Martial Science: Practical Teachings or Sellable Product v.2
My martial arts journey has been full of ups and downs. I had even considered dropping my training more than once or twice, but luckily something came along that inspired me to keep going. Some of the whys I had control of and some I didn’t. Of all the whys that inspired me, two rise above the rest. First and foremost was my 31 year deep friendship with Mike Tucker and secondly was my introduction to the world of “pressure points” in 1989. Aside from walking through the doors for my first day of karate class, nothing has had more of an impact on my karate or myself.
Oddly enough, it was our introduction into “pressure points” that deepened our personal and professional careers. We knew we had come across something unique and real, not just in the pressure points arena but with karate in general. We made some very serious professional decisions that would allow us to continue to learn and train, and develop personally. Sadly, we lost Mike in July 2016. But well before his passing, Mike and I discussed the general direction of “martial science” as we knew it. We were very disheartened with the current path of a defined system of study we directly helped develop and organize. What was once intended to provide martial artists with the resources to think and develop themselves was being replaced with an agenda of expanded egos and increased profits. Neither of us were very happy with this direction but Mike reminded me that we had changed the landscape once before, and though circumstances were now different than before, we could still do our part to bring the ship back on course. Mike challenged me to stay on task which included writing my “dream” book which resulted in these blogs. Again Mike reminded me why he and I had taken the paths we had taken together, which ironically led me down a different path, and that letting this go by the way side was not who we are.
So how just how did we get involved in pressure point studies? I am so glad you asked. In 1988, our then instructor hosted George Dillman. For unimportant reasons Dillman declined to return but sent one of his senior black belts instead. Welcome Rick Moneymaker. Though a student of Dillman, Moneymaker’s presentation and explanations were quite different. After hosting 2-3 seminars taught by Moneymaker between 1988-1989, Moneymaker was contracted to conduct six 6 hour “immersion” clinics every other weekend over a 2 ½ month time frame. This would be the first time Moneymaker and Muncy had ever publicly taught their TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) based applications to anyone other than their own students. Our group was, in a sense, an experiment. What better way to “prove” this unproven methodology while developing a delivery system with a group of “newbies”. What and how Moneymaker taught us was designed based on our current capabilities. He knew the physical nature of our training; that we were fighters at heart and had a sound grappling base. The intent was not to teach us a new system or new techniques or new kata … we had plenty. What Moneymaker presented to the group was a method of study and resources that was applicable to any style or system. This was the mantra we heard over and over. But teaching us was only half of the experiment.
This was new ground for he and Muncy in teaching an unbiased group. We would either “prove” their teachings or send them back to the drawing board. We were just as important to their growth as he was to ours. Every training session was not about learning or creating new techniques but how can we take what we already do and make it better. We were not expected to duplicate techniques but rather we were expected to use our ever evolving knowledge to prove our own techniques were already proper and viable, fix them if fixable or dispose of them. Nothing could exist for the sake of existing. Not only did this experiment succeed beyond its original intent, the results would become the study and teaching standard for years to come.
This new study was outside our usual 99% physical training regimen. This TCM thing required us to engage our brain muscles like never before. Our new karate library quickly expanded to include Gray’s Anatomy, a medical dictionary, books on sports medicine, sports psychology, and various writings on acupuncture and applied sciences. When we weren’t just whacking on each other, we were studying the results of those whackings and how we could get “more bang for the buck”. This new study didn’t rely on opinions or system ideology. Every practice and study session required us to look in the proverbial mirror of truth. No longer could we take anything on face value. We were forced to examine and re-examine everything we thought we knew and taught. And we didn’t just challenge each other physically and mentally. We were encouraged to openly challenge Moneymaker as well.
Keep in mind that at this time, Moneymaker and his instructor/partner, Tom Muncy, were still associated with Dillman. While Dillman based their curriculum on an overlay of anatomy and physiology (little did they know they were in the midst of gold mine), it was Moneymaker and Muncy’s additional application of TCM took our studies to levels unknown to Dillman's core group. After all, TCM was the understood sciences upon which the original Eastern martial and healing arts were based. It is also worth mentioning that these very sciences and practices remain literally unchanged after 3000 years.
