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Martial arts and the cycle of bullshit

Hello, everyone. Charlie has kindly invited me to post here because I am a science fiction writer. But for the next four guest posts I'm going to be talking about fighting, martial arts, the media, and women. I have a lot to say. In this first post I'll give you an idea of where I'm coming from when I'm talking about fighting.

So you need to know that I started martial arts training when I was thirteen because as a young woman I was always being told I was a potential victim; I wanted to move past that. It was kind of ironic how at sixteen, studying karate in Okinawa, I was singled out for 'special training' by one of the higher ranks, who then felt me up liberally and eventually propositioned me in front of his wife. She was translating for him!

But don't worry--we won't be going there.

I just want to establish my background. I was kicked out of my first school for insubordination because while preparing to test for black belt I refused to train with the women and children, but other than that I was well-behaved. I dabbled in various arts off and on throughout my teens and twenties. When I was 28 I started training with Steve Morris, who is known in Britain for his deep knowledge of fighting and its training methods. Steve taught me to hit. Hard. Eventually we hooked up and we are still together. Through sixteen years as Steve's website administrator, camera guy and partner I have learned a lot about martial arts from a technical, historical, political and personal perspective.

Most people think of martial arts and fighting as being more or less synonymous. I see them as a Venn diagram of two sets that overlap by a tiny margin. This is because most martial artists don't fight and their training isn't directly based on what happens in a fight.

There are reasons for this. The problem of training for a fight is a tricky one. If an instructor puts students in an actual fight (as opposed to highly controlled drills with restricted moves), they might get seriously hurt. But if instructors can't create an accurate representation of a fight in the gym, trainees will never really be tested. To make up for the lack of fighting, martial arts typically focus on displays of fake combat that illustrate the combative moves that have been passed down through history. They may have non-contact or light contact fighting, but this only tests your ability to touch the other person with the techniques you have been taught--not your ability to hurt them for real much less take a beating yourself.

Most people who study martial arts study a system. Whether the system is historical (like kung fu and karate) or modern (like Systema and Krav Maga) the techniques are taught formally, with ranks, with semi-compliant drilling between members of the same school, and with a heavy dose of hierarchy that keeps everybody in their place. With a few exceptions (Gracie Barra jiu-jitsu is one system that grades predominantly through hard competition) the idea of all-out fighting is a theoretical one, kept well in the background.

But fighting is chaotic. It's often unpredictable. It doesn't systemize well and it's difficult to pass on as a body of knowledge. What people don't realize is that no matter how effective the founder of a discipline may have been in his (or in the case of Wing Chun, her) day, unless the practices of that system involve rigorous testing in realistic fighting conditions against non-compliant opponents from outside your system, you can never really know whether you can make their moves work for you.

It's not a big leap to get from martial arts to religion. To a greater or lesser degree, you are expected to take what's being taught to you on faith.

There are a lot of problems with this, but perhaps the most offensive to me is the fact that a person can rise to high rank and great influence without possessing any fighting ability whatsoever. Thus is born a cycle of bullshit. You have someone teaching you (allegedly) to fight, but they have no fighting experience themselves let alone the know-how to help you. If you go along with this long enough, you can aspire to turn around and teach others one day. Ad infinitum; ad nauseum.

I've been a part of that cycle. When you realize what's going on, it's disheartening. And the more heavily you are invested in the hierarchy, the deeper the disillusionment, and the more difficult to throw away your investment. Even if your investment turns out to be shite. For years, even after I saw karate guys biting the dust against trained grapplers in the UFC cage, I believed that the great karate masters from my former school's lineage had some special combative power that was too dangerous for the UFC. I thought that if they weren't fighting in these contests it must be because they were too spiritual--not because they'd be shit-scared to try.

This is what happens when you have a powerful imagination. Fundamentally, I'm a nerd. And I swallowed a lot of bullshit because I wanted to be a part of a warrior culture (groping notwithstanding). I later learned that many people have made the same mistakes that I did.

By contrast to me, my partner was an athlete and street fighter from a very young age. In his youth Steve was kicked out of Kyokushin Kai for excessive contact so he moved to Japan, where he trained so hard he earned a third degree black belt from Yamaguchi Gogen within a year. When he got back from Japan he ran a martial arts club in central London for many years while researching global fight training methods and their history. Around 1973 Steve started an 'anything goes' fight class where all methods and techniques were allowable--it was a kind of proto fight club. He told me that the immediate result was that the white belts started beating up the black belts and the black belts fled the club in droves.

Steve's not famous, but people in the know are aware of him and what he does. Over the years a lot of higher ranks have walked through his door looking for guidance, and I personally observed any number of black belts come undone under even mild pressure. They realized painfully that their system had failed them.

Many made an initial effort to change. A few threw away what they'd learned and worked very hard to start over with a fight-centred approach. These guys did improve massively, and they developed self-reliance and self-respect--one became a successful professional MMA fighter. Some quit the martial arts. Many others--I'd say the majority--soon realized how hard it was going to be to deal with the challenges of fight training, and went back to their systems. They seemed chagrined, embarrassed--but not enough to let go of their status in a recognized hierarchy. Some of these guys are quite highly ranked teachers with respected credentials.

I could never understand this last response. Before I realized I was crap at fighting it was maybe understandable that I placed faith in my karate training. But once you see something, you can't very well un-see it. Unless you are an ostrich. Or you run a dojo.

Which brings me at last to the parallels between science fiction and the martial arts. Over the years I've formed the opinion that both are most commonly used as means of escape from reality. Nothing wrong with escapism as a thing--you need to be honest about it, though, and martial arts tend to fail big in that department.

Of course, science fiction doesn't only have to be a way out--it can also be a way in. For me, both martial arts and science fiction are the most rewarding when they engage with reality in all its depth and complexity.

But what does engaging with reality even mean? That's a question for next time, when I'll talk about personal combat as we see it depicted in popular media. Headsup: it's usually absurd.



"I'll talk about personal combat as we see it depicted in popular media. Headsup: it's usually absurd."

Now THAT isn't a surprise, but I look forward to what your knowledge brings to the subject. :)


There's a potential series here:

Later I'll talk about journalism/IT support/cooking/business meetings/the popular media/teaching as we see it depicted in popular media. Headsup: it's usually absurd.


As one guy I knew said, "there's not a ninja on the planet that's harder than a glass ashtray".

An experience from the 1980s was turning up at a crowded pub in the Grassmarket just behind the Saturday Night crew from Lothian & Borders Police - all these grizzled-looking six-foot-plus cops piling out of a Ford Transit and in through the pub doors in front of us. Turned out that a cast-iron pub stool had been used as a club, on someone whose back was turned. Instant end of fight.

My takeaway from this was that it was all about situational awareness, having at least one of the group looking in each direction, and the ability to talk/walk/sprint my way out of trouble as applicable. Training for unarmed combat was only going to give me delusions of adequacy...

Now I have children, and they're doing Judo. The physical benefits (in core stability, balance, movement) and the mental ones (in focus, concentration, and the ability to take a knock without shutting down) are great; the local instructors are all GB team; and there's less risk that they'll confuse the sport with being "a bit handy".


With you on situational awareness. I think Judo's a great sport, and I wouldn't be too quick to write off the advantages it could confer if they get in a one-to-one scrap with someone. At least they are training in full contact competitions and not the touch-fighting of karate or tae kwon do.


This has needed saying for a while.

  • Nile

3rd Dan, Aikido. And a bit of Karate, at a club in Newcastle, where the instructor * did* teach us how to fight. The difference between students who attended those Saturday morning classes, and those who did not, was quite noticeable.


I trained in Hapkido during college and reached the rank of second degree black belt. My instructor was an professor of Exercise Kenesiology at Indiana University and had a very eclectic approach. He had studied judo, jiu jitsu, karate, kung fu, taekwondo, etc. and taught alot of different techniques from different styles and encouraged students to take the techniques that work for them and make them their own. In his words "Hapkido is whatever works for you."

Hapkido is very practical with an emphasis on awareness of your surroundings, being able to fall to the ground without being injured (this has saved me on ice on more than one occasion), trying to escape and run (with no shame in that), all kicks below the waist, and generally dirty tricks. I think the way it was taught to me gave me a healthy perspective about fighting and a realization that fighting is the last choice I would want to make. Real fighting is not a sport. Sports are for fun, so there aren't any sports that allow gouging eyes, crushing windpipes, breaking knees/shins/arms etc.

I now realize that I had a unique situation in college with a great group of people. I've tried some martial arts schools and it just never felt the same or held my interest. So, now I've gone back to my roots and help coach an elementary school wrestling team. Three of my four sons enjoy wrestling, and its fun to participate in the sport. I remain hopeful that I never have to use my Hapkido training in a fight because I realize I might not survive the encounter.


A friend of mine, who's both fearsomely intellectual & very very fit, got into Aikido & tried explaining it to me. "So it's about self-defence?" I hazarded. He replied that, in an Aikido perspective, if the situation had reached the point where it was meaningful to talk about self-defence, you'd already failed. Which sounded impressive but made me wonder how much use it would be in a fight - and how handy an Aikido master would be, or would need to be.

Then again, when my daughter went to a self-defence class they impressed on her that rules 1 and 2 are 'don't be in a dangerous situation in the first place' and 'if you are there, get out' - because self-defence isn't about doing anything clever or devastating to the attacker, it's about keeping yourself unharmed.


Thank you for your comment :-) The intention is good behind methods like Hapkido (also Jeet Kun Do is like this). The problem comes when we talk about 'what works for you.' As you rightly say, eye gouges and groin kicks and other dirty tricks cannot be tested in the mix. Nor can full contact punches, kicks, elbows, etc. be tested unless you fight. I think there's a little bit of false logic going on when instructors decide that because dirty tricks can't be tested in the mix, they won't competitively test the other aspects of fighting. And the other aspects can be tested: in boxing, wrestling, judo, sambo, Muay Thai, and MMA.

