Martial Arts Misconceptions

Bill Mattocks

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For many beginners, there are a lot of misconceptions about what martial arts in general, and some about the art they have selected in particular. These are some that I have run into - including some I have held myself. These may or may not be true for every martial art, but they seem to apply to mine.

The 'End Game' Misconception

This is when a person thinks of martial arts training as being similar to going to college to study an academic subject. There is a beginning and an end. You learn, you graduate. You move on to other things.

In reality, I have slowly discovered that there is no end to martial arts training. There's no end-game. There is no 'graduation'. You progress. Slowly. For as long as you continue to train and for as long as you live.

Every time I think I have a handle on what my goal actually is, my understanding of my training changes. I don't yet know what I am striving for. I begin to suspect I will never know. In this sense, I suspect that martial arts training is a lot more like religion than science. All I know is that I am on the Path. Where it leads, I have no clue.

What I have begun to learn to do is to accept that being on the Path is enough. It doesn't matter where I am on the Path, only that I am on it.

The 'Martial Arts as Magic' Misconception

Martial arts training can prepare the mind and body to do some amazing things, and can save your life, there is no doubt about it. But it won't stop a bullet, and it won't stop you from being hurt or killed by a variety of means. It is a tool, and a very, very, good one in most cases. It is not a magic shield against all danger.

Likewise, no one can become actually invisible, or pass through walls, etc. There is a huge difference between 'apparently' and 'actually' when it comes to things like that.

The 'Martial Arts Secret Techniques' Misconception

It is easy for a beginner to think that there are secret techniques that are hidden from them deliberately, and if they only knew what they were, they would instantly possess the ability of their instructors.

The truth is that yes, there are secrets in some arts, meaning there are bits of information and techniques that may be deliberately withheld from a given student at a given time. However, that does not mean that a beginner would be able to make any use of a given 'secret' if they had access to it. In this sense, it can also be truly said that there are no secrets, because even knowing the 'secret' gains a beginner nothing if they cannot apply it.

This is not a bad thing. Secrets, if one wishes to call them that, are basically techniques that become available to a student when their mind and body become equipped to apply it. Some instructors dole such knowledge out over time, based on intentional decisions they make about a given student. Others simply make such techniques clear and obvious, but most miss seeing them, because they simply are not ready to see them, let alone apply them. It has occurred to me that some instructors love seeing a student have that "Oh, snap!" moment when they finally see a technique.

Hiding such techniques, whether refusing to reveal them or by the student simply not seeing them, is not done maliciously, nor is it (in most cases of competent and honest instructors) done out of greed or selfishness. It is simply information that the beginning student is not ready for and cannot make use of. It is hidden only in the sense that it's useless until one is able to understand and apply it.

Accept that during your lifetime of training, you will continually discover or be shown things that you did not know, but which are not 'new' in the world of martial arts training. You have become proficient enough to both see and apply them. And accept that there is no end to that 'Aha!' type of discovery; it goes on your entire life if you keep training diligently.

The biggest 'secret' to martial arts training is no secret at all, but like most real secrets, it is typically discarded as valueless. That secret is this - keep training. When you suck at it, when you're tired, when you are busy and can't spare the time, when the weather is bad, when the training facility is too hot, when your training partner has been eating garlic and smells bad, when the instructor is on your case, when you just don't think you care anymore. Keep training. Quitting is an easy choice, a one-time choice, and continuing to train is a choice you have to make every single training day. Training, like quitting, becomes a habit. Training leads to martial arts prowess. There is no other real secret. Just keep training.

The 'Promotion As A Yardstick' Misconception

In most legitimate martial arts training where colored belts or sashes are awarded at all (this is not to say that an art is not legitimate if it does not award belts), the colored belt represents a level of training that has been achieved, minimum standards that have been met.

It corresponds roughly to the overall competence of the martial artist in terms of their proficiency, but it has less meaning outside of a given training facility, belt colors are not objective.

Belt colors can also be non-objective inside of a given training facility. They may represent effort, rather than ability. Or time spent diligently training rather than proficiency at a given skill. Kata (forms) rather than sparring, or vice-versa. Leadership and sharing rather than memorization. The belt color is an indicator, nothing more. One should not look down on anyone with a 'lower rank' than themselves. A lower rank does not necessarily mean one will not get one's butt whipped by that same lower rank - or that it's a bad thing if one does.

Learning, and teaching, comes from the individual, not from the belt color. One can learn from any student from time to time, and one often has something valuable to share, even with upper ranks, from time to time.

What colored belts are good for in a training facility is in encouraging those who are motivated by visual marks of progress to keep training. They are encouraging to strive for and to earn.

In many training facilities, one is entrusted with rank, rather than given it. That also implies that one continues to demonstrate those qualities the instructor believes exemplify that rank, both within and without that training facility. It implies that one conducts oneself in a respectful, respectable, and upright manner at all times and in all ways, or one can become no longer worthy of the trust that has been placed in them by their instructor.

