All too often in the martial arts, even those that spar to some extent, your training is with a compliant partner who wants you to win. Worse yet, a partner who completely thinks you should win be doing exactly what the day’s lesson is.
That kind of training is perfectly fine in the beginning when you’re learning how your body should move without worrying about what your partner would be doing. See our videos on Tiers of Violence Training here.
Where this training comes up short is in a real situation where the other person doesn’t care one bit about your well-being and has no concept of how your amazing move is “supposed to work.” This could be a self-defense situation or just a competition where the other guy wants to win just as bad as you do.
So, how do martial arts teachers wrap their head around this idea that the perfect technique they teach might not work when you need it to? With the same phrase that self-defense teachers like when a situation goes off-script.
“A real fight doesn’t look like what we do on the mats.”
Boom! Twelve words that ensure you cannot blame your teacher if you get your butt handed to you in a “real fight.”
Don’t get me wrong, I use that phrase a lot on the mats. But you’ll never catch me using it as a scapegoat. It will always be followed up by “let’s look at what happened and how you could have adjusted,” or “let’s slow down and focus on perfect form so you can understand what is supposed to happen even if things go wrong,” or “but did you die?”
So, why does this happen? To the best of my knowledge, it happens because the teacher is really good at the art they study. Or rather, the teacher is really good at the curriculum they teach. A set curriculum that has no wiggle room for variation is easy to learn and easy to teach but lacks the creativity needed for a fight.
Sometimes the teacher doesn’t have students or training partners that will push their understanding. Or the system they know and teach isn’t really built for the scenario at hand.
What does boxing know about rear naked chokes? What does bjj know about fighting with swords? What do unarmed styles know about gunfights?
Sadly, sometimes it has everything to do with the teacher’s ego. Students who aren’t allowed to question or give quality resistance learn that the defender’s technique should always work, no matter what. If a student gets in trouble for giving the “wrong attack,” that’s probably a bad sign. Does the teacher laugh it off and move on? Or better yet, do they use it as a teaching moment?
Real fights are messy, chaotic things that look nothing like the formal training we do on the mats. And that’s why we have to train smarter. We have to learn to be uncomfortable. And sometimes, we have to be honest with ourselves about why and how we are training.
There is no silver bullet for every situation. There’s no silver bullet for any given situation. It’s about having the tools and skills to be ready for what life throws at you. So get out there and train like your life depends on it, because it just might one day.