The Difference Between Combative Training and Martial Arts

Recently, I was checking the sales ranking for my book on Amazon.com, when I noticed I have finally received a customer review on Amazon. After reading the review, I found myself humbled and dumb founded. The customer who reviewed my book on military knife and hand to hand combat was obviously a practicing martial artist.

He appeared to be one of the “Know it all” types as well. Although much of his review on the layout of my book may be spot on; I was amazed at his blatant ignorance in not knowing the difference between combative training and martial arts. In his own words,”Though the author may know what he is doing in this book, you may already as well. If you took some sort of M.A. class for any period of time that was worth anything, then you would have learned most if not half of these techniques for knife fighting. ” I must agree with him on this.

If you take some sort of martial arts class for any period of time; that is worth anything; eventually you may learn half of the techniques in the book. Although I clearly state in the book that my attempt is not to teach specific techniques, but use techniques as a vehicle to drive home principles; and I admit that there are countless numbers of techniques one can learn, not simply limited to my book. This guy “Cliff” is the example of how many can not distinguish the difference between martial art and combative training.

Distinguishing the difference

Before one can truly distinguish between a martial art or combative training, they must reflect upon the origin of today’s practiced martial arts. The term “martial art”, refers to a war like art; with martial referring to war. It is true that ages ago during the conception of today’s martial arts, the countless numbers of systems and styles were born from military drills and close quarters battle of the time. During the ancient times without the aid of today’s modern weaponry and fire power, soldiers were forced to engage in battle with clubs, swords, daggers, spears and often hand to hand. Warriors of those times began to develop tried and true systems of both armed and unarmed combat, much like today. They understood that military units must gain muscle memory in their tactics of choice and saw the need for regimented systems of combat. The methods and techniques of their day required ways to dismount riders off horse back and break or penetrate wooden armor. It is quite obvious that in today’s combat environment those techniques would be obsolete. Through out generations and over the centuries the ancient arts have been passed from master to student and master to student. The once effective and powerful combative training of the ancients has become an antiquity.

Today the ancient techniques of Samurai and the fighting monks of China can be seen being practiced through training hall windows all over the world. The ancient forms and techniques that were once practical battle tactics have been manipulated by popular media and business ideology. Many practice the ancient martial arts for a plethora of reasons. Some of their reasons are for the very same reasons that the training was developed. People practice for fitness, protection and hobby. Others train simply to preserve the art.

After World War II, the west was introduced to the Asian martial art craze. Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen were exposed to the Asian fighting arts of the Japanese and Philippines and wanted to learn. Many of the indigenous instructors or gurus realized the opportunity to make a buck from the naive westerners and began teaching watered down versions of the fighting arts. Often masters would draw out the training and add flashy, intricate and complicated techniques to the curriculum. It was the flash that would sell to the new western market. Soon even Hollywood would make movies with actors such as Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris demonstrating their athleticism and prowess on screen.

Belt ranking systems were added to help new students feel as if they were progressing and not quit. The once effective techniques for ancient combat were reduced to nothing more than acrobatics with some self protection value. Many of the hidden techniques which were the pride of warriors of old were lost through the simple process of supply and demand. Modern technology and weapons only aided in losing the practical fighting techniques and turning the martial arts into a lucrative but provocative industry. Today there are martial art companies that place their clients on programs known as “black belt plans.”

People are forced into contracts that they can not afford to breach for a certain amount of time until they receive their black belts. During the early 20th century the “black belt” rank was respected by many for holding fighting prowess. Today that rank has lost much of that respect. All too often we hear about the black belt who got beat up by a boxer or street fighter. All too often a white belt student can completely annihilate their “black belt” Karate or Kung Fu master during sparring in the training hall. Today the sport of Mixed Martial Arts has proven that the martial arts of old are obsolete to even today’s modern training methods. The MMA athletes of today , that hold no belt in any martial art would dominate over more than half of the practitioners of traditional martial arts.

