That phrase was a cheesy come-on for a 1970s horror film — you were supposed to keep telling yourself that in order to not be overcome with terror while watching. These, however, are also good words to remember when it comes to movies supposedly depicting the martial arts.

by Dave Lowry


Of course, we all know how outlandish many of the scenes and plots in martial arts films can be. If most of the fight scenes in them were performed in real time, for instance, the participants would need oxygen to keep them from collapsing due to sheer exhaustion.

There are other elements of these movies, though, that are not quite so theatrically implausible and misleading, and it’s possible some viewers might actually internalize them and expect the real world to work that way. One such meme that seems to occur in nearly every martial arts movie revolves around the young disciple’s initial encounter with the old master.

These scenes are quite predictable. The master faces the disciple. The disciple attacks clumsily. The master responds, effortlessly nullifying the attack and usually sending the disciple flying. The disciple is confused — but instantly comes in with another attack. The master again stifles or evades and again tosses the disciple, looking distinctly bored with it all. Repeat, repeat, repeat until the disciple is in a gasping heap on the floor — or on the ground. It doesn’t matter whether this takes place in some outdoor setting or in a shadowy “temple” or dojo.

The master must never lose his cool. Often, he never so much as ruffles a hair. He toys with the disciple, demonstrating how inadequate and ineffectual the disciple’s abilities are. The disciple eventually learns the first lesson: He must submit to the teachings of the master if he’s ever to amount to anything.

It’s dramatic — but mostly fictional nonsense. First, good teachers have never been plentiful. A good teacher, in the old days as today, was more likely concerned with turning away hopeful students than he was with “proving” his worthiness to a prospective disciple. Also, if a student needs or demands some kind of demonstration as to his prospective teacher’s skill, he is unlikely to make much of a disciple.

Second — and this is far more important for us to consider — the idea that there’s a level of skill or even an art that will allow one to engage in combat without breaking a sweat or even wrinkling one’s shirt is foolish. Yes, there are many stories of great swordsmen in old Japan who engaged in duels and managed to defeat opponents seemingly without exerting any effort at all. That is largely because a sword, like a gun, has the potential to kill easily. One cut could have decided the outcome. (Not incidentally, many of those tales of sword combat are exaggerated. We know of several duels that ended when one participant lost his nerve and fled, only to be cut down from behind.) That kind of “one strike, one kill” does not translate into unarmed combat of the sort many of us train in today.

The reality is that nearly all encounters of the kind for which we train, no matter how skilled we are, are likely to be brutal and nasty and require a willingness to absorb some kind of pain or injury in order to do worse to an opponent.
“You can get out of any joint lock or pin,” one teacher of the Chinese grappling arts noted, “as long as you’re willing to allow the joint or bone to be broken in the process.” That sounds extreme, but it illustrates the danger faced in serious combat. Yes, there are some awesomely talented practitioners out there, and some of them are excellent teachers. But they are not magic. And in many cases, a part of their skill is the willingness to endure pain, to take hits in order to deliver their own weapons on target.

It cannot be repeated often enough, particularly to young people who are just beginning their training, that if there was an easy, effortless way to fight, to succeed in a violent situation, people would not be spending thousands of hours learning and then practicing how to do it. There’s no point at which one transcends physics or the limitations of the human body.

Against even a very unskilled opponent — no matter how good you are — you have to put everything into the encounter and expect to absorb your own injuries in the process of inflicting some. This is not an attractive picture, I know. It is in cruel contrast to the fantasies of hundreds of movies. But it is reality.

It’s also foolish to believe that a serious contest of any kind, whether it is the old master besting the prospective young disciple or a duel or challenge, will not result in injury. Notice how in these movies, the disciple is conclusively humiliated in his defeat — but he’s never significantly injured. He “learns a lesson” in the encounter. Somehow, though, the extraordinary skills of the master teach this lesson without doing any lasting damage.

Can you imagine how this would work in real life? A stranger comes to the dojo and requests a fight with the teacher. The teacher obliges — and breaks the challenger’s jaw. Or accidentally blinds him. How soon do you think it would be before the police and lawyers — lots of lawyers — were involved?

Encounters between old masters and young disciples are entertaining on the screen. Whether you’re either one, however, or you wish to be, it might be best to tell yourself this: It’s only a movie. 

Dave Lowry has written Karate Way since 1986. For more information about his articles and books, visit blackbeltmag.com and type his name into the search box.

SUBSCRIBE TO BLACKBELT MAGAZINE TODAY!
Don't miss a single issue of the world largest magazine of martial arts.

Do you want to maximize your self defense skills? Learn the game of combat chess and most importantly the queen of all moves.

Allow me to intercept those who would object to the title of this article. I'm not claiming that there's a secret move, shortcut or hack that will give you the edge in any fight. Even if there was an ultimate weapon or strategy, you likely would avoid it because you
Keep Reading Show less

Looking to buy some weights to gain some strength?

Looking at Dumbbell, Kettlebells or Weighted bar? How about an all in one that won't just save you some good amount of money but also space? Look no further, we bring you the GRIPBELL!

