Why The Level of Athleticism Required Matters In Your Martial Arts
This article is a loose continuation of: The Self-Fulfilling Death Loop of Self Defense (Non-Competitive) Martial Arts.
Many people are often enamoured with the martial arts, and what they represent.
Little do people know, the generally accepted "idea" of the martial arts, which mostly come from fictional action movies, stage / fight choreography, or other forms of art or pop culture where martial arts are featured, are rooted more in make believe fantasies rather than in reality.
Often times, people who do not train seriously in martial arts or have a beginner's / low level understanding of them, assume that technique and skill will always overcome size, strength, speed, and athleticism.
Yet if that were true, there would be no such thing as weight classes in martial arts, combat sports, and in the Olympics, or gender divisions in professional sports.
The romanticized idea of an old, wise, and highly skilled "master" easily subduing a reckless unskilled brute with just a few moves is a stereotype/trope and doesn't always translate to real life fighting or self defense.
A Dangerous Mindset
Martial arts practitioners who happen to take this romanticized idea too far into the extremes, find themselves spending years, or sometimes their entire lives training a martial art or indulging in martial arts systems that present no real pressure or challenge to them (self defense martial arts that are non-competitive in their very nature and/or martial arts that do not train applications in live sparring scenarios).
These "self defense focused" martial arts largely exist in a fantasy vacuum removed from reality, and only perpetuate this false idea that martial arts are somehow easy to learn and master, that "anybody can become a highly skilled martial artist / fighter" in just a short period of time, and no real live sparring or pressure testing is needed in order to validate whether your martial arts holds up against live, violent, fighting scenarios.
A Common Blind Spot
Real fights are not like the movies. Your opponents will not comply with your moves, nor will they attack you in the way you expect them to. The only way to know if you're truly ready to fight someone in real life is to become an actual competitive fighter (such as in a combat sport) with real fight experience.
How do you know if you've been potentially suckered into this romanticized idea of martial arts yourself? Simply ask yourself if you:
- Regularly put yourself in uncomfortable situations during training where you're forced to work on your weaknesses or skill deficiencies
- Are put into live drilling / sparring sessions where your opponents pressure you to defend, attack, and perform
- Spar or fight regularly against non-compliant opponents or compete in a full contact combat sport against other martial arts practitioners
If your training doesn't consist of any of the above, then you may be practicing what we call a "self defense focused" martial art, or perhaps, not a martial art at all, but simply an "art" with forms and movements that look impressive but have very little practical application.
Whether self defense focused or not, these arts all have one gigantic blind spot in common: They do not train or account for, athleticism.
If your chosen martial arts style or system does not account for athleticism and/or if your martial art actively discourages athletic movements where speed, power, and explosiveness is required - as we will go on to explain - you are practicing a martial art that is not going to hold up in reality.
Everyone wants to believe that with the right training, a smaller weaker person can overcome the larger stronger "bully" on the street or in school. This type of romanticism helps sell martial arts memberships and hides the ugly side of martial arts.
Before we go on to to explain why athleticism or athletic training in your martial arts system matters, we have to first dive into why many people ignore this aspect of training - and thus creates such problematic yet widely accepted narratives about martial arts - in the first place.
As mentioned earlier, "common sense" or "conventional wisdom" in martial arts tells us that a well trained, highly skilled individual (usually of smaller stature) can overcome a poorly trained, low skill level individual, even with a huge size / weight disadvantage.
That's basically the storyline basis for every martial arts tale, book, or movie, is it not?
Conventional wisdom often stops here.
What this "conventional wisdom" doesn't mention (or conveniently ignores) is that when two people who are relatively even in terms of skill, training, and experience meet in a fight - the person with the better physical attributes (size, weight, height, strength, speed) or athletic advantage (timing, coordination, explosiveness, cardio conditioning) - will win.
The "martial artist" can overcome a raw athlete, but loses easily to an athlete who also trains and has skills of their own.
In one of the most anticipated fights and rematches in martial arts and combat sports history - two very evenly matched fighters in Georges St-Pierre and BJ Penn, both champions in their respective weight classes, fought each other twice in the UFC. In the first fight, "GSP" won by a narrow decision. In the second fight however, Georges St-Pierre dominated BJ Penn and showed that when two evenly matched fighters compete against one another, the bigger and stronger one will prevail (GSP competes at Welterweight 170lbs. while BJ Penn competes at Lightweight 155lbs.)
Steroids and performance enhancing drugs aside, Jon Jones, regarded by many as the greatest Light Heavyweight MMA fighter of all time - is one of the most naturally talented, physically gifted athletes in UFC / MMA and all of combat sports history. He routinely beats other fighters in their own area of expertise, whether in striking, wrestling, or grappling. He out-struck Lyoto Machida, a lifelong striking specialist, out-wrestled Daniel Cormier, an Olympic wrestler, and submitted Vitor Belfort, a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Black Belt.