There's a lot to unpack here and I don't want to digress into the possible differences between fighting and self-defense, but my personal take is that you are wise to put your kids in wrestling. Again, here's a way of training and of testing the training through strenuous competition. It's not a complete picture of the fight, but the part of the picture that they have they will know from the inside out and not just from hoping it will work.


PS, sorry, my comment was @johansenbabe but coming back to you, @Phil Edwards, yes, fighting and self defence have overlap but they are not the same. Fighters want to be there. There are loads of soft skills in self defence and I'd suggest that the soft skills I've seen taught in SD are much better than the hard skills on offer.


My own martial arts experience was in Practical Pistol, or Combat Pistol in US terms. It totally ruined me as a possible combatant using a pistol though since rule 1 of the training was "Never point a pistol at anyone" to the point of getting dry heaves and shaking if I accidentally "swept" someone.

Any of the sports martial arts including swordfighting, stickwork etc. as well as the empty-hand schools are based on the principle of never hurting anyone to the point of tissue damage. If that happens then something has gone wrong somewhere in training, equipment or supervision. Learning to really fight, to permanently damage someone or kill them is not simple, developing the mindset to be able to do so from a standing start at zero notice is even harder. Psychopaths have it easier than most in that case.


You start by saying fighting and martial arts are only somewhat overlapped, then complain about it?

Martial arts provide a lot of benefit outside of fighting you never mention.

I'm not going to argue that someone talented at kata or sparring for points will be good in a bar fight, although I might argue your MMA guy might not be either...

Any dojo claiming karate is all you need for self defense is baloney, but that doesn't mean it's not helpful or enriching.


@Nojay you said 'the empty-hand schools are based on the principle of never hurting anyone to the point of tissue damage. If that happens then something has gone wrong somewhere in training, equipment or supervision.' Yes, this is the principle they use and with respect to the empty hand systems, this is where they have it all wrong.

It is perfectly possible to train hard and realistically and then to test your training in open competition. There are ways of adapting the fight to training that minimize injury and maximize the simulation of the fight--but they are ways that are extracted from the fight and easily inserted back into the fight. The fight itself is generally misunderstood by martial artists because so few of them have spent significant time in it. The idea that no one can get hurt is a way of avoiding reality. People get hurt in sport. Thankfully they are rarely killed, but people get knocked out and injured because it's a fight. Even in training, the idea that there shouldn't be any contact or tissue damage seems silly to me. I've been known to bruise myself pretty bad just by hitting the bag.

With you 100% that psychopaths have an advantage,though :-)


@furicle I'm not complaining about the lack of overlap. My complaint is that so many martial arts claim they will make you good at fighting, then don't.

If people want to do their martial arts for other reasons, good for them. No issue.


From the way you're describing things it sounds like martial arts is to fighting as a fire drill is to the experience of an actual fire. Or as someone once put it - you can do all the emergency drills you like, but you're still missing one crucial component: the actual emergency. It hasn't rehearsed with you, so it doesn't know what it's supposed to be doing. Which means things are going to go wrong, and when they do, you're going to have to be able to adapt on the fly.

The Bad Things start happening when you run across a group of people where the leadership aren't aware they have to adapt; it sounds, from the way you're describing it, as though this may be an ongoing problem in some of the more formalised disciplines of the martial arts.


I went to a presentation a while back by a British classical fencing master named Guy Windsor (he teaches fencing and Medieval Martial Arts in Helsinki these days), and he made some very salient points:

  • Martial arts are precisely that, arts.
  • Combat sport, like kickboxing or MMA, is still a sport.
  • Both those
    • have rules and
    • train you to freeze when someone shouts "stop" in an authoritative-enough tone of voice. Real fighting skills may have guidelines (try not to kill), but you definitely don't want to train yourself to freeze if the other person shouts "stop".
  • Your best self-defense equipment is a pair of good running shoes.

@Megpie71 There is something in this analogy. However, I would say that the fire drill itself in martial arts is flawed. The fire drill of the training hasn't been taken from experience of real fires, but from some hand-me-down account of what fires are like from someone who might have been in one a hundred years ago. This account-of-the-fire has been passed down from generation to generation and enshrined as a kind of sacred text. All kinds of conclusions have been drawn from it, modifications have been made to practices based on what the No Fire people hope will be true. But there isn't even any smoke.

There are a lot of problems with this, but perhaps the most offensive to me is the fact that a person can rise to high rank and great influence without possessing any fighting ability whatsoever

I'm curious why this is a problem? I'm not a martial arts person, apart from a few years of judo 35 years ago that I've completely forgotten. Back then it was made very clear to us by the folk who were teaching that this was more about physical fitness / sport than combat. The folk who were attending to learn to fight seemed to leave quite rapidly.

I got the same message from a friend of mine who did aikido, karate, and fencing — about 20 years back now. He loved it, was very good at it, but he was clear on it being fitness/sport not combat. He was very clear on the contrast between his army training (hurt/kill people) and his martial arts stuff (fun).

Are there different cultures of fitness/sport vs combat? Has there been a shift over the last 20/30 years for it to be seen as more about fighting than fitness/entertainment?



By "tissue damage" I was meaning something like eye trauma or a reflexed elbow rather than bruises and scrapes, damage that will endure for a long period or even cause permanent problems (like detached retinas). Even in an MMA "Unlimited" competition that doesn't happen often and when it does it usually means something has gone badly wrong.


@Nojay My bad! Got you.


@Adrian Howard I should be clear that this is a personal prejudice on my part.

Judo has always been taught as a sport, but really it's not a bad way to learn certain aspects of fighting.

I really do take issue because in my dojo (Goju-ryu) we were told that high level mastery implied combative effectiveness. I certainly wanted to feel that I could look after myself, but the confidence karate gave me was false. Granted, I was young and impressionable--but then, a lot of people are when they start training.

We were told, 'A good karateka could take out a boxer' because reasons and 'A good karateka could beat a judoka' because other reasons., not really.

And I do still see this going on in places. The situation has improved since MMA came on the scene. I remember when MMA first came in the karate guys were in denial for a while. Then they started saying, 'Oh, but what we do is an ART...' Not so in my day.


"usually absurd" Yes, well, I know enough ( & that is a very small amount) to know that representations of sword-fighting as seen on screen (any screen) are utter crap. But ...Nojay @ 10.... Sword-fighting usually involves protective gear & blunt implements. Use the real thing on someone, without protective gear & they are going to go down. Even properly using a walking-stick as a foil/sabre is going to give an aggressive opponent enough pause to allow you to RUN AWAY (As I have done)....


As one guy I knew said, "there's not a ninja on the planet that's harder than a glass ashtray".

Yes. My brother in law is a recently retired policeman. His comment was the best way to stop someone running away or towards you was a night stick thrown at their shins. They practiced this.


That was an interesting read. And I look forward to the follow up.


"I'll talk about personal combat as we see it depicted in popular media. Headsup: it's usually absurd."

Now THAT isn't a surprise, but I look forward to what your knowledge brings to the subject.

Go ask any emergency room or orthopedic personnel what happens to the bones in a hand when a bare hand strikes most any bone on a head.



I like to imagine my opponents when I drill, particularly with cane. The problem is, that not only do I get strike zones, but unless I'm careful, I also get an idea of the damage I've just done to a person.

Its hard to reconcile the joy of mastering a challenging skill with knowledge that if I have to use it I'm going to seriously hurt or kill someone.

I hope I never have to.

"And I do still see this going on in places. The situation has improved since MMA came on the scene. I remember when MMA first came in the karate guys were in denial for a while. Then they started saying, 'Oh, but what we do is an ART...' Not so in my day.."

Thanks. Interesting. It kinds of reminds me about some $work stuff I've been poking at on how communities of practice evolve over the years.

One of the peeps in that field, Etienne Wenger, talks about the "Joint Enterprise" of communities — their shared goal/domain — and how the community renegotiates that over time despite sometimes keeping the same practices and social groups. So what was "sport/fitness" 30/40 years back became "fighting/fitness" and has now moved onto "art/fitness".


For some reason the original Roller Ball movie comes to mind and should somehow be a part of this discussion.


What I've come to realize since my college experience with Hapkido is that my instructor's status as a tenured professor allowed him to teach in a more honest and less ego driven way without the pressure of earning a living. For example "Q: What is the best defense to someone demanding you give them your wallet? A: Give them your wallet because there couldn't possibly be anything more important in your wallet than your life."

It wasn't a system of "my way is the right way or the only way". So this approach allowed me to absorb some perspective on the purpose of the training along the way.

Another benefit of my involvement in the martial arts was also learning about the healing arts. My instructor invited Jiu Jitsu master Sig Kufferath (87 years old at the time) to teach a one half day self defense and one half day Japanese massage seminar. It was so interesting that I went on to get my certification in massage and worked as a massage therapist for two years while I worked my way through night law school. My massage training has been one of the most useful skills I have ever learned and I still use it to help my friends and family members with their injuries, aches, and pains.


I was a poor student of Tae Kwon Do, but my instructor was good. On day 1, we covered fighting. Eyes, throat, balls, kneecaps. That was our fighting instruction. The rest was TKD.


"My takeaway from this was that it was all about situational awareness, having at least one of the group looking in each direction, and the ability to talk/walk/sprint my way out of trouble as applicable. Training for unarmed combat was only going to give me delusions of adequacy..."

This is about third-hand, but a friend told me about an article in a martial arts magazine, written by a guy who had worked for a long time in a large biker bar.

He said that the normal fight was one guy stepping up behind another and hitting him one or two dozen times in the head, as fast as possible. No faceoff, no warning, and the initial assault was intended to both be devastating, and repeated second by second.