Let's face it, when we do want to work on some strength building, we don't want to go around shopping for 20 different weight equipment things. That would just not want us to even do any sort of strength training. But what if we only needed a few, a few that can do the things we want without having 20 things lay around? That's where the GRIPBELL comes in. Let me clarify with you first, these are not some heavy duty, muscle exploding weights, they are for building the level of strength we as martial artists want without going crazy and insane in bulk sizing!

Keep Reading Show less

Many different types of "blocks" are taught in most martial arts school. We are taught high blocks, low blocks, middle blocks, knife hand blocks, etc. Some schools will also teach how to use the legs to block an attack, as well.

The purpose of this writing is to possibly open some minds to the possibilities of going outside the box and considering alternatives to the basics.

Blocking is taught as a way of protecting oneself from harm. Truly, we don't "block" anything, as a non-martial artist would think of it. What we call "blocking" is more of a redirection of an opponent's attack, or even a counterstrike against the opponent's attacking limb.

To block something would mean to put something, like your arm, leg or other body part directly in front of the attack. That would certainly hurt and possibly cause some damage. The goal should be to move the attack out of the way in order to prevent injury and provide a way to fight back. For example, many schools teach blocks as a limb moving toward the strike such as a circular high block.

The movement required for a block might have other uses, if you keep an open mind. The blocking techniques can also be used as attack techniques. For example, your "low block" may be used as a striking technique against the outer thigh of the attacker. Your high block might be used as a strike to the jaw. The set up for a block can be used as a deflection, as well as the actual block.

Doing a block or a series of blocks will most likely not end an attack. A block needs to be followed by a counterattack. While the block is usually taught as a separate technique in order to learn it correctly, it should also be used in combination with a counter.

The more you know, the more you realize how much you don't know. Intensive books can and have be written about basic techniques. With this writing, I am hoping to create interest in exploring the additional possibilities for what we have been taught and what we teach others.

About Grand Master Stevens

GM Stevens has been training in taekwondo for 47 years under the tutelage of the late legendary Grand Master Richard Chun. He holds an 8th degree black belt and is certified in the USA and in Korea. Grand Master Stevens is a member of the Board of Directors of the prestigious Richard Chun TaeKwonDo World Headquarters organization. He has been very active in his community and has been a volunteer with the Glen Rock Volunteer Ambulance Corps for over 11 years. He is a certified member of C.E.R.T. (Community Emergency Response Team).

Gary Stevens Taekwondo is located at 175 Rock Road in Glen Rock, New Jersey.

For more information: call (201) 670-7263, email: StevensTKD@aol.com or go to www.StevensTaeKwonDo.com

Having partners at or above your skill level is important for improving in your martial arts training. At some point, however, you will probably find yourself with a shortage of skilled partners, especially if you are an instructor.

This can happen for any number of reasons: students can move away, change their work schedules, start a family, etc., and just like that, you find that you're the highest-ranked student, or sole instructor, in your gym or dojo. This doesn't have to be a bad thing. In fact, if you take advantage of it, even working exclusively with lower-ranking classmates or students can improve your skills.

I used to host a twice-a-week training session at my dojo where I invited mostly black belts from other schools (as well as a few of my advanced students) to come and run drills. It was a blast. These were tough two- to three-hour sessions where I got to work with fighters of all different sizes, speeds, and technique preferences. My sparring improved dramatically over the next few months, and I don't think I've ever been in better shape. But unfortunately, it doesn't always work out that way. And as the old saying goes, "You gotta work with what ya got." So, make it hard on yourself.

I like to set handicaps when fighting my students. Specifically, I focus on forcing myself to work on improving my weak areas. Is you right leg weaker than the left? Then only kick with the right leg when sparring your students. Not much of an inside fighter? Don't kick at all. Training with partners of lesser skill not only helps you improve your weak points but gives them an opportunity to improve as well by working on strategy. It's also great for building their confidence. It can also be a low-cost opportunity to test new techniques and combinations, which benefits you as well.

In grappling, just like sparring, there is little benefit to wrapping lower ranking classmates into pretzels over and over, for them or you. Instead, let your partner put you in a bad situation. Let them get the mount; help them sink in that choke or armbar. If you start standing, such as in judo, allow your partner to get the superior grip before attempting a throw. This way you will get comfortable working out of a weaker position and your less-experienced partner can perfect their technique (and get experience using multiple techniques, if you get out of their first one).

You might think that giving advantages like these to students who may be far beneath your skill level is much of a challenge. Trust me, you'll reconsider that sentiment when you wind up sparring a 6'5" novice with zero control over his strength after deciding to only use your weak leg, or have a 250-pound green belt lying across your diaphragm trying to get an armlock after you let them get the pin. Remember, this is exactly what you signed up for: a challenge.

If you find yourself at the top of the heap without partners who are sufficiently challenging, there is no need to despair. Use it as a low-stress opportunity to improve your weaknesses and develop avenues to help your less experienced classmates and students to grow. You may even be surprised. One day they might present more of a challenge than you ever imagined!
Don’t miss a thing Subscribe to Our Newsletter