Classical martial artists, in particular, some Tai Chi boxers have recently lost fights badly to MMA fighters. Why did this happen and how do we understand prowess or skill in combat? In unarmed combat the person who is going to win is almost always going to be the one who already knows how to fight, who has actual experience in fighting. This is pretty much a like a cooking contest or baking contest. The contestants who have actually cooked and baked before are going to beat the ones who have never cooked before! Yes, it is that simple.
Pretty much everyone’s first actual, aggressive fight whether in a tournament or in the street is going to be a mess. This is a universal truth of combat preparation. You can train hard for three years and in your first 15 minutes of real fighting you will learn as much as all three previous years. After one real fight your next year of training will be more valuable than the previous three years. Perhaps ten times as valuable. No matter what, when, or how, your first real fight is always a super intense adrenaline filled emotional roller coaster ride. Most people survive their first fight. Few win, and fewer look good while they are in it. This is true of cooks too. Most peoples first attempt at cooking is edible (ish) (sort of) but not flavorful in a good way. You can read cookbooks and watch cooking shows and baking shows for three years. First time cooking in the kitchen, you’ll learn at least as much as those three years of reading and watching.
Both ancient Chinese and Roman generals understood this intimately. Sun Tzu the famous Chinese military and political strategist of ancient China clearly recognized that experienced or veteran troops would always immediately defeat green inexperienced troops. Therefore, the idea was to continuously engage the enemy in low level border skirmishes to make sure that all current green troops rotated through border areas to acquire their first taste of combat and were no longer green and inexperienced. Roman generals also both massively trained their troops with double weight weapons and armor and sought opportunities to test troops in smaller engagements to gain experience before committing the army to decisive battles. In a similar vein, it might be wise to bake a few cakes for your friends before you audition for the Great British Baking Show.
So actually, already having experience in fighting and winning fights is the biggest edge you can have over an inexperienced opponent. The second biggest edge you can have over an opponent is to have a decisive physical advantage. This means being 1 1/2 or 2 times as heavy as the opponent, having massively more upper body strength or a massively larger chest, being exceptionally faster than your opponent all could be decisive. Likewise, pure fighting spirit and aggressiveness can be a decisive advantage over others who have little or no fighting spirit and are passive or afraid. All of these are in reality primary factors of who will a fight and they have little to do with studying either classical martial arts or mixed martial arts. So, what does our training provide? Does your training provide the advantages you need to counter an opponent’s decisive physical advantages?
Cooking food requires a few basic things. To cook, a fire, a pan or pot, a knife, and some ingredients are essential. A spoon, spatula, seasonings, and a cutting board are pretty nice and helpful too. If you do not have a fire, the most basic tools, and ingredients you simply won’t be cooking and you are not a cook.
Regardless of your classical style or mixed style of martial arts you need certain essential skills in addition to courage and fighting spirit. These are, footwork, evasive skills of dodging or defensive skills of blocking, powerful striking techniques, falling without injury, some ground defense. Adding kicking, throwing, and either standing or prone joint manipulation, make a complete set of skills. However, you can definitely win fights just fine without kicking, throwing, or joint manipulation. But if you don’t have some footwork to advance or retreat, no striking power, and you can’t dodge or block or fall without injury, or defend from the ground, you are in world of trouble if you meet someone who has these skills. If you do not have these skills, you are not a “fighter”, if you think you do, but you don’t actually have them, you are a chump. When chumps meet fighters, the chumps get their first real lesson in adult martial arts.
Once you have a kitchen and you can cook, then recipes become important. Then cuisines become possible, and you can have an art develop. Our martial styles are like cuisines, and our techniques are like recipes. We use our basic skills but then learn the special seasonings and preparation methods that make up Chinese cuisine, French cuisine, Indian cuisine, and Brazilian cuisine. Each of these cuisines has some unique ingredients but also share many common ingredients. How they are combined is the special secret sauce of each individual master chef.
In martial arts once you have the basic skills then individual styles of martial arts can start to show their unique qualities. If you are learning martial arts to learn how to fight, you will need to get in a least one fight, if not many, if you actually want to learn how to fight. Practice your basic skills and then enter a tournament with your school or team. Get a match. Spar either light or heavy with an opponent from another school who wants to win just as much as you. Then get over it and get another. The incredible importance of getting your first encounter over in a safe yet competitive environment can not be overstated. Get one fight a year, train hard between them, and you will have completely different skills than those who only train in class with their friends. Get your first fights soon, while you are a beginner, against other terrified beginners and guess what, you all just became intermediates, instantly. Now when you train together you know what you actually need, like dodging and footwork, striking speed and accuracy, toughening up with conditioning, because you have experience. You also understand a little about mental strength. And then you can think about using and mastering a specific favorite move from “Your Style”.