial Artist“That style sucks.”

The martial arts world nowadays is full of competition, especially in the urban western world in which schools are all vying to get students from the same geographic area. In classic capitalist fashion, schools try to distinguish themselves from their competition to highlight how they’re the best choice for the potential students’ needs.

As instructors get caught up in this mentality, they sometimes start to put down competing styles, schools, and instructors, in attempt to bolster their own school’s image in the eyes of others. And of course, this attitude gets passed on to their students. People want to believe they have chosen the best horse, so to speak, so they blindly accept their instructors’ propaganda and take on views of other styles without any direct experience or real understanding.

Usefulness by Design

I have trained in a wide variety of martial arts styles from countries all over the world, each with its own unique characteristics and qualities. I’ve always done my best to keep an open mind and take away what is useful from each style I’ve studied so I can draw on those skills when useful. The main takeaway I’ve had from my broad experience is that each style has useful techniques when they are used for what they are designed for.

In Can-ryu Jiu-jitsu, our primary focus is self-defense, and it is my primary style, so I naturally look at martial arts styles/techniques in terms of their usefulness for self-defense. When I trained in Wing Chun, I admired the style’s quick, flowing hand movements, practical kicking, and trapping techniques. When I trained in Aikido, I came to respect the way they re-directed energy turning their attacker’s efforts against themselves. When I trained in Karate, I refined my striking mechanics to increase my power using their methods of snapping into strikes. When I trained in boxing, I improved my sense of distance and timing through sparring, which is highly useful in self-defense. When I trained in BJJ and MMA, I learned how to use body shifting methods to escape the underside of a ground attack, as well as weight/positional control of a subject when on top, and submission application/defense (much of which I applied in my new ground defense book). When I trained in Taekwondo, I learned how to increase the speed of my kicks making them more powerful, and therefore more usable in a wider variety of circumstances. While not all pure “self-defense styles” they all have taught me valuable skills that I have incorporated into what I do in my self-defense oriented training.

I’ve even trained in styles that aren’t usually taught for self-defense purposes, appreciating them for their own unique benefits. I trained in Wushu for a couple of years to give me a wider range of kicks that are aesthetically pleasing for movie stunt work. I wouldn’t call it my specialty or anything, but the kicks they teach are beautiful and can make for awesome movie fight scenes. I also trained in Taichi, though not a style that is usually emphasized for its martial applications. In the year and a half that I trained in it, I practiced my form every morning, and found that it helped me manage the stress of living in a foreign country away from my family more easily. I also didn’t get sick once that whole time. I don’t know if that was a coincidence, but I certainly felt healthier and more relaxed in general.

Keeping an Open Mind

So before you make a judgement about another style, consider all the facts. Think about the style’s techniques’ intended purposes. Remember that some techniques aren’t as useful until a higher level of proficiency is developed, and that your lack of development shouldn’t be cause to dismiss the technique out of hand. Consider that many people train for different purposes than your own and if they are achieving those purposes, then their style is doing its job for those people. For your own training, simply take on what is useful to you and put the rest aside. Also, bear in mind that not all instructors and schools are created equal, and that your experience of a style at one particular school or with a particular instructor alone is not necessarily reflective of the style as a whole.

With All Due Respect…

Lastly, even after all these considerations, if you still think there is no value in a particular style in your mind, at least be polite, especially if you’re going to question the style openly. If you are dedicated to a particular style, the way you carry yourself reflects on your instructor, your school and your style, as well as your self. People aren’t always going to agree on things when it comes to the martial arts, but we can all be respectful of the fact that we are all trying to do our best with the knowledge and experience we have.

I am very fortunate to live in an area where I’ve come into contact with martial arts instructors from a wide variety of styles and backgrounds. I’ve been even more fortunate that these instructors and their students have been, for the most part, open-minded and respectful, allowing us to come together as schools to share knowledge and benefit from each others’ styles. Last weekend I held a book launch party for my new ground defense book and was pleased to have students and instructors from 8 different schools and 7 different styles of martial arts in attendance. Everyone had a great time socializing amongst the group of like-minded people. This warm community atmosphere is made possible by the open-minded, respectful, and supportive attitudes of each individual student and instructor, and I’m proud to be a part of it.

