Age and Wisdom in Martial Arts by Hal Herndon

Contrary to popular public opinion, age and wisdom are not necessarily (or even usually) synonymous. However, age does give one a much, much better view of one’s past endeavors and, if analyzing those results in a learning process it’s a good thing. Add to the age concept ‘experience’ and ‘objective analysis’, failures, etc., and perhaps you will start to close in on “wisdom”…..just Perhaps…..

To paraphrase a martial artist and ‘street fighter’ I have never met but admire (Richie Grannon), “There is no failure….There is only Feedback”. Problem is that one has to acknowledge the concept of feedback due to failure (mistakes), evaluate it and, most importantly, learn from it.

For way, way too many martial arts and self defense instructors this is not an option due to ego. Sadly, in the martial arts/self defense world we seem to live in (driven mainly by money), ego controls everything and income controls whatever the ego misses (possibly the other way around but hopefully you will get the point). Much like politics, “control” is everything and doing the “right thing” is….shall we say….nice if it happens but don’t hold your breath….

In spite of ranks earned I do not profess to be an expert in or master of much of anything, especially in the martial arts arena. There is too much to learn, and, with luck, there always will be…That is what keeps some of us going.

I have trained under a few people who were extremely talented, knowledgeable and understanding as well as being excellent instructors and have seen some of them essentially and generally self destruct due to increasingly inflated egos, desire for control (of everything and everyone) and, of course the craving for money. One instructor in particular had an obsession with having more techniques in “his version of his system” than anyone else. Not only is this counter-productive to the concept of simplification and efficiency it is very obviously ego based and not much else. Very sad but also very common. As an architect I can offer a comment from Mies Van Der Rohe that addresses the reality of many things…”Less Is More”….In less philosophical arenas “simplicity and ease of execution and survival is the key” (not as impressive as the “less is more” statement but perhaps more explanatory).

I have also seen and trained under two legitimate masters who have put their egos aside. They don’t do what they do for money but rather believe that what they do is something important that will help their students survive in the real world. Both of these masters are beyond excellent at what they do, both are totally committed to their belief that their teachings may well save lives and if not that, improve lives. Hard to argue with that if you give it some serious thought.

Considering these two (to me, very special instructors/masters, both very different disciplines and both of whom I have trained with extensively, etc.) I must also note that both of them continue to strive for more knowledge, more simplification of solving

problems that may occur and just plain learning. Both admittedly learn from their students and their students’ questions and challenges.

As instructors we MUST continue to be students. As for myself, I make a decent living doing the job or participating in the profession I strived to get into so my personal martial arts involvement is (fortunately) not based on making a living or even making a profit. Good, bad or “ugly” this is reality. For me, and thankfully for the vast majority of our students at GMKM, teaching people with no clue how to survive a violent encounter and live to talk about it is our ultimate goal. We are not promoting or even teaching “fighting’, as such but simply trying to “escape and get home safely” as the first objective and then knowing how to take control, damage and/or otherwise disorient or disrupt the aggressor’s game plan.

With the appropriate mindset, a learned practice of “scanning’, “controlled aggression” and the will to survive no matter what, the odds are in your favor…..this is what we try to instill in all of our students….

Indeed the training takes a bit of time and effort. It does not, however, take years and years of intense training, intense cardio workouts and/or severe physical injuries due to what is typically referred to as ‘full contact sparring’. The latter can be good training for competition but will usually disappoint you in a street conflict where your life is in danger.

And then there is the other philosophy (“traditional macho krav”) that preaches “if you are in a conflict, keep pounding the aggressor until your knuckles hit the pavement.”. In the world of good cash flow, macho jock advertising and all that, this is enticing to those who have never really “been there”.

Let’s take a second and consider the situation…..Pounding your knuckles on the pavement is very painful (I know) and can cause long term damage to the knuckles as well as cause major damage to the hand and wrist. Even if that is not an issue with you, in our world (in the U.S. today) it is extremely rare that you will be aggressed by only one attacker. Granted, you may be accosted by one thug and without proper training you will instinctively get “tunnel vision” and try to deal with that one aggressor. More often than not this aggressor will have his friends/associates, gang members standing by and while you are trying to turn the first aggressor into a pile of goo on the pavement you will be jumped or otherwise attacked by his/her friends. This, folks, is reality.

Be aware also that ONLY gross motor skills will help you in these situations. All of the trick stuff you see on TV and in the movies and that which you train for in a very complex system will most likely fail under extreme stress where you are in fear for your life or survival.

To quote a Grand Master friend of mine, there are no bad martial arts. There are only bad instructors and lazy students and students who are only concerned with rank and not learning. All traditional martial arts are good, given a good instructor. However very

few of them will actually enable you to survive a serious life threatening conflict “on the street”. You train to “fight” people trained the same way you are. You train and “fight” (or “spar”) with rules and referees and in a predetermined space or “ring”. Nothing at all wrong with this unless (my opinion and that of many others who study these things) you try to use it the same way on the street with thugs, criminals or gang members who would just as soon kill you for little or no reason as not.

The proven key is that you will likely only be able to use gross motor skills, not fine motor movements or fancy techniques and nothing that happens will have been predictable, nothing you do will turn out as you think it should have and you likely won’t do any “technique” totally right….If your techniques have to be done precisely to work you are asking for a world of hurt….. As with our multiple attacker drills, chaos is typically the driving and attacking force and its only solution (outside of movies and TV) is a calm, reasonably confident mindset, scanning for other threats and simplicity.

Think about it, do some research and make your own decisions. Personally I love traditional martial arts of almost all (legitimate) kinds. It is important, however (again, my opinion) to understand fully what they are and perhaps more importantly what they are not.

I hope you will consider the intent of the above comments and realize that in many situations you only have one chance to survive (at least without major and permanent damage).

Stay aware, stay alert and stay safe.