Monday, September 8, 2014

Martial Arts: Does it Really Work?

OK, so I'm biased and you wouldn't expect me to say anything else but, yes. Then again, I've been doing this for a long time, and I've seen a number of examples of martial arts in action.

But let's back up and define our terms. What is the real question? Does the question "Does it really work?" translate into "Could I really beat someone up?", or is the question, "Could I defend myself?", or how about "Does it really solve discipline problems, improve grades, concentration, and health?"

Yes, and it's a suitable floor wax.

Seriously, the martial arts do work. You have to remember that the basic premise behind all of the arts is methodical repetition of physical movement, often in response to aggressive stimuli. While steeped in antiquity, Asian cultures, and even a little mysticism, the martial arts are just like anything else that requires years of practice.

Do you play a musical instrument? I marvel when watching a pianist translate the little black dots on the sheets and stanzas into physical finger positions, gliding effortlessly across the keyboard. How, I wonder, can the mind operate so flawlessly? Does the musician have to consciously translate every note into a letter, correspond it to a location on the keyboard, move his hand, and send a signal to press his finger?

Or, has the musician trained his mind so that it operates in complete synergy and synchronization with the music and his hand - literally becoming one with the music - recognizing patterns, implementing sequences, and operating with a union of mind and body. In short, the musician has not merely learned to speed up the process of translating written music into finger positions - her mind literally operates at a different level; the mind and body act as one.

Here is a video clip of a trained musician "site reading" a piece of Rag Time for the first time. It is not possible for him to be actively translating what he reads into arm, hand, and finger control.

Well - if you recognize the ability of a musician to train her mind and body to operate in total harmony (no pun intended), then you can understand how it is that martial arts work. It takes time, but the martial artist mind and body act as one, and it is not possible for an untrained attacker, however natural his skills may be, to perform at the level of one who is trained.

As for discipline, attention, and concentration, I will offer this; come to any test. Come to a test and watch the children waiting for their turn. White belts (or any age), will figit, look around, loose attention, and when asked to test will forget, make mistakes, and exhibit a lack of confidence. Watch children testing for red belt and you see something very different. First, it takes about two years to reach this stage, secondly - and this is very important - it doesn't matter what age the red belt testers are; their behavior is very different.

Red belt students sit patiently, legs folded beneath them, they are polite and respectful to their fellow students and instructors, they perform with measurably more confidence and self esteem.

Age doesn't matter - this is key to understanding the proof point. A ten year old white belt will figit, a ten year old red belt will sit still. The white belt will become easily distracted, answer with a "yep", 'k, or "a huh." A red belt of the same age will sit quietly, focus (attend well), and answer automatically with "yes sir."

Does this happen over night, does it happen all at once, or just by showing up to the training hall one a week - of course not. This holds true for learning anything. But... it.... does.... happen! If you attend classes regularly, follow instructions, work hard, and don't quit - it is a slam dunk guarantee - martial arts training does work.


  1. I am biased as well (My son and I both practice Tung Soo Do), and agree with everything you have written. I have seen the calm and respectful 10 year old red belts myself. I have an 8 year old Red Belt at home and have seen his behavior and respect toward others change as his Tung Soo Do Training has progressed

  2. Does karate really work? Well, yes and no. I think your metaphors (above) are on target. Perhaps have the better question to clarify the effectiveness of traditional karate, here TSD, is "Why does karate work or why doesn't karate work? Maybe even, "When does karate work and when doesn't karate work. For scope, I'm talking about a physical self-defense altercation, or full contact fighting application.

    First of all, the MMA'r, boxers, etc. will point out that traditional karate has flaws or impracticality. There is truth in these statements particularly when speaking about the Japanese karates, which TSD is patterned off of.

    Certain of the physical techniques are not necessarily best in design, efficient or easy to execute in actual fighting. IMHO, this is because the Okinawan masters sought to move karate away from brutal & dangerous self-defense to more a main-stream physical education and civil exercise.

    Another quality of the karates, and this is true of TSD, is the tendency to rely heavily on muscular physical force and aggression (albeit controlled). I believe this was also a heavy influence by certain Okinawan masters and Japanese culture as well at that time. This heavy physicality and aggressive mindset, while practical, can work against the effectiveness in actual application.

    So I briefly explained my opinion on why karate doesn't work. This is especially true of some of the kata applications presented in the TSD curriculum, which to me are largely symbolic, or representative of certain principles, questionably uneffective as shown.

    Having addressed the negatives, "...So why does karate work, or when does karate work?" I'll use M. Meredith's phase above, "...mind body union." The real value of the traditional karate curriculum is the development of that mind-body union. Once developed, the karate practitioner achieve a martial skill level above that of the athlete.

    I like to say the following: Boxing, wrestling, MMA, etc, are physical. Karate starts physical and goes mental (very challenging). Kung fu starts mental (much, much more difficult).

    The result of traditional martial art training (desired) is that the physically superior opponent fails against the physically conditioned opponent who is mentally-adept.

    Karate's failure, which is often contributed by attraction physically centered individuals and those who rely on aggression, is when karate is performed as a physical or athletic activity. It is the mind-body union, more specifically when the mind directs & exacts control over the body at all times, that makes karate work.

    Mental discipline is the key fundamental of successful karate.

  3. Finally, something I can relate to , thank you Master Meredith! :-) Black dots on the page! Notes, rests, fermatas,slurs, ties,tempi, insane conductors, dynamics b/w musicians on stage that are unseen by audience... the list goes on. It IS mind AND body, and sometimes even more, something that is inside musicians that is hard to put in words. On a professional level, musicians do not translate notes into letters or into anything else. It just happens, but it only happens when both, mind and body are in harmony. Funny, how that follows the basic ideology of Tang Soo Do (Harmony between mind and the body), it is in our Gup manual. A few years ago due to a blizzard in Erie, with only half of the members on stage and no conductor ( he ended in ER after hitting a tree on the way to the concert), the thirty remaining musicians on stage had to come up with an entirely new concert program in a matter of minutes, one that was playable by the thirty of us.. we sight read the entire program for two hours. Translation: we played the pieces "at sight" for the show without never seeing them before and without a conductor. The music was pulled out from the basement library with very limited choices. I have never been that exhausted emotionally and physically as I was after that concert! Correction: the next time I had that feeling was after my first pre-test for blue belt. Again, mind and body operating at 100%, in sync, giving it all. It was one of the best concerts of my life that night, and the blue belt test...? well, I did pass and I think I did well...

    1. Again, metaphorical yet precisely the end-point goal of traditional martial arts training.

      Traditional martial arts, in the applied sense, is stand-alone self defense.

      The commentator above also points out the fundamental distinction between the physical, sports based fighting styles and a traditional martial, here tang soo do.

      In a debate with the MMA protagonists who say karate is insufficient to prepare for full contact competition of MMA, here is the proper starting point for the discussion:

      Q1-HAVE YOU / HOW MANY OF YOU have obtained the C.S. Kim Tang Soo Do manual?

      Q2-HAVE YOU / HOW MANY OF YOU have read the manual?

      Q3-HAVE YOU / HOW MANY OF YOU have attempted to think the material in the manual to the extent of the Blue-Belt commentator above has?

      The MMA'r commentator's / critics of traditional karate that have posted on M. Meredith's blog didn't demonstrate they could answer the affirmative to these 3 questions.


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