Traditional martial artists often rely on archaic training methods and spiritual philosophies of a much more primitive time. Where MMA athletes rely on the most up to date drilling and scientific training ideologies. Much more is known today by the general populous on the matters of psychology, physiology, anatomy, physics and the economy of motion. It is the lack of the most up to date sciences that make much of the traditional fighting arts obsolete and inefficient. In essence it is the tradition itself that makes many martial arts training methods in effective and inefficient. Now that we have identified the martial arts, we should compare it to today’s modern combatives.

The combative training of today is a product of the military machine. Today’s military is more efficient and productive than any in history. The philosophy of doing the most with the least drives the war machine. In World War II Colonels Eric Anthony Sykes and William Fairbairn began to develop a new type of training for soldiers based from their experience in Shanghai and the trenches of World War I. Close Quarter Battle (CQB) or Hand to Hand Combat was the norm in trench warfare and the soldiers fighting it needed to be able to quickly and efficiently kill and immobilize their adversaries. The two men realized that they needed to develop a system for training or ideology of training that would enable masses of troops with no prior experience in martial arts to learn hand to hand combat quickly in a matter of days, not the years often required by martial arts training. This training had to not only be learned quickly, but retained and trained quickly as well. Soldiers on the front and behind the lines needed to be able to react without thinking, relying on muscle memory. In combat the heart rate exceeds 180 beats per minute and all fine motor skills go out the window.

Sykes and Fairbairn realized that many of the extravagant “pressure points” used in traditional martial arts would not be effective. They realized that pressure points were not effective for two reasons. One, the enemy may not feel it under the influence of adrenaline and two; the soldier will more than likely not have the ability of fine motor skills needed in order to strike the target. Therefore the modern combative training was simple easy to retain and concentrated on gross motor skill movement. Because in combat soldiers are all too often sleep deprived and under nourished the techniques taught needed to not rely on physical strength or athletic prowess. Today’s combatives are often known for the dirty fighting aspect, not found in traditional martial arts. The warrior codes from long ago no longer apply today, chivalry is dead. Because the combative techniques are taught to such a variety of fighting men who’s bodies are not conditioned to desensitizing training; the trainees are taught to strike with only the most structurally stable weapons of the body. A soldier can not afford broken hands and feet on the battle field. It is for many of these reasons that combative training stands far apart from traditional martial arts.

In summary

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The Resolution of Paradox – Life Mastery Through the Traditional of Martial Arts

My career in the martial arts started in 1964 with irony. I studied a martial art normally categorized as “soft” judo, but found that in application there was a lot of “hard”. Judo provided the toughest workout of any sport I had ever practiced including football. I had more sore muscles, more muscle strains, and more bruises in judo than in all my other sports combined. And, in contest application, the concept of harmonizing energy or using the other person’s strength against him was all but invisible. It was struggle, plain and simple. Later I added the “hard” art of karate and the “soft” art of aiki-ju-jutsu to my repertoire. Unifying them made me realize that at times karate can be soft and aiki can be hard. Teaching emphasis was one thing, application another. One’s personal interpretation of and skill at the art also had an effect on the resulting “hardness” or “softness”.

The apparent dichotomy of hard and soft was being homogenized and unified within me as a martial artist. Other major themes (long vs. short range, straight vs. circular movement, internal vs. external energy, traditional vs. modern practices, etc.) seemed also to be in conflict and yet existed within one martial artist, one method of instruction, one school, one style, or one art–this was a paradox. But I did not accept it as a true paradox since I believed that paradox is a statement of our own limitations in understanding. Something cannot be black and white at the same time, in the same sense, in the same context. That they may seem to be paradoxical but are actually ironic. Apparent paradoxes then should be able to be resolved.

F. Scott Fitzgerald once said that the highest form of thought was to be able to hold two conflicting ideas at the same time. I do not agree. Conflicting ideas produce inadequate understanding, indecision, inaction, thus inadequate achievements. But apparently conflicting ideas which are resolved within the thinker–now that’s something else.

