Martial Science: Practical Teaching or Product Sales v.1
First and foremost, I want to thank all that have offered critique on my writings, whether positive or not so positive. Most exciting was the expressed interest in wanting more. So you can only blame yourself for my continued rantings.
Please allow me a few lines to bore you with a little personal and general martial arts history. When I decided to begin writing these series of blogs I wanted to take a different approach. Rather than rehashing the standard or proclaiming bias that one style is better than another or “what I do is better than what you do”, I turned to my 40+ years of varied martial experiences (sport American karate, traditional karatedo, judo/jutsu/hapkido, arnis, boxing and full-contact karate) and studies as support for the following assertions. I have worked both sides of the traditional and “free-style” martial arts aisle during these past 40 years, with each many times contradicting and attacking the other.
Almost from day one, I questioned many of the reasons offered for kata techniques versus the obvious effectiveness of free sparring. Even my instructors would tell us there are two sides of our training; one side is “karate” (front stances, high blocks, reverse punches with hands chambered at our sides), and the other is “what works in the streets” (jabs, right crosses, parries, “bob & weave”). Like any karate student, I had no reason to doubt my instructors. After all, they’re the experts, right?! The longer I trained and the more I learned, the more these contradictions grew, yet I continued to accept.
As a student of “American TaeKwonDo”, I was schooled that TKD had its origins in the ancient Korean indigenous art of taekyeon and that TKD had developed in Korea over centuries into its current form. As part of my 3rd degree black belt promotion, I was required to write several reports. One of those dissertations was on the history of TaeKwonDo. The first four books were pretty much “cookie cutter” in context, each one supporting this nationalist theme. Then I found a book written by the famous TKD master, S. Henry Cho. This book dumped everything I knew about the origins of my art into the trash. This text detailed the historical development of TKD, not from taekyeon as I had been led to believe, but as a derivative of Japanese karate taught to Koreans during the many decades of occupation by Japan. Talk about taking a forward role on the matted floor and scratching my head.
With the veil of mystery removed and continued study, I soon learned that many other recognized Korean martial arts transformed from their Japanese parent arts, e.g. Judo became Yudo, Aikido to Hapkido, Karatedo to TangSooDo. I found it most curious that while the Koreans took great steps to reorganize these arts to give them a Korean identify, TangSooDo was a bit different. TSD is a direct translation of the older kanji referencing “China hand” (Tang) before the modern “empty hand” term came in to use. More so, the very same kata (hyung) were kept virtually unchanged and continued to use the same kata names (Pinans = Pyung Ahn in Korean, Baisai, Naihanchi 1-3) as well as the taikyoko forms (kee cho in Korean) created by Gichin Funakoshi. The very fact that the Japanese taught these and other modern martial arts to the constricted Koreans is even greater evidence that these arts were viewed as anything but “martial”.
Though I had gained a better understanding of the actual history of my art, the most significant take away was the light that began to illuminate all the contradictions and why they existed and exist even today. Subsequently, this exercise taught me that I should question more and not just accept something on face value, that it is not disrespectful to query the teachings of my instructors and that I should be suspicious of any written “history”.
Keep in mind that the first 15 years of our daily training involved putting on the gloves. Becoming a better fighter required us to train with fighters better than ourselves and believe me when I say we were never short of world class fighters willing to trade punches and groin kicks. My instructors, who were active fighters, got better because they forced us to get better as their training partners. We didn’t just train to win, we trained to survive so we could train more.We did quite a bit of cross-style training in those days in an attempt to complete our art. But it was the same story with each one. Lots of techniques, some more familiar than others, but nothing more than that. As much as I wanted to assimilate some of these teaching into my base style, the more I began to realize that like oil and water, it didn’t matter how hard or long I shook them, they would separate. All I was doing was adding senseless weight to my karate boat. But still, I did not recognize the underlying cause why nothing really fit the way it should.
As we continued to cross train I began to take notice of recurring contradictions. But more importantly I began to see that these other styles shared the same battle between blind obedience to a style, system or tradition and practical fighting application. The more I studied different arts the more I realized the foundational intent of each art or style was not based on practicality. That’s because the founders faced one of the same problems we did — how to market warrior arts in times of peace, how to make training somewhat safe, how to water things down for sport or “character development, etc.
We know that “modern karate”, as well as other martial disciplines of the time, went through an intentional evolution designed to dismantle and degrade what was once an effective civil defense method. Beginning at the end of the 19th century, this “new” Karate began to creep into the public sector, largely through Karate’s introduction into the schools of Okinawa, and later in Japan. This creeping came in the form of physical exercise and discipline to prepare male students for military induction. This revised “empty hand” karate focused solely on physical development without any intended practical application. Of course it didn’t help that the Japanese elite placed no value on anything Okinawan, much less this thing known as “tode”.
