Monday, April 02, 2007

Karate not for self-defense and the moral component of MMA

An excellent post by Charles T. Goodin on his father's blog, Karate Thoughts, explores whether Karate should be learned for self-defense. He writes, "In my eyes, 95% of all Karate students have no chance of protecting themselves against a real attacker if they use their Karate." I'd probably have to agree with him, but would add that that's probably the case for Tae Kwon-Do, Kung Fu, Aikido, Judo, and esoteric such as Western fencing. Why? Read on:

Many new students feel that studying Karate will help them defend themselves against attackers. Sadly, Karate is not a very effective means of protection unless you are very skilled at it. How long does this take? It could be months, it could be years, or it could even a lifetime. This all depends on the student, the sensei, and the style of Karate. What good is knowing how to do 18 kata if you can only defend yourself against predetermined attacks. In order to protect yourself using Karate, your movements must become instinctive. Using Karate must become second nature in order for anyone to use Karate effectively.

The last sentence gets to the gist of the matter: a style "must become second nature" to be effective in self-defense. This will probably come as a shock to almost everyone who has walked in a dojo, dojang, or kwoon to learn to kick butt, but the butt that's probably going to be kicked it yours. For a while... Goodin goes on to explain that, "Eventually, students will learn how to protect themselves, but when they reach this point, they should also know that using Karate to defend yourself can be too dangerous. If someone is trying to rob you, is it ok for you to kill them? If someone is calling you stupid, is it ok for you to beat them up? The answer to both of these questions are obviously no. This is what every student should learn from taking Karate."

One of my fears regarding the UFC/MMA trend is that it's a sport, and only a sport. It's marketing is a blend of pro basketball, and pro wrestling in some ways. MMA participants share the in-your-face, sensationalist type of hype that pro wrestlers use, and with the exception of the IFL, the individual is stressed in all the hype, not a team (similar to what the NBA did when Jordan came along). What missing from all of this is the moral component in using your fists, feet, and armbars to pummel another human being.

You may disagree with me on this, saying, "What the heck are you saying, Teodoro? Have you ever watched a Van Damme, Seagal, or Bruce Lee movie??? There's gore and violence aplenty, and much of it is gratuitous!" Agreed, but the place where impressionable youngsters went to learn the skills they saw their heroes perform on the big screen was usually a martial arts school that either continued, or descended from a tradition that stressed things like:

  • Respect for others, especially elders and senior students or instructors
  • Courteous behavior to all
  • Humility
  • Perserverance
  • Cleanliness in uniform, training hall, and language
... and that their skills are only to be used in self-defense. What we're seeing now is competition, no doubt, but it's also something that kids can learn from YouTube without the lessons in self-control that used to go along with it. That worries me. Read Goodin's whole post. It's excellent.
Hat tip to the Sendo to Kenpo blog - read his post on the same article.


Nico said...

Hey Nathan, this is my first comment here but I wanted to let you know that you've got a great blog here. I really like your approach of covering all the bases and you make a lot of great points.

I'm leaving this comment because I just wanted to thank you for posting a link to Goodin's article here and tell you that I completely agree with you. He says it point blank, "Karate should not, under any circumstances be learned for self-defense." You expand that to include TKD, Aikido, etc., and then you touch upon how UFC/MMA is just sport, and you're absolutely 100% correct.

There are a lot of people out there who join the local McDojo because they honestly want to learn how to defend themselves and their loved ones from a criminal assailant. Unfortunately, they don't realize that they're not actually learning something truly functional for self-defense, but are instead led to believe that their black-belt is proof of their fighting capacity. You can't really blame them. They begin their training with a sincere desire to learn something functional but are surrounded by those who perpetuate the misconception that TMAs such as those you listed are the answer. Even MMA isn't optimized for real self-defense.

There are those of us who do understand the reality of it, however, and I think it's our responsibility to try and educate as many people as possible. Thanks for helping to spread the truth! Well done!

Nathan Teodoro said...

Thanks for the thoughtful comments Nico. When I started in martial arts, now over thirty years ago, I thought that what I was learning was self-defense, but it wasn't, as I later learned. Then when I became a boxer and kickboxer, I thought I was "all that." I wasn't. It's all about compromise. Now I value traditional martial arts for the traditions that add so much to the lives of those who train in them, same for the sport arts.
Great comment.