Sports vs Traditional in terms of Self Defense

Nobufusa

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According to John Danaher, in the following video
he says that sports based martial arts with competitive aspects are the most reliable for self defense purposes. However, traditional Budoka of the Koryu, often talk down or even denigrate the sportification of martial arts. Phil Relnick Sensei has even stated in an interview that he considered Judo a sport, not a martial art (a sentiment with which I really wholeheartedly disagree with). Toby Threadgill Sensei, in a Shu-Ha-Ri dialogues interview talked about how his Sensei effortlessly put down hardned Judoka. But what John Danaher is saying, as I understand it, essentially contradicts the things we hear from the traditional martial arts representatives.

In my opinion, the ideal thing to do is to probably do both competitive and traditional (theoretical) based martial arts.

What are your thoughts and reactions to John Danaher in this video?
 

Gerry Seymour

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I think "sport vs. martial art" is a false dichotomy. There are folks who seem to define "martial art" as something that must be more esoteric, more "do" centered. I disagree. The "jistu" arts were and are still martial arts - just no "do" arts (though some are now taught with more of a "do" orientation than most "do" arts, IMO).

I don't think there's a complete distinction between "sport" and "traditional", either. I think it's unlikely traditional artists in the past didn't have any kind of competition. In some cases (arts that were actually taught to active warriors) the "competition" was more what worked on the battlefield of the time, but it seems very likely that hard sparring and at least internal tournaments were used to test students and even sometimes compare schools and get feedback.

Training with good feedback will be more likely to reliably develop solid fighting skills. Those skills are fundamental to physical defense (not to be confused with things that help us avoid needing physical defense).

I think where the real confusion is sown is in conflating "best" with "works", and confusing "best for context" with "best every anywhere" - both types of errors made by both sides in this unnecessary argument.

Personally, I'm not fond of anything purported to develop fighting skill that doesn't involve at least a solid sparring element. It might work fantastically, but how can you know? I favor folks testing their skills more widely - either by sparring with folks from other schools and styles, or by getting involved in competition. I never had that interest (and it was not encouraged by most of my instructors), and wish I'd gotten into it at least a little when I was training hard and in fighting shape.
 

Holmejr

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In Eskrido de Alcuizar we train for self defense only. We have not found a way to successfully spar in our style. Weve put on protective gear but that simply allows for too much dueling. A head shot with a short galvanized pipe should end a fight! But not with protective gear! We practice as hard as possible without destroying our classmates. We believe that after one has reached a certain level of proficiency in our style they are more than street ready. We have many law enforcement students that would agree.

Eskrido de Alcuizar
Orange County, CA
World Eskrido Federation
 

seasoned

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There is and always should be considered, age....If your not there yet then you can't possibly understand. SPORT VS Traditional is all about mental state and what you're trying to accomplish. The agility you need at a younger age for sport has a very small window as we age. So...at my age of 79 years old I would lean more toward Traditional where the focus is more on getting it done in a very short amount of time.
 
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Nobufusa

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There is and always should be considered, age....If your not there yet then you can't possibly understand. SPORT VS Traditional is all about mental state and what you're trying to accomplish. The agility you need at a younger age for sport has a very small window as we age. So...at my age of 79 years old I would lean more toward Traditional where the focus is more on getting it done in a very short amount of time.
Off topic but : As a 79 year old what martial art do you recommend for people around your age? I am trying to get my 75 year old father to get started in martial arts, as a way to build his strength and focus back after battling cancer. What would you suggest?
 

Kung Fu Wang

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Off topic but : As a 79 year old what martial art do you recommend for people around your age? I am trying to get my 75 year old father to get started in martial arts, as a way to build his strength and focus back after battling cancer. What would you suggest?
I'll suggest 1 hour walking with the upper body doing:

1. right jab
2. left cross
3. right hook
4. left hook
5. right uppercut
6. left uppercut
7. right overhand
8. right back fist
9. left overhand
10. left back fist.

This 10 punches combo (along with 1 hour walking) is very good for older people's health.
 

