A Useful Analogy

As a traditional martial artist who insists on everything I study passing the test of combat, I spend a lot of time around full-contact fighters who don’t understand the point of the traditional arts. I field a lot of questions and statements like “Why can’t any of you fight?” or “Why don’t you have jabs?”

I have come up with a useful analogy that works quite well, at least when the questioner is willing to listen:

Compare the martial arts with the U.S. educational system, particularly in the learning of English.

First, you go to elementary school. Here you learn the ABC’s of fighting: Punch, kick, throw, etc.

Then you graduate to high school, where you learn the grammar of fighting: The different ranges, for example, and how to move between them.

After this, you should have a solid understanding of the basics of fighting. If you spend enough time studying these skills, you will have everything you need to fight, at least as long as you have an athletic build.

If you choose to, you can then go on to get your bachelor’s degree. This is where you begin to learn your clever tricks, which allow you to stack the fight in your favor. This could be compared to learning superior techniques of argument.

You may even go on to earn your master’s degree or doctorate. Each adds another layer of sophistication to your knowledge of English/fighting.

Once we have established this analogy, we can talk about why most martial artists “can’t fight”, and why you don’t see any jabs in the forms.

The traditional martial arts start further up the educational system. They assume you already have your elementary education, and some assume you have more than that before you begin to learn. In other words, the traditional martial artist should know how to  jab, throw, etc., but it isn’t the purpose of the art to teach them.

As an aficionado of the internal arts, most of the systems that I study are master’s or doctorate arts. They offer an amazing set of skills that I couldn’t use in self-defense if I didn’t have a background in the basics.

You could define Taijiquan as “A doctoral degree in using your opponent’s power against them”:

Baguazhang as “A doctoral degree in generating power without a fixed base”:

Xingyiquan as “A doctoral degree in generating power by stamping”:

Wudang as “A master’s degree in structural manipulation”, and so forth.

I have found that full-contact fighters are quite happy to accept the traditional martial arts when you explain that they “build upon” the skills that they already know and don’t ignore them.

3 Responses to “A Useful Analogy”

  1. patrick hodges says:

    Well said. I grew up in an area where I learned to streetfight first. I appreciated the traditional martial arts a whole lot better AFTER this.

  2. Jonty Kershaw says:

    I went about it the other way around: I learned traditional martial arts when I was young, then I learned the hard way that they “don’t work” on the street. I abandoned them for a couple of years while I learned fightin’, and then one day I realized that the only thing missing was context. Now I see it all as part of the same continuum.

  3. travis says:

    “The traditional martial arts start further up the educational system”

    Interesting perspective. As I think about it it probably depends a lot on the art; I’ve always looked at traditional arts, at least through the kyu ranks, as being more basic not more advanced.

    Of course my opinion is heavily influenced by one particular person who happened to be both, a legitimate bad-ass and a couple or 3 dan in a traditional art. we were talking about training structure one day and he said that historically the kyu ranks in his art were taught to kids; lots of forms, one-step defenses, basic throws. And that once someone spent 7 or 8 years learning all that, earning a ‘black belt’, you then had a teenager with the background to actually learn to fight.

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