This is part of a series of articles inspired by an interview with Matt Thornton. It is a collection common fallacious arguments and strategic errors regarding martial arts efficacy. From here on, when I write an assertion like, "X works," I mean:
- Substitute for "X" any specific martial art, system, or technique.
- "X" is generally applicable in a real fight.
X Works for Someone
Although I had forgotten until a childhood friend reminded me, my high-school Kempo experience included assurances by the instructor that he had used the techniques he taught in real fights and prevailed. When reminded of this, I remarked that even then I was a little skeptical of his claims. I should have been very skeptical.
Anecdotes may be evidence that someone can use a technique effectively, under some circumstances, but they're not evidence that you can, consistently. It may be that the technique relies on body mechanics or physical attributes you lack. The circumstances under which it worked may be unique or unlikely. If you have the physicality and the context was appropriate, the way that you're training a technique (e.g., kata only or versus compliant training partners) may severely limit your personal chances of applying the technique against a strenuously resisting opponent.
Other common variations on this theme are, "I am/was a cop," "I am/was a soldier," "I am/was FBI/SEAL/Spec-Ops," or that the advocate of the system/technique was an instructor to cops, soldiers, etc. Here's a real one:
I'm a former Spec Ops Operator and FBI Defense Tactics instructor. I actually wrote combatives programs for the FBI and SEAL-DEV GRU.
Whether this claim is true or not, it's important to recognize that individuals in those professions and their trainers have no unimpeachable access to The Truth about fighting or self-defense. They have experienced an evolving understanding of fighting just like the rest of us.
The second and more serious problem with this argument is that singularly skillful individuals have promoted their preferred methods and done great harm to defensive tactics for the rest of us normal folks, even among prestigious groups. The most prominent example, in my opinion, is Jelly Bryce. Bryce was an exquisitely skilled point shooter whose advocacy for that technique retarded defensive shooting progress in the FBI (and military, and many imitating police agencies) until practitioners of Jeff Cooper's modern method broke the point-shooting strangle-hold in the 1960s and 1970s. Even so, remnants of Bryce's sincere, well-intended, and deeply incorrect theory are still being weeded out today.