Is it practical?
Those three words make up one of the most commonly discussed concepts in the martial arts community (and those who any sort of passing interest in becoming involved in it). People – practitioners, wannabes, fans, press, kids, adults, men, women, and every combination therein – want to know if any given martial art is practical. Perhaps they’ve seen some sport sparring at tournaments or on TV and they want to know how well a given martial art will do in a ‘real world’ situation. Most people assume that one of the various mixed-martial arts are more viable than a traditional form because they’ve seen UFC fights.
Of course, everyone is a proponent for their own system — Bruce Lee fans love Jeet Kune Do, Gracie fans love Brazilian Jujitsu. Others are fans of Krav Maga or System or any one of a hundred other modern systems. I’m quite fond of Red Dragon Karate, Aikido, and Judo!
But what is the truth, really? Are any of the martial arts or their MMA cousins practical and effective in a real world self-defense situation.
From what I’ve seen, no. None of them are.
Now, before anyone jumps on me (especially Shihan Casamassa or Sensei Mike from the Red Dragon school I train at), let me clarify that statement. The systems themselves are nothing without what the practitioner brings to the table. If you just practice your katas or your self defense forms as they are taught, without an eye towards training for the world-at-large, then there is a very good chance they will fail you.
In other words, out of the box, none of the systems are going to save your bacon in a confrontation. Sure, you might get lucky and pull something off. There is also a chance lightning will strike your attacker and take them out for you.
The best way to think of any of the systems or techniques they teach is as a set of tools for your self-defense toolbox. The ones that work best for you are the ones you have used and are most familiar with…and the only way to gain that familiarity is by putting in the extra work with those tools. Knowing how to do a push block or a rising block is one thing, but grabbing a partner and training those blocks with someone actively trying to hit you is an entirely different animal.
Think of it this way: a box of tools can’t built a house on their own, but you can if you know how to use them properly. The same goes for the martial arts: a kata or any other form won’t protect you. However, taking the base knowledge of the form you’re given in class and understanding how it can work on the street (through practice) can help you. The martial arts are as much about what you are putting into them as they are about what you’re being taught. You’re given a seed in class. It’s up to you to plant that seed, to water it, and to watch how it grows.
Yes, even the systems I’ve been trained in are like this. In both Aikido and Red Dragon’s American Form Karate, there are self-defense forms taught which, if utilized as-is, aren’t realistic or effective…BUT, nearly every one of them can be tweaked into practical application. I’ve reworked a number of them that I’ve used when sparring against an former Olympic boxing champion AND when I was grabbed by an overly-rambunctious fan at a bar. The techniques didn’t save me – how I adapted and made use of them did. This will be true for forms from any martial arts system out there.
So, to answer the question again: No, no system on its own is completely practical. However, all of the systems can give you a foundation to help yourself. If you’re looking for a active/real-world self-defense training, your best bet is to find a form you enjoy (karate, hapkido, judo, krav maga, systema, JKD, whatever – almost every system will have material that can be adapted to real world usage) – then find a school, and, more important, find a teacher who will help you push your learning in that direction. A lot of teachers will be more than happy to work with a student on real world application for self-defense. From there, it’s all about what you do with the knowledge and training you’re being given.
Learn your tools. Become familiar with them. Repetition is your friend (once you’ve got the muscle memory in place, you won’t have to think about using a move…it will become natural and instant). Get creative with your practices and work with someone who is trying to hit you – someone who isn’t ‘working with’ your movements.
Oh, and the only sure way to protect yourself is to be aware of your environment and to avoid being placed in a situation where you need self-defense. That ‘situational awareness’ can be worth a thousand martial arts classes.
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