YOUR MARTIAL DESTINY
I hope martial artists are more interested in the root of martial arts and not the different decorative branches, flowers, or leaves.
It is futile to argue as to which leaf, which design of branches,
or which attractive flower you like; when you understand the root,
you understand all its blossoming.
By: Forrest E. Morgan
Living The Martial Way
Published by Barricade Books.
People often ask me which
martial arts is the best. Knowing I've traveled over the years and worked with
students and instructors in a variety of arts, they want to know if I've found
one superior fighting system that beats all the others.
But more often, people are anxious to tell me which martial arts is the best.
Be it Shorin Ryu Karate, Tomiki Aikido, or any of a hundred other styles; if they study it, then it's the best. After all, their instructors told them so and gave them scores of reasons to believe it.
I usually try not to argue with people of this ilk; it's a fruitless as debating politics or religion. But occasionally I take the time to pass on an old expression, one familiar to most people who've studied the arts long enough to understand it: "There are no superior martial arts, only superior martial artist."
But there's greater truth here, one more relevant than the merits of specific arts or the skill of those who practice them. When it comes right down to it, there are no superior or inferior martial arts, there are only warriors and non-warriors.
Every society throughout history has been comprised of essentially two classes, one consisting of those who were not. You could argue that various cultures have had numerous classes-peasants, merchants, aristocrats, etcetera-and that modern society is composed of a multitude of strata. But the fact remains, all of these elements can be categorized as either warrior or non-warrior groups. The reason our civilization has evolved to this condition is simple: life revolves around struggle.
It's this very struggle that has led to development of the warrior class. For not everyone is fit for combat, and as each society develops and its culture diversifies, the onerous task of defense is eventually delegated to the select group of individuals most suited for it. Those individuals then proceed to prepare themselves for their assigned role, protecting their society.
Warriors don't quibble over which system of fighting is the best. For them, the relative strengths and weaknesses of specific methods are of less concern than overall objectives of survival isn't important, I'm saying any real warrior knows that no one system fits everyone's needs in all situations.
All systems are artificial. They are codified methods of teaching and practicing given sets of skills. A typical martial art was born when a skilled warrior discovered a set of moves that worked particularly well for him in a crisis. Wanting to preserve that experience, he then refined those moves and developed a system to practice them. If his system had merit, it drew the interest of others warriors and the founder soon had a following.
In each instance of an established style of fighting, what went into the system at inception was based on what worked for the founder and what he believed would work for others in similar circumstances. The founder and his warrior followers practiced the system for what it was, a specific method of combat they believed would work in circumstances similar to those that spawned it.
Though some warriors specialized , they all practiced more than one art. They had no illusions that there was any single best style of fighting that worked in situations other than those for which it was designed. Given a choice, they never used an unarmed method against a swordsman or a pole fighting style against an archer. When your ultimate goal is survival, there's no able style of fighting.
As time passed, many martial disciplines eventually fell into the hands of non-warriors who practiced them for sport, fitness, or personal self-defense. Unlike their warrior forebears, these individuals usually studied only one art. Unfortunately, that led to confusion in times past, and it's even worse today.
People who study a single martial art tend to focus exclusively on the beliefs of doctrines of that art. They often don't understand that those doctrines, valid though they may be, were developed in response to specific threats and for fighting in specific situations.
These disciples of a single doctrine tend to shut out ideas from other sources and convince themselves that theirs is the one true way of fighting, the ultimate in armed or unarmed combat. As a result, they become slaves to the very doctrines they profess.
This is quite unlike the warriors who founded the arts these individuals practice, for warriors never tolerate enslavement to anyone or anything. They are masters of their own destinies.
This chapter will teach you how to master your own martial destiny. It will explain the role of doctrine in the development of the various methods of combat and show you how martial doctrines guide the development of strategy and tactics. You'll learn the pitfalls of narrow doctrines as you discover how to dissect and analyze each art. Most importantly, you'll learn to choose wisely those martial doctrines that guide your training-You will master your own martial destiny.
DOCTRINE, STRATEGY, AND TACTICS
All martial arts are based on doctrines developed by those who founded them. The term "doctrine" can best be described as a set of broad and general beliefs. For our purpose, I'm referring to martial doctrine-the doctrine of personal combat-rather than the many others such as religious or political doctrines.
