Monday, March 17, 2008

Is There Value in Traditional Training?

Our post, Is your traditional training going to get you killed? seems to have elicited some interesting responses here, and at the Convocation. For a refresher on my heretical thoughts:

I think that I'm qualified to state that most traditional training in the US consists of:

  • Kicks and punches only - some have traditional weapons forms, and have added grappling or MMA as a sideline to increase their relevance and revenue
  • Classes of 45 minutes to 90 minutes long, two to three times a week
  • Techniques performed in the air (no contact) or on pads
  • Most schools have students remove their shoes and practice in loose-fitting, comfortable uniforms
  • Forms (poomse or kata) being a large part of the focus and time spent
  • Sparring with light to medium contact, and with restrictive rules for safety

I believe that most modern traditional schools (an intentionally paradoxical statement) do not prepare students for real self-defense, but to get hurt.

The issue, I think, is that the art itself isn't being taught in a "traditional" way - I'm defining the tradition of all of these arts as being a means to self-improvement, (sometimes) self-discovery, but most importantly, defending against aggression. Indeed, these arts wouldn't have any credibility were it not for the baser, effective aspects of their roots and founders.

In summary, I think that most schools are non-traditional, if not McDojos.

The goals which a mom and dad with a seven and nine year-old pair of kids is not to teach them to survive a knife-wielding maniac, but to get better grades and learn discipline. Are those school accomplishing that? Probably. The issue, to me, is that those same schools try to teach that same curriculum to adults, and award black belts in... what?

What I think is being missed here is that there is a difference between the style itself, and the training methods that the style uses, or (especially) the training method and curriculum a particular school uses. I know many traditional stylists who are tougher than nails. It depends on the focus of the training, akin to a "Karate-jutsu" versus "Karate-do" approach to training.

In defense of true traditional training:

Rick Fryer:

I’d like to describe some of the advantages to traditional training.

- Emphasize proper body mechanics
- Drill muscle memory through consistent repetition
- Build speed, power, and accuracy into the practice of techniques
- Improve the coordination and balance needed for self-defense
- Utilize underlying combat principles and strategies (two-way action, complex torque, variable pressure, redundancy, etc.)
- Instruct in the proper use of vital and/or pressure points
- Develop the muscle structure and flexibility needed for effective self-defense
- Allow students to practice dangerous techniques in a reasonably safe manner.

John Zimmer

Formal karate in its day may have been used on the streets, but now a day (just as boxers of old had to learn) fighting has changed.

I think there is value in learning the low-horse stances, punching and kicking drills, katas as well as the stylized rules in each sporting event. But I would argue that has and has always had little to do with fighting.

In my hey-day I was a point tournament fighter that had modest success in So-Cal. The fact that my punches and kicks striking points and force were limited did not impair my ability to fight in a bar as a bouncer for a couple of years at a bar. The two types of fighting actually complemented each other (I also have not been hit in a real fight because of my understanding of critical distance) because in the real fights I could do what I wanted to in the sport matches (and I did not get disqualified for excessive contact). :)

Anyway I would also like to say that real fights happen when you are sick, injured, drunk or otherwise at a disadvantage... the fact that you don't often train that way should not preclude you from surmounting any obstacles during the real deal.

Agreed. Rick's points of the positive advantages of truly traditional training are spot-on. John Zimmer's experiences show that the techniques themselves are effective - it's how they're taught. The Marine Corps Martial Arts Program and Krav Maga are both based on traditional styles like Karate, Juijitsu (and it's Brazilian variant), Arnis, and other traditional arts, and have both been proven extremely effective and have been taught in a short amount of time. With years of experience in the right type of training, some traditional martial artists may be the deadliest yet gentlest you may hope to meet.


Bob Patterson said...

I don't know about karate schools but regarding taekwondo I'd put it on a continuum: On the one extreme there are schools like you describe in your bullet points. I too would call them McDojos and my first school about 15 years ago was exactly that. On the other extreme are hardcore traditional schools. While it's not "traditional" I'd probably lump hardcore WTF-style schools that emphasize Olympic-style TKD, those that integrate other arts and focus on self-defense, and traditional Korean taekwondo, all into one "hardcore" category.

All that having been noted there are schools that fall in the middle. I am in one of them right now. We are non-profit so we have no need to "pass" students just to keep revenue coming in and we don't teach children. We also keep the classes under 10 students. And we try to balance three things: tradition, self-defense, and sport.

Even that approach has it's weaknesses too. By playing in three worlds you never get the best you could be at one of them (or it will take a lot longer). But since our population is transient (i.e., they graduate) we try to give them fundamentals from all three worlds. This way they probably can fit into just about any style school if they continue with taekwondo.


