The True Power of Tai Chi

Tai chi is usually a target of ridicule as far as self-defense is concerned. Most tai chi practitioners don’t care because they’re not practicing the art for self-defense but a few people truly believe that the art is an effective fighting art. And it turns out that it is! A practitioner of mixed martial arts in China took on a practitioner of tai chi. It seemed like an undisputed victory as the mixed martial arts practitioner took down the tai chi practitioner in about 10 seconds. However, deception is the ultimate art of war. While the tai chi practitioner appeared to go down, he was actually orchestrating a fantastic deception:

An article by Xinhua, the state news agency, called Mr. Xu a “crazy guy,” saying that the fight had caused people to question whether Chinese martial arts were of any use and even to ask, “What exactly are traditional Chinese martial arts?”

The reaction has been so furious that Mr. Xu has gone into hiding.

“I’ve lost everything, my career and everything,” he said in a message circulating online. “I think many people misunderstand me. I’m fighting fraudulence, but now I’ve become the target.”

Instead of causing the mixed martial arts practitioner physical harm, the tai chi practitioner ruined his life and forced his opponent to go into hiding. That’s true destructive power!

Half-Assed Effort is Better Than No Effort

Via Every Day, No Days Off I came across a video posted by the notorious James Yeager. In it he discusses the danger of lackluster training with a mixed martial arts (MMA) trainer:

I’m posting this video because it really strikes at one of my pet peeves in the martial arts community: people who assume their way is the only way and all other ways are dangerous. In the video the MMA instructor start off by talking about how having only minor training can be dangerous because a person who would have walked away if they lacked any training will now let their ego go to their head when presented with a potential physical altercation. He then rolled this into the common claim in the martial arts community that non-sparring arts are worthless for self-defense.

I study judo, which is a fully resistive sparring art, and a non-sparring sword art. In the past I’ve also studied karate at a school that did point sparring (a gray area that exists between the fully resistive sparring of judo, Brazilian jiu jitsu, muay thai, etc. and non-sparring arts). While I’m not an expert in fighting I feel as though I’ve learned enough about martial arts to comment on this topic.

Let me begin with fully resistive sparring arts. The two things I really like about fully resistive sparring arts is that you have empirical evidence of what works and you are constantly testing your skills against a resisting opponent. In judo, for example, I have a good idea of what throws I can execute effectively (almost none of them) and how good I am against an opponent (not very). Since I still suck at judo I know that my chances in an actual fight aren’t stellar. This means even with some training my ego is in check and I’m not likely to stand and fight instead of fleeing (not that I would be more willing to stand and fight even if I were skilled since you never know if an aggressor is more skilled or armed). If you only have some training in a fully resistive sparring art it’s damn near impossible for you not to know your skill level first hand.

Does that mean training in an art that doesn’t have fully resistive sparring is worthless? Not at all. Non-sparring arts still teach you techniques that can be useful in a fight. Take karate for example. With the exception of a few styles, such as kyokushin, karate is a non-sparring or point sparring art. Your skills are determined by instructor criticism instead of performance against a fully resistive opponent. Instructor criticism, assuming you have a knowledgeable instructor, will tell you if your technique is correct. During my time in karate I might now have tested my skills against a fully resisting opponent but I did learn how to properly throw punches and kicks. Those skills aren’t worthless in a fight. Being able to throw an effective punch or kick puts you ahead of a person who can’t. Since a majority of people in the United States aren’t trained in any fighting art even some training, such as effective technique, will increase your odds. Hell, simply learning how to break fall will increase your odds since you’ll be less likely to take severe damage if you get knock over.

Even skills that seem entirely unrelated to fighting can be of great help in self-defense. An art like tai chi, which is usually considered to be entirely ineffective for self-defense, can help you learn how to control your ego, which will probably do more to help you defend yourself than any fighting skill. The sword art I study relies a great deal on posture. This is, in part, because proper posture helps you maintain your balance and being able to maintain your balance will help keep you from getting put on the ground. In addition to proper posture I’ve also become more adapt at maintaining relaxed awareness (a component of zanshin) and we all know awareness is one of the, if not the, most critical skill for self-defense.

