Are the FMAs "devolving" from the lack of real combat testing?

Bob Hubbard

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I'm fine with people not wanting to be a "warrior," but if they are going to train with me, I'm going to be focusing on high percentage workable material, stuff that might actually save their life should they run into a bad situation. Just because something is a hobby for someone doesn't mean the material has to be taught for entertainment value. Most of the guys training in MMA classes are never going to be professional fighters, but their material is going to be the same effective, high percentage stuff that the fighters learn.

I'm not endorsing teaching ineffective material. But I think some misunderstand the design of some curriculum that have simplified things for younger students to use as a foundation towards the more complex 'whole'. I've watched instructors whip out an endless array of variations on something as simple as a wrist grab, while students struggled to just capture the wrist. Put in a programming context, the traditional "Hello World" program's useless, but it's an introduction that you can build on.

I am not a "warrior" I don't go into combat. My teacher is one of those guys whose job it is to run toward the sound of gunfire, as a student I've trained with several others of those guys, and now from time to time I have the opportunity to be the trainer of those guys. The material I show my civilian students is the same stuff. I see no point in "fluffing" the material for the sake of commercialism.

"Fluffing" to me is adding in the 'fancy' stuff, or combination's and combining with other systems material simply to add more stuff for higher belts to draw in more cash. Addon material that doesn't blend well, and bloats things out or just looks pretty without actually being of any use, like thumping your chest twice for pretty sound effects or insisting on a student making whoosh whoosh sounds as they move like they were that guy from the Police Academy movies. :)

Commercially my little club is an abject failure, complete and utter, and I couldn't be happier. I see no reason why the war arts should be changed and softened so some instructor can make a living off of it. This isn't just FMA, this goes for many arts.

There is softening, and there is softening. I see a difference between insisting on safer training methods, avoiding injury and using controlled intensity and the watering down of things to the point of being useless like what has happened to Tai Chi. Most of the FMA people I've encountered are still doing things in a serious manner. I mean, I haven't seen an FMA-TaeBo yet. Then again, I'm usually watching sci-fi clips on Youtube, not martial arts clips, so it might be there....lol

It is the job of every student and particularly every instructor to constantly retest. If something doesn't work they better figure out why.
Are they doing it at the wrong range? They aren't reading the attack early enough? Or is the technique so low percentage that it requires the somewhat active cooperation of the attacker to complete correctly? Several of the poor examples of FMA show such half-hearted attacks that somehow slashes stop when contacted with a simple wall block. Why? How? My three year old doesn't throw slashes that would stop with a simple wall block. Test, test, test and use some common sense.

But, how seriously should you retest? After all, the best way to practice lethal techniques is to go out, fight and kill someone. Or break some bones, and knock folks out. But, that whole "we have laws and lawyers" thing gets in the way. Sparring only goes so far. Cutting up a rolled up mat only goes so far. If you're dealing with life-or-death situations, only dealing with them will give you experience. You can shoot all the guns you want, play all the laser tag, paintball, and airsoft you want. You won't know how you react being under real fire until that first round whizes past your head and you discover how damp your pants get. Same thing in a fight. I can train all I want, spar all comers, but I -know- they aren't trying to kill me or break me apart. That alone is enough to me, to negate the 'intensity' and the 'test'.

Combative weapon arts are usually fairly simple. Lots and lots of practice at basic striking, lots and lots of practice at footwork, lots and lots of practice at getting the hell out of the way, and as you get better, lots and lots of practice of getting the hell out of the way AND strking the other guy. Many practitioners skimp on the important part to get to the cool locks and disarms. Bad form on the part of the instructors, bad results for the students.

I can't say I disagree. I've seen systems that are pretty basic, and pretty brutal. No fancy moves, no fancy dancing. Just get in, take your opponent out, and go home. Then I've seen systems that add a little flair here, a little spin there, a little whoosh on the left, and insist on you making choochoo train sounds as you move, from instructors who have to say "poppoppoppop" as they throw air punches and slap themselves silly for sound effects. Entertains the kids, keeps them focused, but seems so Jackie Chanish in effect to me.
 

