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.