Somewhere on the Bullshido.com server lurks an especially vigorous attack on the first ninjutsu dojo I ever belonged to. Now, I'll be the first to say that there was plenty worth attacking about this dojo, but somehow this young man missed all the shenanigans and instead complained for several paragraphs that the dojo didn't teach him to fight correctly.
Based on some clues within the post, I was able to do some rough calculations and determine that when this young man left the dojo he was between 12 and 14 years old. Now in his mid-to-late twenties, he's discovered the ultimate secret to fighting by training in MMA with adult men. Ok, tough guy.
I haven't seen any martial arts school teach the Under-14 crowd the secrets of brutal close quarters hand-to-hand combat. Maybe one is out there, But I'd be nervous about what they're doing to the kids' psyches.
This isn't to say what's taught to kids is some watered down version of martial arts. Rather, what's taught is how to punch, how to kick, how to throw, how to stand, how to move correctly -- but without focusing on the effects. And even while we're talking about a proper strike or throw, the kids themselves are happily ignoring the ultimate point of the strike or throw: to hurt another human being.
This isn't necessarily a bad thing. I don't want a ten-year-old assassin ready to kill the playground bully with a flick of his wrist. Most kids, up through high school, are in a martial arts class struggling to learn how to coordinate their bodies. The most effective self-defense for them is the inner strength instilled by the discipline of class, the respect for self and others, and the confidence that grows out of practice. I'm sure a few of them will get into physical scuffles, but (at least with the kids I deal with) the greatest danger is probably a minor injury, a bloody nose or a broken arm. I'm confident the skills we teach -- and they learn, which is the most important part -- will carry them through that level of danger.
These days it seems most kids go through a martial arts class as part of the parade of sports they try. Most won't stick with it, so while you have them, you try to show them the best and brightest side of martial arts. This is the part that makes the human spirit shine. You don't drill them in the ugliness of assault.
But as a teacher, it's important to realize that you're not teaching the physical movement differently. I've never modified a technique or kata. I've never not taught proper distancing and angling. I've never not shown how to properly transfer power through a punch to a target. And I've never taught flashy weapons handling over practicality. (Of course, this is all within the limits of my understanding at the time.) It's all there. So the foundations are being laid in every student.
But a time does come when you show the truth.
J, for example, has been with us since he was very small. Now he's about to go off to college on a ROTC scholarship. I remember scolding him in class as a kid. But he's pretty talented. As an aside, J's another one of those guys who think MMA holds the truth about real fighting. I hear hm talking about all the various, cool grappling moves he's practicing. I don't know if he's really cross training or messing around in his backyard.
J's even thinking about the Army's Top Fighter, an MMA-type competition fed by the Army Combative training.
I was working with J one recent Saturday. He asked if there was anything I was working on. Actually, I'm working on the first couple of Kukishinden Ryu taijutsu kata, so I showed him Seion. As we worked through it, I realized Seion had a couple of secrets worth mentioning to J.
So I explained how Kukishinden Ryu taijutsu is based on fighting in full armor against a similarly armed opponent. The idea in the first section is to use the armored opponent's top heaviness against him, and throw using the force of your legs. After a couple more tries, I explained how grabbing in kumiuchi allowed the right hand to latch onto the chest plate like a handle -- and more importantly for a future Army officer; that soft body armor had a similar opening that could be used. I could tell that got his attention. Then I showed how you should dump the opponent onto his head. And also how I believe, though it's not in the kata, that given the situation the proper "ending" of the kata is not a flurry of strikes before backing away. (Which is the self-defense response we usually teach.) Rather, stabbing the opponent in the neck, or using his helmet for leverage in breaking the neck.
"The point is," I told him, "kill the guy standing up, or no later than as he hits the ground; and use a weapon if you can."
I don't care how you get there. You can use Judo, BJJ, MMA, Taijutsu, TKD, Tai Chi, etc. As handed down to me by many different people whom I have every reason to trust, that statement is the only secret to combat as it really matters. Train any art with a deep understanding of this concept, and you are on your way to becoming dangerous.
It's a brutal, ugly truth. It's not something I see myself getting a class of 10-year-olds to chant like I'm Sensei Kreese running CobraKai. But I don't have to: I only need to teach the movement correctly. When the time is right, when the student is right, you can share the little secrets about the dark side. Those ideas that clarify the movement and make it all matter.