EDIT 20/5/17: I changed my opinion on this significantly, but I’ll still leave the article here. In short, my new position is this: ideally, you want to learn from more experienced people that have legit skills. In martial arts, one criterion could be the number of fights your teacher had, but it’s not the only criterion nor necessarily the best one. You just want to make sure in some way that the person and the knowledge are legit, and extensive experience in fighting is a plus.
I have been training EBMAS Wing Tzun Kung Fu for over six years. I have reached the ninth of the twelve student degrees and I have been awarded an instructors licence. I was in the process of starting my own school a couple of months ago. I gave it all up – at least for now. Why?
Sure, I’ve been in a couple of street fights when I was 16 (3 or 4 of them) and that was that. I started training Wing Tzun when I was 18 and since then never had any sort of fight, only the practice during class. The point of someone having to clock real fights before they can claim to be an expert was made also by Bas Rutten in Joe Rogan’s podcast. Even sparring isn’t enough, says Bas Rutten, because it is not the same thing as a fight. When I first heard about it, my teacher disagreed and I guess I went along with what he said – until a couple of months ago, when I found out about Steve Morris. I looked at a bunch of his videos on Youtube, then I read some of his stuff and then something clicked. I realized that it would be completely wrong for me to teach if I hadn’t fought – and I hadn’t.
Think about it. You want to learn to drive a car. Do you A) hire an instructor that’s absolutely incredible on the course, that can do all kinds of impressive things around those cones but never drove on the road or B) hire an instructor that has had a couple of years of experience driving on the road but can’t do all the flashy stuff on the course? I think the answer is clear – you hire the guy experienced with driving on the road because you will be driving on the road, so his input is that much more important than the input of someone good only on the course.
It doesn’t mean that you can’t learn a useful thing or two from the course-guy. But you will want to learn from the guy that actually drove his car in traffic.
Then why would you want to learn from someone like me, someone who never had a fight, or had a fight ages ago before he ever started training? You would want to have someone that can say “Yes” to the question “Have you ever had to use your [insert martial art] and did it work?”
My friends have given me the counter-argument that despite my lack of experience, I still know MORE than regular people do about fighting. Maybe so. But just because I have a more developed idea about fighting doesn’t mean it’s the right idea. And if you don’t know if your idea is right, you test it.
So naturally, I went and tested it in two amateur MMA fights, which I both lost. Now I can say with confidence that I actually do know a couple of things about fighting. However, without even more experience in fighting, I will not be teaching fighting because it would be irresponsible to the students: they have no business listening to someone that is so inexperienced as I am because they might make mistakes that will cost them their health (or life) because of my inexperienced advice.
And just to dismantle the “MMA is not real fighting” argument: no, it’s not, but do you know anything closer to it that you can practice safely? Me neither. So, MMA is as close as it gets and as good as it gets to train for real fighting.
I have no problem teaching certain concepts I know, but I don’t want to teach people how to fight if I don’t have empiric evidence that I myself know how to fight. In other words, if I was asked, I would show them sensitivity drills from Wing Tzun but only if I warned them that it’s not all there is to fighting – only an idea they might want to consider.
There is a bunch of stuff in traditional martial arts that pertains to things other than just fighting: meditative practices and everyday philosophies. That is all well and useful, but my personal motivation is only about learning to fight. Learning discipline and mindfulness are good things, but my primary goal is to learn to fight. Then we can go to discipline and mindfulness and avoiding fighting and so on, but without the groundwork it’s irrelevant to me.
Changes in my fighting training now:
- I don’t do forms anymore. I simply don’t see them translate into useful movement in fighting.
- I do a lot of shadowboxing and visualization.
- I train BJJ in order to handle myself on the ground.
- I hit the heavy bag with the intent of hurting, being angry, instead of just being technical.
- I jump around and shake so as to be more relaxed. Standing and “grounded” breathing don’t work for me.
- I don’t hit if the hit isn’t the strongest and the fastest hit I can produce, because I am now aware that most hits will simply be ignored by the opponent.
I still do sensitivity drills because they are of great use on the floor (and also sometimes on the feet) but I don’t do a lot of technical repetitions, I focus much more on sparring and fighting.
Hopefully, I will be able to test my new approach soon in another MMA fight and we’ll see how I did.