Many martial artists go through their entire training career with having never truly tested in a real fight. They spend their lives in blissful ignorance and a false sense of security believing in their ability because it has never been actually challenged. They have a very strong belief in their teacher and the effectiveness of their art. Some believe that their skill level is so advanced that they cannot spar because they would kill their opponent. That may seem farfetched but I have experienced that first hand myself. “Dude, I’d spar with you but my level is so advanced I might inadvertently kill you”. Well if you are that advanced then maybe you should have more control pin head. Maybe they’ve sparred with folks in their school or style and done well and felt that proved their skill. This is fighting the familiar and does not really reflect the real world. So, there are many folks out there who, thankfully, have never really needed to use their art and may never need it. As a result they will never really know if it works but they absolutely believe it does.
Then there are those that have been tested. Whether it’s a street fight or just sparring someone from another style who just doesn’t care if they hurt you; it’s a rude awakening. I had an acquaintance who was a black belt in Korean karate. He was very diligent in his practice and had a bit of an ego. Actually, he a bit of a jerk. He went to a party where there were a lot of bikers from a well-known gang. He decided that he was so bad ass that he would dump a beer on one of the guys head. He was taken out in a stretcher. He told me that he was stunned that nothing he did worked. They didn’t want to spar, they wanted to destroy. Another time a jujitsu instructor was giving a seminar at a local school. He started hitting on one of the women there who was married to the owner’s son. The son told the jujitsu guy to knock it off. He didn’t and challenged the son. Not thirty seconds later the jujitsu guy was laid out in the middle of the room. The owner’s son came from a special forces background along with his martial training. You never know who knows what.
My experience is that one of several things happens when you get your butt handed to you in a fight especially when you went in over confident.
“I’ve spent years training in this art and it just doesn’t work, I’m done!” That’s the end, they stop training. I’ve seen this happen many times. I get the frustration and the humiliation here but failure should cause you to succeed not recede.
“Well if I’d know he was going to do that then I’d……”
This is a total BS line that people tell themselves. I can’t stand it when people say this; it’s beyond disingenuous. They did not know, yep, absolutely! You cannot know what’s going to happen in a fight. You did not react intelligently, you got beat, period.
“I’ve only being doing this 8 years, after 10 years is when you can fight. Come back in 2 years”. Yeah, that never really works. I actually had this happen decades ago. A fellow I was working with was bragging about his art, (we all do as beginners) and I asked him to spar. He said, “No, I’ve being doing these 81/2 years I won’t be ready till 10.” So being the schnook I am I waited till ten years and asked him again. He declined. I was just busting on him. Another part of the 10-year argument is “My teacher could beat you but I can’t yet”. Maybe…….
“I do this art for the spiritual practice, not fighting. I will continue to do this as a spiritual endeavor and I will obtain a ‘higher’ fulfilment than just the folks who practice this as a fighting art.” Okay, it is a martial art and yes you can certainly develop an acute awareness along with a fighting skill BUT you should be able to fight! If you want to develop spiritual awareness join a temple not a martial arts school.
“He beat the hell out of me, how do I beat him? What do I need to do to gain that skill”? This is the minority version but it’s the most important one. It’s what I went through. Shame, disgust and depression…. had I wasted my time? Is my understanding so wretchedly bad? Can I actually learn to do this? This is a very difficult time in a martial artists life. You may have studied a total BS art and now you know it or you just never developed the heart to bring it to a fight. Either way it’s an existential awakening to your vulnerability and the horror of a real fight. Like I’ve said many times; real fights are chaos. If you were beaten in a legit full contact sparring match you can often get someone to help you through this. They observe and show you the fallacy of your ways. If it happens on the street and you survive you can seek those who have had similar experiences and they can help you train. Back in the very early years of my training I had a personal vendetta with another fellow. For a myriad of reasons we did not like each other and it eventually boiled over into a fight. He was a street fighter from a very tough area and made no bones about his desire to hurt me. He dropped me in seconds. He attacked, attacked and attacked….he was relentless, I drowned in his punches trying to block them. Thus, the beginning of my coming aware that being defensive is futile. A year or so later we fought again, this time bashing each other for several minutes. It was brutal. I reached a point where I hit him with all I had left and he didn’t fall. He dropped me but it was a battle of attrition, not a slaughter like the first one. The third time I fought him I had his number and the fight was short and I walked away unscathed. Each time I learned, became more confident and decisive. I also realize I may have gained some skill but I was still very lacking in many areas. This was just the beginning of my journey.
After decades of martial arts, I’ve found that those who have learned from their defeats have a very different view than others. Some of the great fighters I’ve known have been the humblest. They will tell you about the liver shot that took them down or the scrawny guy that just wouldn’t quit. They know they can lose and take nothing for granted. Some are arrogant but many are not. They don’t fight for stupid reasons. Their egos are not fragile and they’ve got nothing to prove so their minds are clearer. It’s good to learn what you are truly capable of doing. The question is can you deal with failure? What will you do when you get back up?
"Winning is great, sure, but if you are really going to do something in life, the secret is learning how to lose. Nobody goes undefeated all the time. If you can pick up after a crushing defeat, and go on to win again, you are going to be a champion someday." Wilma Rudolp
Ideas, articles, lessons, and retrospective moments.