Do you have much interactions with people from other martial arts schools and styles? If so, what have those experiences been like for you? Please share your experiences in the comments.

Comments (10)

10 thoughts on “3 Dirty Words I’ll Never Say As a Martial Artist

  1. Thanks for this piece. Not enough instructors say this. People get confused because there are lots of different things that people are doing under the label “martial arts.” Some are doing combat-like sports, some are doing self-defense, and some are doing a martial performance art. There is nothing wrong with sport, self-defense, or art. These are all good, legitimate things to do. And, truly, most martial arts have a particular mixture of all three. I’m doing Muay Thai now which is probably something like 90% sport, 5% self-defense, and 5% art. (Of course, skills from one area can sometimes translate into other areas. Sports skills can translate in to self-defense situations. But training with 16 ounce boxing gloves all of the time is not training for a real-life self-defense scenario where you will not have on boxing gloves. It’s training for a sports situation.) I did traditional taekwondo years ago, and that was about 50% sport, 10% self-defense, and 40% art. Different martial arts offer different things. I pretty much enjoy all martial arts. I’ll watch aikido as quickly as I’ll watch boxing. It’s hard for me to think of a truly great martial artist who did not train in more than one style. A particular style may not be what a particular individual is looking for, but that does not make it somehow an invalid pursuit for other people.

    • What you say about martial arts being a mix of the three is very true. I like the breakdowns you mention too. I feel the same way as you, that there is something interesting in every martial art and that there is more than enough room for it all in the world. Thanks for commenting. :)

  2. The term ‘martial arts’ really is an abstract concept that encompasses a wide variety of styles and practices and among styles there’s a great variety of approaches and quality of teaching. To say one style is better than another (without adding a qualifier) is nonsense: it’s the people who use it that matter and all have different purposes so it’d be unfair to judge a style with a criterium it wasn’t designed for. What you can do however is judge the relative merits of particular styles with regard to your personal goal to assess whether or not it’d be worth it for you to train in it. If I was a bouncer I wouldn’t go looking for wushu since in that context it’s pretty much useless, if I’m interested in ancient culture and antique weaponry I’d be much better off looking for a kenjutsu or similar school than train in a local boxing gym.

    What I do have a problem with is people (i.e instructors) claiming their style is good for something it clearly isn’t: I’ve got nothing against aikido for example but to claim you’ll learn effective self-defence in a reasonable timeframe is just ludicrous: aikido is very technical and mostly based on outdated attacks (shuto and the like) and it takes ages to advance to the level where it’s actually useful in a violent situation. This doesn’t mean it can’t be used for SD, it’s just that I very much doubt most aikido-students are actually capable of it and that’s largely tied to the choice of techniques and training methods.

    My attitude to training in other styles is pretty much a pragmatic one: I know what I train for and I select techniques that are useful and practical to me as an individual. This doesn’t mean I’ll be disrespectful of styles that don’t suit my purpose: this would be a barbaric attitude and unworthy of a true student of martial arts. I’ll not even critique particular techniques openly (what’s the use?) but thank them for their effort in teaching and retain what I can use and what fits well with what I already know.

    What I do detest though is incompetence: if something is supposed to work in a certain way and it’s clear it doesn’t (especially when it’s performed by a high ranking practioner) then I’ll probably get angry (again not openly) and consider my time wasted. This is true for jujutsu too: I’ve been to a reasonable number of seminars and time and time I’ve seen people (brown belt and up) who just weren’t up to snuff and probably couldn’t fight for real if required. Why their instructor gave them the belt is beyond me (the only thing it does is instill false pride and false confidence) but then again that’s a wholely different topic.

    To conclude: I think a true martial artist should try to develop his or her own style based on their experiences, thoughts and characteristics. Hopefully this means having looked beyond the borders of style and into the true nature of martial arts. There’s so much to learn and experience and hopefully along the way you’ll have realised martial arts consist of sport, art, SD and perhaps other factors and every one is valuable although it may not be for you. I agree with ADouble styles are almost always a composite of approaches but for now I lean heavily towards SD-styles, later on I’ll probably complement this with sport-based applications and perhaps when I’m older I’ll consider the softer, more aesthetic and cultural aspects like taichi (meditation in movement) or the ancient Japanese weapon-styles. Isn’t it great there’s so much variety and so much room for further development and exploration?