Certainly mastery and “high thought” are not achieved simply by taking a few conflicting ideas, figuring out how to resolve them to one’s own satisfaction, and then promoting oneself to twelfth dan (traditional ranks go up to only tenth dan which are very rare and are usually awarded to very experienced, very elderly, and usually very wise practitioners of the martial arts). Instead, mastery of any subject, especially those like the martial arts which are fraught with perfectionism, dedication, true believers, fidelity, and multitudes of methods and emphases –mastery of these arts means that the ironies and apparent paradoxes of that study must be understood and resolved.

Karate and Aiki each present us with a philosophical “paradox” when applying them in self-defense. Karate says “Do not fight until pushed to the limit. When there is no other choice, then fight full-out, to the death if necessary.” Aiki says, “Harmonize with your opponent and try to frustrate his aggression or, if necessary, control it through the use of his own overextended balance and strength.” If pushed to the limit Karate resists while Aiki accepts and redirects. And yet a technical direction in each art seems to contradict the philosophical route each prefers. Karate insists that the first movement should always be defensive. Aiki suggests that one can catch an opponent more unaware and off-balanced if one “attacks the attack”. Yet Karate is often seen as an aggressive art; Aiki is seen as a defensive art.

Of the perceived philosophical choices between Aiki and Karate, I tend to prefer the more peaceful Aiki route. But I realize that (a) a single perception may not accurately portray the art as a whole and (b) even if it did, sometimes a person is given no choice but to stand up for himself and resist! Aiki’s peaceful “redirection philosophy” means very little ethically if one does not have the cannon of karate “fight to the finish philosophy” in one’s arsenal. You do not choose a peaceful harmony if that is your only choice!

Similarly, there are challenges within the martial arts community which must be met one way or another: with resistance or with acceptance. Many martial artists are unnecessarily critical of each other, perhaps showing a lack of confidence in their own art, or, more precisely, in themselves. You can see this in the letter section of any martial arts magazine in any given month. Some who may appear uncritical politically, perpetrate a watered-down version of a martial art, inflate their credentials, make false claims about their history, abilities, etc. They don’t criticize, they brag. Another version of those who provide the fuel for martial controversy are the sales-oriented martial artists who care more about selling superficial knowledge and recognition than offering deep understanding and qualified skill. When these people present themselves in the martial arts, it is like a challenge not only to the livelihood of hardworking legitimately qualified martial artists, but more fundamentally to the reputation of the martial arts in general. But how do we meet this challenge with the philosophy of Aiki or Karate? If one uses “karate” to directly oppose because one feels “pushed to the wall”, one also becomes one of the criticizers of which there are far too many–a voice in the multitudes which cannot be distinguished. If one takes the more tolerant Aiki approach, one sees the quality and benefits of martial arts study gradually being eroded and the meaning of a black belt becoming ludicrous. What a paradox!

Not only is the idea of resolving paradoxes important to individual mastery but the method toward mastery may just be what we, as a society, need to balance our philosophical extremes. Great masters of the martial arts, notably Funakoshi (karate), Kano (Judo) and Ueshiba (Aikido) intended the study of their art to be a method of improving the individual so as to eventually influence society. They saw their mission as one of spreading their art so that the more individuals would improve, the more improved individuals would populate a society, and the more common ground the individuals in a society would have. Yet if this martial method gets corrupted not even the individual can improve, and certainly society can not be effected in a positive way. I would like to submit that individuals do have an influence on society but not by force of numbers alone, rather by positive example and by creating ideas and technologies which philosophically influence other individuals and thus indirectly influence their societies. I think the masters of the previous era might accept a small variation to their theme of peace and harmony through the martial arts: the martial arts provide one method by which paradox can be studied and eventually resolved. In my opinion, it is the method of resolving paradox which is the key to personal mastery, and a philosophical change in society.

The martial arts are a relatively insignificant sub-culture in a world of political extremists, religious paradigms, and self-improvement methods. As a whole, one cannot say that the very study of any martial art makes one a better person or improves society directly or indirectly. Martial arts are not a direct means to a given end. Rather, martial arts offer one method for personal challenge and self-discovery through which time mastery can be attained. It is during the attainment of mastery that methods of resolving paradox are discovered. Those individuals who have reached the high goals of inner peacefulness and personal worth may choose to reach for yet higher goals outside themselves. These are the people (martial artists or not) who will change the world. Major philosophical changes have come from the influence of methods and experiences of much less significance than the martial arts. But for practicing martial artists, traditional budo may just be the most appropriate method of life-mastery and then of social renaissance.