Blindside

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But, how seriously should you retest? After all, the best way to practice lethal techniques is to go out, fight and kill someone. Or break some bones, and knock folks out. But, that whole "we have laws and lawyers" thing gets in the way. Sparring only goes so far. Cutting up a rolled up mat only goes so far. If you're dealing with life-or-death situations, only dealing with them will give you experience. You can shoot all the guns you want, play all the laser tag, paintball, and airsoft you want. You won't know how you react being under real fire until that first round whizes past your head and you discover how damp your pants get. Same thing in a fight. I can train all I want, spar all comers, but I -know- they aren't trying to kill me or break me apart. That alone is enough to me, to negate the 'intensity' and the 'test'.

Well sure, but look at the logic of what you are suggesting, that because we don't test something in live combat we can't really test it? If I can't pull off something in hard sparring, how the hell am I going to do it for real? I have a decent sidekick, it is undoubtedly one of my "go to" moves, and I know it works because I have dropped people in hard sparring and in a couple of instances broken ribs.

Unarmed or armed I start students with light contact and move up. With sticks it starts out with light padded weapons, then heavy padded sticks that can cause a TKO if you land it with enough power (done it, been done to me), then to light sticks, then to heavy sticks. At some point I'd love to participate in a Dog Brothers match to test myself against strangers and my own fears.

Not every student is going to do this, but the ones that will are going to be better prepared. Force on force training through law enforcement and military studies show that it prepares them better for combat than just punching holes on the range. Training isn't real and it won't ever be, but that doesn't mean that you won't get an adrenal dump and figure out how to manage it. For sparring it means that when I'm tired and hurting and maybe not really feeling my best because some dude just beaned me with a power #1, that I still have to function and still have to go. If you feel a lack of intensity in those situations, well, I don't know what to tell you.
 

Bob Hubbard

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Good points. I can't say how others manage it all. I'm not too keen on taking the hard lumps, for a number of reasons, so can't go full tilt like I might want to. For me, it's going as hard as I'm comfortable going, and understanding that it'll never be 100% in practice.

Of course, there is the possibly comedic step of going too far, and paying ones houseboy to randomly attack you. :)
 

Cruentus

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Well, some unknown person emailed me and asked me to respond. I have a natural distrust with internet communication unless I know for sure who I am communicating with, so I can’t help but think that this was a bait of some sort. But, **** it. I’ll chime in. Why not?

I don’t think I am going to receive much agreement or understanding on my opinion, but that is OK. I am just hoping a different perspective will be valuable to some.

The topic asks the question of is FMA is “devolving,” and basically asks if FMA is loosing realism. I feel that the subject matter is tainted with erroneous assumptions from the very beginning.

First, to believe in devolution, we have to assume that FMAers of the past were better then those of today. I think that this is a narrow belief, and without looking into it with more depth points to the logical fallacy of ‘appeal to antiquity’ so common in the martial arts of today. Teachers of the past did not have super human, unattainable powers. They simply may have had a different life circumstance that set the conditions for them to be very good at their discipline. For example, if stick dueling was a popular practice in the 1950s and 60s then it would stand to reason that instructors got good at that out of necessity. That doesn’t make these people were more capable then anyone else today; what their circumstance did do was it gave a catalyst of realism, where little room was left for wild stipulations and hypothetical’s when going into a fight, as a mistake in training could result in getting hit with a stick and injured. Yet, even with that catalyst of realism, were there still a lot of practices of flowery, non-practical techniques? You bet’cha. Why? Because there are many socio-psychological dynamics that play into what people trained, even back then. I wish this weren’t true sometimes, but MARTIAL ARTS HAS NEVER BEEN ONLY ABOUT WHAT IS PRACTICAL. To get into these socio-psychological factors would require a novel, and my post is long enough. So, I would conclude that masters of the past aren’t necessarily “better” then those of today. Instructors today vary in their focus on realism about as much as they did back then. The main difference is that back then only a small % of everyone trained, where as today in the global economy the amount of people dabbling in FMA is much greater. But if we look at the “best” that we got today vs. back then, the variance will have more to do with individual differences and whom we are comparing. That is assuming that we can compare those from the past to now, which is impossible because of the legendary status that people receive after death.