The concept of martial doctrine is closely related to strategy and tactics, but the terms aren't synonymous. Strategy consists of the general or "broad brush" plans for fighting, developed according to the beliefs of a chosen doctrine. Tactics, on the other hand, are the specific techniques and maneuvers employed to carry those plans out. Although doctrine, strategy, and tactics are different concepts, the warrior's choice of a doctrine has a very direct effect on the strategies he will develop and the tactics he will use in combat. Let me draw on some 20th Century military history to illustrate this point.
One of the better known strategies the allies employed in World War II was that of strategic bombing in Europe. This Strategy came about as a result of a doctrine developed be army fliers at the Air Corps Tactical School at Maxwell field, Alabama, in the early 1930's. Those men were fascinated with the many possibilities of employing in war that new technological marvel, the airplane. Planes had been around since before World War I, but only in the late 1920s had powerful enough engines been developed to build large planes able to carry heavy loads.
In 1933, the first true bombers entered the Air Corps inventory, and the officers at Maxwell were inspired. They developed the theory that given a fleet of huge aircraft carrying tons of bombs, one nation could pound another into submissions by bombing its industrial centers to rubble. They supposed that with sufficient air power, ground forces might not even be needed. The bomber force would pound and pound the adversary until its industrial base was destroyed and with it, its ability and will to wage war. This theory became the Army Sir Corps' strategic bombing doctrine.
As there ideas took shape, the boys from Maxwell took their show on the road. They presented a series of papers and lectures designed to convince the military and political establishments of the efficacy of strategic bombing. And, despite stubborn resistance from the Army general staff, they succeeded. At least enough so that by the end of the 1930s we were producing the famous B-17 "Flying Fortress," a heavy bomber like the world had never seen before.
World War II set the stage to put the strategic bombing doctrine into practice and gave us a classic demonstration of how a doctrine-nothing more than an unproven set of beliefs-can drive the development of strategy during war. With the German controlling nearly all of Western Europe, the allies were left to fighting them from England. Doctrine became strategy as plans were drawn to bomb Germany into submissions. Reconnaissance and intelligence provided detailed information on German industrial centers, and the allies resolved to bomb them around the clock-the Americans by day and British by night.
As the plans were put into effect, tactics were developed to support them.
Tight formations were employed to make the best use of the bombers' heavy armament and prevent German fighters from singling out and swarming on lone planes. When low level bombing proved too vulnerable to anti-aircraft fire, new bomb sight technology was high altitude bombing was employed. With the demands of war, heavy bombing strategy and tactics advance years beyond what they would have in peace, and by 1945, millions of tons of high explosives had been dropped on German factories.
But what has all that to do with martial arts? Well, let's examine a popular martial art and see if we can identify some of the doctrines, strategies, and tactics associated with it. Perhaps then, we can draw some comparisons.
Tang soo do (literally, China hand way) is a Korean martial art practiced around the world. Like its sister art, Taekwondo, it's similar in technique to Japanese karate, but due to doctrinal differences, its strategies and tactics are very different. According to the martial doctrines common to both Korean arts, the foot is a far better weapon then the hand. A small man's legs are longer than a large man's arms and stronger than arms of even the largest man. A man's hips are located near the center of his body, providing a centered pivot around which the legs can swing. With proper training, the Korean masters reasoned, a man can learn to use his feet against any target on an attacker's body, as quickly as and even more powerfully than with the hands.
This kind of doctrine leads to some very distinctive strategy. Attempting to capitalize on the length of his legs, a Korean strategist sets his fighter range at a length of his longest kick and often resolves to keep opponents at that distance, out of arm's reach. The longest, most powerful kicks in the Korean arsenal are side kicks and round kicks, both thrown from side-facing stances. So Korean fighting stances tend to be side-facing from the onset, unlike the front-facing stances usually used in Japanese karate. A side-facing orientation leads to spinning attacks, making it possible for a fighter to use both feet from either direction.
These stance stances also lead to some very specialized tactics.
Tactics in personal combat, like those for forces at war, are the specific techniques and maneuvers needed to apply a strategy successfully. Our Korean stylist has developed a general strategy for employing his feet effectively; he'll fight from distance, using
side-facing stances, so he can strike with his longest kicks from either foot. Now he must develop the tactics to employ that Strategy.