This is why weight classes exist in combat sports, boxing, kickboxing, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), and in professional fighting such as in the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).
Weight classes are implemented to offer a more level playing field for the athletes, even though the very nature of a competition is a test or fight between unequal individuals who are all different from one another.
Martial Arts Schools Need Students
This type of romanticized "thinking" or message passed on through generations in the martial arts community is almost actually perpetuated on purpose, as a form of marketing for martial arts schools.
This is because most martial arts are created by, have been used by, and will always be sought out by (and "sold" to) the weaker and less athletically gifted individuals of human society.
Gigantic strongmen and athletic freaks back in ancient times could and would probably have been able to kill several men with just one swing of a club, or crush a man's neck with just his hands. He wouldn't need to learn an arm bar from closed guard or a proper side control escape, he would just rip your arm straight out of its socket and proceed to beat you over the head with it, or bench press you off of him if needed.
Those who were born naturally strong or physically gifted, can often just beat up or toss around regular average Joes who have been training martial arts their entire lives, usually requiring very little training if at all.
If these giants wanted to focus on a martial art, they would be best suited at wrestling / grappling arts such as Sumo Wrestling, Shuai Jiao (Chinese Wrestling), Mongolian Wrestling, Senegalese Wrestling, or any of the Greco / Freestyle / Catch As Catch Can wrestling styles. The reason being that wrestling is generally accepted as the most athletically / physically demanding martial art / fighting art that exists.
Physically gifted athletes do not need to focus as much on the details or intricacies of an art, often times they can rely on brute physicality to get most of the job done.
Senegalese Wrestling - a martial art / sport that combines wrestling takedowns, throws, and brutal bareknuckle punches to the head that often results in knockouts.
Should they do decide to focus on the details and intricacies of mastering the fighting arts, then how can the average person with average athleticism stop them?
Enduring Hard Training & Physical Suffering Doesn't Sell Martial Arts
Most of us are not born as 6-foot something, 200 - 300 pound heavyweight athletes that look like they walked out of the pages of a comic book. Becoming an athlete / fighter requires physical attributes as well as training, living, and eating like one. It is an entire lifestyle.
Why do most people ignore this athleticism "X" factor in their training or martial arts?
It's because becoming / training like a competitive athlete or a fighter requires a serious amount of time, effort, attention, energy, money, and commitment.
On top of that, you need some level of natural talent, and be born with natural physical gifts that will enable you to perform athletic feats.
Why become a high-level competitive martial arts athlete when you can simply be out of shape, pretend you know something, post some videos online and call yourself a "Master" / "Sifu" / "Sensei"?
It's also because actual hard training is not sexy or romantic - quite actually the opposite of your favourite motivational movie montage training sequence.
Hard training is stressful, painful, harsh, and takes an incredible toll both physically and mentally.
Hard training does not sell martial arts gym memberships, because most people do not like to be beat up, chewed up, spit out, hurt themselves, or suffer through pain, fatigue, and damage to obtain skills.
Why go through hard training and suffer silently when you can choose to participate in an easier martial art and earn belts and rankings you know you don't deserve but make you look and feel great?
That's why it is much easier to ignore the hard aspects of martial arts training if you run a school or are a martial arts instructor, and much more profitable to entice members to come into the studio for easy casual training instead.
He knows the invisible death touch technique. He cannot be touched so don't even try. He doesn't need to use any muscles at all, only his mind, cultivated from his 40+ years of dedicated training in the mountains somewhere deep in his mom's backyard. You too, can obtain these life changing secret deadly skills, by subscribing to his YouTube channel and ordering his online martial arts mastery course.
It's also much easier and much more appealing for phoney martial arts instructors to simply market themselves and their perceived knowledge and skills to deceive / swindle unsuspecting students, rather than become a skilled and knowledgeable coach that helps others progress.
At the end of the day, an easier martial arts program means everyone gets their next belt / rank promotion and everyone goes home happy - even if they didn't necessarily work hard for it or deserve it.
Why The Level of Athleticism In Your Martial Arts Matters
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, or commonly referred to in short form as "BJJ" has become one of the most popular martial arts / sports to train in the world, and for good reason. It actively encourages athleticism / trains its practitioners to become more athletic (speed, power, strength, reflexes), forces them to train and compete at 100% resistance, and gives them a competitive outlet to test their skills against the best in the world - while remaining relatively safe due to its lack of strikes or high impact throws.
Now that we have gotten the psychological and economic explanation out of the way, we can finally get to why athletic training (or the level of athleticism required) in your martial arts matters.
