As a writer and a former student of acting, I people watch. Sometimes I’m judgmental when I don’t mean to be. A lot of times I form stories in my head. And most of the time the stories happen on their own. Not sure what it is that makes me do this, but here I am. If you’ve read my bio, then you know how I feel about the martial arts school I’d come from. But in their defense they have worked very hard to become nationally recognized, especially under the Ed Parker name, and have good relations with certain officials in the Chinese community.
And in the great comedic words of Brian Regan: I don’t want to step on anyone’s beliefs…well…here we go.
I had received an invitation celebrating the head black belt’s 25th anniversary in martial arts, honoring him as teacher and master. The man has done a lot for the school and the discipline. And here’s where I have an issue: the discipline.
I had majored in kinesiology, study of human movement, at university. One of the fundamental principles in learning movement is repetition.
Take writing for example. When we first learned how to write the letter ‘A’, we probably traced dashed lines that formed that letter. The teacher then removed the training wheels and asked us to write the letter ‘A’ on a blank sheet of recycled paper. We learned how to sound out simple words like ‘see’, ‘dog’, ‘run’. Learned the basic structure of a sentence. Then we were taught what a basic paragraph looked like.
Learning martial arts isn’t too far from that. You learn what a fighting stance is, where to put your hands, learn defensive moves like blocking and attacks like punching and kicking. The teacher demonstrates. The student follows.
Once a student learns the alphabet (punching, kicking, blocking), simple self-defense techniques are taught. Someone grabs your shirt, you trap his wrists by grabbing them so he can’t hit you and knee him in the nuts, the balls, the family jewels. More properly known as the groin. (Why are all attackers male?) As the color of your belt changes, so does the complexity of the techniques, like learning how to write a paragraph.
There’s only one problem with this.
When a high school student is given an assignment to write an essay, she must come up with the words on her own. She’ll be given a subject, but she has to do the work.
Fighting is no different. When a person gets attacked, she must fend for herself. Her teacher won’t be there to help. And because people are different, so are their attacks. An attack on a woman will be different than on a man. A man attacking will be different than a woman attacking.
Now, if you’ve watched a boxing match, you’d know that a fight is very dynamic.
Fundamental principle in human reaction: When learning how to cope with two or more different kinds of stimuli, one must train in that similar environment. So if you want to play classical music, then you'll train to play classical music. Make sense?
Boxers work on technique all the time. Thing is, he can have the best punch in the world, but it’s useless if he can’t hit his opponent. So he focuses on accuracy through different drills like mitt and bag work, and, more importantly, he spars. Not only does he have to contend with his own footwork and where he is in relation to his opponent, he must deal with his opponent’s aggression, physical strength, etc. However, having one sparring partner can become stagnant. Often boxers will have several to mix things up. One person’s tells in poker will differ from another, as an example.
My former school did almost no partner drills or pad/bag work with their general student population. No physical drills in an art that is physical. So what did they do? Practice self-defense techniques in the air. Something Bruce Lee argued against vehemently. Below is a video of how most of the training is done but wasn't from the school I'm referring to. It's just a random video that showcases my point.
It was at this point where I’d realized their method of teaching was highly limited. Then came the straw that broke the camel’s back.
We had often made fun of other disciplines like Tae Kwan Do, Karate and such. That once someone gets a black belt, they learn more of the same stuff. They have a saying: You learn more and more about less and less. Clever, yes. Astute? Not so much.
In the school, once a black belt is earned, “new” techniques are learned. All of which are practiced without a partner, in the air, like a student learning to trace more and more complex essays. The value wasn't there. It's like a wrestler practicing alone on the mat. If he only does that, he's not going to fare well against a live person.
They teach: Think outside of the box but bring it to us first and we’ll let you know if we approve of it. My best friend brought them ideas, which they shot down, only to integrate them and call it their own. They gave no credit to my friend. Why? I'm not sure. I don’t think they know. Many of their teachers left, teachers whom I like to term thinkers.
So when I got the invitation, all I could think of was how little has changed there. Certainly, the head black belt has learned a lot. Knowing what I know about human movement, I am certain he’s learned more and more about less and less.