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Top 5 Martial Arts Facepalms!

Updated: Jul 29, 2021

Yep, its facepalm time!

In these arts we call martial, there are just a couple of things that we have all heard time and time again that make us hang a heavy head, sigh with sorrow and bring hand to face. There is the saying, “you can’t argue with stupid” well these are the five things that make my inner numbskulls press the only in case of emergency face palm button followed by the walk away protocol.

1) “That wouldn’t work in the street”

I have no idea where this street is that everyone talks about but let me tell you, I wouldn’t walk down there with my family or even my dog for that matter. If the rumours of this street are to be believed only violent psychopaths are found here whose first and only thought is to assault you and engage in non consensual acts of physical violence....

Although technically if you knowingly walk down this street is it really a non consensual act? There are so many issues with this statement it's hard to know where to start. Firstly what Street are we talking about… Wall Street… Coronation Street… Sesame Street? There is significant difference between the frequency, likelihood and nature of confrontation if we are comparing a street in the leafy suburbs and a back street somewhere in a sprawling city. In one IF, I was to be attacked I’d likely have to deal with a knife wielding assailant and in the other a desperate housewife. I don’t know which is worse! Personally if the Street was anywhere near my house, number one, I’d always drive and preferably not stop at the traffic lights and number two, I’d move!

Joking aside for a moment my biggest issue with this statement is more that it shows a complete disregard for all of the other reasons a person may study a martial art. For example many people seek a great deal of joy and satisfaction from the sporting aspects of martial arts and although it isn’t for everyone that isn’t to somehow devalue the brilliant things it brings. Ignoring this altogether, the biggest misuse of this phrase is actually a complete misunderstanding of context. For example not all techniques are intended to be applied in a life threatening situation many are actually techniques which demonstrate and allow the practice and development of fundamental principles which must first be developed. In fact that is now representative of a significant proportion of techniques and drills practiced through the various martial disciplines. We are not warriors despite what some people like to think and most martial arts practice is about educating students to learn and demonstrating techniques at full speed, power and with the level of violence and ruthlessness required to stroll down sed street simply doesn’t make for clear, concise and effective education. This phrase frankly is most commonly pulled out when all forms of useful and productive conversation have been expunged!

Please do not misunderstand me on this point however, I don’t wish to downplay the very real violence that exists beyond the safety of the dojo. As a teacher you have perhaps your most important moral obligation to be completely open with students about the brutality of violence. Nothing is more dangerous than giving them a false sense of security. For my own students one of the first things we discuss in their first lessons is my expectations of them as students that they should question everything I say and ask why. If they are unsure about a technique or principle they must ask as I want them to think deeply about their learning. In fact at no time am I more serious in the dojo than when it comes to nature of violence as it must carry a real resonance for students. Most people studying a martial art aren’t in fact studying real world violent confrontation they are studying their own bodies, history, culture, philosophy. They are learning confidence and kindness, empathy and kinship. I genuinely believe that martial artists as group are often some of the nicest people you can meet because in training we exert our bodies, minds and push ourselves to new limits. We experience pain and understand the meaning of our techniques and therefore learn to care for others as we understand the consequences of our actions and decisions. We resonate with others because of our shared experience of training. Ultimately for me, the reason this phrase is such a facepalm is its based on a lack of communication between the two parties and imposes one person’s reason for training on someone elses. But moreso it stems from a misunderstanding of context which is so easily done when looking at a technique not in person. Also, when this is directed at specific method of training, for example, solo kata practice, it completely disregards the value of one type of practice or training methodologies as part of a suite or matrix. No method of training is perfect as every single method you can use has a limitation or flaw and so the only remedy is a variety of training strategies to overcome the limitations of any one method. What people really mean when they say a training method doesn’t work in the street is, I don’t like or I struggle to see the value in that type of training and there is nothing wrong in that but they aren’t the same thing.