I believe that every dojo should have a bouncer -and I don't mean on
the door to stop people getting in. I mean one or more members of the
dojo should work as a bouncer. If no one there is a bouncer, then get
a job as a bouncer yourself, if only for a few weeks. Why? Let me
If you're like most martial artists then you spend most of your time
dealing in theory. By that I mean, you learn all these great
techniques that work wonderfully well in the dojo with a willing
partner under controlled circumstances. But how can you be sure that
your techniques will work in the real world, against unwilling
protagonists and under unpredictable circumstances?
The answer is you can't. How can you stand up and say that a technique
will work without actually testing it under pressure, in a real
confrontation with someone who cares not a jot for etiquette but only
wants to tear your head of and play football with it?
The answer is you can't. This is the cold, hard reality that many
martial artists have to deal with throughout their many years of
training. It is an uncomfortable truth and one which a lot of people
would rather not think too much about. In a way, by sidestepping this
issue all the time, martial artists are deluding themselves into
thinking that they can handle themselves in a fight if it came to it,
by virtue of the fact that they have put X amount of years into their
Are you experienced?
All the training in the world does not guarantee that you will be able
to defend yourself effectively if one or more antagonists decided one
night in the bar that you had the perfect face for punching repeatedly
until it bled all over the floor and your girlfriends shoes. The fact
of the matter is that there are other factors involved besides being
able to execute good technique. Many martial artists, either through
ignorance or self-delusion, tend to forget about the psychological
factors involved in a real violent confrontation, factors which are
more important than how good your technique is.
Put it this way. If you asked me who would win in a fight between a
martial artist with no actual street experience and a guy who gets in
a fight every time he goes out for a drink, then I'll put my money on
the seasoned street fighter every time. Why? Because the street
fighter is used to fighting under pressure, he is used to getting hit
and getting back up again for more, he is used to the way his body and
mind react under such circumstances, therefore he will perform
significantly better than a martial artist who has never experienced
any of that.
I have heard so many stories over the years, as I'm sure you have, of
martial artists -black belts- who got their ass kicked in a fight
because they didn't perform the way they thought they would. And why
would they? A dojo is just a playground, a place to pretend, a place
to ultimately feel safe and secure in.
And a place that is a million miles away from the brutal and
unpredictable pavement arena.
So the next time you expertly throw someone in the dojo or score a
point in sparring and you're feeling pleased with yourself, just take
note of the fact you are only play-acting. At the very least be aware
of this fact and choose to either ignore it or do something about it.
Ignorance Just knowing the truth of the matter and being able to
reconcile yourself to it is better than not knowing the truth and
living under a blanket of ignorance. There are many martial artists
out there who choose to train purely for the sake of art, for the sake
of mastering something. This is completely fine as long as you are
upfront about it, especially when it comes to teaching other people
what you know. This fact should be explained to beginners and they
should be allowed to act on it in whatever way they please.
There are however, many instructors out there who teach people self-
defense even though they themselves have never tested out the
techniques they are teaching, which amounts to bad practice, in my
opinion. Teaching people things that you only know in theory is
setting those same people up for a fall, for they too will come to
believe that good self-defense equals good technique. It doesn't.
Good self-defense equals good technique plus experience of using that
technique under extreme pressure.
I am not of course advocating that you immediately run out and start a
fight with someone, but I am advocating that you should have some
awareness on the issue, especially if you are a teacher. If you just
want to train for the sake of learning the art then go ahead. As I
said, there is nothing wrong with that (and it's what most martial
artists end up doing anyway).
On the other hand, if you want to learn about real self-defense then
I'm afraid you are going to have to move out of your comfort zone. If
you want to know how to properly defend yourself in a fight then you
are going to have to start putting yourself under a hell of a lot more
pressure, and as far as I can see, there is only two ways to do this
while still maintaining some sense of control.
The first way is to have an animal day at your club. Geoff Thompson
came up with this concept as a way for martial artists to pressure
test themselves under controlled conditions. It basically involves two
people going up against each other, no holds barred, anything goes
( things like eye gouges are allowed but you obviously don't follow
through on such techniques). In a dojo, this is as close as you are
going to get to a real fight and it does create a lot of pressure for
the people doing it. More importantly, it's unpredictable, just like
the real thing. Animal days are not for the faint of heart, so expect
to get hurt in some way (though not seriously). All participants are
also expected to sign a waver as well, just so you know what you're
The second way is to get a job as a bouncer in a nightclub. In this
sort of environment you will inevitably be given the opportunity to
test out your skills and more importantly, get used to the
psychological effects of violent confrontation and actually performing
under such pressure. I myself did a stint as a bouncer, not for the
reasons sited (I needed the money at the time) and I am glad I was
able to experience it, to experience what it's like when you have to
confront bigger, harder people than yourself and ask them to leave and
then have to deal with them further when they point blank refuse. The
only saving grace you have (in most places anyway) is back-up if
things get out of hand, but it sure does put your skills and knowledge
(as well as your character) to the test. For any martial artist
seeking experience in violent confrontation and testing themselves in
this way, I recommend doing this job for at least a while.
Test yourself I f you are serious about testing yourself and your art
then you should walk down this path of self-discovery, not just for
yourself but for any students you may have or will have in the future.
At least when you train you will be able to instantly discount certain
techniques as being unworkable in real circumstances; these techniques
you will file under art, the rest you will practice with the knowledge
that they do work.
The martial arts are all about testing yourself in every respect
possible. If you want to truly learn the art of self-defense it is
necessary to step on to the battlefield and baptize yourself in the
There is no other way.
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