Anonymous said...

I don't know if having a 'belt' system falls under traditional training as you've defined it, but I find that having belt rankings imposes a certain discipline and respect among the students, as opposed to say boxing (w/c doesnt have belt systems) or even some schools of Muay Thai, which do not have any kind of formal ranking at all. Having students ranked in belts (or their equivalent)somewhat mitigates people coming into and studying a martial art just so they can beat people up. The fact that they have rankings automatically tells them that there's always someone better than them (i.e., higher ranking) and they can't just go around picking a fight with anyone. This mindset I think carries over out on the street -- having come from an art with belt rankings, you kind of have that thing at the back of your mind that says "there's always someone better/at a higher belt than you". You either consciously or unconsciously take that into account whenever a situation arises where you have a choice of either fighting on just letting things slide. Of course, there's always exceptions -- people who despite all that, still wind up being nothing more than street thugs -- but at least having belt rankings still has some use in that respect most of the time.

Patrick Parker said...

I have posed a quickie question on my blog related to this topic. There are already several good threads of discussion going on in the comments. You might enjoy checking it out...

Matthew Bryers said...

As the martial arts grows I think the line between TMA and "MMA" or "Reality Martial Arts" blurs. It really depends on the school you train at and how they prepare you to fight or defend yourself.

I've walked into many different fight gyms and have been to many different traditional martial arts schools. Its a toss-up as to which place will provide the better training.

I also train at and teach Ju-jitsu at a Kyokushin school in Cromwell, CT. I consider the Kyokushin school a very traditional martial arts school. Its run by a traditional Japanese instructor named Shihan Fujiwara, he was a Oyama Uchi deshi. Kyokushin training is very hard to begin with, but the main difference I see in his school or other "traditional schools" is the attitude of the students. They typically have more respect and discipline. They realize that martial arts offers more then just punching and kicking.

A lot of new students to martial arts are gravitating towards MMA. This is all great, but typically these schools or gyms don't offer the respect and discipline that so called traditional martial arts dojos may offer.

One place that does come to mind is American Top Team. I know they still bow onto the mat, still respect their teachers, etc. It is good to hear that they care of some of the "traditions" that define martial arts and being a martial artist.

I also have a blog called: focusing on combat martial arts and strength training. Please feel free to visit and comment.

Nathan Teodoro said...

Great comments all, and I apologize for the delay in replying. I seem to get to this blog in fits and spurts lately and am working toward being able to do do more with it. This is a great topic, and I want to preface my comments by stating that I think my definition of traditional training should have been corrected to something like average training, or average school, because that's what I was getting at, and defined.

Bob, your point of making a clear distinction between "hardcore" and McDojo is right on the money. Interestingly, I've actually seen some school that use a commercial model, make a ton of dinero, and are also hardcore - not average in the least! The only you've made with which I'd quibble is the hardcore sport TKD or any sport style, including MMA or BJJ - I agree that they're hardcore, but not traditional by the definition that most would use. Can they be effective? Sure, of course! Depends on the curriculum and instructors, but I would definitely include them in the "get you killed" grouping barring heavy emphasis on preparing for realistic attacks as opposed to scoring points and winning rounds. On the other hand, there are other benefits to that training and competition, too.

Patrick, I am going to get over to Mokuren and check out the thread and join in if it's still open. My apologies and thanks for your patronage and taking up the torch.

Matthew, welcome to TDA and thanks for commenting. I think in your statement, "They typically have more respect and discipline. They realize that martial arts offers more then just punching and kicking," you hit on some of the primary benefits of the tradition in TMA. You also mention that a lot of new students tend to move toward MMA, but I'm betting that once they get a taste of martial arts, many will gravitate toward either the "Reality" or traditional/old school systems over time. I WILL head over and check out your blog!

Matt Bryers said...

Nathan, thank you for the welcome. I found this site while searching around and it's an AMAZING site. Great job! I linked up to you on

In regards to the new students gravitating towards MMA. I would like to see a couple of things. One, more schools that are dedicated to "traditional" or hardcore training that is not just MMA.
Two, I am hope that those students do eventually find a good martial arts school instead of just focusing on MMA. I think it will not only benefit them, but that martial arts as a whole.

The thing I see the most is that newbie student THINKS they want to be the next MMA superstar. But once they get punched or submitted and realize this shit is for real, things get a little different.

In the end they'll probably just buy a Tapout shirt, take some roids and pretend they are an MMA fighter.

Blackbeltmama said...

So many of my guest posters this month touched on just this subject and how traditional training should be undertaken. Good topic, as usual.