Like most things in our world today, technology and applied sciences directly impact the totality of our world. While physical fitness practices continually evolve and improve, much of today’s martial arts have evolved very little; at least as it relates to practical application and technical effectiveness. No big wonderment here. The martial arts in general define their very existence on the unquestionable adherence to that style’s specific technical performance or basics. “Duh”, you say? Whoa partner, whoa … not so fast. Let’s take a little deeper dive into some muddy waters.
As a competitor and coach, I continually updated and developed training methods to increase my capacity to win as well as that of my students. I cross trained in boxing and grappling, weight training, speed drills, jogging and sprints, meditation, nutrition, positive thinking; basically anything I could find that would give me that millisecond advantage. And for the most part, I enjoyed success in the ring.
Then comes that little rascal known as Kata, poking its head up from its little kata nest. Unlike fighting, where even the less technical fighter can come out on top, Kata relies on audience appeal, including that of the judges. In this arena, practicality has little to do with scoring a high mark. This even applies to “traditional” tournaments. The rules and regulations of international (Olympic/Pan-Am Games, World Karate Federation, Intl Shotokan Karate Assn, etc.) and national (USANKF, AAU, USKA, etc.) organizations impose very strict performance standards in the “open” divisions with even greater restrictions on standardized “shite” kata. Like gymnastics or figure skating, the slightest fault in balance or timing can be very costly.
Then we have open tournaments that place great importance on athleticism over practical application. Exaggerated pauses, “kiais” on every other technique, back flips and aerials, 10 straight up round kicks while turning on the supporting foot, spinning staffs and “glow in the dark” nunchaku are the new “basics”. Don’t misjudge me. I enjoy watching these concerts. While these new kata kings and queens have impressive athletic skills, even they understand this is sport karate, a performance art, all without intent to be used as an effective self-defense method. While Michael Phelps is indisputably one of the fastest competitive swimmers in the world today, he plays in the safe setting of a temperature controlled pool free of rip currents, under tows, crashing waves and a panicked, drowning victim. His greatest opponent is the clock. Hunting a deer requires completely different trainings and psychological abilities than serving as a Marine sniper. This is neither good nor bad. It is because of Karate’s modification into a globally practiced sport that I am writing this very blog. Understanding that, though similar in appearance, any sport derived from its parent combat form is just that, a simulation.
As stated in my “Bunkai” blogs, this is the principal reason why styles differ in technical performance. Ever question why TKD blocks differ from Shotokan blocks; why Shorin-Ryu stances differ from Goju-Ryu and why Isshinryu has only a vague resemblance to its distant Okinawan cousins? Context and purpose is everything. As indicated in the previous paragraphs, this is to be expected and presents no real issue since we know that “modern” martial arts were never designed to be combat effective. That is not to say that the world is lacking competent fighters. But just like kata competition, success on the mat requires firm observation and understanding of safety and technical rules. Understanding this single truth is the key that any martial artist, wishing to expand and evolve, must have to unlock their mind and self-imposed shackles.
While some people choose to be law enforcement officers, lawyers, chefs, bus drivers, Army Ranger or even a mom, others choose to play those roles on TV and in movies. Though both fill a need, there is no delusion that one can be categorized with the other. The same applies to the martial arts. While some choose to practice the more common form of the martial arts, there is another side that stirs something deep inside every martial artist. Stealing a line from another James Bond movie “Skyfall”; Kincaid laid out a shotgun and some shells on the table and while pulling out a few knives remarks, “… there are always the “old” ways.” It is this attachment to the “mystical” and ever elusive “truth” that beats in our ever loving Karate heart. Okay, time to jump into the pool.
Going back thousands of years, the origins of the martial arts were designed around the all-encompassing world humans lived in. Humans, like all the other living species on Earth, have evolved and adapted allowing for continued existence. While some species failed to adapt and remained as a low rung on the evolutionary ladder, even dying away, others transformed and grew in dominance. But with all this expansion and evolution, basic human engineering is fixed.
There are many parts to this human machine, each working “independently dependent” of the other. Some actions, like breathing, are autonomic and outside of our intervention while other functions can be controlled, some with and some without consequence. Since a majority of today’s martial arts function as a “do” art, with an emphasis on physical and character developments, market needs have become the evolutionary pivot point with tournament competition being the most prevalent. Martial art schools mirror their “in store” curriculum to prepare their students for competition. This has led to many schools seeking to supplement their programs for those students that do not compete and open their marketability to a greater population.