Everyday we are confronted with experiences which are, in the larger world view, insignificant, yet these items challenge us with indecision because they make us face philosophical paradoxes.

Three teens in a banged up sedan zip into a parking place by entering the parking lot against the flow of traffic. Should one oppose them? Or should one say to oneself “teens will be teens” and tolerate it? Opposition would be difficult if the teens did not take kindly to verbal discipline, since there are three against one, and words would probably not influence their driving or parking habits in the long run anyway. Yet tolerance of little incidences like these encourages their repetition. The offenders convince themselves they can get away with inconsiderate behavior on a regular basis. Repetition of such behavior without any retribution creates in the offended party, an unconscious sense of disorderliness and, more importantly, helplessness to protect what one perceives to be a socially accepted right. In short, one takes a relatively insignificant situation and raises it to symbolize deeply important philosophical principles.

Should we tolerate the little things which challenge our individual rights or personal safety? Should we take the chance of opposing too soon and become like fascists? Resolving paradox, even in seemingly insignificant matters, is itself no insignificant matter. Ultimately, in this example, the paradox unresolved comes down to a permissive versus a restrictive society. By what guidelines does one choose the balance? I do not propose that in a little column about training toward martial arts mastery, I can offer the answer to this most difficult of questions or even more minor situations which are emblematic of these questions. Rather I intend to show that the traditional martial arts, properly studied, lead those who wish to achieve higher goals than learning how to punch, kick, throw and lock, to the confrontation with paradox. And that it is the resolution of that paradox whether it be through opposition or redirection, that makes one a master of one’s art, one’s self, and ultimately gives one a framework by which to tackle much wider philosophical problems.

Ultimately, paradoxes reduce to “What Should Be vs. What Is.” Either we are logically stumped because our reasoning, although faultless, is confronted with an equally faultless yet opposite reasoning (Light it has been proven is both waves and pulses simultaneously), or we are ethically confounded because our ideals, no matter how carefully parallel to apparent human nature, always seem to be frustrated by those who take advantage of them (“Treat them with discipline and they hate you; treat them with love and they take advantage of you, thus becoming undisciplined.”)

What Should Be vs. What Is: is it the ultimate paradox or is it just a larger cousin of the little ironies we face (and resolve) every day? In the martial arts such frustrating questions do not occur to the everyday practitioner. If they occur at all, it is to the experienced and dedicated martial artist who has more years in his/her art than most students have in their entire educational career. “What Is” in the martial arts is, for the most part, short term students studying a catalogue of physical movements in order to feel better about themselves. “What Should Be”, at least to this author, is that students become artists, who during the years of mastering their art, confront the ironies and seeming paradoxes and use these confrontations to master themselves and the living of their lives. How does one resolve the paradox of What Is vs. What Should Be in the martial arts? By helping create a path for some of the short term students to become long term students, for some of those studying physical movements to stumble into the grotto of intellectual and emotional self-development. And how does one do that? One begins by writing this article.

A martial artist since 1964, Tony Annesi holds black belts in judo, aiki-ju-jutsu, karate, and has studied numerous other arts. As early as 1977, Annesi received the title of Ichiban Deshi no Soke (#1 student of the stylistic leader) in aiki-ju-jutsu from Albert C. Church, Jr. In 1984, the Goshin-kai International, a French federation, and the International Brotherhood of Martial Artists, a German-based organization, both decorated Annesi for his dedication to the martial arts. In the same year, Annesi was appointed soke-dai (inheritor designate) of the Kamishin-ryu martial arts, a position he resigned in 1988 due to a conflict in leadership styles. In 1989, he founded BUSHIDO-KAI KENKYUKAI, a federation for the development of innovative traditional martial arts and shortly thereafter founded BUSHIDO-KAI BUDOYA to help broaden the martial education of practitioners worldwide.

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