|He may have a tonsure, but he's no Friar Tuck...|
Most traditional martial artists dismiss the very idea of a combat sport. Their claim is typically that in a real fight all means must be used to attack the enemy. Sporting competition develops poor habits for combat since it is bound by a set of rules. Traditional martial arts thus emphasize a large number of techniques that could never be made part of a safe sporting match - techniques such as eye-gouging, biting, groin attacks etc. etc. The emphasis on such hazardous technique makes live sparring and sport competition impossible.-John Danaher, found at http://forum.kungfumagazine.com/forum/archive/index.php/t-24255.html
The only alternative is to practice this kind of technique in a thoroughly artificial manner - by the use of repetitive forms, kata, imagination, no-contact "sparring," etc. The obvious problem with this approach is that students never get the opportunity to perform their techniques in the same manner in which they will do so in actual combat. The result is that they are no more experienced in the actual application of these techniques under the stress of combat conditions than anybody else.
How then, can they be expected to do well in the chaos and stress of a real fight? Imagine if a football coach attempted to train a team along analogous principles. He insisted that all training sessions involve no contact. Players were not allowed to run at full speed, nor could they engage in open play, but had to stop at the completion of each move. Essentially they would be training in a kind of slow motion, stop start, touch football. How could such a team hope to make the jump to a full power competitive game against a rival who trained in the normal manner? Yet this is very nearly what the traditional martial arts prescribes as its training methods to thousands of willing adherents.
All too often the unfortunate result is a student who has a grossly inflated sense of his or her combat readiness. When the shock and confusion of real combat is sprung upon them the result is almost always failure. Contrast this with the case of combat sports. By combat sports I mean those fighting styles whose nature is most closely associated with open sporting competition and which have an obvious combative heritage in so far as they involve the battle for physical domination over an opponent. This is made possible by the removal of hazardous technique that would make the sport unacceptably risky. So for example, Olympic wrestling is a classic combat sport. It has a set of restrictions on which techniques are legal and which are not.
One's initial reaction to the notion of a combat sport is that they are merely watered down martial arts. They are martial arts minus the really deadly techniques. As such they would appear almost by definition to be less effective in combat than a "true" martial art. This is in fact, a very naïve assumption. The removal of dangerous technique makes possible the use of full-power, live training (sparring) with the techniques that remain. This has an immensely beneficial result. It allows students to train in almost the same way they fight.
The importance of this point cannot be overemphasized. An axiom of the martial arts is this. The way you train is the way you fight. This simple point is very important. The successful application of a combat technique under combat conditions requires much more than a theoretical knowledge of that technique. In addition to knowledge of the technique itself, the student must possess a set of attributes that allow him or her to successfully apply the technique. Without the possession of these attributes the technique is very unlikely to succeed.
Attributes such as adequate strength and physical conditioning, speed, timing, presence of mind, body sensitivity, balance etc. etc. are necessary prerequisites to the application of a combat technique. The development of these attributes comes only from live training and sparring. This explains how a student of traditional martial arts whose training is limited to kata and cooperative training partners can never gain anything more than a superficial knowledge of a given technique. They know what the technique is supposed to look like, but they lack the necessary attributes to apply it under combat conditions.
Their understanding of the technique never progresses beyond the look of the technique and never passes into the feel of it. In this way can we explain the irony of the fact that combat sports that prohibit so much technique can be far more combat effective than "deadly" traditional martial arts that emphasize apparently dangerous techniques but never give the students the chance to practice them live.
The essential difference between the combat sports and traditional martial arts is that the latter emphasize technique alone, while the former emphasize the attributes required to apply the techniques they retain. Combat sports can do this successfully because they prohibit the techniques that make live training in the form of sparring and sporting competition impossible. This realization that success in combat requires far more than the memorization of the appearance of various techniques, but also involves the development of bodily and mental attributes that allow a student to apply these techniques in a real fight, is the key to understanding the success of combat sports. Consider the most well known combat sports - Brazilian jiu jitsu, judo, wrestling, sambo, shooto, San Shou , Western boxing and Muay Thai.
So then, in answer to our question as to which styles are those most effective we can reply that it is those that are combat sports. These allow students to train at something close to full power with the same techniques and strategy that they will use in real combat. As such they develop not just the superficial knowledge of the appearance of a given technique, but also the essential attributes and skills that enable a student to apply that technique in actual combat
This. This applies to Historical European Martial Arts too, damn it.
|Are you comparing the UFC with this, really? Yes. Yes I am.|
The difference between HEMA and many other martial arts is that we do this for combat that might have taken place five or six centuries ago. Normally, the systems that we use date from the period, and the techniques we learn are interpreted from documents of the time. I for one respect the point of view of someone who actually lived, fought and risked their well-being at the time and then recorded how they did so. For this we need to research their words, or the material evidence that has survived and left traces in the modern day. To my mind, this makes it a historical art.
European then? To some people it's an ethnic thing, 'my ancestors did this!'. To be honest, I think that that is a dead end, but in a way is an understandable attempt to form an identity. Others emphasize what they consider to be the world-view of the time, 'it is a chivalrous art!'. I think that these people have a poor grasp of the context of what they are talking about, and would hazard that again these are people attempting for form an identity for themselves. This is where past snide comments about confusing HEMA and live action role-playing stem from; - I believe that at best these two points of view spring from a poor grasp of how things really were in the past. At worst they imply an ethnocentrism I find to be wrong. Personally, I study European martial arts because I find that Europe is the most easy area to find research about, as I live there. If, on the other hand, I lived in the Middle East, I might find myself researching Arabic horsemanship from the period of al-Ġazawāt. The European aspect of what we study is, I sincerely hope, due to convenience.
|The Victorian mindset is a source of humour, not of sound advice.|
And for the last part, we need to get out there and hit one another with glorified sticks. Srsly. Without pressure-testing ourselves as fighters, or our interpretations as researchers, we cannot begin to understand what we are studying.
To paraphrase a second-hand point of view, we train to be the very best fighters for a rather unlikely set of circumstances. Sure, we may never get into harnischfechten on the high street, but our study still faces the same challenges and pit-falls as any other martial art.