Martial Arts: Art Versus Reality – Part One

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There are a number of classic martial arts films that spawned, encouraged and enticed generations into enrolling to train in Karate, Kung Fu, Hapkido, Judo, Jujitsu, and Taekwondo over the years. Systems emerge every year that try to evolve into something to instill confidence in the next potential customer to walk through the door.

So what system is the best? Asking that question over the years has brought me to an answer that is arguably best: the one in which you excel. While that seems too easy, it requires a good deal of research and application. The newly dedicated practitioner cannot fathom differences of grappling, groundwork, aerial kicks, and dynamic joint manipulation. They have only the references reflected in the media.

Of late, much is made of practical self-defense. Of training as the special forces of various military branches. As you attempt to find your place, look at your body type. Look at what you truly seek to learn. Look to find if you train to impress others. Or, to develop personal skills to make physical changes in your body and mental enhancement for your mind.

If you need to examine yourself more closely go to several schools to watch their styles in practice. Then picture yourself practicing along with them. Look closely at techniques demonstrated. Do they concentrate on art, self-defense or personal enrichment? Is it a “feel good” school? Is it a “hobby” type school? Or, have you chosen for something more.

Then comes an understanding of the difference. Just because someone wears a black belt, it does not mean their proficiency can sustain them in the street.

The mindset of a “Warrior” must remain constant in the difference between art and survival. Self-defense must become offensive. You must know how to apply your skills in a manner that protects defends and leaves no doubt of your prowess.

With knowledge comes responsibility. Knowing when to walk away is as important as to fight. Practice on the mat may be five to thirty minutes long. Self-defense must be three to five seconds in accomplishing deterrents. No matter the presumed, professed skill level of your opponent. The mind-set of “you” as an aggressor must be sure and complete. You must also be prepared for the consequences of legal actions. Legally and morally.

We are told that we must use only a minimum force to deter an opponent. The movies have us completely devastating and destroying our attacker.

When does the “art” of martial arts have application? What many profess as unimportant to self-defense is just the opposite. Being able to perform the splits, kick above your head or demonstrate a complex series of techniques (forms) is just as important. It is the ability to command your body to execute technical proficiency (at the extreme) upon “your” command. If you can execute the extreme with control and expertise then you will be able to command the lesser techniques with just as much control.

Most people seeking training understand the words spoken about “time” to learn. That does not ease the desire to look like Bruce Lee, Chuck Norris, Jet Li or even James Bond, 007.

When a proper balance between mind and body is established, the practitioner can move easily between the two. But, the choice of instructors mandates the ability of instructor to separate the two.

In teaching how to re-center yourself to prepare for self-offense/defense applications. Many of the techniques learned in this venue cannot be practiced by sparring. The threat of injury is too great.

What remains is whether you can maim or kill, if necessary. What then does it matter if you can win gold at tournaments or whether you’’ve chosen an uncompromising art form?

Chuck Norris is a prime example of taking true skills and using them to properly defeat his movie villains. Some may say that certain techniques did not “appear” to be properly executed. But contact with another person does not act the same as contact with a heavy bag or pad. Master Norris’ attention to detail best exemplifies reactions to hits.

What cannot be denied is actor Tom Cruise’s swordsmanship in “The Last Samurai”. When asked during an interview about whether he could duplicate the expertise shown, he stated humbly that if the same people, circumstances and preparation were used “absolutely”. But I am just an actor.

Some years ago in preparation for a television pilot I trained at Gymnastics Olympica in Van Nuys, California. Their job was to teach me running up the wall, flipping and continue fighting – among other things.

None of this had been a part of my prior Martial Arts training. But the movie business was dedicated to creating and perpetuating the illusion of impregnable skills. Their job was to bring art to a level where anything shown would become part of the myth/reality structure of the hero.

Whether for film, television, live demonstrations or personal review, the key to all of this is hours upon hours of practice.