The Skill Trap

Go into almost any martial art class and the subject of self-defence eventually comes up. During these parts of the class it is very common to see a variety of locks, long flow drills, and sequences ending throws or submissions taught as practical techniques. The good old left hook, or kick to the groin is left out. It is almost as if teaching those methods is seen as demonstrating a lack of skills.

To help both instructors and students feel like there is something being learnt in the class these manoeuvres are often very complex. The students then have a goal and the instructor can feel that he is superior to his students. Oddly this thinking is completely abandoned in sporting practice, people discouraged for being too fancy and coached in using direct simple techniques.

I think the issues that lie behind this problem are twofold. Firstly, lack of knowledge of the problem. I once had a discussion with an Aikido teacher who was adamant that holding a person in a wrist lock till the police turned up was a viable option in real situations. Likely he was passing this sort of information to his students as well, whether they believed him or not I don’t know.

Investigation in to real world self-defence doesn’t mean that all instructors have to go out and start picking fights with people. Rather they should be researching those who have an amount of experience. Today more than ever there is so much information out there on internet forums, instructor’s websites and of course YouTube, not to mention open seminars being held by top class experts in the field. There really is no excuse for instructors to continue promoting the myth of over complex methods

The second issue, I feel, is connected with the continued development of the different martial arts. The sporting and artistic martial arts have continued to develop over the years with the inclusion of gymnastics training, modern sports science, and of course the advent of the UFC. This has kept them alive with each generation pushing the standards set by the last.

In the traditional arts however, there was maybe a less obvious direction to develop. Adding in the gymnastics or flashier solo movements would have dragged them in to the sporting area which many traditional practitioners would be unwilling to do. Many also reject modern training methods keeping their classes very old school.

To keep the feeling of progress the self-defence techniques were slowly made more complex, a single lock, became a lock flow, became a lock flow with a throw at the end, became a lock flow with a pressure point strike, and so on. We then ended up with something like a ‘martial trick shot’ instructors laying out all the pieces exactly where they wanted them so they could pull off increasing more impressive techniques on their compliant students.

All this was done with the idea of the martial arts developing, and in some camps making sure the instructors were always ahead of the students in a very tangible way. In doing this, people have in some ways lost sight of the goal. Instead of being self –defence, the goal seems to have shifted to entertaining and wowing students.

If we look at videos of the old masters, their styles were very simple and effective. It is that simplicity that should always remain at the core of the arts. We should seek to emulate the masters of old and the modern day masters who have stayed true to this, not the 27th degree black belt who spends 10 minutes throwing his compliant student around while counting off the number of techniques he is using


5 thoughts on “The Skill Trap

  1. richard conceicao

    finally more and more are willing to look at the emperor. while there is something to a military style “boot camp” approach to self defense, where you are shown simple effective techniques that can be learned quickly, what do you do after that. intuitively we feel that after working at it for 20 years we should learn a little more. what exactly should that be? my feeling is that it should lie in things like structural integrity, efficiency, timing, accuracy, etc.
    when i was doing chin-na, i thought it was great fun. the multitude of locks, releases, and counters was both imaginative and thought provoking. ultimately the only one that i found useful in combative application was the arm bar and its variants.

    anecdote from actual police restraint class:
    student: “sir i can’t get any of these locks to work on unwilling perps”
    instructor: “that’s strange, they always work for me after i hit them”

  2. tacticaltaekwondo Post author

    yes, we need to find a way to develop. no one wants to do the same thing for 20+ years but we have to be careful about where we develop. arms locks work if you know where they fit and you have the real skills to work them. similar long lock flow drills are ok if you understand the idea behind the training,.

  3. thedeadlydance

    I loved your last paragraph. Those masters engaged in real life-and-death situations and didn’t have time for complex techniques. They had to get rid of their attackers the soonest possible time. Simple but effective, thats the way of the masters.

  4. Pingback: Thoughts on Knife Defense | Tactical Taekwondo

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