    • You think much too narrowly for this subject. You really cannot see how training in Wushu could be useful to a bouncer? You are working to create negatives by viewing them in just one light, when these things are highly flexible in themselves.

      Plus, boxing has quite a lot of culture behind it, and a good bit of history – it really seems as though your only goal with your above post was to diss selected styles.

      • Do you actually have something to say other than making baseless accusations (about as ludicrous as the movie character you based your nickname on) based on a false, biased reading of my comment? Boxing once had a religious and cultural meaning (it was featured during religious feasts in ancient Greece such as the Olympics), now it’s just a ringsport with little to no connection to its forebear other than the use of fists. Boxing, wrestling and the like are nothing more than physical pursuits (modern MMA too) while traditional, eastern martial arts are much more holistic and based on the teachings of the major Eastern religions and philosophies which are usually emphasized during training too. Seeing you’re apparantly such an enlightend expert on wushu I’m sure you can explain to such a narrow-minded, ignorant individual such as myself how it can be useful to someone whose main job is not to fight but eject unwanted people from the premisses, preferably without injuring them too much. If at all possible without resorting to sophisms or mindreading which you’re apparantly also an expert at. From a distance everything ‘seems’ to be whatever you think or want it to be, doesn’t it?

        • Consider the control and conditioning it requires to master forms in wushu. It is not something immediately applicable, but it is not something useless as you claim. You really think having good control over your own movements and whatnot are completely useless to a bouncer?

          As for the rest, it is clear you have never participated in a boxing organization, nor have you had any contact with wrestling or MMA crowds. Your statements seem intentionally offensive.

  3. If someone were to claim that a given style “sucked”, they’d have to define what it sucks at.

    Do you want the skills to defend yourself in a real fight? Does your job put you in risky situations where physical confrontations are likely? Sure, pretty much all of the martial arts have something useful to them, but if you’re spending your time learning an art where only some parts of it will be applicable in a real fight, and that’s what you were looking for, for you that’s definitely going to be a waste of time and money — and that does suck. There’s definitely a progression of how useful different martial arts are in a real fight where those that are strictly striking are at the bottom, and those with considerable takedown and ground skills are at the top.

    Do you want an activity that will give you a great workout, and get you in shape? A lot of of the striking arts are very good for that, whereas BJJ is finesse and leverage over strength and speed, so the better you get at it, the LESS you’re working out.

    Do you want a fun leisure activity where you won’t get injured? A lot of Karate and Kung Fu styles are strictly no contact, forms only. Perfect for you.

  4. Thank you very much for this article. This is exactly the kind of attitude I try to instill in my students, and work very hard to hold myself.

  5. I’ve been told by others that one thing or another in one of the schools of MA that I’ve studied is “worthless.” I take the other point of view — that some teacher (who certainly was a better martial artist that I will ever be) had a reason for teaching the technique. In traditional China, teachers did not explain things. They taught you something, and it was up to you to figure out what it was good for. Also, traditional Chinese MA training has a lot to do with jìn dào, which means something like “power trajectories.” When you learn a technique it may be done slowly, and it may seem nutty. It’s working on your jìn dào. For instance, the Chinese version of gansekinage has you tracing your opponent’s spine from the belt line up to the top end and following that motion even higher. What the heck for? You don’t even have to actually touch your opponent’s body. If you see Masaaki Hatsumi do the same technique against a swordsman, he only connects with the guy mid-arm to mid-arm and yet the guy goes flying. Between the beginner and the expert there has been a tremendous amount of learning, but the flow of forces, the trajectories of defender’s arm and body, are the same. It has to do with penetrating the zone of attacker’s center of gravity, the vertical motion of defender’s arm against attacker’s arm, and then the twist that brings force to “aid” attacker to move forward and perhaps also downward. The student who thinks that the “tracing” stuff is superfluous will get his/her arm dynamics all wrong at first. Maybe s/he will never get it right because s/he has learned and made permanent some counterproductive way of doing the technique. Maybe s/he tries to get a hand on attacker’s shoulder and use brute force to push attacker down.

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