Monday, September 28, 2009

Why your martial arts class sucks

If there is anything the Internet has taught me, it's that people love lists....Here you go...10 reasons martial arts classes suck:
  1. No understanding of what a martial art is. Martial arts is learning and training the skill of fighting a fully resisting and attacking opponent. It isn’t easy to train this and there are a few different strategies….all flawed to some degree. If we just lay into each other 100% with no protection  a la “fight club”, we will spend most of our time injured. Pads and protection change things, rules change things, tuishou is not fighting, chisao is not fighting, wrestling is not fighting, judo is not fighting, boxing is not fighting. All of these activities have pros and cons. The important thing is that there is some understanding and discussion of why you use a training method and how it relates to actual fighting and why you are doing it that way. Learning to fight requires actually doing the activity of fighting at least occasionally or at least trying to replicate actual fighting as closely as possible with modifications for safety reasons. Most martial arts that work, train from 0% to 80% and then occasionally go 100% or have reasons for not doing so. My classes don’t go 100% and I have to consider and reconsider those reasons often(some people dispute my reasons and I understand that) but I would be the first person to say you gotta fight to learn to fight. Chisao alone won’t do it. It’s a training method. Also, a martial art should use techniques, principles and/or strategy to overcome an opponent’s potentially greater speed, size and or strength. All this can be ignored if the stated purpose of the class is to do something other than fight.
  2. Series of movements are trained on an unresisting and or defensive opponent. This is the type of training where someone throws a punch and the receiving party then does 2 to 20 unanswered moves with the intent of “chaining together” moves. This kind of training ritual is pretty common in Youtube videos. Also in this category is training to attack based on how the opponent will react defensively…”You feint to his eyes and when he squints you grab his left arm and pull, when he pulls back you grab his neck, etc.” If you use this method, get ready to freak out when the person you are fighting attacks rather than reacts to you. You see a lot of this kind of thing in useless self-defense classes. Most training should be spent in non-cooperative exercises.
  3. No appreciation for size, strength, speed and fitness. It IS possible to overcome these things, but it isn’t easy. You have to use superior strategy and then optimize these factors as much as possible. If you are getting simple answers for dealing with these issues, watch out. 
  4. Guru or lineage worship. Here’s a secret…nobody is that awesome. Ok, maybe they are, maybe they are a genius, but you know what. If they are that much of a genius, they are probably a shitty teacher. There are very few things that you can only learn if you are taught it by someone who was taught it by someone else. Anyone can discover anything or improve on anything. Sure it's great to have a great teacher and a great training environment improves learning a lot, but anyone who tells you they are the only way has something to sell. They want your money or your attention. Good places to train create environments where people can learn, create and share. The group learns faster than one person.
  5. Lack of concern for safety, manners and training efficiency If lots of people are getting hurt regularly and no one cares, what the hell? Martial arts is about violence and to train that isn’t easy so we have to figure out ways to be safe. Don’t get me wrong, people will get hurt when you are pushing the envelope, but that is the way anything competitive works. That is why there has to be concern about safety. As for manners, people should be communicating about manners and the way to act, hygiene and that kind of thing. It shouldn’t be “cool” to hurt someone intentionally, to bully someone or to work out on filthy mats. As for training efficiency, people should be communicating about the best way to train that doesn’t just involve repeating movements.
  6. Higher level  people don't move more gracefully and more relaxed or don't get better results. Oh man, this one gets me. If you want to learn something like martial arts from someone, the people who are good at it should move well. They should have some relaxed mojo and confidence. If they don’t, why study the art.
  7. Non-stop political infighting and status battles. People who can’t fight have more status. This crap can infect any group doing an activity. The focus should be on the skill. Of course there will always be people who don’t get along, but when the whole class or gym is all cliquey and this group hate that group and won’t train together or people are worried about who is senior to whom, what the hell kind of tea party is that? Also, if status (who the hell cares about your status in some martial arts group?) depends on how long you have been training rather than skill, that is a bit odd.
  8. Emphasis on techniques over principle. When you go to class and someone teaches a technique without explaining how it works, and then teaches another technique next week and another after that, you are on the teat. How do you get off the teat if you don’t understand the thinking involved in why you would do a technique this way. Why pay money to have techniques parceled out to you when you could be hooked on sweet heroin?
  9. More discussion than training. Long lectures and talking about everything under the sun where the teacher is the “expert” on everything rather than working out. I will give you another secret. Martial arts teachers know about as much about life in general as Spanish teachers. Only doing the skill gives you the skill.
  10. Culture worship over reality. Wing chun uses Cantonese to name techniques and Judo uses Japanese…hey, fair dinkum. But if people are all worried about the language issues and the history of it over how it works, maybe they should join an anime club. If you want to wear a sash and argue about the true meaning of a Chinese phrase or the tea ceremony, please remember that while you are worried about that, Chinese people are eating hamburgers and playing World of Warcraft. Also, if you quote the Tao Te Ching...well...yikes.
Ok, ten isn’t quite enough…here is one more.
  • Not fun. No socializing. Dudes who do stuff together have fun and joke around and       get together to drink and talk about girls or have dinner or bowl or whatever. If that isn’t occurring, why not? If it's not ever fun, go join a yoga class and meet some chicks.
This list probably came off a little judgmental, but the truth is my own class has been or is often guilty of many of these things. Hopefully, writing it will help me figure out how to improve my own classes. Damn! I want my classes to be totally awesome without all this “effort”.


  1. Jeez, the format on this post sucks. Can't seem to fix. Time to leave Blogger.

  2. Yes blogger bites. But the post is good. A lot of great points.

  3. 10. Culture Worship: I never thought of this, and am savoring the irony. Although Wing Chun takes pride is avoiding flashy names like "monkey steals the peach" and prefers names like "palm-up hand" or "wing arm," the Western World exoticizes names like "tan sao" or "bong sao." Go figure.

  4. Yeah, but then again the world would be a pretty boring place if we thought of Puerto Rico as Rich port, and Shanghai as On the Sea so it does serve some purpose. I do think that if you get too lost in the cultural trappings of something like wing chun or salsa, you can keep it from being "alive" and evolving.