Flying Crane

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Off topic but : As a 79 year old what martial art do you recommend for people around your age? I am trying to get my 75 year old father to get started in martial arts, as a way to build his strength and focus back after battling cancer. What would you suggest?
Potentially anything, but it depends on his overall health and physical capabilities. As a cancer survivor, I would suggest something gradual and less rigorous, perhaps Yang taiji done specifically as an exercise form for older folks. The movement is gentle and slow, but intensity can be increased if appropriate.
 

seasoned

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Off topic but : As a 79 year old what martial art do you recommend for people around your age? I am trying to get my 75 year old father to get started in martial arts, as a way to build his strength and focus back after battling cancer. What would you suggest?

Potentially anything, but it depends on his overall health and physical capabilities. As a cancer survivor, I would suggest something gradual and less rigorous, perhaps Yang taiji done specifically as an exercise form for older folks. The movement is gentle and slow, but intensity can be increased if appropriate.
I think Flying Crane makes a great point. Your dad's body should be the guide and it should be something he likes doing.
 

isshinryuronin

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This thread's title is "Sport vs Traditional.." I know what "sport" means, but I'm unclear on the meaning of "traditional." That term is quite ambiguous with multiple possible definitions. Is it (A) karate without sparring, just for self-development? Is it (B) karate as it's been commonly taught and practiced for the past 100 years? If so, the sport aspect is an inherent part of traditional. Or are we referring to karate as it was practiced prior to 1920 concentrating almost fully on combat self-defense (C)?
 

Chris Parker

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According to John Danaher, in the following video
he says that sports based martial arts with competitive aspects are the most reliable for self defense purposes. However, traditional Budoka of the Koryu, often talk down or even denigrate the sportification of martial arts. Phil Relnick Sensei has even stated in an interview that he considered Judo a sport, not a martial art (a sentiment with which I really wholeheartedly disagree with). Toby Threadgill Sensei, in a Shu-Ha-Ri dialogues interview talked about how his Sensei effortlessly put down hardned Judoka. But what John Danaher is saying, as I understand it, essentially contradicts the things we hear from the traditional martial arts representatives.

In my opinion, the ideal thing to do is to probably do both competitive and traditional (theoretical) based martial arts.

What are your thoughts and reactions to John Danaher in this video?

My reaction? He's an idiot.

Okay, that was a bit harsh... I'm sure he's an intelligent person, and is certainly eloquent in his speech, however, in this area, he is woefully undereducated, on pretty much every level one can think of. His arguments are full of straw-men, false (and incorrect) assumptions, misunderstanding of concepts and contexts, lack of grasp of key areas, and unverifiable beliefs.

To be fair, though, the entire set-up (in the questioning) is, in itself, deeply lacking in any real understanding of what it is even asking itself, as the interviewer/podcaster seems unsure about what he's actually asking about... so there's a lot that would need to be clarified first.

The first thing that needs to be looked at is the context... self defence and "street fighting" are very different in many areas, so thinking of them as being the same, or somewhat equivalent, is already demonstrating a lack of any real grasp of the topic. Without getting that understood in the first place, you can't really move onto what's "best" suited, as we don't know what we're wanting it to be best for.

The second is to understand the variety of training methodologies... not only what is used, but why, and exactly how it is structured. Of course, you also need to understand that the training methods themselves change over the course of study... so minimalist exposure is really not enough to get a real understanding, excepting in sporting methods (in the main... there are still exceptions to that, of course).

The corollary to this is that you also need to understand the intended context of the system itself, which plays into the cultural background of it's development and foundation; in other words, the "Who", "What", "Where", "When", and "Why" of the system itself. This is going to be the largest difference between a "sport" system, a "traditional" system, and a "classical" system (yeah, I've brought another category into it... but that's really the kind of arts that Nobufusa is asking about in the above OP). And, what cannot be ignored (or, at least, really shouldn't be) is that there are numerous arts that cross borders, being both "sports" and "traditional"... as well as other categorisations that can be applied.

Finally, and this is the big one, it's important to note that no martial arts are actually designed for self defence. None of them. Zero. So, there's that.