Since his strategy makes him primarily a foot fighter, his tactics will often involve feinting attacks with his hands, designed to distract the opponent, while he strikes decisively with his feet. He may also use exotic foot combinations, snapping kicks at several targets in one step, before striking the intended vital area. All These maneuvers are devised to employ the strategies of foot fighting, based on the general belief or doctrine the feet are superior weapons to the hands.
In both of these examples, we see broad and general beliefs forming the basis of strategic plans. The Army Corps believed the heavy bomber was the ultimate weapon, and Tang Soo Do masters believe feet are better weapons than hands. These beliefs drove plans for the air war in Europe and the Korean fighter's strategy in unarmed combat. Finally, tactics were developed in each case to carry out the plans most successfully and with the least risk of loss.
So how do we use this knowledge to make us better fighters? How do we use this understanding to master our own martial destinies? Well, we start by choosing the best doctrine on which to base our strategy and our entire approach to training.
CHOOSE YOUR STRATEGIC FOUNDATIONS
Now that we know that doctrinal beliefs form the basis of all methods of
It follows that in order to master our martial destinies and become truly formidable warriors, we must start from the beginning; we must apply a sound doctrine.
Committing to a given doctrine will determine the art we will study and the strategies and tactics that will follow. But how do we go about selecting a doctrine to embrace? Well, a fundamental element of strategy is analysis, and the warrior approaches this problem, like all others, strategically. To select a martial doctrine, you must:
Analyze the threat you're most likely to face.
Evaluate your physical and emotional assets.
Select a doctrine that best fills your needs.
ANALYZE THE THREAT
The starting point for you and ever warrior must be a frank analysis of the
threat you're most likely to face. We live different lives, and the threats to
our safety, as well as constraints on our behavior, vary widely. A soldier
preparing himself for the field of battle sees a far different threat then the
executive preparing to cross a parking garage a night. A police officer may face
conditions as lethal as the soldier, but the ways in which he is allowed to
respond to those conditions are much more limited.
Most women face different threats than men. Where a man attacking another man is most likely to strike with crushing force, he may be more likely to grab, subdue, and intimidate a woman or simply take her belongings from her. But women must also be prepared to face male attackers as brutal as if they were men.
So the first step in choosing a doctrine is to analyze the threat you expect to face. Will most likely be life threatening or merely harassing? Will your attacker be apt to strike you, or will he try to wrestle you to the ground? And what can you do? Might you face criminal or civil penalties if you brutalize your attacker, or can you leave him with his body broken and bleeding? All these questions must be addressed and answered honestly before you can select an appropriate doctrine for self-defense.
Equally important, you must evaluate your own physical and emotional capabilities.
EVALUATE YOUR PHYSICAL AND EMOTIONAL ASSETS
Each of us is an individual with different physical and emotional
capabilities. This is critically important to remember when selecting a doctrine
to follow and, subsequently, a martial art to study. A 90-pound woman may not be
up to contract and rigors of training in judo or hard styles of karate. She
might not even be able to generate enough force to make those systems effective
in combat. On the other hand, very few ex-football players will have the
patience to study the soft, esoteric applications of tai chi.
Body type is crucial factor in selecting a martial doctrine. When I began studying martial arts, I was tall and lanky, I sought an art best suited to my body type.
Taekwondo, with its long range foot fighting approach, fit my needs. Using my long and relatively powerful legs, I reasoned I could best hold stouter, more muscular men at bay. But had I been a short, powerful man, I might have chosen judo. That art would have taught me to quickly close with an opponent and throw him to the ground where I could use my superior strength and the leverage of my short limbs to wrestle or choke him into submission. The key is fitting the belief system and, in turn, the method of combat to your strongest physical assets.
For any martial art to be effective it must be right for you. You need the capability-or at least the potential for developing it-to perform all the physical techniques with speed and power.
But just as importantly, you must have the fortitude to carry out the violent acts on your adversary that your chosen art may call for. For instance, if you can't stomach the
groin-kicking and eve-gouging responses called for in karate, maybe you could better defend yourself with the blending, controlling, throwing techniques of aikido. What's important, is you must have both the will and ability to do in a crisis what you're art attempts to teach you in the training hall.
Once you've settled these issues, you're ready to select a doctrine.
