Without a doubt, one of my biggest pet peeves in recent years is the growing trend where folks are trying to “debunk” martial arts and “prove” why traditional fighting arts don’t work. Considering the fact that I’ve been studying karate for about 32 years at this point, it stands to reason that it has become more than just a hobby or pastime, and is factually a big part of not only what I do, but who I am. So when I see a post or hear someone who claims “karate wouldn’t work in a real street fight,” it not only gets my blood boiling but I can personally attest to karate being quite effective in both my personal and professional life.
This is not to be mistaken with people who spend their time exposing fake martial artists, the ones who claim to be black belts but are not and who take people’s money in exchange for teaching them a watered down version of their favourite movie fight scene. And there are unfortunately a lot of those. You can search “exposing fake black belts” on YouTube for some pretty awkward examples. But once you start creeping into the realm of “why martial arts don’t work,” you’ve gone too far.
Rather than piss and moan about it like a snowflake, I thought I would take the time to compile a list of the most ignorant yet often repeated comments I’ve heard about the martial arts over the years. Here are my top 5:
- Karate doesn’t work: Starting strong, right out of the gate! I’ve heard this comment so many times in the past three decades that it often feels like it’s tattooed on my forehead. The irony is that the comment is usually made by someone who has never studied or trained in the martial arts and doesn’t know any better. But coming from someone who has studied and used it on more occasions than I can count, I can tell you that karate, and martial arts in general does work;
- Martial arts isn’t “real” fighting, like MMA: Yeah okay, Kyle! Calm the fuck down and have another Monster energy drink… I’m not a big fan of MMA. Not because it isn’t intensive and hard-hitting, but because of the fact that its called “mixed martial arts.” Although I’ve often written that variety is the spice of life, martial arts still requires you to adhere to only one style in order to develop some level of consistency. You can’t study “mixed” martial arts. There’s no such thing. You can be a proficient student in one discipline and choose to dabble and explore another. In fact, that’s highly recommended as limiting yourself also limits your abilities. But to claim that MMA is more effective or more “real” than traditional martial arts is not only laughable, its ignorant of the facts. I usually like to remind MMA fans that shows like the UFC has its roots in traditional martial arts. In fact, the first few UFC pay-per-view events pitted traditional martial arts styles against one another, before they all started wearing bike shorts and fingered boxing gloves. Furthermore, it’s well-known that most if not all MMA fighters have some background and/or training in some traditional combat art. George St.-Pierre, for example, holds black belts in karate and jiujitsu. Ronda Rousey, who happens to be one of my personal idols, holds a black belt in Judo. Those are just a couple of examples. Hey, I’m a fan of MMA as a sport and enjoy watching a good match. Just don’t go calling yourself “mixed martial arts”;
- Karate only works in class where it’s controlled: Hmm, this is an interesting one because I can’t even come CLOSE to denying that a dojo environment is a controlled one. But the whole idea is that class is structured and controlled in order for you to learn properly in the event you ever need to use martial arts as a weapon. Think about firearms training. If you dropped a gun into the hands of someone inexperienced who hasn’t been trained, the odds of misuse greatly increases. A safe firearms user only becomes so after extensive training, drills and target practice. The same can be said for karate. It’s only after extensive training, drills and practice that you learn to use martial arts for the protection of yourself and others. This can only be accomplished in a controlled classroom environment;
- In a real fight, you don’t have time to stretch and warm up like you do in karate: That’s right. You don’t. But here’s the thing: you stretch and warm up in class so that you can learn properly and develop your skills without injuring yourself. And the more you work out, the better the chance that a sudden exertive burst can be used without injury as you build and strengthen your body’s muscle tissue. This is the same concept as in any other physical activity or sport that a person trains in, so karate isn’t any different;
- Martial arts weapons have no modern day, real-world application: Wanna bet? Yes, I’ll admit that you don’t encounter many sword fights in this day and age. But if you look at the majority of the weapons that most schools train with (bo staff, batons, knives and swords), the skills are still transferable. If it means protecting yourself or others, a stick is a stick. And all those training drills you performed will suddenly become pertinent as muscle memory kicks in. A weapon is nothing but an extension of yourself, and should be used accordingly.
So, does martial arts work? Yes. Is it an all-encompassing skill that can defeat anyone and anything and where you can participate in long, drawn out fights, taking and delivering multiple strikes to the head and body like you see in the movies? No. And obviously, the movie depiction of one martial artist facing off against a dozen opponents and coming out on top is unlikely. I don’t care how much skill you have; if a dozen guys come at you at once, you’re getting your ass kicked. Plain and simple. The important thing one also needs to remember is that martial arts isn’t for everyone. And not every style will suit every person.
I’ve encountered people who trained for a few classes and quit, then claimed that it was a waste of time or that it seemed stupid and they didn’t think it would work. If you approach it with that attitude, obviously it won’t work for you. But maybe it isn’t for you. And that’s the difference. Martial arts IS effective and has saved my skin on a number of occasions. But like many things in life, it’s also all in the eye of the beholder. ☯