To summarize: We have no basis or actual evidence to assume that as a whole, stuff was better in the past then it is today. Therefore, no evidence of devolution. All we know is that the dynamics and catalyst of realism are different, though not inferior or superior. So, the fight I might encounter in 2010 is different then the fight I might encounter in 1950. That makes things different, but not better or worse.

Point number two: All martial arts, regardless of type, are fantasy. Stick with me on this one before you jump through your computer, freak out and immediately tell yourself how different your style is from everyone else’s, or run to the shower crying for the next hour and repeating some sort of mantra as to how tough you and your art really is. I will repeat: All martial arts, regardless of type, are fantasy.

Let me explain. The only “traditional” art I train (the other stuff I train is more reality based, or more modern and eclectic) is Balintawak Eskrima. I love it. However, the system is primarily a stick dueling system. So, as it applies to real fighting, for me to use Balintawak directly in a fight, I would have to be in a situation where I have an eskrima stick, he has an eskrima stick, and we pummel each other until one of us is no longer moving. In all likelihood, this will never happen. There is no modern day self-defense scenario or battlefield scenario that will involve me dueling with another person with a stick. Therefore, the direct skill I am getting from Balintawak applies only to a fantasy scenario.

The eskrima example is an easy one to follow, but the example holds true in your empty hand systems as well. Take BJJ for example. I love BJJ; it is a great art. There is no modern day self-defense scenario where I am going to roll with someone for as long as it takes, be it 5-30 minutes, with no interruption, until someone submits. To assume that scenario is to believe that fantasy is real.

And there in lies the problem. Many people who train, from the lowest level to the most prominent master, cannot separate fantasy from reality when it comes to this stuff. So then we end up with discussions on whether or not so and so’s trapping sequence is “real” enough. If we can except that none of it is “real,” then we will be far better off. But, that will never happen on a large scale. I wish I could say that people’s inability to separate real from fantasy was solely based in lack of experience or exposure to violent encounters, but that is not the case because you don’t need to be in a lot of violent scenarios to address what is fantasy and what isn’t; you can look at statistics and talk to those who have been in violent encounters to get the picture. Yet, martial artists generally don’t do that, and there are a whole lot of reasons for that going beyond this post as well. But to put it simply, it is a natural defense mechanism to want to feel in control of what could happen if you were in danger, and therefore putting up a fantastical scenario where you or your art gets to be the winner placates to that psychological need.
In a nutshell, this is why dissecting someone’s trapping sequence from a video clip and trying to determine if it is “real” or not is silly. None of it is real. That would be like me arguing that smurfs are far more realistic then fragile’s, and let me list all the reasons why. Sheesh.
Final point then: Why do we train anything if none of it is “real”?

One answer: attributes

Let’s pretend for a second that I have been on a few combat tours in the mid-east and that I did a lot of dismounted patrols in very small teams looking for High Value Targets and Targets of Opportunity. Part of my training for this job involves 5 mile timed runs, sprints, heavy lifting, crossfit style circuits, etc. I will tell you that I have never done a 5 mile run to get to a bad guy, or a heavy dead lift while on a patrol. So, why did I do those things to train for my mission? Those activities may not have been of direct help, but the physical conditioning became a huge asset when I needed it.

We train martial arts for many different reasons that have nothing to do with fighting: fitness, mental well being, social interaction, self-esteem, etc. But as it applies to fighting, by training martial arts we develop attributes that should give us an advantage in a real fight. So, though you will likely never grapple someone into submission for 30 minutes in a fight, the attributes and grappling and body positioning skills of BJJ can be extremely advantageous, making BJJ a practical art. Pretending for a second that I have been in my fair share of real life encounters, its safe to say that I have never used Balintawak Eskrima directly. But the attributes of discipline, timing, distance management, kinesthetic awareness, and so on have all been invaluable to me.

So the question we should be asking here isn’t “will that trapping sequence or drill work in a fight?” as this question is plagued with erroneous assumptions to begin with. The question should be “what attributes or skills does that drill train?” Or, “What is the objective and value of that exercise, and can its objectives be accomplished better with something else?” These questions, to me, seem more logical.

