Mailvox: martial arts query

Zach has a request:

I’m 15 year old christian in his sophomore year at school. My dad suggested that I email you when I mentioned martial arts to him. He said you seemed pretty knowledgeable. Anyway I was wondering what you might know about the different variations. I know I don’t want to take karate or tae-kwondo. I feel much of the movement in these are wasted.

I’ve known black-belts in both, and well…nothing impressive…it seemed mainly based on competitions. I was wondering if you could tell what you know about other types…

Bujinkan, Aikido, Jujitsu and others if possible.

While there are certainly karate and tae kwan do black belts who really know what they’re doing, many are glorified kickers and players of the game of tag. Their best move is the “butterfly”, a leaping backfist to the head which is designed to graze the opponent at the cost of leaving their entire body open.

This works fine in point-fighting, but in contact fighting it is usually followed by the “armadillo”, wherein the inevitable fist or foot to the abdomen/side causes the point fighter to curl up and do his best roadkill impression.

The main difference between karate and tae kwan do is that they are both hard styles, meeting force with force, rather than soft styles such as jujitsu and kung fu, which attempts to use the opponent’s force against him. The problem with the hard styles is that they tend to gravitate toward point competition; the problem with the soft styles is that they aren’t particularly proactive.

I don’t know anything about Bujinkan, it sounds a bit fake to me. Any time I hear the word “ninja”, I tend to translate that as “BS”. Many martial arts instructors like to “invent” their own “style”; most of the time this is three-quarters marketing nonsense even when the self-styled innovator is accomplished in a genuine art or two. My own sensei “created” his own style called Wu Lung Dao, however, he always explained exactly what parts came from shorin ryu karate, what came from wing chun kung fu, and what came from kali. (Mostly the nasty stuff, that last one.) He also mixed in some basic boxing and wrestling techniques, which proved to be a fairly effective combination. But it’s hardly its own art, let alone tradition.

Jujitsu, as I’ve already mentioned, is a bit passive for my liking. It’s effective, but arguably dangerous since it almost requires permitting the opponent into wrestling range. (It’s a lot harder to flip someone than they make it look on TV, where a 5’4″ woman who only weighs 110 pounds thanks to 700cc of saline has no trouble throwing around an NFL linebacker. That show Bones is probably the most ridiculous example.)

I tend to favor aikido for a first martial art, as it’s probably the most generally useful for self-defense. It operates at hands range, which is the range at which most fights take place, has a lot of techniques which don’t require three years of stretching to perform and provides a nice base on which the martial artist can build in a variety of directions.

The main thing, however, is to make sure that you find a fighting school. Ask about what level of contact is permitted and if they give you the usual song-and-dance about control, go somewhere else. The fact that a controlled strike could have been delivered but wasn’t is completely irrelevant to the combat experience.

(Now, if we weren’t pretending to hit each other, you wouldn’t have responded to that punch in the stomach by throwing a kick at my jaw, you would have been doubled over and been receiving a left cross to the head instead.)

Bad signs: Talk about control, lots of women, focus on self-defense, overweight instructors, regular belt advancement schedule, kiddy program, instructors talking mumbo jumbo, tournament trophies.

Good signs: One or two guys on crutches hanging around, guys with serious muscles and tattoos, easygoing instructors, pictures of full-contact fights, really good fighters with only green and purple belts.