On the path of becoming overhuman, martial arts play a crucial role. Martial arts do not teach people how to fight but how to live. My original reason for starting with martial arts is the same for Parkour – there is an initial choice to be made before everything else: to live or to die. Both are morally completely acceptable, as they make no matter on the grand scale of things. It is this nihilistic notion of unimportance of life that actually freed me. I realized that life is intrinsically unimportant and that I make the choice of living or dying. If I want importance, I have to make it myself. So I decided to live, and the next step was learning how to live. If you decide to live, you must know how one does it. And if you decide to live, you must be aware that there are forces that may end your life and that means that you must prepare yourself to protect your life. These are the reasons for both martial arts and Parkour. These reasons are still relevant for me today as they were several years ago and I feel I have valuable insights and experience to contribute.
So… Let’s have a look at the world of martial arts through questions and answers.
Can I train alone, using video instructions or do I need to go to a martial arts school?
You can train alone, but don’t begin alone. If you’ve never had any martial arts training, it would be smart to find people that can guide you. That way you progress much faster – you do not need to reinvent the wheel.
Which style should I choose?
Any style. It’s never about the style, but about the practitioner. Take up what interests you, something that excites you. For some people it may be Krav Maga or Muay Thai, both very simple, aggressive and external styles. Some people may be more interested in old styles, the various types of Kung Fu and the like. It doesn’t matter which one you pick. What matters is how open you are to other ideas (styles) and how realistic and down-to-earth you are with regards to real combat. Which leads me to…
Should I choose one style and stick with it or experiment with other styles?
This one is a though question. I always advise openness and looking at different perspectives, but I know that I wouldn’t be half as good a fighter I am today if I hadn’t stayed in my school. There are simply some things that take a lot of time and effort to master, and it’s not enough to superficially go through them. In other words, quality instead of quantity. But on the other hand, I’m equally sure that my real-world fighting skill wouldn’t be as good as it is today if I hadn’t sparred and trained with people from other backgrounds.
My advice would be this: stay in your school if you feel that what you’re being taught isn’t shit and if what you’re being taught is something you still haven’t mastered. If your master, trainer, sensei or sifu is better than you and beats you easily, you have much more to learn. But dabble in other styles – train with people with different backgrounds. This is very important.
As a Wing Tzun practitioner, I’ve encountered some difficulty sparring with Muay Thai or regular boxers. Their “normal” fighting distance wasn’t my normal fighting distance. This unawareness might have cost me my health on the street, but through sparring with them, I understood the fundamental differences in our fighting approaches and corrected the errors in my movement. Now I can fight with them without feeling awkward.
How do I know that what I’m being taught isn’t shit? Are modern styles like MMA better than traditional ones?
It’s popular for today’s MMA practitioners to say that Kung Fu and any other traditional style is a bunch of nonsense. The argument is that they have been thoroughly tested in the ring and it has been shown that these styles don’t work. And when there is a video of a fight in which the fighters supposedly use a traditional style and they’re winning, they say that they see western boxing/muay thai/etc.
While I won’t deny that there truly are many bullshit schools, relying on dogmatism and the cult of the master in order to keep up appearances, I believe that there is a fundamental misunderstanding at play here.
First and most important, fighting in the ring is not the same as fighting on the street. It’s common to grapple in the ring and you usually see people trying to land frontal strikes at the person who’s holding them, but avoiding hitting the back of their heads and necks. On the street, you would never do such a thing. If someone grapples you and gives you the back of their neck, you elbow it and hammer fist it. This isn’t allowed in the ring because fighting on the street isn’t a sport. It’s dirty and it’s bloody. You go for their nuts and for their throat and for their eyes.
I’m not saying that combat sports are useless. They are very useful and have a lot of applicability on the street. But let’s not forget that sport is sport, and combat is combat. I’m not talking out of my ass now – I’ve had some training in Muay Thai and boxing and it was very exciting and useful to learn, but it’s not all there is to fighting.
