It’s complicated


An issue for me with a lot of traditional martial arts answers to self defence, is over-complication. In many arts there is a large syllabus of techniques, with each new grade bringing new techniques to the student’s repertoire, and it is certainly admirable as a skill set to have dozens of possible answers to a given attack. When we move into the self defence space though, there comes a point where one has to take a step back and ask the question ‘you could do that, but why would you do it?’. I’m going to go ahead and let Master Ken demonstrate this for me…


Now Master Ken is a parody figure so the video is played for comedy value, but it actually illustrates the point very well. Why utilise a complicated move that can be difficult to get right in the training room without sufficient mastery, let alone under pressure, when something simple and straight to the point will do the trick?


This for me is a key difference between martial arts and self defence, the martial artist will spend years learning complicated techniques that, under the right circumstances, and with sufficient competence, work well, and are the sort of thing average Joe could never pull off. Unfortunately though, the circumstances are unlikely to be right, all kinds of variables are likely to factor in, and complicated moves are likely to go out the window under pressure, while direct fundamental moves are much more likely to work.


Note that I say they are more likely to work, nothing is ever guaranteed, the difference is that some moves just have a greater chance of going right under pressure than others. Take a game of snooker for example, there’s no reason why someone with sufficient skill can’t bounce the cue ball off of 3 cushions to pot their ball, and it would be a seriously impressive demonstration of skill, but if there’s a direct line to the pocket, and the game hinges on this shot, why would you bother with the difficult and complicated shot when the direct one is far more likely to win the game. That’s also not to say that simple and direct moves lack skill, but spending time focusing on a few key fundamental techniques rather than dozens of fancy ones, means that a typical student will become far more competent and have a far deeper grasp of the subtleties of the move and how it can apply to varied scenarios and contexts. To use a famous quote attributed to the late great Bruce Lee, ‘I fear not the man who has practised 10,000 kicks once, I fear the man who has practised 1 kick 10,000 times’.


Having an extensive repertoire of available techniques is not necessarily a bad thing, there is a vast difference though between grabbing a technique from your tool bag in the relative safety of the training room, against an attack you know is coming, and grabbing from that same tool bag at the last moment when you don’t know it’s coming, the guy coming at you is charging like a loon, and isn’t throwing the sort of predictable attacks your friendly training partner does. This equally begs the question of whether it is easier and more likely to end well to react to a surprise attack when you’re only picking from one or two possible responses that you have drilled extensively, or to pick a suitable response from a repertoire of dozens of options. For me the answer is obvious, knowing a lot of is all well and good, but the more focused you make your options, the less calculations you have to make in the heat of the moment.


Ultimately, learning the nuances of a complicated skill set as found in many traditional martial arts is an admirable and productive way to spend one’s time and effort, but when you start talking self defence, you need to really be honest with yourself about the difference between art and reality, and the difference between things that you potentially could do, and what really stands the best chance of working reliably when the odds are stacked against you.

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