After training with Moneymaker for about 2+ years, Moneymaker felt it was time for me and Mike to jump into the Dillman pool by attending one of their national seminars. He expressed so with reservation. He told us that after witnessing the other side of the “PP” fence, one of two things could happen. Mike and I would run for the hills knowing we were “light years” ahead and be content, or we would have a whole new appreciation for what “we” were doing and keep going. As you can guess, we ran alright, but in the right direction.
After a few hours at the seminar and witnessing for ourselves, Moneymaker told Mike and I we could walk away for 20 years without continued development and return to the Dillman fold and still exceed the others. How little did any of us realize that this almost jokingly statement would one day become reality and more than once. While Mike and I continued to train directly with and under Moneymaker, our continued growth was 90% self-development and that was largely by design. Partly because we lived in Houston and Moneymaker was tucked away in the mountains of western Virginia. The real experiment was our ability to develop, on our own, a competence based training and assessment system that we could present to other martial art schools. Needless to say, we exceeded beyond all expectations.
As I indicated in my earlier blogs, we had crossed trained in many different styles. All of us had been exposed to various styles claiming to be the best in ultimate self-defense including “the long lost art” of pressure point fighting. But this time was different. From the beginning, there was an emphasis on developing “relationships” built on integrity and honesty… integrity of each other, integrity in what we were studying and teaching, no false claims and no hidden agendas. If it was crap, we called it and each other out as crap. No egos involved. We had nothing to lose and everything to gain. In a sense, we chose each other. It was very much a two way street. The usual distinctions of teacher/student, expert/novice, 7th degree BB v. 3rd degree BB did not exist.
Like anything new and exciting, Mike and I wanted to share this new found study with others. But we knew we were at a disadvantage. All martial artists have been exposed or participated in various styles claiming to be the best in ultimate self-defense including “the long lost art” of pressure point fighting. We also knew we had to demonstrate that what we were presenting was different from the others. It had to be real. Remember, we are talking about Texas, the “blood and guts” state, where you could step onto the mat with some of the toughest fighters in the world. In those days there were no seeded fighters. A fighter was expected to prove himself every time he or she stepped inside that taped off floor. Reputations were won and lost in the ring. One’s reputation was not solely based on winning but by the level of integrity in their fight, win or lose. And it is this level of “integrity” that led to these writings.
Even though applying the new TCM methodology was exciting, Moneymaker would tell us time and again that the TCM model is only 2% of what we would ever need and that the centerpiece of our studies was a thorough understanding of the physical body or body mechanics. Moneymaker never ceased from stressing that only through a deep understanding of the inherent strengths and weaknesses of the body could we begin to understand how to apply our new found logic. And it wasn’t enough to apply this to an attacker. This new study applied to us as well requiring us to scrutinize our techniques and how those techniques must be performed. Without proper body mechanics to support our techniques, any response to an attack would be based more on luck than ability.
This is where Prof. Remy Presas, Founder of Modern Arnis, completed the picture for us. Prof. Presas took an almost extinct art and not only revived it, he took it beyond anything the Spanish warriors that developed bladed arts centuries before could have imagined. Prof. Presas understood the mechanics of the original arts like no one else. He knew there was no place for fluff as anything but the “truth” could lead to death. He knew every possible response to an attack. Not because he developed the system of Arnis, but because he understood the system of man and what it took to make and keep Arnis “real”. The true genius of Prof. Presas and Arnis was the translation of a truly effective bladed and stick fighting system into an equally effective “empty hand” system; all without any loss of effectiveness or alteration.
Prof. Presas’ art of Arnis is “self-correcting” at its most elemental level. Arnis, like any real form of combat, requires continual interaction between two knowledgeable and ego free partners. While both partners may have similar levels of ability, one will naturally grow beyond the means of the other. This expanded growth of one provides greater challenges for both and forbids stagnation by either. There can be no growth in physical ability or intellectual understanding without deep and intense physical interaction. Of all the principles and concepts taught by Prof. Presas, it is this idea of “self-correction through application” that takes precedence.
