Today I had lunch with a female Sifu, whose permission I did not get to use her name. She and I lived in the same neighborhood in Taiwan–called Tien Mou, a little north of Taipei. She will trading with me soon, lessons in Mandarin in exchange for the Fu Hok Sern Ying Chune (Tiger/Crane Combination Shape Fist) technique I learned as a boy there. In discussing our training as children, we compared notes about our teachers being “mean”, the lengthy sessions consisting of not more than stance training and perhaps one or two techniques. My training–as was hers–was like this for the bulk of my career as a student.
She made the observation that I completely agreed with: American students would view this type of training as a waste of time and money, because they like to be entertained in their martial arts lessons.
This is the problem that traditional teachers face. Martial arts students wield the power to withdraw their enrollment and go elsewhere. In order to keep their students coming, teachers must teach what captures students’ interest: new and exciting techniques, rather than the high numbers of repetitions required to master skills. Student will watch movies and see what that training looks like, or youtube clips for the fancy techniques demonstrated there, and turn their noses up on things like stance training or “mindless” (as some so called experts would call it) repetitions of basics that a traditional teacher would call for.
Let me break for a minute. I want to expound on something. Martial arts media is good. But there is a problem in that students will take the word of authors they read or videos they’ve seen over their teachers. Take for example the writings of Bruce Lee. He has made many assumptions, that martial artists will quote as one quotes Bible passages:
- Boards don’t hit back
- Forms are useless
- Traditional training is outdated
- Karate and Kung fu are impractical
- There are no secrets in the martial arts
But the truth is, that while “boards don’t hit back”, neither do people who get hit by fists that can break boards. Forms may not make sense the way people perform them, but the secret is in the application of those techniques contained within the form. If you don’t know, you won’t know. Traditional training, which people will discount at the drop of a hat, is just as effective as “modern” training. And if you think pure kung fu or karate is impractical, I would like to invite you to a kyokushinkai dojo and make that statement. And finally, secrets in the martial arts are exactly that: secrets. If you don’t know what they are, you can’t argue that there are none. People who dismiss secrets simply don’t know them.
And the result of all this media “knowledge”? Martial arts students who think they know more than the masters, and they think they know what “real” martial arts training looks like. They like being “entertained” with techniques that look neat in demonstration (youtube has millions)–and FMA people are famous for collecting them. So you end up with a so-called Arnisador who knows a ton of drills and 10 ways to disarm a stick, but he isn’t strong enough to fracture a skull with one. Or a “Kadena de Mano” practitioner who can demo all kinds of “what-ifs” in the form of patty-cake drills, but he can’t land a solid punch on a combative opponent to save his life.
Entertaining martial arts is all about showing people what you know, while real martial arts is all about proving what you can do. And you don’t get skill in the “proof” part of the martial arts by casually practicing new stuff. It comes from thousands upon thousands of repetitions of doing basic techniques more times than you can count. It comes from hundreds of matches where you execute those techniques against opponents who are attempting to truly stop you from being successful. It comes from facing not training partners, but opponents who are doubtful of your abilities and the validity of your style. This process is not fun, nor is it interesting, and it certainly isn’t entertaining. But it is necessary to say that what you are doing is “real” martial arts.
Everything else is just “for entertainment purposes only”.
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