I have written a short article on the back of a Facebook post I made a while ago based on the idea of a MA/Self Protection instructor having had to have “walked the walk” to have anything valid to offer. To be honest I was only trying to rattle a few cages and see what popped out at the time but here goes.
Firstly (as no one will have any idea who I am) just a brief intro’ to myself, it is not just to talk about me but is to clarify the position I’m coming at this from.
I have been involved in MA since 1978 (with some breaks), mainly via Karate but with some short forays into traditional Jiu Jitsu and more recently the Gracie style JJ. Over the last 5 years or so I have also spent a significant part of my training time searching out instructors who have “Walked the walk” to expand my knowledge of the “real” world. Having said that I have succeeded in reaching the age of 57 (in my adult life, at least) without ever having been involved in a conflict that has turned physical. I am your typical bog standard karate instructor that you’ll find in any town with no pretentions to be anything more (I just happen to have an interest in the more pragmatic side of self-protection).
There seems to have been a move (at least in the UK) over the last 5-10 years towards practical martial arts, or perhaps I have just become more aware of it, and on the back of that there has been a big growth in schools offering “street lethal” martial arts. As a part of this there has been a lot of talk about having to have “been there” or “walked the walk” in order to be able to teach anything worthwhile. The general statements being that if you haven’t regularly faced violent confrontation then nothing you say can be in anyway valid and this is used as a stick to beat us (the non-fighters) with if we dare to teach martial arts with any sort of self-protection element. The upshot is that the picture that is being painted is that we are a complete waste of time and only they (the fighters) are worth training with.
Now I am not trying to be disparaging with the “fighter” label, I do understand that a lot of people have to face violence, or the threat of it at least, on a virtually daily basis as part of their work and I have a great deal of respect for those willing to do that. It is just a differentiator for the two classes of instructor.
It is commonly stated that “If you’ve never faced real violence you don’t know how you will react” which I fully appreciate, pressure testing (not matter how hard) will never fully replicate real violence, you always know that apart from a few bumps and bruises and maybe a few cracks and breaks (now I have been there and done that 🙂 ) you are basically safe. You can go a long way towards replicating the physical but the mental side never really approaches the real thing (and if it did I very much suspect that students wouldn’t train for more than 5 minutes and that you’d never see them again).
We are also told that “everyone is different” in these situations which again I fully appreciate.
This, however, is where I start to struggle with the logic of the argument, if you “don’t know how you’ll react” and “everyone is different” then how can the experience of the fighter tell them anything other than how THEY THEMSELVES will react.
The logic appear to indicate that they can’t really pass on this knowledge and so are no better able to transmit this understanding than the rest of us. It also, if you follow the logic, means that training with them is of no value to the instructor who wants to pass on this knowledge to his own students as, even if he teaches exactly what he has learned in the same way as he (or she) has learned it, their lack of real world understanding makes it a “waste of time”. I don’t really believe this to be the case, if I did then I wouldn’t spend so much of my time seeking out these people and training with them, I’d much rather piggy back off of their experience and learn as much of the theory at least as I can. I’m quite happy to spend the rest of my life without ever having any real world experience if that is at all possible.
I am well aware that there are many schools, including those who profess to teach self-protection, who teach fanciful fairy tale self-defense (10 minutes on YouTube will provide all the evidence you need, in fact they seem to be in the majority there) but there are also many of us who take the subject seriously enough to do proper research so we can avoid passing on bad advice and comic book techniques.
I think it’s more a question of honesty (on either side of the argument) and just being open about who you are and what you teach. My promotional line on my website is:
“Does this mean I can turn anyone into a “lean, mean, fighting machine”? No, obviously not. The unfortunate truth (or fortunate, depending on your world view) is that not everybody has the nature or potential. Can I give you a set of physical skills which will much improve your chances in a physical confrontation? Almost certainly.”
Not the snappiest tag line and probably not really what potential students want to hear but it is what I do.
My final word (in as much as I’ll ever stop talking 🙂 ) would be to question that, given that 90% of self-protection is in avoiding physical conflict and that a physical response is what you fall back on when all else has failed you, then would you rather learn your self-protection from someone who’s had hundreds of fights or from the guy who’s had none?
Just a thought 😉