There's a lot more to unpack, including the comments from Relnick-sensei about Judo (which is accurate in a modern setting, to be frank), however time is getting away from me, so I'll likely come back to do that either later today, or tomorrow. I'll break down John's interview, and highlight the issues as I see them, but, for now, while I see where he's coming from, he doesn't have the education to speak on this, from my perspective... especially when it comes to talking about other arts approaches, that he misses the reality of entirely.
 

drop bear

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This thread's title is "Sport vs Traditional.." I know what "sport" means, but I'm unclear on the meaning of "traditional." That term is quite ambiguous with multiple possible definitions. Is it (A) karate without sparring, just for self-development? Is it (B) karate as it's been commonly taught and practiced for the past 100 years? If so, the sport aspect is an inherent part of traditional. Or are we referring to karate as it was practiced prior to 1920 concentrating almost fully on combat self-defense (C)?

Generally it is arts that have a mechanism for live training and competition. And arts that don't.

Rather than say age. Because then wrestling would then be more traditional than most arts.
 

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depends on how you define self defense. Doesn't it? And we know there are a LOT of different definitions of that term.
Great point!! We can try to duplicate self defense techniques as they may happen, but... the unpredictability factor still remains. Training is the thinking part but true application is the feeling part....and this requires us to be "clear and clam"... so we can differentiate... :)
 

Steve

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If you know how to fight, it's possible to fight in a different context. But, if you can't do something, I don't think it matters if you're bad at it in the ring or on the street. And if you've never done something, you're probably not very good at it.
 

Tony Dismukes

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In the words of Chris Haueter..."Think street train sport practice art".
I like this quote, but I'd like to expand a bit on how I interpret it in my own practice.
Finally, and this is the big one, it's important to note that no martial arts are actually designed for self defence. None of them. Zero. So, there's that.

Thats a pretty broad and definitive statement. I doubt its true.

depends on how you define self defense. Doesn't it? And we know there are a LOT of different definitions of that term.
Yeah, we can argue about this all day, but I'm going to suggest a working definition for this particular discussion. "Self-defense" can cover a lot of ground - lifestyle, threat awareness, avoidance, target hardening, de-escalation, escape and evasion, legal considerations ... and sometimes the application of physical violence. I'm going to suggest that when we bring up "self-defense" in the context of martial arts discussion then we are normally talking about the part where we deal with actual violence as it might come up in a scenario where we are protecting ourselves from a non-consensual physical attack. The other aspects of self-defense are not normally a major direct portion of martial arts training, although there can be significant indirect benefits for self-defense depending on how you train.

Fighting in a self-defense context has some important differences from consensual "street fighting", but there is also a large amount of overlap in the skills and physical and mental attributes necessary for each. Thinking that they are completely different is just as big a mistake as thinking they are the same thing.

Moving on to the original "sport vs traditional" argument ...

I'm not even going to attempt to define "traditional" in terms of martial arts. I haven't seen any attempt to distinguish "traditional" from "non-traditional" martial arts which is both internally consistent and widely accepted within the martial arts community. There's also no good way to clearly separate "sport" from "TMA". So I'm going to just focus on the value and limitations of "sport" training within the martial arts for those who want to develop the ability to fight in a non-sport setting (whether that setting is self-defense or some sort of consensual altercation).

1) I strongly believe that there is no way to develop reliable technical ability in any martial skill (punching, kicking, throwing, choking, joint locking, pinning, blocking, dodging, hitting someone with a stick, stabbing someone with a sword, whatever) without experience applying it against someone who is actively trying to prevent you from succeeding. This can be through real world application (fighting) or through live, resistive training (sparring). Note that sparring can come in a huge variety of forms depending on your objectives in terms of the specific skills and attributes you are trying to develop and the degree of safety you want to maintain while doing so. More on that a bit later.