As fighters, Mike and I understood that limiting targets on ourselves was just as important as scoring on our opponent. Strategy is everything in a fight but who has time to develop a strategy once the fight commences? This is why sparring and hand to hand are so essential. Sparring and other active partner work helps develops both mental and physical accountability. When it’s just you against an attacker, it’s just you. Every round not fought is a lost experience. Every technique not scrutinized favors your attacker. Every option not considered can be the difference in who walks away and who limps away … or not at all. With all that out of the way, let’s get back this thing called “martial science”.
All the theories, fighting strategies and applied sciences matter little if you do not understand what you are attacking or defending against. This is why one must possess a deep working knowledge of the physical nature of man. Sensei Tetsuhiro Hokama insistently refers to this as “human engineering”. This is the only “real truth” and is first and foremost. I know some very accomplished martial arts, supported only by their years of fighting and without any understanding of “pressure points” that could easily take the heads of some very well-known “martial science” proponents. While these so-called martial science “experts” have an intellectual advantage, these experienced fighters understand the true nature of combat and that of their opponent. And herein lies the beginning of the problems as “Application without science is not fully developed while science without application is simply theory”.
Think of the body as a building waiting to be demolished. 50 years ago this would require a crane and wrecking ball smashing into a building with blunt force. Today, a munitions expert will study the architeural design of the building and strategically set charges. By blowing charges of varying strengths at different times on certain structural points, the collapse of the building can be expertly directed and controlled. The second example is a perfect analogy of martial science. Now is the time to reiterate that martial science is not and never was intended to be distinct art or system. Martial science is a legitimate process that anyone, within physical limits, can apply to any part of their current art. From the beginning of our studies some 28+ years ago, the idea that this study could apply to any style was what separated “us” from “them”.
No fight is won with a single blow, or even two or three. No golf tournament is won by a single round. What wins a tournament is when the golf ball lands in the rough and choosing the right club depending on the nature of the rough, how far the ball needs to travel, other obstacles between the flag and the current ball position and accepting that sometimes that swing will simply put the ball in a better play position. A successful golfer understands the varying “mechanics” required to get the ball from the tee to the hole, regardless of where the ball lands and the surrounding conditions. This level of play, or any level for that matter, cannot be learned from playing a video game on an Xbox. I don’t think that anyone would argue that point. So what accepted basis suggests that anyone can successfully learn a martial art or how to defend oneself from a DVD? I am pretty confident there will never come a time when a professional football team will run training camp via Skype. Yet, most “martial science” camps relay heavily on instruction and even promotional testing and certification by way of DVD or internet download.
What takes a college Heisman trophy winner or Olympic boxer to the next level? It is a combination of medical and sport science related professionals that examine an athlete’s current abilities and movements against higher level athletes so they can determine how they can elevate the athlete. The coaches have the athlete do this every day, day in and day out, against different training partners and under the most grueling circumstances. The most important ingredient in this process is the unselfish willingness of the training partners to help bring out the best in the athlete while doing everything in their power to make the athlete fail. The coaches identify the weaknesses by watching live action training supported by hours upon hours of taped sessions. While the tapes allow the coaches to rewind, slow motion or zoom in on particulars, nothing will ever replace interaction of honest “back and forth” real-time interaction. This physicality is paramount in the study of martial science. This was the premise upon which Mike and I developed our trainings and what I continue with today. It MUST be competence based training and assessment.
