Advice & stories from a former MMA fighter

Today’s Martial Arts Scene is a Joke


“There is no challenge in breaking a board. Boards don’t hit back.” – Bruce Lee

Taking a look at the modern martial arts scene with this quote in mind makes me sad. I’ve been all over the city to martial arts studios and witnessed trainings where students are learning to do things that simply have no practical application.

Don’t get me wrong. There’s a reason why it’s called “martial arts,” as it most certainly is an art form. I absolutely agree that students should study foundational techniques, even those which have little practical application. Watch any martial arts movie and it’s like watching ballet in a way. (Don’t laugh … hear me out.) Ballet takes an amazing amount of poise, strength, and self-control. I’ve actually been to a ballet performance and cried over the sheer beauty of it all, and I know the same thing can happen when you watch a martial arts “performance.”

But unlike ballet it’s not all about performance, at least not in an aesthetically pleasing sense. While certain poses and techniques can be beautiful, the end goal has always been and will always be self defense. If you’re not learning how to defend yourself, then you’re paying hundreds of dollars to attend dance classes that will afford you nothing when someone is holding a gun to your head and threatening your life.

Yes, all of the other benefits of martial arts are great. You’ll get stronger. You’ll build solidarity with like-minded students who are “in the fighting ring” with you. And it’s definitely a confidence booster, especially for women (at least from what they’ve told me.) In short, you’ll feel like a badass if you master martial arts. But feeling like a badass and actually being one in the middle of a life-threatening situation are two different things.

We’ve got to stop teaching fighters to break boards. Just like Bruce Lee (one of the greatest martial artists who ever lived) said, “boards don’t hit back.” You gotta learn to fight against a person who will fight back. Actually, in most cases (if you’re applying the rule of self-defense that they teach you), they’ll be the instigators, which means you’ll be fighting back.

I understand why they teach people to break boards. It’s the mastery of a certain technique that perfectly balances strength, agility, and form to accomplish what seems impossible. But breaking a board is far from impossible. In fact, it’s actually pretty easy to learn, and there’s really no challenge once you learn it. Challenge comes when you’re in a real-life situation where you need to apply what you’ve learned in order to safe yourself from being seriously injured or killed. Boards don’t move, and they don’t hit back, so if you don’t know how to defend yourself against a moving, living being without killing them in the process (unless it becomes absolutely necessary), then you’re gonna be in trouble.

This is a call to martial arts teachers today. How can we bring the techniques of Bruce Lee back into our classrooms? What can we do to ensure we’re not only teaching people martial arts as an art form, but also as a practical, life-saving, set of techniques that will be extremely valuable in a life-threatening situation?

Thoughts? I’m definitely not trying to start a fight here. (Ha ha, see what I did there?) Just looking to have an honest conversation about a subject that’s very near and dear to my heart. Feel free to leave a comment below.

(But be nice or it’ll get deleted.)

Josh Davis

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