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  • Writer's pictureBrad Parker

Judging a System Through a Straw

Keep this in mind as you search for -- or study -- combative or martial art systems.

Naturally, you want to invest your time, energy, and hard-earned cash into a course of study that is going to give you the best results. These results will be what's personally important to you. It might be self-defense, health, fitness, competition, or even meditation. Whatever is important to you. Of course, someone else will have different priorities. You and your buddy might both agree that self-defense is the top priority. Yet, chances are your individual ideas of 'self-defense' will most certainly have different shades. Your individual mental and physical attributes will most certainly be different in a number of ways as well.

This can give rise to the clash of ideas we often see in the arguments of "what's best". Ford vs. Chevy. 9mm vs. .45. Yankees vs. Red Sox.

This is good for us as humans. It's a healthy activity that can stretch our understanding of the world and offer new perspectives. But one common situation I have experienced is pronouncing the worth or disworth of something when we have limited experience with it.

I'm going to link to a video below that has brought up an interesting phenomenon that we see all the time in the combatives and martial arts worlds.

There is a very well-known phenomenon that we experience as practitioners and observers on both sides of the fence. And that is to see one demonstration or drill from an instructor or a system and form an opinion or a belief of what the system is all about. I think as humans we're all guilty of it at a certain level.

This is where you can see Internet forums and chat rooms complete with discussions and arguments about which techniques or systems are more effective than others. I think this is a natural part of learning and filtering the approaches or the techniques that we believe will work for us. The flip side is there seems to be a natural inclination to dismiss or even to be disrespectful of an entire system or method derived from limited knowledge or experience with that system. It's sort of like looking at a map through a soda straw and proclaiming to be knowledgeable about the territory. Unfortunately, you are not seeing the entire map. And, the map is only a representation of the territory anyway.

The video below is a response to such a disagreement between some well-known instructors.

I'm not going to fall into the trap of trying to proclaim who is right in this argument, but I like the premise of the video -- demonstrations and drills are not necessarily an indication of the realistic nature of the fight. They are drills designed to get repetitions and allow students to progress.

This is an excellent point. Just eating the appetizer doesn't give you the full sense of what the chef is capable of. The body of knowledge inside of the broad scope of what can constitute "martial arts" is huge. An integrated approach is almost beyond the scope of any one single individual. Where we do see individual differences is when we look at systems and instructors that specialize in one aspect of interpersonal combat. Look at boxing. Or Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Or Steel Challenge. These areas are like PhD degrees, showcasing how deep and nuanced the body of knowledge is in individual areas of study. All of the arts progress when boxing becomes part of Muay Thai. Or Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu becomes part of MMA and Steel Challenge skills roll into 3-Gun Nation.

Judging the effectiveness of these areas can be difficult especially if you are on the outside. Heck, sometimes it's difficult to judge the totality of a system even when you're in it! I remember when we first started studying with a group of Brazilian brothers in Torrance, we thought the entire system only spanned about 28 techniques. Royce made it look easy in the Octagon and our classes drilled the basics continually. As white belts, we were trashing all the other martial artists we encountered which led us to believe we had this system mastered. It was only when we were exposed to purple and brown belts did we start seeing how little we actually knew about the entire Gracie Jiu Jitsu system. I guess it's true that in the land of the blind the one-eyed jack is king.

I've also been on the side of being harshly judged by people who only saw a slice of our women's self-defense method. The criticism of our method was strong and unrelenting despite the fact that our critics did not have any idea what the totality of the method contained. I was even called The Stupidest Man in America by a women's self-defense advocate who saw a slice of the program. Tellingly, after she saw the entire curriculum, she became an instructor of the method.

So, I've been a victim of this kind of thinking and -- most probably in the past -- have been guilty of judging an approach with limited knowledge.

Let's remember to stretch our knowledge and allow for discussion in all areas and approaches of combatives. Individuals have different talents and aptitudes. Circumstances and context create compromises in responses. Different missions require different weapons.

Your mileage may vary.

Look for what is useful and what works for you.

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