Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Critical Mass

I have lately been having some great internet exchanges, over Facebook and other media, with some colleagues, “e-acquaintances” and even some folks that don’t like me, about self-protection, martial art and combat sport systems and styles, and their alleged efficacy in self defense.

I found myself reading some of the points the other folks were trying to make with quiet amusement as I saw different facets of me shining through their opinions. Agreeing with all of them yet finding all of them lacking.  In their criticism of other arts and styles I saw myself simultaneously cheering them on and a little ashamed of what our community has become. This has inspired me to put some of my introspection in writing as both catharsis and confession and maybe others will criticize less and do more. Below you will find a more thorough and complete expansion on one of my recent posts. Every word I place here is placed with love and respect for the work that most of us are trying to do and although, some may sound harsh, remember they are also directed at that part of me that tends to forget. I respect and admire those who still focus strictly on "reality based self protection", I used to be you and it is still my primary focus, I just believe we can do more and be more for our students.

Fear no man…Learn the Deadliest Art…or Where My Colleagues Get Angry

In the early ‘90’s a company named TRS became known for a brilliant marketing scheme. They would publish 3-5 full page ads or “reports” in Black Belt and other magazines about “The Deadliest Man on Earth” or how to defeat any attacker in just 5 seconds. What I found amusing was that every couple of months they would have a different guy that was the really “deadly one”. The ads were also replete with verbiage about how Traditional Martial Arts or Combat Sports were useless in the street.

Although the Self Protection industry is in general a bit more sophisticated now, I believe some of my colleagues in the business were, in a sense, affected by the climate of that time and still behave in a similar fashion.  I have seen a tendency towards criticism that does not help our image as professionals nor does it help us to best serve our students and community. Some may be doing it subconsciously and some intentionally, some do it respectfully and some less so, but the message is still the same; traditional martial art and combat sport have little to no value. This in spite the fact that most of us have a lot of experience in Conventional Martial Art and Combat Sport.

I believe some perspective will help ground some of today’s Uber-reality based  minds enough to let ourselves expand.

They Don’t Need You

The double edged sword of evolution: For years I have used the following premise (and still do) when teaching primal behavioral movement over technically complex tactics for self protection…

1.Human beings have been able to effectively defend themselves since way before traditional martial arts, reality based systems and combat sport ever existed.

I would almost always follow that statement with the following one (little did I know that it would influence how I see my role towards my students).

2. Right now someone, somewhere in the world is successfully defending themselves without an iota of training.

That’s right Sensei Tom, Tactical Dick, and Coach Harry; humanity was doing just fine defending itself without you and will continue to do so long after you are gone. You are not needed. If we accept this premise first and work from there we will become more well adjusted and mature instructors, less critical about other systems and more helpful to our students. We are nothing if not arrogant in believing that we are the only ones who hold the true keys to the secrets of the Self-Preservation Kingdom.

3.Believe it or not the vast majority of people will go an entire lifetime without ever facing a serious asocial (and sometimes even social) violent threat. On top of that there is another chunk of the population that does not believe or can be convinced they would ever need to face violence.

We are the 1% of the 1% who started training in Martial Art, Combat Sport or Self Protection and continue to do it past the ten year mark. In my case it’s nearly forty years. We train nearly every day. We have made the arts we have learned part of our DNA and even necessary for our psychological well being. They are part of our identity. The majority of our friends and acquaintances are involved in our passion, therefore we tend to think that everybody trains or needs to train like us, we forget that even with our biggest circle of friends and colleagues around us we are a minority. As Self Protection instructors one of the best things you can do is to pick at least one activity that is not remotely related to survival and pour the same passion into it as if it was the latest technique. The most important thing for us to remember is that not everything is violence. See things from the other side.

4. Somewhere, somebody with a lot of training is getting his ass handed to him

“That’s right!” you say.  ”I know that some Tai chi Master or shotokan guy must get his ass kicked in a bar somewhere in the world! Traditional Martial Arts are useless!”

I follow that however, with the next premise.

5. You can do everything right in a fight and still lose.

Ponder this carefully, you can do everything you trained to do, realistically, under pressure the right set of skills and still be injured, die, or go to prison as a consequence of a violent altercation.

Regardless of how good you believe you are or how amazing you believe your system or methodology is, YOU CANNOT GUARANTEE YOUR STUDENTS’ VICTORY OR SURVIVAL.

I will let that one sink in for a second…

Human beings are already Effective at Self Protection. Our efforts can only help them be more efficient and improve their chances of success. If you promise anything more than this, you are full of “it” and yourself!

6. Not every fight is a deathmatch.

We must remember that, although violence is part of all human condition, not all violence is created equal. A lot of Self Preservation instructors tend to see every fight as if preparing to deal with multiple, steroid AND crystal meth using, Psychopathic AND Sociopathic, Gun AND Machete wielding opponents.

The truth is, not every problem is a nail so the solution can’t always be a hammer. Some students may be only facing some verbal abuse, others some mild social violence. Their personal and/or professional directives may require different solutions to the same problem. If we admit that ourHigh Speed low drag, ultra sexy ninja system may not always have the answer, we may look to other instructors, systems or arts with more respect and curiosity and less judgment and criticism.

7. All training is artificial.

Yes. Kata is artificial, but so is shadow boxing and drilling, and scenario training.  We can only approximate real situations in training. After you face real violence, any training mode you use, regardless of intensity or “realism”, will fall short of the truth. We can only seek to bring our students as close to the real encounter as safety will allow. I have seen some “realistic” methods out there that actually cause more physical and psychological harm than good and actually place students in more danger than if they were being attacked.

It Takes all sorts

Different people have different needs and motivations to seek out  Self Protection, Martial Art or Combat sport training. We already know that levels of violence they may face will be different also. Some may have an immediate need to learn usable skill because of personal or professional directives and /or life stations, while others may have less urgency. Some may benefit more from a fitness challenge while others may seek self expression. With all the variants in the vast world of combative / martial endeavor we must learn to see more shades of grey and less black and white

Tony Torres
Copyright Tony Torres


  1. Yes yes yes! This reflects very well the philosophy and mission of Intercept Combatives that "personal defense" training is just the vehicle for "personal development", as it is through training students learn to challenge certain limitations - and this is something that transcends everything, from RBSD, TMA, combat sports and everything in between.

    Great article Tony.

  2. Nice TT thanks for sharing as always... Not sure I like the Sensei Tom reference though :-)

  3. Another good article Tony I know exactly what you mean I went through that phase is the 90's myself. I touched on that arrogance in my last article as well bro you do good stuff

  4. Excellent post Tony!

    If find myself thinking about teaching these same concepts. Keep up the great work.