Before I end the post, I have a final recommendation. You may train great martial arts, developing attributes and skill sets that indirectly apply to real fighting. But, great martial artists fail in fights all the time because they have never rehearsed for the likely self-defense circumstance that they will be in, and those attributes never connect or come out when the real scenario occurs. So I suggest that all training should be augmented with non art specific, scenario-based training rehearsals. I have heard some reference to “pressure testing” and so forth already, which is good. But that doesn’t mean just wrestling around with your buddy and trying that wristlock, or putting your buddy in a wristlock and then saying, “er…now try to get out of it!” It means setting up the environmental/tactical scenario where you are rehearsing possible self-defense situations with the use of modern day equipment (padded suits for example) so that you can train as live and full force as possible within the limitations of safety considerations. The difference between martial arts practice and a scenario based rehearsal is that in a rehearsal you are setting up the likely conditions you will be in if you have to fight in real life, you know for your consideration the limitations of your training environment ahead of time, and you are able to train, adjust and maximize your probability for success if that real encounter should occur.

That is my take on the topic. I hope some of you find something of value in my lengthy post.

Thanks,
Cruentus
 

Cruentus

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Also as a side note: On internet video postings...

1. Someone mentioned that people need to watch what they post on the internet and youtube for all to see. I couldn't agree more. Taken out of context, some of the stuff presented to the public in a few minute clip can look pretty bad, even if there was nothing wrong with it in the context of the entire instruction.

That said, some people are just critics, and that is all they are. They will armchair and pick apart what they see on video, when they themselves do nothing better. Well, these critics generally don't have lives, and will spend their time slamming and criticizing what they see because that is what makes them feel important or valuable. It's a shame really. What a waste.

2. Some things were mentioned about people "going after" Datu Hartman, and the implied notion was that this thread or at least some of the posts here were veiled attempts to take shots at him. Is that still going on? Man, I hope not. Read my paragraph above... that applies here.

That said, there was nothing wrong with Datu Hartman's video clip. I am not even going to defend the binding techniques and sequence presented as there is no need; no one thinks that a fight goes like that, and these are sequences designed to work on skill sets and attributes as I explained in my previous post. I will say that those who are hyper critical of the clip are also being critical of the late GM Remy Presas. This is because those techniques are taken straight out of the stuff that he was teaching, particularly in the last years of his seminar career. If anything Datu Hartman's explaination of these techniques is actually better then Prof. Presas' for the simple fact that Hartman has no language barrier. So in my opinion, criticizing Hartman's presentation there is identical to criticizing the entire art and it's founder; and I think there woould be far less support in the idea that Modern Arnis or Professor Presas didn't have practical ideas and skills for fighting.

Cruentus
 
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geezer

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Also as a side note: On internet video postings... some people are just critics, and that is all they are... So in my opinion, criticizing Hartman's presentation there is identical to criticizing the entire art and it's founder; and I think there woould be far less support in the idea that Modern Arnis or Professor Presas didn't have practical ideas and skills for fighting.

Cruentus

Yep. Some people just have attitude. In addition to FMA, I've been involved in WC for a long time. Man, want to talk about attitude problems? Compared to WC factionalism, FMA is almost a love-fest. And we still have these problems. I don't even think comparing what Datu Hartman teaches to the late GM Remy Presas will silence those guys. Give a guy an armchair and a keyboard and look what happens, LOL.

And, even if you discount the armchair "internet warriors", there are highly skilled GMs who go around bad-mouthing the competition. But at least they are qualified to comment (even if they aren't justified). As for myself... I'm glad to hear a healthy debate, especially when I can get a response from really well informed people. Unfortunately, that also opens the door to a lot of low-level mud-slinging. That's why we have moderators, I guess.

Now regarding the earlier comment by "Cruentus" about the fact that stick dueling is a fantasy. Well, my teachers concur. So, let's start carrying around two padded sticks and a pair of fencing helmets. Also, let's donate sets to all the rougher bars in our neighborhoods. Then, next time you get riled up, Carpei Basculum! you can invite your opponent to grab his stick, go outside and "settle it like a man"... On the other hand, that might lead to all kinds of misunderstandings. Nevermind!
 
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