The 'My Style Is Best' Misconception

It is not true that all martial arts styles are equivalent. It is also not true that all martial arts styles are equally useful for any given purpose, whether that purpose is self-defense, sport, flexibility, fitness, or even meditation. However, it is also neither useful nor even really possible to objectively compare them. One can only determine what is best for them. That does not make one right, or wrong. But we as humans make decisions and live with them. It is not wrong to believe that one's chosen style is superior for them and for their own purposes. It just isn't objective.

If asked, I will tell anyone that my style of martial arts is best. And this is true; for me. That is the extent of the validity of my opinion.

The 'Some Styles Are Better For X' Misconception

It is true that some styles of martial arts are aimed more towards one thing than other. Some martial arts styles refer to themselves as a sport, others do not compete but consider themselves more as a form of self-defense, and so on. There is nothing wrong with that.

However, there is too much variability in schools, students, and situations for any style to be crowned the best for this or that.

Individuals vary in body type, age, flexibility, strength, determination, and so on. Instructors also vary. The match between instructors and students vary.

Experiences vary. The situation one person encounters can be quite different from even similar types of situations others encounter.

Experience itself varies. It is natural to assume that a highly-trained person in an art not particularly aimed at a given situation might respond better than a person just beginning their training in a style that is actually focused on that situation.

It might be better to say that certain styles have a stated focus, and that if one desires that type of training, that is what one should seek. But seeing a Youtube video of a goo-goo-jitsu figher knocking out a blah-blah-jitsu fighter proves only one thing - that one fighter knocked out another on that day during that encounter. It proves precious little else, and it certainly does not prove or even tend to prove the effectiveness of a given style at a given type of thing.

Feel free to add your own 'misconceptions'. I may add more as I think of them, but this is where I'm starting.
 

oftheherd1

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As always Bill, another post that is insightful, correct, and well stated. I hope many people read and take it to heart.
 
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Bill Mattocks

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I won't say martial arts are magic, but you must still do you best to be a magician of motion, and master of deception.

The difference between appearance and actuality. The quickness of the hand may deceive the eye, but it didn't actually violate any laws of physics. There is nothing stopping any activity from attaining the appearance of magic, and nothing wrong with it either. But it never actually transcends reality, I think.
 

Xue Sheng

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The 'Martial Arts Secret Techniques' Misconception

It is easy for a beginner to think that there are secret techniques that are hidden from them deliberately, and if they only knew what they were, they would instantly possess the ability of their instructors.

The truth is that yes, there are secrets in some arts, meaning there are bits of information and techniques that may be deliberately withheld from a given student at a given time. However, that does not mean that a beginner would be able to make any use of a given 'secret' if they had access to it. In this sense, it can also be truly said that there are no secrets, because even knowing the 'secret' gains a beginner nothing if they cannot apply it.

This is not a bad thing. Secrets, if one wishes to call them that, are basically techniques that become available to a student when their mind and body become equipped to apply it. Some instructors dole such knowledge out over time, based on intentional decisions they make about a given student. Others simply make such techniques clear and obvious, but most miss seeing them, because they simply are not ready to see them, let alone apply them. It has occurred to me that some instructors love seeing a student have that "Oh, snap!" moment when they finally see a technique.

Hiding such techniques, whether refusing to reveal them or by the student simply not seeing them, is not done maliciously, nor is it (in most cases of competent and honest instructors) done out of greed or selfishness. It is simply information that the beginning student is not ready for and cannot make use of. It is hidden only in the sense that it's useless until one is able to understand and apply it.

Accept that during your lifetime of training, you will continually discover or be shown things that you did not know, but which are not 'new' in the world of martial arts training. You have become proficient enough to both see and apply them. And accept that there is no end to that 'Aha!' type of discovery; it goes on your entire life if you keep training diligently.

The biggest 'secret' to martial arts training is no secret at all, but like most real secrets, it is typically discarded as valueless. That secret is this - keep training. When you suck at it, when you're tired, when you are busy and can't spare the time, when the weather is bad, when the training facility is too hot, when your training partner has been eating garlic and smells bad, when the instructor is on your case, when you just don't think you care anymore. Keep training. Quitting is an easy choice, a one-time choice, and continuing to train is a choice you have to make every single training day. Training, like quitting, becomes a habit. Training leads to martial arts prowess. There is no other real secret. Just keep training.

Exactly. A good shifu, knows better than you do, as to when you are ready to learn something.
 

Touch Of Death

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The difference between appearance and actuality. The quickness of the hand may deceive the eye, but it didn't actually violate any laws of physics. There is nothing stopping any activity from attaining the appearance of magic, and nothing wrong with it either. But it never actually transcends reality, I think.
We call some of that, using obscure zones. An interesting point, is that the closer you like to fight, the less your opponent can see.
 
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Bill Mattocks

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Exactly. A good shifu, knows better than you do, as to when you are ready to learn something.