These add-on programs come in many forms; taiji, yoga, kick-boxing/boxing aerobics and others. Again, market needs and isolated curriculums compel many schools to continually find alternatives to keep existing students while increasing student enrollment. And what could be more enticing than offering something unique … something no other school offers … something like … uh… “Martial Science”???!!!
And who would know more about this thing called “martial science” then someone who helped develop this line to study … ME! As I earlier stated, I was in the midst of those schools that continually sought to elevate ourselves above the others by trying to offer something unique. Throughout my 40+ years in the martial arts, endless types of martial arts bandwagons have sprung up along the way. The most notable came in the form “Pressure Point Fighting”. I will purposely leave out naming any individuals or organizations in an attempt to remain unbiased and civil.
While a majority of these proponents were somewhat inept and relied on their students to support insane claims, there were a very small group of individuals that, like truffles, rose from the decaying roots. Those of us that have been around for a while vividly recall the idiocy that sprung up around these so called experts which unfortunately cast a stinky shadow on those that actually had a grasp on this “long lost art”. Even association by name or affiliation was damaging. So in an effort to distance ourselves from the “PP” tag, we looked for new nomenclature, something that would suggest expanded studies beyond that of simple “pressure points”. Since our studies involved research and study into various medical and applied sciences, we chose to title our studies as “martial science”.
The term “martial science” is not a new one, not by a long shot. The suffix “jutsu”, attached to jujutsu, kenjutsu, iaijutsu, karatejutsu and others, implies combative application and is centuries old. To be an effective fighter, one must not only prepare the body and learn fighting techniques, one must study all that is a part of our world. Anatomy and physiology, kinesiology, psychology, Eastern and Western medical and applied sciences, physics (Newtonian and Quantum), fascia v. neural … let’s just say it got deep. Choosing this term also offered that connection to the “old ways” that so many seek. And then, once again, market needs reared its ugly head.
This “martial science” pedagogy has the capacity to elevate the martial arts and those that study and pass their learnings on to their students and others. In the beginning of its development, as practitioners of “martial science”, we were true and dutiful in our goal to open up a world previously unknown by a vast majority of martial artists. At that time there were but a handful of us, but we were strong and committed in dispelling the myths perpetuated by others, much of which was disguised as “secret teachings” but were largely an effort to generate fame and fortune. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong in placing a value on something, as long as there is actual value.
My partner at the time and I were truly overcome with this new found expression of our beloved Karate. We would host sessions in our school and travel conducting seminars, many times breaking even. We thought, what better way to test our techniques but on those who had no expectation and those we knew were just as “no-nonsense” as we were. We felt as though we were pioneers of sorts, more excited to share than to profit. Okay, so we were naïve but it did not deter our enthusiasm. We knew we had discovered what so many seek, even more so today.
Here begins the infection. As popularity grew in our teachings so did the realization that people would pay good money for it. As someone who helped develop this teaching system and one of the world’s leading martial science organizations, the possibility of making a little cash while teaching something I viewed as real and unprecedented was exciting to say the least. I have always valued growing relationships over charging a substantial seminar fee. Take care of the relationship with integrity and the rest takes care of itself. Why is this so important to me?
Before my introduction into the world of “pressure points”, I was the program director in 2 karate schools, same school with locations less than 5 miles apart. Combined, these schools had 650+ active students. I was a masterful sales man. It was not uncommon for me to garner a $3000.00 Black Belt Program for a 5 year old as I believed in our program … at least at the onset. “Will that be cash or credit card? We can of course arrange 6 monthly payments on a deferred payment schedule without finance charges.” “If either of those is not an option, we can easily arrange monthly installments with our 3rd party funding company who can carry your program”. It didn’t take long before I realized my worth was that of a salesman, not as a seasoned teacher and coach. My paycheck was dependent on the revenue generated from new contracts rather than the improvement of those who attended class each and every day.
To this day, those experiences drive me to maintain a high level of integrity and honesty. More importantly, those experiences have had a strong impact on those I associate with, as well as the depth and accuracy of my continued studies. It is my intention, as in my early days, naivety and all, to share with and excite others in something remarkable and unique. Just as important, I want people to know that not everyone has the same unselfish intentions. While my earlier published blogs on “Bunkai” are standalone, this series and the next will reference each other and provide greater insight overall. Martial Science Volume 2 will offer greater acumen into the differences between a pragmatic approach on the subject and that which benefits ego and pocketbooks.
Any and all critiques are welcome. Please email to firstname.lastname@example.org