Friday, June 13, 2014

Being Hit in the Face Isn't Necessarily a Bad Thing

One of the many things that I learned working for a niche publisher was that the vast majority of traditional martial arts are not only a gigantic waste of time, but present a false sense of confidence that can get their practitioners seriously injured.  This includes many of the so-called "reality-based self-defense" arts that you'll see advertised on-line.

One of the main reasons of this is because most martial artists have never been hit in the face in anger.  Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu expert Carlson Gracie famously said, "Punch a black belt in the face, he becomes a brown belt.  Punch him again, purple."  Boxer Mike Tyson said something similar: "Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth."  Going back further, there's the famous quote by Helmuth von Moltke the Elder, often misattributed to Von Clausewitz: "No battle plan ever survives contact with the enemy."  If you haven't actually used your martial art against a determined attacker who has no compunctions about putting you in the morgue, you don't know if it will work or not.  Your martial art is your battle plan.  Can it survive contact with the enemy?

Probably not.  There's a term in self-defense circles called "pillar assaults."  I don't know the etymology of it.  A pillar assault is when your instructor attacks you in a way that makes it most likely for your defensive technique to succeed.  This makes the instructor look good, because he taught you something that works, and it makes you feel good because you just defended yourself against an attack.  The problem is that it presents a false view of reality and builds your confidence on a foundation of balsa wood.  Think of it this way: is your instructor teaching you defenses against wrist grabs and full nelsons, neither of which are common street attacks, or is he teaching you how to avoid being stabbed in the neck with a 99 cent screwdriver held by a teenage meth addict?  Just do a web search on stabbed screwdriver and see how many people are attacked with them.  Then do a web search on injuries sustained by wrist grabs and full nelsons.

Hold on, you might say.  A wrist grab isn't an attack in and of itself: it's a prelude to something else!  Okay, let's look at the entire situation.  If you don't take an encompassing, holistic view of your personal defense, you're letting yourself learn from pillar assaults and you'll fail outside of the gym.  What's the situation in which someone's grabbed your wrist?
  • A mugging?  Someone after your wallet or purse doesn't start his assault by grabbing your wrist.  He starts by putting a weapon in your face or hitting you as you walk by or clocking you in the back of the head with a chunk of concrete.
  • A street fight?  Someone mad at you for taking his parking space or disrespecting his paramour doesn't begin attacking you by grabbing your wrist, either.  After the initial shouting and screaming obscenities stage, he'll take a swing at you.
  • A domestic dispute?  If you're in a verbal altercation with a close someone who's likely to become violent, you need to get away from that person as soon as you can.  And if you can't get away, you need to put your hands up to prepare to hit first or block a punch.  What are your wrists doing where someone can just grab them?  
Say everything's gone wrong for you and someone did, for whatever reason, grab your wrist.  First, that's good: it means he's not hitting you yet.  He's used one hand to grab you, not hit you.  Remember that if someone grabs you without your consent, that's assault and you're within your legal rights to defend yourself.  So rather than go through a complicated set of movements that your instructor taught you in the gym, go with your attacker's energy: if he pulls you to him, allow it and start punching and ripping the hell out of his face.  Don't resist his pulling.  If he wants you, he can have you, including your righteous anger at being assaulted.  

Nice people don't get hit in the face.  Until they do.  If your martial arts, your battle plan, is taught by someone who isn't intimately familiar with the kind of attacks you're most likely going to encounter, you're wasting your time.  Real fights are ugly.  They're pigpiles.  They don't happen like they're practiced in most gyms.  Assess your combat strategy with an eye toward being able to practice it after having been hit in the face.  Does it hold up?

TL; DR: Most martial arts don't prepare you for actual fighting outside of the gym.  

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