How many times have you heard the phrase it's always good to get more tools for your toolbox? Honestly, in martial arts I hear it all the time but is it actually true? Well, the honest answer is it depends.
Before I get into all this I want to talk to you about context first. If you’re getting into martial arts to study a martial art then more tools doesn't hurt. Some people are basically technique collectors and that's what they like to do. If that's what you like to do then more power to you I hope you find a bunch of stuff. I'm also not talking about groups of arts. For the purposes of this article and historical fact, unarmed fighting is its own art. Knife fighting is its own separate art. The same will hold true for sword fighting and the like as well. For the purposes of this article we will be focusing on this phrase applied to a single art.
So to get to the point quickly do you need to always be adding more tools to your toolbox? The correct answer is an emphatic no! You simply need the right tools for that box.
Let's look at a little science here. In another article we talked about Occam's Razor, also known as the Law of Economy. When it's correctly translated it means that when two answers solve a problem a third one is irrelevant. Try taking that and applying it to martial arts. You’re gonna piss off a lot of people, as I'm probably about to do.
Have you ever been in a class where you had to learn 5 or 6 escapes for something and it was obvious some of them would never work for you but they made you learn it anyway for a belt rank? That doesn't make a lot of sense does it? Wouldn't it be better to learn a concept that everyone could apply that worked for all? If so then why are you forced to learn a bunch of crap? Well the most common answer you'll get is that it's tradition and it's always been done that way. But is that even true? The answer is no.
Let's look at the Toda samurai family in the 17th century. How many techniques did their low level soldiers learn for combat as far as unarmed self defense? A hundred? A thousand? Try 8...yeah that's right 8. They were taught 3 strikes, 1 throw, 2 armbars, and 2 wristlocks. They would also learn a short kata that taught body mechanics but that was it. They won a lot of battles too because they could take 8 techniques and modify them for any situation they would find themselves in. They would master those 8 techniques and could adapt under pressure easily because they weren't trying to pick between a hundred techniques and figure out what in the hell they needed to do.
On top of that look at all the old Karate masters. They didn't learn a bunch of kata they spent their whole lives dedicated to one kata because it gave them everything they needed to defend themselves. So, was it always done that way? Umm… no sorry that argument isn't true or valid in any way; you see in the modern age a lot of traditional systems put all this stuff in there to preserve their history and culture and there is nothing wrong with that whatsoever. The thing is they were very honest about it and respectable. It's the western world that has gotten it so twisted around. It had nothing to do with teaching you an ounce of self defense.
Does that mean these guys that teach all this stuff can't fight? No it doesn't mean that at all some can and some can't. What it means is that if you’re going to them for self defense you’re learning in a way that is inefficient and unnecessary for your immediate goal. Sure if they are a good teacher in time you can get really good but what are you going to do until then? If you get attacked ask the guy to come back in a couple years when your skill set is better developed? Yeah I don't see that happening.
On a darker side of the issue you also have instructors that are only in this for the money. They are always adding techniques and requirements for you so you will have to stay there longer and pay them more money. They will tell you pretty much anything to keep you subservient. The most common trick these days is to get you to sign a huge long term contract and pay them a lot of non refundable money up front. That way if you catch on and leave then they have your money and couldn't care less. There is a lot of that but thankfully that isn't always the case.
Martial arts are fun as they should be. More often than not (hopefully) what you actually have is someone confusing need with want. They want to do more things because its fun and they enjoy it but want and need isn’t actually the same thing now is it? Unfortunately even though they are well meaning they confuse their own want with what you need and this can get you hurt. I know instructors all over the world that teach 1 and 2 day courses where people can learn to defend themselves against basic attacks.
Ironically enough, if applied correctly courses like these could be of great benefit to "traditional" schools. They can actually co-exist together. It only requires 1 thing...innovation. The first thing that needs to happen is a change in the curriculum. Take all the basics for the types of techniques you teach and put them all at beginner levels. Do stress drills early on and troubleshoot and work fail scenarios. Make everything flow together and have continuity. When that foundation is firm and the fundamentals are sound you can actually add things to it without damaging your students. Then you could actually add tools to your toolbox and they would know where every tool went and which tools didn't work for them. You gotta stop making them learn techniques they can never use on belt promotions. If it's useless they shouldn't have to learn it. There's nothing wrong with upgrading a curriculum and making it more efficient and conducive to learning.
If you’re part of some money hungry organization that requires you and your students to learn things that aren't in their best interest then leave that organization. Your loyalty should always be to your students they are the ones that put faith in you. Your goal should be to strive to prove that you earned that faith. If you’re just teaching a bunch of stuff and you know some of it won't work for a student but you make them waste their time and yours learning it anyway then you’re unethical and immoral. As an educator you should always hold yourself to a higher standard or risk becoming a hypocrite as well as other things.
I love martial arts and want them to always be relevant. When old outdated logic isn't thrown out then a martial art can become a museum piece and lose its relevance. I don't want to see that happen. If you don't want to update then I have some news for you. The public is getting smarter and your days are numbered. You’re slowly turning into a dinosaur as we speak. People run from dinosaurs not towards them because they are smart enough to know dinosaurs can hurt you. Your dinosaur logic can do the same to the very people you’re trying to help.
I've been around this a long time. Time is precious to me and I hate to see people waste it. I certainly don't want to bash anyone; I would just like to tell you… Put your students first. You may not know the science behind the things you say or even know you’re doing something wrong. You could have the best of intentions. I would ask that you look at your curriculum and go to your libraries or even on the internet and research what you are doing. If you find something isn't right change it. Life is too short and your students deserve the best you can give them. So be the person that deserves the faith you receive. Don't confuse need and what. That's all I have to say.
To find out more about Stonewall Tactical Defense Systems visit http://www.stonewalltactical.com/index.html