2) Formalizing your sparring practice into some sort of official sport beyond the confines of your own training hall can have a number of benefits. One is that you can end up with a much larger talent pool of competitors who can push you to train harder and come up with technical innovations in the art. Another is that athletes have a high degree of motivation to win an official competition, as compared to regular sparring in the dojo. They'll train harder. They'll bring their "A" game and all their physical attributes to beat you, whereas in daily practice they might be focusing on exploring new techniques and not trying to overpower a weaker classmate with superior physicality. Competition also brings out more of an adrenaline dump and being able to deal with that is an important aspect of real fighting. Even those students who don't participate in the sport can benefit if their classmates do compete and become better sparring partners as a result.

3) Turning your sparring into a formal sport also has potential downsides. In every sport you have to have rules. (There are also rules in real fights, despite the protestations of the "no rules in da streetz" crowd, but I'll save that discussion for another post.) Competitors want to win, so they will inevitably start to tailor their practice into ways which work well under those rules but may be less beneficial or even harmful in a different context.

4) How do you gain the benefits of sportive competition without developing dangerously bad habits for a more combative context? There are a number of ways ...

5) You can start by structuring your sport rules in a way which you hope will reward the attributes, skills, and tactics which you are trying to develop for combative purposes. This will inevitably not work out as well as you would like, because someone will figure out how to exploit the rules in ways you hadn't thought of, but at least it can give you a good place to start and hopefully the sport can still help develop the goals you were aiming for even if some habits you don't like also get reinforced.

6) You compete under multiple rulesets, each of which is designed to reinforce skills and attributes you want to develop, but which have different weaknesses in terms of the "non-combative" behaviors they might engender. This way you can learn to turn off the "bad habits" when you are in a context where they aren't beneficial.

7) You can supplement your "sports rules sparring" in the training hall with drills and sparring methods which address the specific weaknesses in those rules. You can approach this in a lot of ways, but I'm particularly fond of asymmetric drills since you won't generally see those in sporting competition. For example, last week I put my students through a sparring drill where one defender started on the ground and two attackers (wearing MMA gloves) started standing. The attackers' goal was to stay on top and strike the defender. The defender's goal was to get back to his feet and make his way to a designated escape point while taking as little damage as possible. Doing this required the same skills the defender had been developing in one-on-one sparring, but obviously the scenario made it much harder to apply them.

8) Along the same lines as the previous two points, it's helpful to just regularly mix up your regular sparring with different scenarios and rules - grappling only, punching only, one partner grapples while the other punches, start standing, start on the ground, start on the ground with one partner trying to get up and the other trying to keep them down, use bare hands, use weapons, toss a training knife into the middle of an ongoing unarmed sparring match, allow hair pulling, allow groin kicks, start sparring inside a car, start sparring around obstacles, etc, etc. The point is that the practitioner can develop the mental flexibility to adjust their behavior to the requirements of the immediate context.
 

Steve

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Yeah, we can argue about this all day, but I'm going to suggest a working definition for this particular discussion. "Self-defense" can cover a lot of ground - lifestyle, threat awareness, avoidance, target hardening, de-escalation, escape and evasion, legal considerations ... and sometimes the application of physical violence. I'm going to suggest that when we bring up "self-defense" in the context of martial arts discussion then we are normally talking about the part where we deal with actual violence as it might come up in a scenario where we are protecting ourselves from a non-consensual physical attack. The other aspects of self-defense are not normally a major direct portion of martial arts training, although there can be significant indirect benefits for self-defense depending on how you train.

This seems very reasonable to me, but I'm curious how well it will go over. I think that a lot of folks around here consider those other elements you mention (e.g., target hardening, deescalation, lifestyle) to actually BE self defense. Don't get me wrong. I like this definition, and personally, I think if someone has learned how to fight (in any context), it is relatively simple to address the other elements of self defense. Also, when you say the other aspects are not normally a major part of martial arts training, I would agree and further suggest that there are other... often better... places than a martial arts school to work on those things.

Fighting in a self-defense context has some important differences from consensual "street fighting", but there is also a large amount of overlap in the skills and physical and mental attributes necessary for each. Thinking that they are completely different is just as big a mistake as thinking they are the same thing.

Moving on to the original "sport vs traditional" argument ...