Likewise, it might be said that until and unless the student can grasp and apply what the teacher gives them, the so-called 'secret' cannot be passed to them. This is not the fault of the student or the teacher; all things occur in accordance with time and change.
 

Kung Fu Wang

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The 'Martial Arts Secret Techniques' Misconception

If you are a

- striker, an "arm drag" may be a secret technique to you.
- grappler, a "hook kick" may be a secret technique to you.

Secret or not, if you don't know, you just don't know it. You may know how to use a certain technique, but you may not know all the possible ways to set up that technique. It's easier to learn it from someone, it's hard to figure out everything all by yourself.
 

Gnarlie

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It is a misconception that training martial arts will in any way make you a good martial artist, fighter, self defence proponent, or a better person.

Only you can do those things. Some people realise this on day one, others never realise it.

Edit: small print disclaimer
*enlightenment not guaranteed
 

Touch Of Death

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It is a misconception that training martial arts will in any way make you a good martial artist, fighter, self defence proponent, or a better person.

Only you can do those things. Some people realise this on day one, others never realise it.

Edit: small print disclaimer
*enlightenment not guaranteed
I disagree. The sticktuitiveness it a sign, you are improving.
 

Gnarlie

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I disagree. The sticktuitiveness it a sign, you are improving.
'Sticktuitiveness' is not necessarily a characteristic of martial arts training, especially where beginners are concerned. The motivation to turn up has to come from them, and is not an automatic given just because it's martial arts. That's my point.
 

Touch Of Death

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'Sticktuitiveness' is not necessarily a characteristic of martial arts training, especially where beginners are concerned. The motivation to turn up has to come from them, and is not an automatic given just because it's martial arts. That's my point.
OK let me put it this way, any discipline which teaches you to self discipline makes you a better person. :)
 

lklawson

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The difference between appearance and actuality. The quickness of the hand may deceive the eye, but it didn't actually violate any laws of physics. There is nothing stopping any activity from attaining the appearance of magic, and nothing wrong with it either. But it never actually transcends reality, I think.
Which reminds me of one of my absolute favorite references: "The hand is quicker than the eye." This is considered hackneyed patter now for Stage Magicians performing a quick bit of prestidigitation. But the original reference comes from an old martial arts manual by George Silver and he was talking about safe and dangerous ranges in relationship to reaction times, "Time of the Hand" in this case. His intention was to communicate that if a person is close enough to touch you with his weapon by only moving his arm/hand, then your eye cannot perceive the movement, communicate to the brain, and the brain initiate a protective movement before the attack hits. At that range, the attack will hit before you recognize the movement and parry. In his original words, "Now is the hand in his owne course more swifter then the foot or eye, therefore within distance the eye is deceived, & judgement is lost" --- The hand is quicker than the eye. :)

Peace favor your sword,
Kirk
 

Gnarlie

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OK let me put it this way, any discipline which teaches you to self discipline makes you a better person. :)
This reminds me of the old joke "How many Psychologists does it take to change a light bulb? Seven, but the light bulb has to really want to change".

You teach yourself self-discipline.

Sent from my Nexus 5 using Tapatalk
 

crazydiamond

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Some thoughts...

Martial Arts is for the Young

You will get hurt in Martial Arts (as opposed to other "safe" sports)

Martial Arts mean you are - or soon will be more aggressive/violent/dangerous
 

Touch Of Death

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This reminds me of the old joke "How many Psychologists does it take to change a light bulb? Seven, but the light bulb has to really want to change".

You teach yourself self-discipline.

Sent from my Nexus 5 using Tapatalk
Somebody has to start you out: Parents; teachers; et cetera.
 

Gnarlie

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Somebody has to start you out: Parents; teachers; et cetera.
There is no guarantee that anyone in martial arts will 'start you off'; nor is there any guarantee that you will continue, and being 'started off' without wanting to continue yourself achieves nothing; ergo my original point about it being a misconception that training martial arts will make you a great martial artist or better person.

Looked at another way:

Is it possible to train martial arts while remaining undisciplined, bad at martial arts, and/or a bad person?

If the answer to that question is yes, then my original statement is correct, there is no guarantee.

I do not dispute that martial arts encourage characteristics like self discipline, but they don't guarantee them, that would be impossible, because those qualities belong to the individual, not the art.
 
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Touch Of Death

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There is no guarantee that anyone in martial arts will 'start you off'; nor is there any guarantee that you will continue, and being 'started off' without wanting to continue yourself achieves nothing; ergo my original point about it being a misconception that training martial arts will make you a great martial artist or better person.

Looked at another way:

Is it possible to train martial arts while remaining undisciplined, bad at martial arts, and/or a bad person?

If the answer to that question is yes, then my original statement is correct, there is no guarantee.

I do not dispute that martial arts encourage characteristics like self discipline, but they don't guarantee them, that would be impossible, because those qualities belong to the individual, not the art.
Some schools are better for that than others. :)
 
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