At the end of the video the MMA instructor says that the phrase “Some training is better than no training” should be amended to say “Some good training is better than no training.” That I agree with. As I noted above non-sparring or point sparring arts can still teach you proper techniques assuming you have a knowledgeable instructor. If you have an instructor who doesn’t know how to perform an effective punch or kick then they’re not going to be able to teach you how to do them. I think the most important thing that has to be kept in mind is that the art itself isn’t the biggest factor, the instruction in the art is. So long as you have a good instructor you can learn skills that can help you in self-defense even if those skills are as simple as maintaining calm in a potential fight.

Martial arts, like anything else, gives you what you’re willing to take from it. While I do agree that some arts are more effective for self-defense than others I don’t agree that non-sparring arts are dangerous. You can still take away skills that will make you more effective at defending yourself.

An Interesting Analysis of Kangaroos Fighting

A video of two kangaroos duking it out has been making the rounds on the Internet recently. It’s a badass video that I highly recommend watching:

As an added bonus to the video itself Jack Slack over at Fightland has done an interesting analysis of the fight as it pertains to human combat:

I don’t often break down street fights, because they do so much damage to the reputation of combat sports, but some of the facets on show in this fight in particular need to be discussed. Context changes everything. No gloves, pavement instead of canvas or mats, semi-prehensile tail—all of these factors force changes to the form that you are regularly taught in the gym. So for good or for bad, let’s talk about fighting on the streets.

It’s a good read and shows that there are similarities between the way us humans fight and the way other animals of this planet fight.

A Gun isn’t Always the Answer

I’ve picked up an interest in martial arts over the last year or so. This interest has lead me to start studying two arts (one being judo and the other being too rare to mention without giving away exactly where I study). Of the two judo would probably be considered the practical art by most of my readers since it can be applied in self-defense (although, honestly, my primary interests in judo are sport and physical fitness). Whenever martial arts enter the self-defense discussion in shooting communities there are one or two people who have to say some variation on “I carry a gun. Why would I waste my time with martial arts?” I’m fairly certain that the people who say this are just disinterested in studying martial arts and feel as though they need to justify that disinterest in practical terms. They don’t, which is perfectly fine. Nobody should be ashamed to admit disinterest in something. But trying to justify your disinterest by giving a practical sounding, albeit bullshit, reasons is stupid.

And I do believe the guns-exist-so-martial-arts-are-stupid justification is bullshit. The argument makes the assumption that firearms, which are arguably the best weapons an individual can reasonably carry, can solve any and all self-defense scenarios. That’s not the case. Just as there are many self-defense scenarios there are many solutions. Martial arts, as they relate to self-defense, are like pepper spray, Tasers, and batons in that they give you more options. The more options you have available to you the more scenarios you can find solutions for.

It’s story time. Not too long ago I was at a party. As one would expect this party involved a lot of drinking. I refrained from imbibing as I was a designated driver but there was a good number of drunk people present. One of the drunk people strongly disagreed with something I said and decided the best way to resolve our disagreement was with force. He took a swing at me and I was able to block the blow, get his arm behind his back and place a majority of his weight on one foot, and slip that foot out from under him so that I could gently lower him to the ground. Take note of the word “gently”. This was one of those situations where I felt minimizing the amount of force used was important. Everybody at the party was socially connected to one another through no more than two degrees of separation. In such an environment pulling a gun on a fellow party goer would have caused everybody else there to hate me (and it would have been way more force than the situation warranted). With absolutely trivial martial arts knowledge I was able to resolve the situation in a way that didn’t cause too much of a ruckus.

Carrying a gun gives you an option to deal with specific self-defense cases but they don’t work for every self-defense case. There are a lot of places that prohibition firearms. Many self-defense situations don’t warrant deadly force. Social settings can greatly limit your responses. The more options you have available to you the more scenarios you can resolve satisfactorily. It’s impossible for any individual to have a tool for every potential self-defense situation so you must decided what situations you are most likely to face (risk assessment) and plan accordingly. As I said in the beginning of this post, my interests in judo are primarily sport and fitness, but it also gives me an option for a class of self-defense scenarios that I feel are common (which is a relative term because self-defense situations in general are very uncommon for most of us): somebody engages you in a way unlikely to cause great bodily harm or death but needs to be countered to prevent injury. It’s a situation that a gun is ill suited for and is a counterargument, in my opinion, to the claim that one doesn’t need [non-gun self-defense opinion] because he or she carries a gun.