SP archives: Dojo martial artist

Question from Hard Times:

Hi Steve. I’ve been an avid reader of your site for quite a while and love your no nonsense approach to the MA, it’s great that you’ve now taken the leap onto a forum.

You made me really look at my practice, which eventually made me move away from my “traditional” karate training to something which I consider to have a more realistic approach, I in effect “burnt my gi”

Initially my practice just became a modified stripped karate practice but I’d like to think that it has moved on quite considerably since then.

Recently I found a real kick arse instructor who really showed me the error of my ways for the past 15 years or so. He put a lot of things into perspective for me with his real fight experience.

And this is the point of my post all my martial arts training has been tested in a dojo/ gym, I’m lacking the real fight experience that my instructor and the likes of yourself have experienced and due to my introvert nature am unlikely to experience. This leaves a nagging doubt in the back of my mind, sometimes I wonder if I practice the right “sport” as I wouldn’t really consider myself a fighter despite my enthusiasm and “ability” in the martial arts.

Do you think that you can become an effective fighter just from fighting in the gym? Also do you think that the martial arts can or should be practiced for reasons other than becoming an effective fighter? I vaguely recall reading an interview you did where you said your reason for practicing martial arts was “self perfection” (or something similar).

I read this forum and others, plus the many articles on the net and in mags and it seems so anal. All these questions about should I train this or that, training for a fight that may never happen and if it does then very much of what has been fretted over and trained for years will may not make the slightest of difference, the majority of questions just seem irrelevant or insignificant, perhaps this question also belongs in that category.

With all due respect I doubt that even you are training now to ensure that you come out on top in an altercation. Actually I was thinking you was as hard as nails when you was younger and probably didn’t need to learn martial arts to be a good fighter. With the amount of skill and knowledge you have you could tare me apart with your little finger whilst blind folded, but what inspired you to become so complete? What was it that made you dedicate your life to the pursuit of understanding the fight?

In all
honesty a lot of your work goes straight over my head, it’s so deep and involved I think that I’m just too thick to get it, that said though I have still drawn very much from it. But despite not having or comprehending depth of knowledge I can still have a half decent scrap and come out on top, well in the gym at least

What drives us? Why are we so interested in “fighting”?

Steve’s answer:

The first question is simple: can you become a good fighter by fighting only in the gym? Of course you can. But it depends on what you’re doing in the gym. The most important thing which I’ve noticed is lacking in the martial arts is the mindset. Everybody concentrates on conditioning, which is obviously important, skills, tactics, strategies. But the mindset is an area that seems to be avoided, and it’s an area that’s particularly important for guys who go into the gym without fight experience, and who often have a ‘victim’ mindset.

Many fighters I’ve known, including myself, have a violent, destructive mindset which makes them capable of making even the simplest skill work. And because of that mindset, they are effective fighters. The conditioning, athleticism, skills, tactics and strategies can obviously make them more effective, but without that mindset all of those other factors are academic.

In fact I’ve got a theory, and Mick Coup’s got a similar one, that in such a mind frame such a person could beat you unconscious with a cuddly toy.

It’s the mindset which is usually the most difficult to achieve if you haven’t got it already. This is either because the program in the club is skill-oriented in the belief that a skilful practictioner could overcome one of theses natural born killer types, or because the instructor hasn’t got a way by which he can arouse that necessary mindset. He might have it himself, but he often doesn’t know how to pass it on.

With my own trainees, I make mindset the most important point of the training. Some students have even talked about going through the ‘Morris psychosis’! It’s the most valuable thing I can pass on to the student. I make him focus on picking up and emulating my violence on every level. When I perform, I perform very violently. I don’t perform passively. I

f the student has difficulty picking up on that energy, what I try to do is encourage them to engage in some form of violent action. E.g. smashing a medicine ball into the ground repeatedly. Beating a tire with a pick handle or baseball bat. And they do this with a destructive mental image.

I want them to understand the arousal mechanism as well as the physical effort associated with that level of violence. I want them to become familiar with how it feels to be performing a violent act with the total body engagement.

I also encourage them to watch violent fights, so they can empathise and pick up on the mindset and energy of the fighters. And all my drills and conditional fighting are designed to let it really go, no holding back. I’ve found a way of doing that high-intensity, short-duration work safely. I teach how you to switch it on and also switch it off.

This is the kind of thing I meant when I talked about self-mastery. Mine is mastery over a violent mind. Yours is trying to achieve that violent mind, and gain control over it so you can switch it on and off at will.

Again, like Mick says, you wouldn’t want to be inside our heads!! From your point of view, getting that ‘partially psychotic’ attitude is enough for the fight.

Why did I do so much training? I like to fight. Everything I did from the time I became a boy soldier in 1959 and had many opportunities to fight, was all about fighting and being able to fight better. And it hasn’t changed ever since. It’s only that I’ve got involved in training people. But the fundamental motivation is exactly the same, and it will always be the same. That’s how my early childhood made me. I’ve got no choice. The martial arts were a way not to turn that into something spiritual, but to give that aggression a more positive outlet; i.e., to train it.

My personal belief is that the challenge of doing that at nearly 64 is the thing that keeps me young. In my head, I’m no different to when I was a young guy. Nothing’s changed.

That’s just my personal take. Why other people do it, that’s up to them.