Myth instead of reality

When you start a new activity, it is common to have preconceived ideas about what to expect.

When a new student begins training, their head is often already filled with thoughts of leaping techniques and mystical abilities. Though most of us nowadays know that karate is more than crane kicks and waxing cars, sometimes we still hold on to beliefs that we think are more believable.

Unfortunately, these mistaken ideas can be just as erroneous.

Here's a brief list of common misunderstandings martial art students often have about their training!


1. All Martial Arts Come From Asia

Contrary to common thought, the world of martial arts extends further than Japanese Karate and Korean Taekwondo. For example, there are also arts from Africa (Dambe), Greece (Pankration), France (Canne De Combat), and even the United Kingdom (Bartitsu).

Of course, these are just a few examples of the numerous arts that stem from various countries. Get out there and explore!

There lies a bit of the beauty about martial arts training; there are so many cultural lenses to view it from. Each style you train gives you a glimpse into the workings of another region of the world.

2. Martial Arts Have Always Used Belts

I'm sure you've heard the "dirty secret" behind the color of your belt. Legend says, martial art students all started with a pure white belt and, over years without washing or changing it, the belt accumulated dirt and grime. The darker the color, the more experienced you must be.

Green smudges? Probably from the grass you were training on.
Red marks? Obviously, that is blood from the harsh exercise and wounds of your opponents. Brown stains? Er, hopefully that is just mud.

Problem is, this messy myth simply isn't true.

The truth is much more normal and much less nasty. To start with, belts didn't come into the picture until fairly recently.

To talk about the emergence of a belt system, we have to turn our attention towards Judo history. Jigoro Kano, the founder of Judo, was a big part of integrating the Dan/Kyū ranking system (seen in the popular ancient board game Go) into martial art training. Whereas a license such as Menkyo would only be given out after many dedicated years, a ranking with the Dan/Kyū system would provide a better measure of experience and progress.

In 1883, Jigoro Kano officially promoted two students to shodan. As Kano taught students who were Yudansha (those who were graded) and Mudansha (those not graded), he needed a way to distinguish between the two.

Over time, Kano adopted the practice of marking his Yudansha with a black belt. This was similar to the system used in other sports such as swimming, where a black ribbon kept at the waist marked those with more experience.

Colored belts were introduced later at the Kodokan, then later spread overseas by Kano's student Mikinosuke Kawaishi.

Despite the story of your belt showing your accumulated experience being a very motivational story to tell new students, the truth is much more hygienic than the legend.

3. All Martial Arts Are Perfect For Self Defense

It is certainly true that martial art training can produce excellent athletic results. It is also true that the healthier you are, the better your chances of surviving a bad encounter with a hoodlum are.

Self defense is about more than just being fit, fast, and strong however.

Self defense includes de-escalation tactics, pre-fight recognition, environment awareness, understanding/applying scalable force, and more that doesn't always get covered in the typical martial arts class. Unfortunately, not even every style that advertises themselves as "a great place to learn self-protection" pays attention to these considerations.

As you seek a style that helps you protect yourself and your loved ones on the streets, look for a school or instructor that can help you learn how to prevent problems, not just solve problems.

4. Combat Sports And Performance Arts Are Useless

While it is true that MMA fighters learn how to operate within the confines of a rule set, it is important to remember that they have still spent time refining themselves—their physique, fighting mentality, strategic understanding, and more—much more than the everyday person.

Just because they have learned the rules, doesn't mean they can't break them.

Similarly, martial artists who learn how to put on a performance with their skills gain much by their extreme attention to detail, refinement of technique and intention, and the athletic demands of their routine rehearsals.

Somebody else's training may have a different purpose than yours, however that doesn't automatically make it incorrect or a waste of time. What is important is that the subject is being authentically viewed and properly studied. In this world of martial arts, we have many different labels and categories. When you can look past the titles of your trainers and the categories of your style, you will likely find more commonalities than differences between what you and your neighbors study.

5. Stunt Performers And Actors Don’t Really Know Martial Arts

Though on-screen performance doesn't automatically equate to off-screen ability, a number of stunt performers, stunt coordinators, and actors often have at least some martial art training.

Learning how to fight and fall in front of the camera brings its own set of stylistic rules, however a solid martial arts understanding can be greatly helpful. This is especially true for Filipino Martial Arts which quickly improves awareness, coordination, and technical speed and skill.

6. Combat Sports And Traditional Martial Arts Are Opposites

Rather than viewing combat sports such as MMA as the rebellious offspring of traditional martial arts, simply view it as the child who grew up in a different era.

Many fighters draw upon age-old principles found in traditional arts, sometimes without even realizing it. Combat sports are simply another lens to view combat through, this time one that carries its own safety rules.

Modern combat sports and traditional arts often have more in common than a first glance will reveal. Look closely and you will find a pursuit for improvement, respect and obedience to a lineage or teacher/coach, applications of similar movements, and many more important commonalities.

7. Sparring/Fighting Is The Only Way To Pressure Test

Sparring is an excellent form of pressure testing, however it isn't the only one. Aside from putting gear on and fighting it out, it is also important to apply stress to the other aspects of your tactics.

Work your tactics in the spotlight surrounded by crowds, start in the lesser position or with a handicap, work when under intense fatigue, etc. This is how you transform an action into a skill.

Lest you forget, pressure should be applied to your mental training as well. Test your martial art knowledge and belief by explaining it to new audiences or seeing how well it withstands under argument.

This is also an important part of training!

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