I'm not even going to attempt to define "traditional" in terms of martial arts. I haven't seen any attempt to distinguish "traditional" from "non-traditional" martial arts which is both internally consistent and widely accepted within the martial arts community. There's also no good way to clearly separate "sport" from "TMA". So I'm going to just focus on the value and limitations of "sport" training within the martial arts for those who want to develop the ability to fight in a non-sport setting (whether that setting is self-defense or some sort of consensual altercation).

1) I strongly believe that there is no way to develop reliable technical ability in any martial skill (punching, kicking, throwing, choking, joint locking, pinning, blocking, dodging, hitting someone with a stick, stabbing someone with a sword, whatever) without experience applying it against someone who is actively trying to prevent you from succeeding. This can be through real world application (fighting) or through live, resistive training (sparring). Note that sparring can come in a huge variety of forms depending on your objectives in terms of the specific skills and attributes you are trying to develop and the degree of safety you want to maintain while doing so. More on that a bit later.

Yes!
2) Formalizing your sparring practice into some sort of official sport beyond the confines of your own training hall can have a number of benefits. One is that you can end up with a much larger talent pool of competitors who can push you to train harder and come up with technical innovations in the art. Another is that athletes have a high degree of motivation to win an official competition, as compared to regular sparring in the dojo. They'll train harder. They'll bring their "A" game and all their physical attributes to beat you, whereas in daily practice they might be focusing on exploring new techniques and not trying to overpower a weaker classmate with superior physicality. Competition also brings out more of an adrenaline dump and being able to deal with that is an important aspect of real fighting. Even those students who don't participate in the sport can benefit if their classmates do compete and become better sparring partners as a result.

Agreed.
3) Turning your sparring into a formal sport also has potential downsides. In every sport you have to have rules. (There are also rules in real fights, despite the protestations of the "no rules in da streetz" crowd, but I'll save that discussion for another post.) Competitors want to win, so they will inevitably start to tailor their practice into ways which work well under those rules but may be less beneficial or even harmful in a different context.
Agree, for the most part, though I see this as an argument for more diverse rulesets and not fixating on one.

4) How do you gain the benefits of sportive competition without developing dangerously bad habits for a more combative context? There are a number of ways ...

5) You can start by structuring your sport rules in a way which you hope will reward the attributes, skills, and tactics which you are trying to develop for combative purposes. This will inevitably not work out as well as you would like, because someone will figure out how to exploit the rules in ways you hadn't thought of, but at least it can give you a good place to start and hopefully the sport can still help develop the goals you were aiming for even if some habits you don't like also get reinforced.

6) You compete under multiple rulesets, each of which is designed to reinforce skills and attributes you want to develop, but which have different weaknesses in terms of the "non-combative" behaviors they might engender. This way you can learn to turn off the "bad habits" when you are in a context where they aren't beneficial.

7) You can supplement your "sports rules sparring" in the training hall with drills and sparring methods which address the specific weaknesses in those rules. You can approach this in a lot of ways, but I'm particularly fond of asymmetric drills since you won't generally see those in sporting competition. For example, last week I put my students through a sparring drill where one defender started on the ground and two attackers (wearing MMA gloves) started standing. The attackers' goal was to stay on top and strike the defender. The defender's goal was to get back to his feet and make his way to a designated escape point while taking as little damage as possible. Doing this required the same skills the defender had been developing in one-on-one sparring, but obviously the scenario made it much harder to apply them.

8) Along the same lines as the previous two points, it's helpful to just regularly mix up your regular sparring with different scenarios and rules - grappling only, punching only, one partner grapples while the other punches, start standing, start on the ground, start on the ground with one partner trying to get up and the other trying to keep them down, use bare hands, use weapons, toss a training knife into the middle of an ongoing unarmed sparring match, allow hair pulling, allow groin kicks, start sparring inside a car, start sparring around obstacles, etc, etc. The point is that the practitioner can develop the mental flexibility to adjust their behavior to the requirements of the immediate context.
Yup. And I would say the same is true for any brand of application, whether it's LEO, bouncers, soldiers, superheroes. Just substitute these for "sport" above, and the general concepts apply equally, though the specifics would be different.
 
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