Secondly, many traditional styles have wider concerns than one to one fighting. They try to teach you how to breathe, how to look at people, how to develop you mental resilience. In traditional styles, there are many things to learn except learning how to fight. With this in mind, it should be noted that many techniques are actually only training techniques, designed to make it easier for you to gain a certain goal, not goals in themselves.
Furthermore, teachers often overemphasize certain things in order for people to understand them at all. In my phonetics class, our teacher used to overemphasize certain sounds just so that we could say them correctly. We underemphasized, they overemphasized, and thus we said them just correctly. So don’t try to turn over-explanations into bullshit claims. There are enough of them already.
Try to feel it: if you feel that what you’re being taught is not BS, it probably isn’t. This is where your own objectivity comes to play. Ask questions. Spar with other styles. Keep at something, maybe it will make sense to you after more diligent training. There’s no straight answer here.
What should my primary focus be on?
Many styles have their own ways of training, and each one thinks its way is better than the others. Usually there is a valid explanation why. This question can only be answered by an opinion, so I give mine.
Learn how to straight punch and straight kick. This means hitting air, but even more importantly, it means hitting a bag. After two years of training Wing Tzun, I had a certain technical know-how, but I wasn’t accustomed to the very act of hitting something hard, which is, in turn, the most important part of the fighting process. I firmly believe that beginners’ focus should be on striking heavy bags. That way, you get truly comfortable with the act of hitting something. Naturally, there are some styles that don’t do bag-striking at all. This doesn’t mean that they are bad. They may have a lot to teach you, but if you want quick improvement in your ability and fighting confidence, hit a bag. And of course, I hope I don’t need to mention it, but hit the bag with no gloves or pads. You don’t wear gloves on the street.
Get tough. One part of getting tough is simply getting strong. Do strength exercises, they will do you a lot of good in fighting. The other part is getting resilient, not being psychologically or physically bothered by adversity such as rain, cold or your opponent’s punches. I have several exercises that might comprise a toughness training session, and they are as following:
- hit yourself with a wooden stick on the forearms and shins
- do Parkour rolls – this alone increases your toughness and overall “body armor”
- while sparring, allow yourself to get hit sometimes
- fall on the ground and bump into walls on purpose – this might seem funny, but it is very useful
- train in the cold, in the snow, in the wind, in the rain, without having eaten previously and without having slept sufficiently – of course, don’t overdo it. You don’t want to get sick and unhealthy. Balance is key.
One thing to remember is this: if you are getting beaten, don’t lose confidence. Persist despite adversity of any kind.
Become very fast (without sacrificing technique). This means developing your strategic footwork (every martial arts has its own) and, well, becoming physically fast while executing techniques. Footwork and speed. Footwork, speed. Speed, footwork. Got it? Great.
Shouldn’t I just fight on the street? Isn’t it true that you only get better at things if you do them? So if you want to get better at fighting, shouldn’t you just head outside and fight?
No. Fighting is one of the rare things you don’t get truly better at if you just head outside and do it. The odds are against it. There are certainly some good street fighters, but I have yet to meet a good one that never trained fighting. Sure, your self-confidence might rise (even at the expense of being a jerk). But do you get proper technique? Real punching power? Anything. In my opinion, no.
But I don’t have the money to go to a martial arts school.
If you really like a specific school and really don’t have the money, ask the instructor if there is any way for you to repay your debt, if you could clean the gym or help in any other way. Try it, it might just work. I know I’d accept someone that’s really passionate but doesn’t have the money.
But there is also another way for the empty of pocket. Most bigger cities have hundreds of various gyms. The first class is always free (and if it isn’t, it’s probably not worth your time anyway). Go from one gym to another, ask for the first free class, try it out, say thank you and then repeat with another gym and another school. You could do this for an entire year, and still have places you haven’t seen yet. I do this when I’m not training Wing Tzun. I go from one martial arts gym to another one, see what they have to offer, absorb new perspectives, feel their pulse, see how they breathe, and then visit another one.
If you have any questions, comments, suggestions or objections, the comment field is below, comment away.