I know of people who train with live edged weapons and no protection, I've seen them demonstrate short-range combat in such a situation. It's still false fighting as they deliberately pull strokes, don't close to less than a sword's length, kick crotches and shins, backstab, go for the extended foot or knee etc. They do it for the sport.


@Jay Wow, surprised anyone came back for Day 2 after all those eyeballs falling on the mat ;-)


Just adding to the previous comments.

I've been doing Aikido longer than I really care to remember (35 years, as well as ten years doing Tang soo do) and the "Aikidoka can beat..." meme has been around forever. I've never believed it, but then I've never really been interested in finding out either. It's always been difficult for me to see how training in a martial art bears any resemblance to fighting. I've always based my continued training on how it made me feel, not what it would allow me to do to other people.


Interesting....but isn't that the general path for almost every form of education? I think of tennis. I can drill for hours with an instructor, but that is not the same as playing a match. Or philosophy--it is an abstraction from discussions among people. Some perceptive people will see patterns, and then abstract from them, draw up a set of "rules", and then teach. As the patterns and rules get more and more abstract (think analytic philosophy) they get farther and farther away from real world situations, and any analytic philosopher would be killed at a poetry slam.


Martial arts... The only I've ever done were fighting heavy in the SCA and fencing. When I took T'ai Chi, decades ago, our 70-or-so year old Chinese instructor who had trouble with English insisted it was not a martial art.

The one I always thought of taking was Aikido.

If I actually wanted a "real" class in fighting, I think, I'd say screw all the "martial arts", and find yourself a DI or other instructor from the Army or Marines basic training - they're teaching for actual combat. The only belt they give, other than in the mouth, is survival.

And btw, one of the basic lines in SF is not escapism, but "if this goes on...."

mark, in a 21st Century* that keeps growing to resemble a cyberpunk distopia
  • This is not the Real 21st Century, I want the Real one back, NOW, thankyouveddymuch.

I've read far more abou8t military history that about martial arts, but there are similarities. There are the armies which are always ready to fight the previous war.

There are people such as the possibly mythical Sun-Tzu, who seem to have abstracted the reality into Principles of War.

And, anniversary coming up, we have military units which seem able to do the impossible, through sheer aggression, until you expect them to pull off something like Arnhem, when you realise how much depends on the hard logic of the craft, and there's a limit to what aggression can do.

In the end, battles are won by making the other side run away. You can, sometimes, do that by almost pure maneuver. Aggressive action can be a part of it, an aspect of destroying confidence as much as of killing, as well as making the most of your confidence.

There are a lot of similarites.


Regarding "making the other side run away" - this is a very interesting article on the subject...


Other features that haven't been mentioned are luck, mood, and the potential impact of "coming second". You have to wonder how often the "better fighter" didn't live to pass on their understanding, because they were unlucky or careless - once.

My father was a professional soldier; and did a job that potentially took him close to bad people, while not wearing uniform. He was good, in fact one year was the Skill-at-Arms champion for his Corps - but his comment was that no matter how hard you trained (and he did a mix of armed and unarmed close combat training), there would always be someone slightly better. Or heavier/stronger. Or luckier.

I became an infantry reservist. It turned out that I could shoot well, to the extent that I competed for our unit. But in actually training for fights, a lot of my effort went into practising my concealment, map reading, and radio skills; because "Hello M13B, this is G20A, Fire Mission..." artillery-fu trumps gun-fu, every time.

I then started competing in target rifle (a totally different, and utterly non-martial form of shooting as practised at the Olympics) and discovered that once you've got the techniques well-learned and trained, and you've ironed out the physical and equipment issues, the difference between a good and a not so good performance in competition or under stress is largely between your ears.

That whole performance psychology thing continues to fascinate me; I've met some excellent sports psychologists (and some useless ones who were trying to flog their books). It strikes me that a lot of the techniques touted as "mystical" are grounded in a good basic approximation of how the brain works - this even extended to wearing an EEG while trying to enter a flow state during training.


Very interesting perspective. I really like your idea that the "arts" of various fighting styles do not necessarily overlap with effective winning of fights. I know nothing about martial arts other than movie depictions that are so often stylized they look like ballet. I would guess they are as incongruous as movie sword fights that for all their sturm und drang bear little resemblance on how one should use a sword like an Epee.

@Antonia In the end, battles are won by making the other side run away Not always, sometimes it has been just a slaughter. But yes, making the other side give up and exit the battle is a common, and desirable, outcome. As Sun Tzu admonished, making the other give up before a battle is the best outcome. This was very much the US intention in Gulf War I with the very public display of the military build up. A modern version of animals raising their hackles to make themselves look larger.


Historically, a lot of the slaughter comes when the other side does run away. Whatever the weapon, being a target reduces your ability to kill. Whether you ambush them, or they're running away, you're not a target.

There are other factors. But, up to Napoleon's time, fleeing armies were routinely cut to pieces by the cavalry. Infantry who formed square, or a similar formation, could hold off cavalry. Break formation, try to run away, and that was it.

Infantry firepower increased, a lot, during the next century. That did change things. The basic weapons were fixed by 1914, even armoured vehicles were around. But how they were used changed a lot. British Artillery Methods today still derive from that experience.


I'd gently disagree about the best defense being a good pair of running shoes.

The best defense is your brain and your mouth. Then something else.

I'm not a fighter at all, but I've talked my way out of a number of confrontations. Moreover, I've watched some game wardens work. Now the interesting thing here is that game wardens routinely have to deal with armed people (armed with guns, not fists) who disagree with them and generally outnumber them. They're also underpaid, understaffed, and generally very far away from backup. Oddly enough, they're pretty good at projecting their authority regardless of all these handicaps. To do so, they almost always use their mouths rather than their weapons, although they're perfectly willing to cuff someone if there's a weapon or potential weapon involved. There's not some secret school of game warden fu (so far as I know, they get standard peace officer training), but what they do have that's different is a good sense of how not to escalate a potentially dangerous situation, without caving in or losing control.

Since not all of us can run, and none of us can outrun a bullet, I'd suggest that we spend more time practicing self-defense with the things we all have: our brains and our mouths. Unfortunately, there aren't a lot of people who teach this either.


Thank you for a deeply inspiring and informative post. I have never had any martial arts training, but I can understand the emotions of instructors who went back to teaching "martial arts" after learning the hard way that they will never be able to fight "for real".

There is, surprisingly, a good SF book on the topic, written by Sergey Ladyzhensky and Oleg Gromov. The former is a senior instructor, II dan Goji-ru black belt, and he has taught karate in Kharkiv during quite unhappy times. Since karate in USSR was forbidden, it was considered a magic road to master street fighting skills — and, well, in the 90s both security people and street-level gangsters took lessons. Soviet way: any profession requires proper education. One of the book's main plot lines is about a videotape "teaching you to fight any number of people" which suddenly, implausibly and randomly works.

It's a real shame that language barriers exist and nobody else commenting on this blog can read Russian :)


@heteromeles - I think your game warden/peace officer case is too specialized for most cases. You want to avoid any fight unless you are there specifically to break it up, Wyatt Earp style.

My understanding is that most people do not want to shoot and potentially kill someone, unless directly threatened. So not threatening and turning away will, in most cases, deny the shooter the incentive to shoot. Running, if you can, makes you a rapidly harder target to hit. Obviously this won't work with sociopaths, but fortunately they represent a small minority.

Interestingly US cops do seem to shoot people without provocation, even in the back. However, they routinely use the defense that the target was "coming towards me in a threatening manner", whether true of not, which minimally plays into the sensibilities of the average jurist as to whether the response was appropriate or not.


They seemed chagrined, embarrassed--but not enough to let go of their status in a recognized hierarchy.

That's not unusual. I've read half a dozen accounts of Soviet defectors set up in Britain, Canada, or the USA with a comfortable middle class lifestyle, who chose to return to the USSR, knowing that prison would be one of the better possible outcomes.

The usual explanation was that "back home" they had a recognized slot in a hierarchical society, while in the West they had no "place."

I've seen the same mindset with religion and programming languages...


Well, the odd thing about that is that when there's a mixed-department operation involving game wardens, at least in California, the game wardens routinely are given the lead by the other cops. Note the phrase: they don't take the lead, they are given the lead by other cops, sheriffs, or marshals.

The reason for this is simple: game wardens deal with heavily armed people all the time. It's part of their job, and the heavily armed people they routinely deal with are hunters (aka joe public with a deer rifle, which is a civilian version of a military rifle), poachers, and marijuana growers.

Cops, on the other hand, mostly deal with unarmed people. The apocryphal story is that most cops never have to fire their weapons in self-defense or as part of a confrontation. While they're trained, they are less likely to be comfortable confronting a heavily armed suspect, especially doing so in a non-violent or at most minimally violent way (I count cuffing someone until the officer knows where the weapons are and said weapons are neutralized as minimal violence, especially when the warden gives the suspect sthe option of being cuffed peacefully and takes a bit of care to make sure they're sitting somewhat comfortably while he goes over their guns, knives, bows, and what have you).

So yes, wardens are specialized, but since they're the most outgunned and outnumbered cops in California, if not in the US, it's worth paying attention to how they keep themselves from getting killed in the line of duty. And yes, they do get killed, but very rarely.


In other states, a police officer may interact with lawfully armed members of the general public several times per shift without even knowing it.


Part of the difference is in how you hit. There's a big difference between aiming at the surface of the target and aiming at a point about six inches behind the surface. The first hit is a tag; the second could break bones. Most martial arts use the first type of hit for sparring and save the second type of hit for lumber. This means that in a real fight the student has to adjust his art, which is tough to do, especially if nobody told you you'd need to.