Sanda Sanshou Kung Fu, a modern combat sport, requires practitioners to punch, kick, wrestle, and throw with full contact and resistance.
"True" martial arts, or martial arts that are effective in their application for real world pressure and violence, are martial arts that can be executed and showcased at a high athletic level (with speed, power, strength, explosiveness, timing).
This is because athleticism, or performing like a high level athlete would, acts as the fuel, the driving force, or quality indicator behind any physical activity, physical training, physical endeavour, or sport.
If your martial art can be performed by just about anyone at any level, with no "quality indicator" or threshold set at a certain athletic or skill level, or worse yet, you're told by instructors or classmates that you're using "too much muscle" or you're "being too athletic", then it is clearly not a very good martial art or system at all.
The reason for this, is that you are essentially practicing a martial art with a low bar of quality that any low level practitioner can hypothetically "master" / become a master at, as long as they keep showing up to the school (participation points) instead of showing real skill or progression.
Delusional Martial Arts Practitioners
"I can and will kill any professional UFC / MMA fighter! Real fighting isn't a sport!"
The sad truth is, martial arts styles and systems, and the practitioners themselves, are not all made equal, and people have a hard time coping with reality.
It's like saying a fresh university graduate who works at the reception desk with one year of work experience deserves the same importance, salary, recognition, and respect as an experienced, 10-year professional with a specialized education background doing highly skilled work.
Many delusional individuals or people who practice casual, self-defense oriented martial arts will not admit reality and will fight (read: argue, not actually fight, because they can't) to the death regarding the effectiveness of their martial arts training (instead of just showing us how good they are).
Casual Racing vs. Professional Racing
To use another analogy to explain, it would be the equivalent to an amateur driver who won a race at their local Go Kart track against other amateur drivers, who goes on to assume that they would be able to enter, drive, and win a professional sports car race against other professional drivers.
The speed, reaction, timing, and driving skill of a professional race car driver driving at break neck speeds would far exceed that of a casual driver, because the professional racer competes in a much more demanding sport that requires a much higher level of performance.
Casual Fighting vs. Professional Fighting
A great martial arts style or system of training is one where it trains and turns practitioners into athletic, skilled, and capable fighters who are effective at beating other highly trained, athletic, skilled fighters.
Using the random, low-level caliber opponent that would appear on the street in your average street fight to determine whether or not your martial arts training is effective or useful is highly silly and inaccurate, and not to mention just plain lazy and dishonest.
A much more accurate (and safer) way to determine if your martial arts training is effective is simply to spar more, fight more, and compete more.
If your chosen martial arts style doesn't allow for fight competitions, then branch out into open martial arts competitions that allow for any style or system to participate in.
A great martial arts style or system does not necessarily need to have answers for all situations and scenarios (that's why we mix them up and call it MMA), but it should at least strive to work or function at a reasonably high level (if not outright at the professional level) and be effective against high level opponents.
Naturally, this means the martial art can, and should encourage, to be trained athletically - with physical attributes in mind.
If a martial art only:
- Trains the mind,
- Only works in very specific scenarios or situations,
- Has an over reliance on dirty techniques that cannot be trained effectively with full intensity or resistance (eye gouging, groin striking),
- Or is only effective against the untrained or non-athletic opponent...
Then it is ultimately a weak martial art style or system (or perhaps even fake), because there are simply too many restrictions or limitations to the style or system for it to work in a no holds barred, real life fight.
A reliable martial art style or system is one that should work under a reasonable framework of reality, and not just hypothetical, highly speculative scenarios ("If he does this, I do this!").
The Choice Is Yours
Simply put - if "proficiency" or "skill level" in your martial arts is determined more by:
- What historical / anecdotal stories you can share about your experiences, your teacher, and the art,
- What terms and words you can recite like an encyclopedia,
- How many "masters" you've learned under,
- How many political martial arts figures you've shaken hands and taken pictures with,
- What forms or techniques you can demonstrate,
- How "great" and "revered" your lineage is...
Rather than how you:
- Show your skills under live pressure in non-compliant sparring,
- How you apply your techniques against real athletic resistance,
- Or how your students do against live competition...
Then you are training a martial art that exists as more an art rather than as a martial art - which in some cases - is ultimately just dishonest and delusional.
Remember that in order for a martial art to be a martial art - it needs to be made for combative, fighting purposes.
Anything outside of that, is just a casual form of exercise at best, a history or cultural lesson in the middle, and interpretive dancing or LARPing (Live Action Role Playing) at worst.
Life is about choices after all, and we suppose there is something for everyone.
Train hard, and stay safe, everyone.
- Dynasty Team