By Matthew Schafer
Copyright 2012, All Rights Reserved
One thing that really surprises me is how people think that we today are so much smarter and so different than people that lived a hundred years ago, or a thousand years ago. It seems that most most people think that today we are so much more evolved and, I dare say, better than our ancestors. After all, those dimwitted rubes we read about in the history books didn't know how to make a light bulb! Those morons had to walk everywhere because they were too stupid to build cars...they didn't even have double ply toilet paper! Those cavemen!
The simple truth is that humans have had the exact same brain for a long time. Homo-Sapiens are at least 200,000 years old and the best we can tell our brain, as it is today, may be 36,000 years old or even older. Most people find it hard to believe but scientists have found evidence 36,000 years old of humans with the "modern traits" of art, music, open trade between peoples, and religious style burial rites. Regardless of the actual number of years, it is safe to say that the human brain has had the exact same capability for the last 7,000years. So how are we smarter?
The simple truth is that we are not smarter, more creative, or more resourceful than our ancestors were 7,000 years ago. Today we merely have more information and more technology. The reason we have light bulbs and MP3 players today and we didn't have them 7,000 years ago isn't because we are smarter, it is simply because we have had the necessary time required to figure them out. It is the same reason that in a hundred years we will probably have computers the size of your thumb nail, or smaller, and a person's normal looking sun glasses might have hard drives in them that can store every song ever made and project turn-by-turn directions on the lenses.
My point in all of this is that when people talk about martial art today being more effective in self-defense than they were in the past they are probably misinformed. Yes, we have more information about psychology, physiology, and physics than we did 2,000 years ago but we still have the same brain, the same arms and legs, and the same violent tendencies. A violent assault today will look the same, functionally, as a violent assault in 1654 ad and the same as it would it 3728 bc. We are no better than those that came before us, and if we are greater it is because we have stood on their shoulders.
I try, best as I can, to be open minded about wrestleboxing (my name for "ultimate fighting" as I don't agree with the term "mma") but I have a very hard time ignoring it and that is probably because they shout so loud. Wrestleboxers talk about how they are pinnacle of the martial arts world, about how everything that has ever happened in the entire history of combat has led to them. What a load of crap! Most of them have little to no technique and don't know how to get out of a choke hold, which is yellow belt material in my dojo. I watched a documentary a while ago about Bruce Lee's impact on today's society and for a reason that baffled me they started to interview wrestleboxers. Then the guy that owns the UFC, I think his name is Dana White, really put his foot in his mouth when he made the comment that the martial arts have evolved further in the last 10 years, because of wrestleboxing, than they have in the last 10,000 years. I am going to assume he was just hyping his business because I can't believe someone could be so uninformed to believe that. All it takes is a look in a history book to see that people were doing the exact same thing in Greece over 2,000 years ago, and then far, far, before that. Wrestleboxing isn't new or special, it is just an example of how fads happen in a cycle, the same way my wife was wearing bell-bottom jeans awhile back.
The real purpose of this article isn't to complain about wrestleboxing, it was to talk about how people don't understand martial arts in context. People believe that the martial arts are archaic forms of combat that don't "work" anymore. I agree with this idea on many levels because a typical Karate class doesn't prepare someone to survive a violent assault. Guess what...it isn't meant to. While there are instructors and styles out there which deal specifically with self-defense, most instructors teach their art as an art form. The issue isn’t' what Karate, for instance, teaches it is how they teach it. Even the autobiography of Gichin Funakoshi spoke about he and others purposely changed Karate to make it more of an art form. What they changed was the tone and focus of the art (from causing injuries to people to "character development").
I've used to go a gym that had a boxing club in the basement and a Shotokan Karate club on the third floor. Both classes let out about the same time and the parking lot would fill with people in boxing attire and people wearing pretty white Karate gi and various colored belts. The boxers were a young cocky bunch and more than once I saw fights break out. The interesting thing is this: out of 5 fights I witnessed 4 ended with the boxing student "winning" and only one ended with a Karate student "winning." When the boxing student "won" they did so by charging forwards and repeatedly throwing punches until they hit something and then they kept it up until their opponent was on the ground; when the Karate student won he, a senior black belt, did so with a front kick and an elbow to the head. When the Karate student lost they went home with black eyes and bloody lips but when the boxing student lost he had to go to the hospital.
After studying the whole thing I realized why the fights had come out as they did. The senior black belt in Karate "won" his altercation because he was seasoned through years of Karate training and he was just technically better than the boxer he fought, who was one of the top fighters in the club. Karate should be a superior methodology as it is far more advanced and has many more options and tools available to it. However, the boxers won for one very good reason...not because boxing is better but because the training was more specific. Over the 25 years I have spent in the martial arts I realized that martial artist train to DO techniques while boxers train to hit people. After I realized that I retooled the way I and my students train and introduced several new drills to get us used to using our techniques to hit people. Since then the martial arts have sprang to life anew and make more sense that they ever have before.
The last thing I'll say in this here is that I recently read another article about how the "ancient" martial arts just aren't adequate to deal with "modern attacks." What? The only modern attack I can think of is maybe a missile shot from a predator drone. Even firearms aren’t really a "modern attack" because firearms have been around just as long as most of the martial arts that are practiced today (the most widely practiced form of Karate today is Shotokan , and while Karate itself dates back about 400 years, it dates to about 1922). When it comes to hand-to-hand combat there is no such thing as a "modern attack". If you go back 2,000 years you'll still see people attacking each other from behind, hitting them with sucker punches, dancing around in fighting stances, wrestling, and just plain old attacking with pure violent intent. The idea that what we do today is so much more advanced or different than what people did in the past is just plain wrong. If you put a top UFC fighter up against a top Greek Pankration fighter from 250 bc they would find each other fairly well matched (although the rules in Pankration were not as strict as they are in the UFC so the "modern" guy would probably be at a disadvantage).
When the orient started becoming westernized in the mid 1800's the societies changed and tried to become more, I don't want to say civilized, but maybe more civil. When that happened the martial arts had to become more civil too, but what happens when a fighting system become less violent? It becomes less efficient. The martial arts became less violent but all you have to do is put that back in there; reintroduce the intent to cause injury with every blow, get them back to training to use their martial arts techniques for hitting people and shutting down the body by causing injuries and you'll get the efficiency back. However, people attack you today exactly the same as they attack you 5,000 years ago, that didn't change.