I'm going to suggest that the same thing is true of statistical methodology and quantitative reasoning. They were originally worked out to solve actual problems about actual measurements of the physical world—things like deriving the likeliest true orbit of a newly discovered asteroid from a handful of observations and predicting where it might be observed next, which is where we got least squares analysis. Now it's largely used by social scientists who accept pathetically low standards of validity (one chance in twenty of being due to random fluctuations? really?) and whose work is scarcely ever subjected to replication; that is, it's an elaborate ritual. And it isn't as if most of this work is going to be tested in the observatory or the factory; most of it is used to provide rationalizations for currently trendy political and economic policies that are ultimately imposed by law whether they work or not.


Sorry to be rude, but since the situation for ecology is the same as for sociology, I'll point out that the funding rate for proposals is somewhere below 5%, so you've got less than a 1 in 20 chance of getting a study even funded.

It's fun listening to people on NIH funding whine about how they can't get enough funding to replicate a study enough times to think it works. In a lot of scientific fields (e.g., those that deal with the 99.99999% of life that isn't human), it's unlikely to get any study funded at all, and it's definitely unlikely to get a replicate study funded.

So it's only a ritual science to those who think in the Cadillac terms of the biomedical world or the data rich abstractions of physics. That's not to say that lack of replication isn't a huge problem, but it is to say that you shouldn't blame the practitioners for doing research in a wider political world that doesn't want their results. So, if you're an American taxpayer or politician, blame yourself for this one.

This, incidentally, is also why drug development costs somewhere north of US $1 billion. That's the cost of proper replication, and a large majority of that billion is researcher salaries.


"the "Aikidoka can beat..." meme has been around forever"

Quite. I think that there are two points here: technical ability and mental ability.

As you progress, it stops becoming about 'technique' - you're not a competition judo champion, closed-down, immovable, and waiting for the opening for your signature technique - you just do, it's just defend, or deflect, or immobilise, or throw, and it's only afterward that you can say which of the exercises you've practiced and internalised contributed to what you did.

But there's one set of techniques that you are very good at indeed, and rarely think about or even realise that you know: breakfalls.

We forget that. We forget that throws we've taken for granted as an easy exercise since halfway through our kyu grades will cause permanent injury to the untrained, even on a tatami mat. People don't get up from the real sweep-them-up-and-see-daylight-under-their-feet ikkyo, because that forward breakfall takes practice, and landing on your ribcage knocks the wind out of you; or breaks your ribs; and landing badly on your arm breaks your collarbone; and landing on your face can kill you. Some Judo students can do it; some ju-jitsu schools teach it; and all of them - and us - know that the real world is made of concrete, and the very best breakfall that you ever made will only mitigate the injuries of being thrown into the gutter.

And all of the exercises ending in a backward breakfall are injurious to the untrained. They will still go down - the throws work - but very few arts teach the technique of sliding into the ground, protecting your spine, and not striking the back of your head; so very few people will get up again if they are thrown backwards in a fight.

Think of how carefully you practice with beginners, easing them into the mat and letting them develop their breakfall; think of the slaps and bangs and crashes of the overenthusiastic intermediates; and the eerie silence (with occasional thwumps and crashes that halt the entire mat) from the higher grades, practicing in a graceful blur with daylight and clear air under them as they're thrown away or thrown down into the immobilisations.

It's easy to forget that this isn't harmless: not, of course, that an aikidokai of your experience has forgotten - but we rarely step back and think of what we're really doing.

The second point is: can you do it? Would you take a fast, committed, powerful punch in a real-world attack, and do? Would you be aware, and already responding, if a punch or a kick 'came out of nowhere' ?

If you're in a club that practices randori (multiple attackers, to a count or free-form) and really puts the students under pressure with it, the answer is probably 'Yes'; but there are many clubs that don't do that.

And far, far too many students do not make honest, committed attacks that demand an effective response.

So I wince when I hear that 'the Aikidokai can beat' meme; the well-taught ones probably can beat most others - but that's true of the better students in any art. I'm prepared to bet that Steve Morris has met very few Aikidokai who can fight, or none; one or two Karate Dan grades who are everything they should be; and one or two Judoka who can; and Tricia has made it very clear that these are the exception rather than the rule.

And I am struck by the thought that T'ai Chi was once considered to be a devastatingly effective martial art, and was taught to the Emperor's personal guard. Schools and federations and dojos drift, over time, and become sports, or fitness classes, or moving meditation; and even Aikido is taught as the development of mind and body coordination first, and self-defense second.


I studied taiji for health benefits for quite a while, the term for practise is, in fact, play.

Perhaps it was just the school and teacher I was with, but it was taught as a health/exercise/moving meditation/relaxation thing and it was great. I went with a bad back thanks to some work I was doing that required bad posture and this gave me something that required and enforced good posture. It also got me away from a pressure cooker work environment for a couple of hours to let go and relax.

There were other teachers within the family - taiji teachers are traditionally adopted into families - who focused on more martial things. You could move on to sparring (which started lightweight and fun and could elevate to be pretty nasty). I can't attest to the value of the more fight-biased end of the art, I never saw it used in a real fight. I did attend the classes where they talked about how the graceful forms that everyone thinks of when they think of taiji, and that I'd learnt, had been adapted from the fighting applications and practised low-speed, low-impact contact of them in their fighting form too. That was my choice, I didn't want to learn how to fight with them, I did want to learn their origin and use because it helps understand the art. But the combat forms are actually in there and not a long step away if you've got the temperament and desire to learn them. I was 30-something at this point, and one of the younger people in the main taiji class. I taught and assisted teaching taiji for a number of years too - although those that stuck it through were about even, classes started about 2/3 women.

I haven't been to a wide range of other martial arts classes but I suspect there's a concentration of younger men. They largely have a desire to fight - they might want the discipline, but they want "my X will let me beat your Y" as short hand for "I'm harder than you." Their teacher may or may not know they're talking rubbish when they say "Oh yes, of course it will" but somewhere, someone is faced with the prospect of a nice paying student walking off or feeding them that line followed up by "But only when you reach the level to understand the inner secrets," rubbing their hands as they think of the years of income they've just guaranteed.

I'm not saying that's in any way right - it's BS of the highest order - but I guess it's understandable.

I think the difference with science fiction is that science fiction largely doesn't ask us to buy into the world view as a truth. (L. Ron Hubbard and his estate and church might disagree but that's a special case.) I thoroughly enjoy Charlie's Laundry books. I don't believe in Bob and the Laundry as real people and organisations. I a sprinkle of Urban Fantasy in my reading but I don't actually think there are vampires and werewolves out there. In some ways, much like taiji as meditation, it's nice to mentally step into a space where I'm away from the stresses of work, paying the bills and the like.

Do some people bring it back with them? Probably. Definitely, actually. I'm sure we've all met them. But I think that says more about them than the author.


I've seen it argued that the real problem with Arnhem was that the Tank Corps' rate of advance was rather slower than the generals planned for. This was at least partly due to the lack of width on the single road they could advance down.


The last cavalry charge I can think of was in Poland, in 1939, and cut to pieces by Pz 1 and 2, plus armoured cars.

As to "forming square agaisnt cavalry", isn't that what army formation drill is still about some 75 years after the last charge, and heading for 150 since the last successful charge against regular infantry?


I started training at seven. Karate in a church in the Scottish borders. I'd seen enough violence by that time in my life to realize that this was not a game, and that actually killing people by putting your hands on them was a necessary life skill for at least some of the people in the world. I trained pretty regularly for the next 15 years, and less regularly after that, eventually falling into the nasty end of Chinese internal martial arts, where they teach you things like how to punch somebody in the liver.

What I noticed was this: the calm knowledge that I could take anybody I met hand-to-hand other than a few old soldiers and the occasional high-dan karate instructor, even though I was a short fat man, completely repositioned me socially. When I got ill and lost most of my physical capability for a year or so (hello, middle age) left me nearly mute.

Training to kill people is very different from training to fight, or martial arts. When the mental model of what you are trying to achieve is "score the point" it's one activity. When it's "knock the guy out" it's another. When it's "drop him and move to the next" it's a third. Even BJJ with it's "no holds barred" reputation actually blocks most of the simple and effective ground moves like breaking people's fingers.

A few years ago I did some very slow, light contact sparring with an MMA instructor a foot taller, 10 years younger, and muscular enough to have bench pressed me without breaking sweat. He couldn't close without exposing his eyes, neck or groin to direct attack - no tools for defending those targets because MMA contests do not permit them to be attacked. His entire world came apart when he realized that in a real confrontation somebody vastly his physical inferior but with much nastier training was a very credible threat.

The psychological price I pay for martial arts training layered on top of pretty severe PTSD was going through life feeling like a weapon. Somebody would barge into me on the street and I'd raise a hand to ward them off, but a fraction of a second behind it was the thought of lethal attack. In the 1990s in Edinburgh I was accosted on the street: very nearly kicked a woman trying to stab me with a hypodermic syringe in the throat rather than running away, and the two seconds in which I paused to square off could easily have gotten me killed, albeit slowly. Fortunately she didn't close, and I realized what I was doing and ran away. But that's a situation where it was very, very clear that combat training completely impeded my common sense.

Eventually I took 10 years off. Stopped training, put on a ton of weight, did some ageing. Eventually the reflexes-and-PTSD package loosened, and I started to appreciate the movements for their own sake rather than as a constant rehearsal to kill. Post traumatic stress disorder is a terrible thing, and my early desire to train had largely been driven by it: the reflexes encoded the trauma, the mindset in the movements. I trained with the expectation that I was going to have to kill multiple opponents bigger than me hand to hand, and 30 years after the last time I was subjected to that kind of violence, it was simply no longer a realistic threat model. Eventually it faded without the constant practice reinforcing the PTSD world model. Deeper stuff started to heal.