SELECT A DOCTRINE
Armed with a frank analysis of your abilities and an honest appreciation of
the threat at hand, you're prepared to select a doctrine to follow. But
unfortunately, it's not that easy. Schools don't advertise by publicizing their
doctrines, and most instructors wouldn't be able to explain their systems,
doctrines if you asked. So how do you select from the myriad of martial arts
doctrinal tenets of the arts you survey.
Most martial doctrines are easily recognizable in the arts that profess them.
You don't have to watch a shotokan karate class long to realize their doctrines focus on forging the students' hands and feet into weapons and delivering them in powerful, frontal attacks.
Likewise, it's just as apparent that the beliefs behind modern aikido discourage meeting force with force, preferring instead to blend with and redirect an attacker's strength against him. Some arts, however, aren't so easily analyzed.
The very soft arts, such as some Chinese systems, are based on subtle and esoteric doctrines, not easily recognizable to the eye. One might watch tai chi practitioners for hours without even realizing those slow, graceful movements comprise a martial art, much less determine their doctrinal basis. So how do you evaluate the doctrines of these systems?
Well, the easiest way is by reading.
Lots of articles and books have been published on most martial arts, and although few come right out and state their doctrines, reading with an objective eye and an opened mind can lead to a pretty sound understanding of the beliefs put forth by the founder of each art.
Another source of information lies with the masters in your local area. Although the most traditional masters may not answer many questions , some will the time to talk with a potential student.
So now you've used the methods I've described and chosen a doctrine. Or perhaps you've applied these principles to confirm the art you've studied for years is really right for you. You're all set, right? Well, maybe not. What if the doctrine you've chosen is too narrow? What if it's the best system you could find but isn't up to all the threats you expect to face? Now that can be a dangerous situation!
THE PITFALLS OF NARROW DOCTRINE
To explain the concept of doctrine and how it guides the development of
strategy and tactics, I used two examples: the development of strategic bombing
and Korean foot fighting doctrine. Both seemed to be based on sound, logical
principles, and both have enjoyed a degree of success. But have these doctrines
really proven valid? More importantly, at least to the air crews over Germany
and the fighters in the street, how successful have they really been in combat?
Both the strategic bombing doctrine and the Korean foot fighting doctrine have valid points. Bombing the Germans around the clock forced them to tie up millions of marks in the air defense. The repeated destruction of factories caused a scarcity of some strategic materials and put strains on every facet of Germany's economy. Likewise, competition in the ring and the streets has demonstrated that Korean stylist can be formidable fighters;;
Many an attacker has lost his teeth trying to close the distance to strike or grab a tang soo do or Taekwondo practitioner. But the principles professed in these two doctrines aren't the universal truths their exponents would have you believe. Strategic bombing didn't win
World War II. Despite the millions of bombs we dropped on German factories and cities,
We failed to cripple the German war effort and we failed to break Germany's will to wage war. In the end, conventional armies still had to defeat and occupy Germany, street by bloody street.*
Nor is Korean foot fighting doctrine the panacea of unarmed combat. While legs are longer and stronger than arms, for most people they're also slower. Exotic , multiple, high kicks leave the defender standing on one leg, dangerously exposed. And focusing one's strategy and tactics on one set of weapons often produces fighters who haven't learned to use their other weapons effectively. Many Korean fighters have fallen to attackers who've managed to close the fighting range to fight in close or grapple on the ground. Having concentrated their training on kicking tactics, they discovered themselves vulnerable when fighting nose to nose and all but defenseless when tangled up with their opponents in the dirt.
The fact is, no one doctrine is universally true. While most martial doctrines are based on sound principles, they are by definition beliefs, not facts. The beliefs, which comprise martial doctrines, just as in religious or political doctrines, all contain elements of truth. Therefore, they work in certain situations. But the key here is each doctrine works in certain situations, not all. No one martial doctrine deals effectively with all threats.
Warriors of the past knew this. You wouldn't have seen a bwarang warrior of ancient Korea practicing kicking and punching at the exclusion of grappling. Nor would you have seen a samurai Studying jujitsu while ignoring swordsmanship, archery or horsemanship.
Modern soldiers are just as pragmatic. Have you ever heard of a soldier bent on mastering hand grenade throwing while disdaining riflery, camouflage, and the many other arts of modern warfare? Of course not.
So the problem with martial doctrines isn't that they aren't valid-they usually work within context for which they were designed-the problem is that no one of them works in all situations. Therefore, if we are to be warriors and not just martial artist, we need to pursue a variety of doctrines and skills. Does this mean I endorse the approach of those individuals who flit from school to school, staying but a few weeks or months each? Absolutely not!
