Printed in MAWired, Vol. 5, No. 5, June 1998

Thomas Howard

I know a guy who has a black belt in TKD that he got from a man in Wyoming. He tells some interesting stories about that instructor, too. Among them, the one that really caught my attention (and made me start really listening) was how this guy in Wyoming found a place to train: He went to every instructor around, and if he could "kick their asses, then obviously he had nothing to learn from them." (Direct quote from this guy's instructor.) So he went around picking fights with all the martial arts instructors around, and once he found someone who could (and would) beat him up, he then studied with them.

This instructor (from Wyoming, not my co-worker) was very proud of the fact that he taught streetfighting and full contact sparring----anything less just "wasn't useful."

Interesting philosphy.

When I look at that, I see a picture of someone that I wouldn't ever want to study with, and more importantly, someone that I think has no idea of what martial arts are about. He might know martial techniques, but the art seems to have passed him by completely. (I also have an opinion about his concept of what is "useful", but we'll get to that.)

For the most part, I find this way of thinking amusing, because if this person came to my dojang and challenged me to fight, I'd have a hard time not laughing at him. I don't fight for fun, and I don't fight to prove anything. At my dojang, we practice martial arts with the inner goal of building character, and the outer expression of that goal being self-defense.

And neither one of those has anything to do with fighting to "prove" something.

Fighting is a good way to get hurt. Obvious, right? Now, sometimes you have to fight---you don't have a choice, which is why we practice physical techniques. (Otherwise, martial arts for self-defense would just be a mental exercise. :) But at base, self-defense is about keeping yourself from being harmed. So, not fighting in the first place seems a good way to manage that. But say you have to fight----are you going to set up in a stance, and square off against an attacker?

Not hardly.

Self-defense isn't a game, nor is it a "fight", per se. Self-defense is doing what is necessary to keep yourself safe and unharmed. If someone in the above case challenged me to a fight, I'd try not to laugh, and invite them to leave. If they didn't leave, I'd have one of the white belts call the police to escort them out. And if they tried to start something before the police got there, I'd take care of it, and have them booked on assault charges afterwards.

I don't fight for fun.

I wouldn't square off. There would be no rules---and I certainly wouldn't annouce, "Ok, I guess I'll fight you now, since I have to." If I had to resort to physical techniques, I'd do what was necessary to stop them from causing a problem. In this case, that would probably result in someone being hurt, and I would not feel guilty about it, though I would be annoyed. I doubt this Wyoming person would call it a "fight," though. Matter of fact, he'd probably later say I didn't fight "fair", or that I sucker-punched him while he wasn't looking.

Ahem. "Duh."

Indeed, I would be annoyed, but not feeling bad about what I had done.

Annoyed because someone thinks that fighting is the same thing as self-defense, and that their interpretation of life is more important than anyone else's, so that they can force their beliefs on other people.

And I wouldn't feel bad about hurting them, because IF they had held their beliefs but not attempted to force them on others, they wouldn't have gotten hurt. They made their choice, and made it necessary for them to be hurt. I will do whatever is necessary---and they made it necessary to use physical force.

However, I doubt it would have come to that, if he had come to my dojang. My guess is, that instructor would have called me a wimp, a wuss, and a number of other names, and stomped off, secure in his superiority---and not started a fight, since with my "defeatist and non-aggressive attitude", I was obviously no match for him, and he didn't have anything to learn from me.

And most likely, I and my students would have laughed as he went on his way.

For the record here, I think that occasionally sparring full contact (with the required rules and pads so that no one gets killed) is indeed a valuable training tool. Plus, I'm always happy to have people from other schools and styles come by and work out and spar, since everyone can learn a lot that way. However, I don't make the mistake of thinking self-defense is anything like a full contact sparring bout.

And I certainly don't make the mistake of thinking that someone I can beat in sparring doesn't have anything to teach me.

I should note here that schools that emphasize point sparring or Olympic style sparring may have different ideas about this sort of thing----but for them, any "challenge" would be in the realm of sparring with rules and referees, most likely. And that isn't fighting, in the self-defense sense, which is the type of action this man from Wyoming wanted. (Sorry to all folks in Wyoming---don't mean to tar everyone with the same brush, but I didn't get this instructor's name.)

I don't fight for fun. And I certainly never fight because I feel I have to "prove" anything. (I do spar for fun, though. :)

Food for thought:
What about out-of-shape people? Older people? People with injuries? They don't deserve to learn self-defense? Because I would bet that none of the above people would be able to work out at this guy's dojang---his workouts would be such that they simply would NOT be able to practice that way. Does this mean they shouldn't/couldn't be trained as martial artists? That they couldn't learn to defend themselves? I do NOT agree with that type of thinking.

Thomas teaches Hapkido for self-defense, and really detests macho posturing. For more about him and what he does with martial arts, check out the Nebraska Hapkido Association Home Page.