The most dangerous man I ever met was an American veteran who was in his late fifties or early sixties. His parents had died when he was 13 and he'd hit the road, wound up in Vietnam (or Korea?). He rode freight trains, and had impeccable manners. Eyelets pulled out of his boots which apparently soldiers of that era did because they could reflect the light. His entire presence radiated that he was a human being with no inhibition against killing. Nobody would mess with him, the violent, alcoholic criminals of groups like FTRA ("freight train riders of america") regarded him as utterly untouchable because all he wanted to do was be left alone and live in peace, and if you forced him to, he'd kill you. Without it being any kind of a thing.

But he was a machine. Unsmiling, slightly robotic, friendless. A lot of what makes us human, or at least appear human to other people, is our unwillingness or inability to kill. With that disinhibited, by training, or by trauma, or more usually by some combination of the two ("combat hardened troops") you definitely wind up slightly or significantly less than human.

I need to start to train again for my health, but I don't want to sharpen and harden my damage into a spear to rip through somebody else's internal organs any more. I'm growing up: only 35 years since I first set foot in a dojo.


But fighting is chaotic. It's often unpredictable.

German Longsword seems evolved to deal with this -- it's all about getting the feel for putting your sword wherever it should go at that moment.

Cut too short? Fine, stab him. On target? Great. Bind on his sword in case he has another strike left in him. Too close? Snake around his blade and slash him, or close and grapple if you think you can. Fighting six people? Fine, run away then pick them off.


It may well be that the last Cavalry Charge has not happened yet, and it won't need some collapse of civilisation, but I think the info in this article has a dash of romanticism running through it. I suspect the reality reported was more often mounted infantry.

With walking-robot supply transport, how long before robot cavalry, and what will happen to the poor sods who have to follow orders and charge? No, a cavalry charge might become something very different….


"Polish Cavalry charging tanks" is German propaganda, I'm afraid. Didn't happen.

However - if you do a search on "Charge of the Savoia Cavalleria at Isbuscenskij" you'll find a 1942 example where an Italian Cavalry Regiment charged a Siberian Infantry Regiment, and won.

As for "formation drill" being about cavalry, again no. Think of it as being the kata for western warfare...

In the days where a muzzle-loader took well over fifteen seconds to reload, had an effective range measured in tens of yards rather than hundreds, and had a accuracy measured in feet not inches, the only way to employ them effectively was en masse - in groups of a hundred or more.

The simplest way to engage a target was to point a hundred muskets in the same direction, and fire volleys under control; firing by ranks means that only half your troops are reloading at any time. The techniques of getting a hundred soldiers to move as a group from point A to point B, in good order, and then point in the correct direction, were a natural succession from "doing the same thing, but with pikes".

This is why the term "well drilled troops" is so significant in the 18th and 19th century - if your troops are better at foot drill than their troops, you can move your rifle companies into position more quickly, and direct their fire more accurately.

The Napoleonic Wars saw the introduction of rifles, and Rifle Regiments (see Mark Urban's excellent book on the subject); the US Civil War saw some of the last use of massed foot drill on the battlefield - because over the next couple of decades, the repeating rifle and then the machine gun were introduced.

As an aside, the "Highland Charge" was simple - stay at the edge of effective musket range, persuade the enemy to fire a volley at you (possibly by firing your own volley and then dropping your muskets), and then try to sprint from the limit of musket range, to the enemy, faster than they can reload. In the days of plug bayonets (rather than socket bayonets) this worked; against "well-drilled troops" it failed.


It's really interesting reading everybody's comments. Thanks so much for all of the fascinating responses!

About eye gouges and groin kicks and other dirty moves. I think people get the wrong idea about how it works. This is not about techniques, legal or otherwise. It's about the mindset you need in order to survive in a fight. And it's true that fighting in MMA can't guarantee street survival, but it offers you far more opportunities to get that survival mindset than learning techniques or drilling them outside fight context does.

I used to be on a women's self-defense demonstration team. We did lots of groin kicks and eye gouges for pretend. When I remember it I break out in hives. Saying, 'I could poke you in the eye' or 'I could kick you in the groin,' sounds great in theory. But unlike in martial arts demonstrations the opponent isn't going to come at you in a predictable way and he isn't going to just stand there while you do the move. Not to mention that it takes quite a lot of aggression to kick somebody in the groin or claw at their eyes. This destructive aggression for many of us isn't easy to come by.

And what if the eye gouge fails? What if you kick him in the groin and he smiles and keeps coming (some guys do--I've seen it). Now what?

It's true that there are MMA fighters who train purely for sport and who are probably nonviolent outside. But it's also true that a lot of the people attracted to the sport are attracted to it because they love the violence. I personally know a number of doormen and street fighters who train and fight MMA also. I wouldn't recommend trying to poke one of them in the eye, personally :-)


"...but perhaps the most offensive to me is the fact that a person can rise to high rank and great influence without possessing any fighting ability whatsoever. "

There are very few people who are both great fighters and great teachers. And the qualities you need in a General are not the same as you need in a regular soldier, although there is obviously overlap.

I have practised Shorinji Kempo for some 35 years. It was originally a religious organization that taught a martial art in order to attract young people to the philosophy. Latterly, to my disgust, it has largely dropped it's religious origins and there is almost nothing taught of those in the West.

It was never about fighting per se, and indeed hard contact free fighting was severely discouraged after a number of deaths. However, you will find some kenshi who are rubbish fighters and some who are excellent. The latter includes one well known very senior teacher who has allegedly had over 200 street fights in his life.

Additionally, throughout most of its existence in Japan, it is/was very different to the kind of martial arts you see in the West. Instead of thinking "sport" or "unarmed combat" or "street fighting", think of a cross between a paramilitary organization and Freemasonry with a big dose of political influence thrown in for good measure. How many martial arts orgs in the West have the podium packed with politicians and billionaires at their big get-togethers?


As for real fights, my first instinct would be to go for a weapon. Anything - stick, bottle, chair, rock. Real fights are not about fairness but life or death. Always try to bring a gun to the knife fight, or a baseball bat to the fist fight. A big stick is worth several dan grades.


Guys, some clips just for your amusement :-)

which of course calls to mind

Sorry. Couldn't help myself.


Unfortunately the real problem with MMA is strategic rather than tactical.

In a one-on-one fight for status ("duelling") going to the ground is plausibly safe. But nobody in their right mind should be in a fight like that using MMA: anything past adolescent boys slapping each other carries too much of a risk of permanent physical injury. Duelling is stupid: throw rocks at it.

That leaves actual fights, where if you go to the ground you can't escape because you can't run, and you're a sitting duck for your opponent's mate kicking the hell out of you while you are grappling. It's even worse if weapons are involved.

Almost no fight can be guaranteed to stay one-on-one.


OH, and re

Most approaches to knife fighting assume people are using power moves designed to drive a tanto through armour: Japanese samurai stuff. This is much like how Akido makes a ton more sense if you visualize your opponent's wrist holding a sword. Its origins are in battlefield last line of defence stuff for disarmed samurai in armour, which is why kicking/punching is irrelevant - the armour gets in the way too much. Control the sword arm and attack the joints and/or throw: it's a rational art for that scenario, and training quality is usually exceptionally high. Good stuff.

Knife disarm etc. against people who aren't stabbing hard enough to punch through armour is vastly harder; the blade is a paintbrush that paints with your blood. Just slight contact can poke an artery. They don't commit force to the blade because they don't have to: typical tactics are to protect the blade hand with the off-hand to guard against disarms, and to keep the blade moving.

Knives are very, very bad things and extraordinary fear of them in hand-to-hand is appropriate.


I always got the impression (having been fortunate enough to have personally avoided real fights almost entirely) that winning a real fight was a lot more to do with attitude and experience rather than technique and training (in whatever discipline/art). I once knew a guy who would (and had) hospitalised people in fights; he had no martial arts or combat training, but had hair trigger unpredicatability and violence lurking just under the surface (particularly when drunk), and a willingness to seriously injure his opponent in any fight. I remember him finishing one story with: "... and then I broke his leg with a metal drain pipe, just to make sure he didn't get up ..."


Whoever starts a fight usually has a massive advantage for one or several reasons - surprise, weapons, friends, insensitivity to pain through drink or drugs, lack of inhibition, plus they get to pick their target and the time and place of their attack.


@leashless The problem I have with your logic is that it assumes you have a choice about going to the ground in a fight. I might not want to be there but it's not always a choice. So if I'm there, it's a good idea to have some experience dealing with it and getting back up.

The whole point of MMA training is that you may be a standup specialist against a grappling specialist, and then you train to avoid going to the ground against world-class grapplers, not some random guy in a dark alley.

Again: MMA not a perfect solution, but better than the alternatives imho.


Dave, "real fights" covers everything from teenagers brawling in the park through professional criminals raiding each-other's houses up to Cold War special forces meeting in the tunnels under Berlin where gunfire will draw too much attention. What makes a fight "real" is that, to the combatants involved, it's at the edge of their training frame / operational envelope.

Nutters with a talent for violence do very, very well to a point. But (for example) bouncers and police deal with them on a fairly regular basis without terribly high injury rates. A lot of that is context: they work in groups, the de-escalate, they take a lot of precautions against getting sucker punched or ambushed and so on.

One-to-one duelling between people who are drunk is where most "hard cases" learn their chops, and it's not a good training ground against organized and semi-skilled opponents.


@DickBruere LOL you read my mind. I almost posted that, but I was restraining myself.

I think this clip illustrates a serious point: when you don't have contact training in your practice you can become pretty deluded. If you have a compliant training partner, anything can work.


This particular guy seldom started fights, but if he wasn't on the floor with the first hit, whoever did start it was in some serious trouble (and he seemed to have a massive pain tolerance). Looking back, once he had a few drinks in him, he was disturbingly reminiscent of "Begbie" in Trainspotting (as portrayed in the movie), absent some of more extreme sociopathy.


