June 15, 2011

"Sport vs. Self Defense" Training

   Much thanks to the original writer, as well as to my friend Tim for posting this on his forums at Shen Wu.  The classic debate now days within martial circles has boiled down to the martial arts training geared for "sport" (BJJ / Wrestling / Boxing / Kickboxing) versus the "reality based" martial arts that focus solely on self defense.  

   This is required reading for any student of mine!

  I have nothing to add to this simply because the author has written the most concise and precise summation of the topic that I have ever seen.  Enjoy!

Taken from the NHB Gear Forum, posted by "Perfectsplit."

A very common marketing line used by martial arts schools is, “Other schools teach martial arts for sport; we teach martial arts for self-defense”. This mindset is rooted in the traditional method of classifying techniques into the two categories of sport moves and self-defense moves.

Sport moves are moves which are legal in class sparring matches and in tournaments, while self-defense moves are illegal in class sparring and tournaments because they cannot be safely applied in sparring matches. They can only be used in no-rules street fights. Some examples of sport moves include roundhouse kicks, shoulder throws, and triangle chokes. Self-defense moves include eye gouges, bites, and kicks to the groin. The equivalent concept in wrestling would be “illegal holds”. Perhaps the most mystic of all self-defense moves is the legendary “Death Touch” (Dim-Mak) of Kung-Fu. Each category of moves has a particular class curriculum associated with it.

When a school claims that they teach martial arts for self-defense instead of for sport, it means that they emphasize the so-called “self-defense” curriculum over the “sport” curriculum. Or at the extreme, a school may even teach the self-defense curriculum exclusively, without even having a sport curriculum at all. The theory behind this is that the so-called “self-defense” curriculum is superior to the sport curriculum because the former supposedly prepares a student for a real streetfight better than the latter. A tournament fight has rules, whereas a streetfight has no rules. Therefore, it is supposedly better to train for fighting with no rules. In fact, many criticisms of existing martial arts schools are that they spend too much time on the sport curriculum. They tend to associate the sport curriculum negatively, considering it invalid for training in unarmed combat.

The problem with this is that it is an inherently flawed theory. Here is why. The nature of the so-called “sport” moves is that they can be continually refined and perfected through the experience of sparring. Sparring is combat experience, and combat experience is the best teacher of unarmed combat. There is great merit in the old saying, “Experience is the best teacher”.

The so-called “self-defense” moves cannot be perfected through the experience of sparring. They can only be drilled in theory. Theoretical drilling is no substitute for combat experience. Therefore, the nature of the so-called “self defense” curriculum is that it is devoid of combat experience. Students who train exclusively in the self-defense curriculum are students who get no combat experience. Without combat experience, combat proficiency is never developed.

Furthermore, when an inexperienced fighter has his first few experiences in real combat, he goes into a state of stress, due to the element of danger. Under the stress of combat, a fighter may completely forget the theoretical moves he has supposedly “learned”. Only experienced fighters are able to overcome the stress of combat and perform their techniques competently.

Due to the invalid nature of the “self-defense training is better than sport training” theory, the whole classification scheme of “sport moves vs. self-defense moves” is outdated, because it is misleading. It suggests that that the so-called sport moves are ineffective in no-rules street fights, while only the self-defense moves would work. This suggestion is also nonsense. In reality, the opposite is true: the sport curriculum is actually superior to the self-defense curriculum, because the sport curriculum involves combat experience.

A better, more modern way of classifying the moves is with the categories of “experience-based moves” and “hypothetical moves”. Simply put, the experience based moves are analogous to the sport moves, while the hypothetical moves are analogous to the self-defense moves. This new classification scheme is more descriptive of the nature of the techniques.

The three dominant disciplines of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) are all disciplines with a large experience-based curriculum. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ), Muay-Thai Kickboxing, and Wrestling place a high emphasis on perfecting the experience-based moves, and little or no emphasis on drilling the hypothetical moves. How many times on The Ultimate Fighter did you ever see the coach make people work on kicks to the groin, eye gouges, or bites? Every move they practiced was an experience-based move. Some might even argue there are actually 6 dominant disciplines of MMA: BJJ, Muay-Thai, Wrestling, Judo, Boxing, and Kickboxing. Once again, these 6 disciplines all emphasize the experience-based moves. In the early Ultimate Fighting Championships, (UFCs), there were many representatives of disciplines which relied heavily on hypothetical training. In fact, one can even see the hypothetical training that the early fighters practiced in the DVD footage of the early UFCs. But in the long run of MMA, those hypothetical disciplines washed out.

Judo was based on this theory. When Doctor Jigoro Kano created Judo from the older schools of Japanese Jujitsu, he removed most of the hypothetical moves and placed more emphasis on the experience-based moves. He improved the existing experienced-based moves and created new ones to complement those. Some people even criticized him on the grounds that he was “watering down” (Japanese) Jujitsu by de-emphasizing the self-defense moves. But with his new discipline, he was able to defeat the older masters of Japanese Jujitsu, who were more trained in the so-called “self-defense” moves.

Boxing is a unique discipline, in that all the moves in the curriculum are experience-based moves. The 4 fundamental attacks – jab, cross, hook, and uppercut – are all moves that a boxing student can refine and perfect through the repeated experience of sparring. There is never a boxing class where the coach says, “Today we’re going to learn a new boxing move which can only be used in a real fight, but cannot be used in sparring.” That does not happen. And in modern MMA, practically every fighter is required to have basic boxing skills - just to be competitive.

Teachers of unarmed combat should not think in terms of sport vs. self-defense training. It is better to think in terms of experience-based training vs. hypothetical training.

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