There are a few people martial arts master and instructors think less of than those who move from school to school, sampling the systems taught but never staying long enough to develop any true skill in them. Not only does this behavior demonstrate a profound lack of self discipline, it insults all the instructors involved.
You should never enter formal training in any martial art without making a sincere commitment to learning that art thoroughly. Then how do you accumulate skills in more than one art, and how do you organize this varied approach to training? You do it by selecting a core art to study, then building around it.
As I explained, the genesis of a warrior training involves finding the
martial doctrine most suited to your needs, based on your ability and the
threats you may face. The belief system will become your doctrinal core, and the
art it employs will become your core art.
Throughout the course of your life, you should devote the most time to mastering your core art-it's the one that best fulfills your strategic requirements-and the master you train under should be your principle instructor. But now you realize no one doctrine is complete. So one you reach the black belt level in your core art (never, before then), you need to critically examine the holes and weaknesses in it and find other disciplines to fill those gaps.
For instance, a shout, powerful man may first practice judo to take the advantage of his strongest assets, then take up karate to defend against attackers who won't let him close and grapple. A women may first study jujutsu to learn to defend against grabs, then a kung fu system to develop striking power. A long, lanky taekwondo enthusiast may learn to kick well, then study Japanese Karate tactics to learn to fight with his hands at close range, and finally judo to defend against grapplers who manage to wrestle him to the ground.
The first art each of these individuals chose to study becomes his or her core art, and each will remain loyal to that art, devoting a lifetime to mastering it. However, each also recognizes there are other skills he or she needs to fight effectively in some situations, skills not provided by the individual's core art. The true warrior pursues those skills, sometimes formally, sometimes informally.
Our taekwondo saw value in the doctrines of Japanese karate and decided to study those strategies and tactics. Since the techniques employed in karate and taekwondo are very similar, he may not need to seek formal instruction. The analytical ability he developed while evaluating doctrines will enable him to develop the strategic skills he seeks by observing Japanese stylist train or working with them informally. But when he takes up judo (likewise, when the judo man studies karate or the jujutsu woman, kung fu), he'll need formal training. That will require serious Commitment.
Never join a martial arts training hall on a whim, even if you don't intend that system to be your core art. Consider seriously whether you really need to add that art to your strategic arsenal. If you decide you do, then devote your energy to reaching the black belt level before starting any other art. From then on, be loyal to that master and plan to spend at least some of your training time developing skill in that art.
By now, you've realized I'm talking about an enormous amount of time and effort. The years it takes to earn a single black belt once seemed like an eternity to you. Now, I'm asking you to master one art and earn black belt in others. But that's what warriorship is all about; it's a lifelong commitment. But hold on, there's more yet!
The final ingredient is integration. As you begin developing skills from a variety of doctrines, you must learn to integrate them into an effective personal arsenal. Our taekwondoist should learn to blend his Korean tactics with those from Japanese karate. The judo man should learn to blend punching and kicking with the with the grappling techniques of his core art. The final product should be a smooth fighter, effective at all ranges, in any situation.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not advocating you develop your own system and teach it to others. Remember, all system are artificial. What I'm saying is you must not let your own fighting ability be limited by any one's narrow doctrine. You must choose to be a warrior, not a martial artist.
You must master your own martial destiny.
POINTS TO REMEMBER: YOUR MARTIAL DESTINY
There are no superior or inferior martial
arts, there are only warriors and
Warriors don't quibble over which system of fighting is the best. They know no one system fits everyone's needs in all situations.
Each martial art is based on doctrine, a set of broad and general beliefs. People who study a single doctrine tend to shut out ideas from other sources and convince themselves that theirs is the one and true way of fighting. They become slaves to the very doctrine they profess.
Choosing witch doctrines to follow not only determines what arts you will study, it drives how you'll develop your strategy and tactics.
Choose each martial doctrine by analyzing the threat your most likely to face, evaluating your physical and emotional assets, then selecting the doctrine that best fills your needs.
Relying on one narrow doctrine is dangerous, so build your skills around a doctrinal core.
The final ingredient is integration. As you develop skills from a variety of doctrines, you must learn to integrate them into an effective personal arsenal. The result should be that you become a smooth fighter, effective at all ranges, in any situation.