Tricia - yes, I absolutely agree. The same logic applies to knife defence: if you're unfortunate enough to be attacked with a knife, there's a good chance you didn't have options.

You need ground game (I did a reasonable amount of judo) but the MMA mindset is all-too-often that going to the ground maximizes the advantages of your training. That might be true, but it also maximizes your liability in any self defence scenarios.


I'd agree about your cite's romanticism (interesting and well argued anyway though), and that several of those actions seem more likely to have involved "mounted infantry" (I'm defining cavalry as "soldiers equipped and trained to fight from horseback", and explicitly excluding units like "armoured cavalry" of Vietnam vintage).

Even if I take the cite at face value, I think some of my other points, like about "forming square" and about cavalry being outclassed by armour still stand.


I have always assumed lack of ground techniques in SK reflects its gang fight origins.


Supporting anecdotals - I've heard it from several sources that shock to the groin takes between 5 and 20s to register in the brain, so it's quite possible that the assailant will "just keep coming" for long enough.


Oh, don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to make out that this guy was some kind of mythical Terminator-like being, but rather trying to illustrate that a willingness to do damage to your opponent makes a big difference in the outcome of fight (a point which I think you've also illustrated in your posts).


That makes a ton of sense. Lot of guys, lot of running around, you'd really rather not be on your back.

I find watching these guys absolutely fascinating Quite a few shaolin vs. [actual serious fight athletes] and the simplicity of their techniques and economy of motion always blow me away. Really beautiful stuff.


Sorry, I feel this is a far more appropriate link, given the discussion so far... You'll have to watch the whole minute, mind you :)

...windmilling, keys...


Yes, absolutely. I think a lot of why police etc. have such low injury rates for dealing with guys like your friend is that they unbalance the odds early, and provide a ton of de-escalation options.

Nobody wants to get Begbie'd and the people who deal with 'em on a regular basis seem to rely on groups and tactics and descalation more than head-on conflict. I suspect that's because fighting with them is sodding dangerous even for people with some training.


This is one of the guiding principles in the stories I write.

There is a Charlie-character who once hit his opponent with a railway signal post (and incidentally messed with a lot of commuters).

OK, so that might be considered an example of relativity. It might have been the train that was moving at speed.


You've seen the basic syllabus exercises taught in Aikido: and yes, they consist of a straightforward stab, a slash around your guard, and a downard stabbing attack into the neck.

That's the syllabus for grading examinations; the students who have passed those gradings practice a much larger repertoire of tanteido, on weapons courses and in closed lessons for higher grades.

Some of the practice I've seen - off at the corner of the mat where students a grade or two up from my level of are working with the tanto - would answer your points quite well.



Thanks for contributing this, and I look forward to your dissection of martial arts in popular media. There are too few genuine practitioners contributing to that media.

However I have to say I'm disturbed by the tenor of the article. This reads too much like all the other articles I've read by iconoclastic martial artists who defame and generalise other styles, and claim to know the One True Secret, based on a return to "realistic" training.

I understand you are establishing your credentials for the subsequent article, and I can agree that there are many students and instructors who are fooling themselves about the practicality of what they learn, who perpetuate the bullshit that is the base understanding in the general population and in the media.

Yet the generalisation that traditional fighting styles are merely constructing degree-academies, with founders and grandmasters who are "afraid" to confront reality, is in itself a bullshit claim. There are a few about, but they are easy enough to spot once you have a bit of experience.

It is right and proper that the study of martial arts should be a practical study. A trained fighter should be able to defeat an untrained one, or he is not studying a martial art. However as a practitioner gains skill and experience, as they go beyond the level of being able to defeat 90 or 99% of those they might encounter in a confrontation, he or she has to confront a central dilemma: what are they training for?

In the West we live in historically peaceful era. In Japan, exceptionally so. The chances of unsought for physical confrontation is very low. For a trained fighter, psychologically prepared and situationally aware, it approaches nil. Outside of policemen and bouncers, training beyond a basic level loses purpose.

After all, the most effective close-in martial art in the world is a half-brick delivered to the back of the skull. Why train unarmed? Indeed, if you keep training, real encounters become farcical, where your main problem is not survival but ensuring you do not do permanent damage to your erstwhile opponent. The moral imperative shifts from survival to something quite different.

After that point you no longer have viable, realistic opponents to prepare for. The only opponent you are fighting is yourself.

The traditional Japanese styles come from a heritage of dealing with this problem. The sword schools of the civil war era were encouraged, after the triumph and pacification of the Tokugawas, to look inward. Without war, what is the purpose of training? The unarmed schools adopted this philosophy, this Way, as they were imported, adopted or developed.

The Japanese answer, simply put, is to develop oneself within as well as without. To become a better human being. "To unite mind, body and spirit". The journey becomes internalised. The grades and certificates become symbolic.

You will not find "masters" participating in MMA, but it does not lessen them. They may well be ineffective without training specifically for that regime. But MMA does not serve any purpose for them. It misses the point as badly as any no-contact tournament fighter who thinks he's ready for the street.

As a fellow writer and martial artist I hope you can also address the other kind of bullshit that I struggle with, quite apart from misrepresentation of the practical realities. Indeed focusing on the "practical" only makes it worse.

If a writer includes a martial artist in a story, it becomes a case of Chekhov's Gun, a reader expectation that what is known must be used. In reality martial artists are peaceable, philosophic types; in a story they must commit violence, because that is what is culturally expected. Studying violence in order to avoid it remains a taboo, confounding expectation at too basic a level.


There are two ways that infantry can stop a cavalry charge:

  • Fire enough rounds to kill enough horses to stop them. This was achieved occasionally by artillery firing grapeshot at close range. That requires remarkable courage and training on the part of the artillerymen (which is why it failed at Balaclava; the Light Brigade took the guns there, even if they didn't keep them). It became routine, though, with the arrival of the repeating rifle around 1900. Arm a few hundred infantrymen with Lee-Enfields and they can break any cavalry charge.

  • Hold a solid formation that the horses won't ride into/through. You need to be enough ranks deep (probably about 8) and having some sort of longarm (pike, sarissa, bayoneted musket) makes it easier. Cavalry can try the caracole (ride up, shoot, ride away) to break up the ranks and then charge for the gaps - the longarms make it much easier to cover for an occasional gap in the ranks. This is what drill was for; so the scared soldiers stuck to their drill instead of panicking. If you stand your ground to a cavalry charge, then the horse will refuse to ride through a solid mass of people.

  • If you want to see cavalry charges, try going to a large protest in a western country. Mounted police have conducted cavalry charges to break protests many times in the last few years. Tends to break the protesters' will without inflicting very many casualties: far less violent than rubber bullets or tear gas.

    If the protesters can hold steady ranks shoulder-to-shoulder, then the horses won't ride through. Generally, the police can find ways to force a gap and then charge into the gap, which will scatter the protestors.


    One of the best overall rules for fighting is to try not to let the other guy set the terms. If you're attacked, your goal is to break contact. If you're doing the attacking (and you probably shouldn't be), then you can bring weapons and friends to the fight, which makes things ever so much easier.


    I rather like Shintaido's approach to the question of "what are martial arts for now?"

    Very, very strong technical skill base (some innovative, some inherited from Karate) and a mandate much wider than fighting - dance, performance, meditation, almost a yoga all seem to have roles. It's a deep thing.

    I only got to train with their people on one workshop and it was most illuminating; Karate with the affordances of Akido would not be an unfair summary. Lovely stuff.


    A quote from one of the stories…

    Whether the bad guys are Bunraku puppeteers with a sideline in mayhem, or real ninja, they run into some up-to-date military technology.

    Charlie knew the sound, and felt no sympathy for his late opponents. He wondered, for a moment,if they were even, properly, ninja. A well-trained Lewis gunner, firing short bursts, backed up by men with rifles. It was a bit different from his experience—there was a lot more cover in the shell-churned wastes of No-Man's-Land—but he knew what he would do. And if he were out there, under that fire, he would be praying for thinner buttons.

    Whether we're talking martial arts of cavalry charges, reality had a bad habit of being different.


    "This destructive aggression for many of us isn't easy to come by."

    Anyone who remembers the first time they were instructed to strike another human being - a real attack, accurate, committed, nothing 'pulled' or hesitant about it, striking like your hand will cut through them - knows that this is difficult to do.

    I find that encouraging and reassuring: humans are not innately violent.

    It's difficult to teach, but it's essential: no one learns real defence against pretend attacks.

    If you can get footage of Ye Olde English Football Hooligans 'fighting' on the terraces, you'll see half of them (at most) punching with their shoulders and their bodyweight, committed to the strike; and most of the rest dabbing at like it's all terribly unhygienic and they'd really rather not.


    OMG you guys, too many comments to address!

    @horza I am not sure what I’ve said that suggests I know the One True Way. Quite the opposite. I have said that fighting is a chaotic, messy, business. You’re right that it’s become fashionable for people to attack the traditional martial arts, and the alternatives offered by way of RBSD are sometimes worse than the thing they are attacking. But one can train in boxing, judo, wrestling, BJJ, catch-wrestling, sambo, Muay Thai and MMA and get a good grounding and experience of competitive fighting—it’s not everything, it’s not the battlefield, it’s not weapons, but within its own boundaries each of these fighting methods are testable by the individual. This is the direction I always point my friends in when they ask. It’s what I would do if I could start again as a young person. These methods are about the fighter him or herself, not the teacher or the system or living up to a standard that is essentially imaginary because you don’t fight.

    "If a writer includes a martial artist in a story, it becomes a case of Chekhov's Gun, a reader expectation that what is known must be used. In reality martial artists are peaceable, philosophic types; in a story they must commit violence, because that is what is culturally expected. Studying violence in order to avoid it remains a taboo, confounding expectation at too basic a level."