Every martial artist that has practiced modern martial arts since the late 19th century was preached to on the importance of kata and that kata is the heart of every martial art taught. So why are kata and fighting (kumite) taught and practiced so differently? While kata is subjective for the person performing the kata as well as the person viewing the performance of the kata, fighting is the complete opposite. And why is that? Because fighting and associated trainings are “competence based”. You either hold your own or you don’t. This is exactly why kata practice and related basics (kihon) are not viewed as “real” or effective. And why? Because kata was never intended to be “competence based” or real. “Real” was never an ingredient in the formation of Karate (or any modern martial art) as a public practice of physical fitness. It wasn’t until Gogen Yamaguchi, Choki Motobu and others of the time began to experiment with various forms of free sparring and safety gear that Karate started to become “competence based”. But since this “new” aspect of Karate was dependent on safety and competitive regulations, it did little to return Karate to anything close to its original intent as a viable life-protection logic.
So what happened? Why is kata no longer viewed today in the same reverence as 150 years ago? Kata as taught today isn’t necessary, plain and simple. So why do the martial arts maintain something that is seemingly unnecessary? Geez you a lot of questions.
Kata practice has largely come to represent more of a cultural significance rather than as a system of effective civil defense. Today, Kata largely serves as a means to identify the various styles, by specific regions, lineages and systems. Kata, unlike sparring, defines the basic teachings that identifies specific school or system, even when different schools practice the same named Kata. Bassai/Passai, for example, not only have various performance versions between styles, these kata have been further diluted into “sub-kata” like Bassai dai and Bassai sho. Again these differences are largely intended to separate and distinguish one style or school from another. This is extremely important in the international and national competitive arenas. More interesting than that is the fact that tournament competitions, open or traditional, have defined what martial arts base their curriculums and subsequently teach. Essentially sport karate now defines the entire martial arts market including training equipment, uniforms, safety equipment, weapons, expanded trainings with dance teachers and gymnasts, advertising and business management program.
With a huge majority of martial art schools participating in the competition scene dictated by the above described market needs, could create a dilemma for any school attempting to adopt any level of a legitimate martial science program into their curriculum. I am not inferring it can’t be done. It just depends on that respective school and instructor. I know. I was one of those schools. From 2005-2014 our dojo was a member of the world’s largest competitive Goju-Ryu organization under the auspices of the Japan Karate Federation/Goju-Kai. We practiced two versions of karate; one that aesthetically met organizational and competitive standards and another version that “worked”. On the other extreme, there are systems like Isshinryu that, due to its technical performance of kata based techniques, would require more than just a few variation changes. A substantial revision of the entire technical system would be required in order to integrate and apply just simple proper body mechanics. Granted while aspects of martial science can be adopted to their free standing self-defense techniques, the science of body mechanics takes precedence over the art, not the other way around. Outside of sparring or free-standing self-defense technique, which are totally “competence based”, the remaining kata based “subjective based” curriculum is left with much to be desired.
Here is where martial science comes to the rescue to such schools and systems. But wait … didn’t I just say the opposite? No, not at all. That is the beauty of a solid martial science program. But not all martial science programs are created the equal. Many martial science programs are martial science programs by name only. So how can someone determine the difference? The proof is in the pudding. I always start a seminar with the following disclaimer; “I will never claim what I do is better than what you do. You do what do and I’ll do what I do. And as someone helps you up from the floor, you tell me which works better.
Alrighty. That’s enough for today. We have covered many whys. Keep in mind that the intent of these blogs is to help the general karate public understand what martial science really is and that there is a difference between the various programs and organizations out there. Unfortunately, “martial science” has largely become a lucrative marketable product and is intended to advantage the “martial science organization” over their members and subscribers. I know… I used to support a couple of them. Fortunately I have the ability and collaborative support of others to share what Mike Tucker and I were presented so many years ago and continually evolve today. I know my buddy Mike’s hand is helping me type these words and more importantly I know he is waiting to either kick my butt or shine that smile Mike was known for.
The next segment on this topic will define the differences between a legitimate martial science program and what is commonly available in the market. As stressed in this blog, there is not only a difference in the integrity of technique but a greater difference in the integrity of those who present their programs. If these blogs do nothing more than to incite queries, than I have accomplished something positive.
As always I appreciate all comments, questions and comments, positive or not. So please feel free to forward to firstname.lastname@example.org.