Weekly Reflections on the Traditional Martial Arts
from Hanshi Tony Annesi © 2017
I have written previously about an “elevator talk” describing to a person who is curious about martial arts but has many misconceptions about what a traditional martial arts instructor does. In class, I tried to do something similar for my own students, who obviously know what they do, what I teach, and why they are learning, but for whom the subject is still too huge to wrap up in a gift box to oneself.
We are talking here not about all martial arts, but about the subset of traditional martial arts taught for self-defense and personal development. The personal development, I would argue, does not come simply from the etiquette and respect traditional martial artists are known for, but also for the challenges one faces on the road to an ever-increasing self-defense ability. Whether your art is a hard-fist art (karate, TKD, kempo, etc.) or a soft-fist art (ju-jutsu, aiki-ju-jutsu, aikido), to the extent that your dojo emphasizes a study of personal protection (and not just the art of repeating stylistic techniques), this is what your art is about: it is the study of how the attacker will react when you do technique A, B, or C.
Sound too simplistic? A little, perhaps, but before you pass it off as puerile, consider how I came to this concentrated description. It has four parts.
STUDY: Traditional martial arts are studies, not just practices, not just methods of exercise.
ATTACKER: We gradually train to defend against more and more realistic attacks usually from a single and occasionally from multiple assailants; but we do not train to deal with verbal threats, intimidation scenarios, nor mob attacks.
REACTION: We study how our locks, takedowns, throws, and strikes might affect the attacker, if he will be able to follow-up, or if we will have to follow-up after performing a technical defense and counter.
TECHNIQUES: We study techniques of both reception and of counterattack, not just one, not a few, not even several, but myriad techniques so that we can respond appropriately and intuitively if need be.
Our emphasis is that the defender is the student who has a repertoire of techniques, each of which can both be and elicit a different response.
Now, go back over that again and decide if it is appropriate to most self-defense-oriented martial arts. Each art may do somewhat more of one category than the other, but they should, I think, do at least as much as is described. I further suggest that if you are not studying, but just training, you are missing the idea of a traditional martial art; if you work only against cooperative partners and never simulated attackers, you are missing the idea of a traditional martial art; if you assume the attacker will fall down unconscious or beg for mercy at your mastery of locks, blocks, blows, and throws, you are missing the idea of a traditional martial art; and, if your techniques have so little variety that having learned them in one lesson, you can pass a test the next, you may be missing the idea of a traditional martial art.
Sure, you might have something based on a traditional martial art—perhaps something you prefer. Good on ya, mate! Still, succinctly said, you might have an “art” that is missing the idea of “traditional” or the idea of “martial”.
Just succinctly sayin’.
Hanshi Tony Annesi
• Advisory council, Nippon Kobudo Renmei (NKR)
• Steering Committee, International Society of Okinawan/Japanese Karate-do
• Member of 3 Martial Arts Halls of Fame
A martial artist since 1964
9th dan, Takeshin Aiki
8th dan, Takeshin Karate
6th Dan, Shotokan Karate
2nd dan, Judo
Hanshi, International Society of Okinawan/Japanese Karate-do