    If you’re a writer, what’s stopping you from doing this? Having a trope like this is something to overturn, and seems like a good starting point.

    For me personally as a Westerner, when I’ve been exposed to the Japanese and Okinawan systems that lean on this ‘study violence to be nonviolent’ idea, I have been disappointed. I had no idea what violence was through studying traditional MA. I was already nonviolent. I needed to learn to be violent! When I get really good and violent—like your Tokugawa postwar swordsmen—then maybe I will take up something peaceful to calm me down. So far I remain insufficiently dangerous to need to do that. For now as a woman in a misogynistic world I am more than happy to focus on unleashing the beast. And I say that with good humour, but I am serious.

    And before I offend the traditional martial artists too much, let me say again: I have no problem with people who want to practice the art for the sake of doing the art. If there is some spiritual or personal benefit to be gained for people, great.

    Personally, I have a deep allergy to hierarchies, and the Japanese systems are steeped in hierarchy. There is a strong political undertone in many of these organizations, and someone has referred upthread to the paramilitaristic associations of some of the martial arts—often right-wing. Some are attracted to this. With me it’s the opposite. That’s personal, and it’s influenced in part by the abuses of power that I’ve experienced and that I’ve witnessed (a high-ranking ‘spiritual’ PhD karate historian here in Britain was recently jailed for child sexual abuse of a student. It happens too often; the hierarchy isn’t precisely to blame, but it’s a structure that does facilitate the abuse of power).

    This is a big subject but here’s a link to read that alludes to some of the political stuff. I’m not an authority on it.

    But politics has no bearing on this:

    "It is right and proper that the study of martial arts should be a practical study. A trained fighter should be able to defeat an untrained one, or he is not studying a martial art. However as a practitioner gains skill and experience, as they go beyond the level of being able to defeat 90 or 99% of those they might encounter in a confrontation, he or she has to confront a central dilemma: what are they training for?"

    When you say that the practitioner can defeat 90% of the people he encounters, I have to wonder how you know that. In what fights has this training been tested? Because it’s not easy to be able to defeat 90% of the people one encounters unless the people one encounters are all pretty weak.

    Speaking personally, after I got picked up and thrown across the room by a Very Large Gentleman in a class when I was 28, and after I tried to punch the bag and could not even make it move more than a couple of inches because makiwara training had inhibited the penetration of my shots, I had to throw all of the stylized Okinawan stuff (which I LOVED at the time) out the window and painfully start over. And I do mean painfully. I only knew how to move in a highly stylized way, and it was a big disadvantage. But six months later I knocked a high-ranked internationally competitive karate fighter on his ass. We were both surprised. In a Japanese dojo I’d never have dared do that. I would have had to defer to his superior rank to make him look good.

    Once let out of the box, I would never go back. YMMV, of course 


    I liked this post a lot! Thank you. (I studied martial arts then studied and taught women's self-defence for years.) I was nodding all the way through.

    But what really caught my eye was: You have someone teaching you (allegedly) to fight, but they have no fighting experience themselves let alone the know-how to help you. If you go along with this long enough, you can aspire to turn around and teach others one day. Ad infinitum; ad nauseum. Substitute write for fight and you've got a goodly percentage of Creative Writing MFAs. Obviously not a perfect correlation but close, in so many ways...


    @leashless: Was the PTSD something that came before the martial arts training, or was it caused by the martial arts training?


    Excellent points all. I suspect that you are right in saying that all martial arts evolve in their emphasis. Learning an art as it was created; learning the "true" art if you will is extremely difficult. I certainly haven't gotten there. However, as you said there are some extremely talented individuals that do. There are one or two shihan that I have seen in my career that I honestly believe could handle themselves in almost any situation that didn't involve firearms. But as you say, they are few and far between.


    "When you say that the practitioner can defeat 90% of the people he encounters, I have to wonder how you know that. In what fights has this training been tested? Because it’s not easy to be able to defeat 90% of the people one encounters unless the people one encounters are all pretty weak."

    I was meaning real encounters - the ones you might not be able to avoid on the street. 90% of these would be drunk, stupid, aggressive males, rather than the genuinely dangerous, sober martial artist you meet in a dojo. Drunks have very poor balance, and a little knowledge in sweeps and throws goes a long way here.

    Whatever your "Way", this is the progress in realistic fighting you make, is it not? The ability to defeat an increasingly wide range of opponents in an unavoidable street encounter, outside the dojo.

    I was making a purely philosophical point about what training means when you live in a peaceful society and you have reached a level where advancing your study of the art will not advance your physical safety in any significant sense. And I firmly believe martial arts must have a philosophical point to it - else age and decrepitude will make mock of us.

    I understand your main point is that MMA has brought a much greater sense of reality to the tournament focused styles of the 80s-90s (and that there's a way to go). I heartily agree - watching the Gracies dominate those early Octagon fights was an eye-opener. It caused me to add Judo to my repertoire, and my original club (Edinburgh University) now has a syllabus that includes JuJitsu and an emphasis on self-defence and bunkai. "Illegal" techniques are being recovered from the kata in a strange form of archaelogical research.

    But MMA isn't realistic either. In MMA you can't stab a rigid finger into an eye. You can't crush a windpipe, or strike the carotid with a knuckle. Can't kick out a knee or use teeth to rip and tear flesh in the groundwork.

    You can't even strike a training partner down for turning their back on you, as was allowed in those old Japanese sword schools.

    All training is a compromise between reality and safety. Historically those dangerous techniques were encoded in the kata, but the understanding got eroded, the emphasis switched to the flashy popularity of the tournament fighting.

    I was fortunate in my training, starting out in a club run by bouncers, who practiced what they preached and gave me a solid basis on my own journey to a harder punch. It sounds like you had a rougher road. In a sense I hope that you were particularly unfortunate, as I hate to think that it is really that bad out there.


    Sasakawa. When I was lined up with the hundreds/thousands opf others in our uniforms at the Budokan in 1985 he was one of the dignitaries on the podium. As each one was introduced the kenshi saluted them (gassho rae - we don't bow). Then along came Sasakawa and I wondered at the time why so many Japanese kenshi refused to do so. I found out later. Anyway, he was a big patron of the martial arts. Beyond that, he and many of the big names in Japanese martial arts were either associated with, or members of, the Black Dragon society. Here is our founder.


    "Whatever your "Way", this is the progress in realistic fighting you make, is it not? The ability to defeat an increasingly wide range of opponents in an unavoidable street encounter, outside the dojo."

    Yes, but not necessarily in the way you mean it. In the wider context of some Japanese arts that "opponent" and the "street encounter" is not about thrashing some drunk but is far more socially-politically oriented. Read up on the "street fights" that were a hallmark of the use of MA schools to break strikes or clash with the Communists in the 50s/60s.

    What I really despise about Western MA is their limited context and petty vision that goes no further than being a sport on one hand or a "I'm gonna kick yo ass" streetfighting wannabe.


    I can think of two martial arts systems geared to real fighting, and they're both practical police/military styles rather than venerable traditions. Krav Maga training as practiced by the Israeli military requires serious protective gear as punches and kicks are not pulled. The Taiwanese police have their own form of Kung Fu,which judging from some videos of training is forceful, stunningly fast (as in blink-and-you've-missed -the-whole-thing) and not at all elegant.


    Someone mentioned knives.


    Many years ago, back in the eighties, a friend was into martial arts. I was visiting one weekend, and found a book he had on knife fighting. The two authors had real credentials: one in the military, both in reform school (as they used to call it), and one in jail.

    At the end of the book, one gave an example of a real knife fight he'd been in in a bar, I think. Guy1 pulls knife on him. He pulls knife, and moves it. Guy1 keeps eye on author's knife. With his other hand, author reaches behind him, grabs a chair, and hits guy1 over the head with the chair. End of knife fight.

    mark "funny, they don't say a word when I go through security with my solid wood walking stick"

    By the way, am I the only person here who regularly reads Kung Fu Tea? It's a fascinating blog by an sociologist who studies martial arts culture and practices wing chun. If you want to see a more objective take on martial arts culture, from mythologizing weapons and origins stories to how schools have historically worked, it's quite worth it.

    Case in point: one of the classic discussions (going on above) is about how school X would deal with attack Y. To cite an example from Kung Fu tea, most of a century ago, kung fu masters were teaching their students their Art, which was primarily unarmed. In one case, one school got into a dispute with another group. Did they attack them as they were trained to do? Nope? They attacked on horseback and with arson, neither of which were taught at that school

    We do a lot of mythologizing about what people used to do and are supposed to do in martial arts. Kung Fu tea suggests that, based on the evidence, martial arts schools haven't changed all that much in a century or so. Once you take away training for actual warfare (which, even in China, ended around 1900 in many martial arts schools, and even before that focused on marksmanship as much as hand-to-hand combat), the point of a martial arts school is to build a community of students that provides a living to the master and his disciples, more than it is about teaching people to hurt others or even defend themselves. Guns have been around for quite awhile, even (and especially) in China and Japan, and the martial artists know about it. That hasn't stopped anyone from teaching martial arts, and I doubt it ever will. The key point, though, and it is important, is that fighting and violence really aren't what most martial arts schools are about. Sure it's a cycle of BS if your only focus is violence, but it's a system that seems to work pretty well.


    For business applications, 19 out of 20 in a marketing research study (a type of applied social science) is 'good enough' because of the nature of the decision to be made: how much sugar should be added to bread to make it palatable to at least 20% of the kids under 12 likely to be served cereal for breakfast? By how much do we need to fluff up corn flakes so that one ounce fills a typical breakfast bowl? Pretty low risk, and whose results are unlikely to screw up some bigger decision down the road like understanding the Theory of Everything.

    What's worrisome is that so many NIH studies, including clinical trials, did not analyze results by basic demos such as age and gender regardless of sample size. A real head-scratcher ... in a field where the difference of a few base pairs can indicate severity of something like Huntington and census data consistently showing differences in life expectancy, that a whole chromosome can be completely ignored.


    @Tim, I acquired PTSD from having two mentally ill parents and some environmental factors. As a result when I came to martial practice I came to it as a killer (I'm probably a sociopath - I've avoided diagnosis.)

    I got therapy early and a lot of it, then did an awful lot of meditation under an Indian school with close ties to the gurkhas. That seems to have beaten out most of the dents, and the outright predatory stuff doesn't seem to be part of my nature. At least as far as I can tell. I put my lack of empathy to good use, doing worst case scenario disaster planning / state failure / other stuff as a theoretician working for government and academia (see also: hexayurt project.)

    It's not an easy profile to manage. Age has helped. A bit.


    Oh, I should say that I did have some problems with state dependent memory: physical skills that I learned when I was still in bad shape tended to lock in that mindset, so certain areas of my PTSD management were slowed down by the martial arts training: hypervigilance, exaggerated startle reflex etc. make a ton of sense in a martial arts context, so some of the reflexive, instinctive levels of the PTSD didn't settle much until I had stopped practice for quite a few years.

    So, yes, in some areas it slowed my recovery: recreation of the mental state I'd learned the skills in when I practised them kept some of those states of being alive long after they should have faded. But eventually they did. Both the mindset and the training went in deep.


    mark "funny, they don't say a word when I go through security with my solid wood walking stick"

    In the USA, that's an "assist device" and protected by Federal law. Not even the TSA can take it from you.

    Same legal category as wheelchairs, crutches, canes, etc.

    Why yes, that is a security loophole... and there's an entire subculture of "assist device" users taking maximum advantage of that.


    One thing that's worth discussing is how and why people train. Two extremes:

    1) Marines in the US have hand to hand fight training, MCMAP, often called "Semper Fu.")

    2) Iaido (drawning a sword and making a perfect cut in one motion) which is old Japanese stuff

    So the motivations of practitioners are key here: there's very nearly no overlap between the reasons a person learns MCMAP vs Iaido. Context, content, as far apart as any two arts I could pick. I'm not going to characterize the contrast, but across that range of extremes come things like Karate, with MCMAP type motivations at one end (you're a cop who wants better brawling skills) and Iaido type motivations at the other (the Kata man, the Kata!)

    Self defence as a motivation is almost certainly entirely irrational: defensive driving lessons and smoke detectors and EMT training and so on almost certainly offer statistically vastly more protection. There are a handful of professions which involve regular exposure to high risks of physical violence (police, bouncers etc.) and one can imagine fight training specific to each niche in additional to general skills training.

    But, by god, there is something deep in the reptile brain, in the base of the spine, which says "I could take him" and it feels good. "I am not helpless. I am not afraid. I have options."

    Martial arts might well be the cheapest and easiest way of creating that sense of empowerment for people, even if the training has very little impact on overall statistical mortality.

    When I teach fighting (once in a couple of years I'll do a brief seminar for friends) I focus on four things.

    1) understanding which fight you are in: escaping, status fighting, murder.

    2) understanding and controlling distance.

    3) do not fuck up your hands, and do not be too enthusiastic about kicking.

    4) disengagement from early stage violence (i.e. recognizing a fight is starting, and identifying exit points like running away as soon as somebody physically pushes you.)

    At the end of that, I guarantee I've added very nearly nothing to a person's ability to win a fight in ring against a determined opponent. But I have given them a sense of control, because usually they haven't thought enough about violence to be able to use their rational intelligence to strategize about it. Just having a few bits to hang on to really helps people feel more confident: when trouble starts they have a road map, even if all it really says is "run away now."

    I think there's something deep in our animal soul that, for some of us, needs this as much as we need mountains and wilderness and sea shore.


    Just popping in to say, yikes, Nicola--you are right. It's the same phenomenon.

    Yet actually, as I play with the analogy in my head, I want to say that at least in the creative writing classes the students are doing actual writing. So there's that crumb of comfort.


    Hm. You do say that people can study for whatever reason they want, but you seem to be implying that all martial arts instructors claim their art will make you a great fighter, can't handle real fights, and are generally blustering fools. If that's the case, what happensed to those students who weren't in it to be fighters - do none of them ever become instructors?

    None of my teachers have claimed that my art (capoeira) will let you win a real fight. In fact, they make a point of discussing what happens when an outright brawl breaks out in the roda, that we are practicing an activity with rules that are absent in real fights. The biggest claim I've heard is that you might be better equipped to dodge a blow or fall without hurting yourself. And capoeira has been used in street fighting - of course, back in that day, they were also doing it with razor blades.

    I know students who came to capoeira looking to learn to fight, yes, but that mindset was always quickly discouraged.


    "Martial arts might well be the cheapest and easiest way of creating that sense of empowerment for people..."

    No. The cheapest and easiest is carrying an effective weapon.


    Any thoughts on the (in)famous fight scene from They Live?


    Higher levels of Aikido practice feel useful for a real fight IMHO - one defender is pitted against multiple attackers who are encouraged to attack with random timing (including multiple at the same time) and full penetrating attacks (to give the defender enough aggressive force to use in redirections) to which the defender can react with very serious twists and throws because he knows that his fighting partners are well versed in proper falls and rolls. As others have already mentioned, any of these moves executed at the same speed and intensity against an non-aikido opponent on a hard surface would be very devastating. We also had people go to other schools to learn different attack styles, so that we can defend against a kickboxer, for example. And always disengagement was emphasized so you can run away from the fight as soon as possible.


    Razor blades? How about axes and machetes? It's worth reading Ring of Liberation if you can get a copy of it. It's a PhD thesis on capoeira that includes some fairly well-researched history.

    I played capoeira (badly) back when I was in college, and I'd say that it's actually great for fighting in a couple of unobvious ways. One is that capoeira plays in the space between game and fight. If you've noticed, most martial arts are about how you'll handle yourself once the fists are flying at you, capoeira's about reading the signals and (very importantly) improvising on the spot, all the time. I'm also more fond of the way capoeira handles ground work than, say, aikido, because you go down, keep moving, and get right back up again. Don't get me wrong, breakfalls are important, but in most martial arts, that's the end of the sequence. In capoeira, you better keep moving if you're on the ground, or you'll look like an idiot in the roda. There's also something very useful about the trickery in capoeira--a skilled capoeirista is a tricky rogue, not an honorable, stand-up warrior, and it's a martial art where embarrassing someone without hurting them (say by tripping them) is considered better art (and more fun) than beating them bloody.

    Finally, capoeira's got this neat trait that it's a performance art. You've got something to aspire to be good at even if you don't want to fight. It helps that it has some of the most powerful kicks on the planet, but when they're used for spectacular show, who cares about how dangerous they are? Jogo bonito!


    students who came to capoeira looking to learn to fight, yes, but that mindset was always quickly discouraged.

    I've been having Tae Kwon Leep flashbacks all through this thread...


    I remember some of the early TV myths about martial arts, such as the TV series Kung Fu, and this very British treatment of that myth.


    Eh, some of them are :) But some, not so much...


    What I recall, and "Creative Writing" wasn't around to screw tuition fees out of students, is that the only writing taught was how to answer an essay question in an exam, and that wasn't taught in any detail. It was the only writing kata of those ancient-time school leavers.


    Sigh. That is depressing.


    But there's one set of techniques that you are very good at indeed, and rarely think about or even realise that you know: breakfalls.

    Glad someone mentioned it, if only because I managed to have all of my teeth broken (either chipped or cracked) by one badly executed breakfall (mainly because the person throwing me was a newbie who got distracted during his first class and he forgot to let go at a crucial point in the throw; conservation of angular momentum is a right pain in the enamel at times).

    I didn't study aikido for very long - four or five years, just long enough to learn how to hurt myself in new and interesting ways - but I never thought that what was taught in the dojo would be used in a fight outside the dojo, and that point got stressed a lot in training by the instructors.

    To be honest, it's the breakfalls that I value most from the few years I spent training (if only because I probably paid the most for them). As our teacher put it, you're very unlikely to ever use kote-gaeshi outside of a dojo, but knowing how to breakfall will save you from a broken hip or worse when you slip on ice on the pavement at age seventy. And he was right, though I didn't have to wait for age seventy to find out; I managed to step in shampoo walking out of the shower in the gym after one class and I can distinctly remember seeing both feet with the far wall under them and thinking "this is not going to end well" then hearing someone do a breakfall and realising a few seconds later that it was me and I still had an intact spine, which I personally enjoy having.

    Plus, learning the breakfall for kote-gaeshi is a hell of a confidence booster - all the other breakfalls look almost normal (how hard is it to pretend to be a hamster tripping up mid-trot?), but the breakfall for kote-gaeshi - the proper, full-speed, rotate-around-a-point-three-feet-off-the-ground, breakfall - that just looks utterly impossible right up to a point about a tenth of a second after your aikido teacher decides you're not going to do it yourself and shoves you through it for the first time. That was nearly twenty years ago for me, and I can still close my eyes and hear the "oh shiiiiislap" noise and see a few of the higher grades grinning along. The utter bastards.

    For me, that was the entire point of studying aikido - I didn't want to learn to win a street fight because frankly, I never really wanted to get into one and that's what running away is for. I sure as hell didn't want to get "combat training", because (a) guns, (b) drones, and (c) ICBMs. Learning how to punch hard sortof stopped being how you won in combat a while back. Training for me was about learning to move (something puberty tends to swipe from most boys for a few years), learning not to hurt myself if I fell, boosting confidence and having fun. And the gi looked a damn sight less silly than a leotard, so it beat gymnastics quite easily...


    After years of classical MA training you can stand perfectly on one leg while you put a sock on the other foot.



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