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 is Too Dangerous For Sport

The inclusion of eye gouges, throat rips, neck breaking, bone breaking, groin strikes, and other deadly (or permanently damaging) techniques are sometimes cited as the reason why a martial art technique cannot be used in fighting sports, or cannot be pressure tested under controlled conditions.

Danaher and Renzo Gracie's evidence-based assertion that "the value of a technique is limited by the student's ability to apply it," was already covered, but applies here.

The plethora of security-camera video that gives us an idea what happens "in the street", should be applied to this problem.

What are the consistent physical effects of these techniques?  Even with perfect application, pain-based techniques cannot be exclusively relied upon.  An example of this in the combative sports is the eye-gouging endured by Yuki Nakai at the hands of Gerard Gordeau during Vale Tudo Japan (1995).  Despite great pain and what would prove to be maiming injury, Nakai submitted Gordeau and fought two more matches that same night.  At the risk of cherry picking, I'm not going to find examples of the variable results of every "deadly" technique.  That said, most deadly techniques can be practiced against resistance in some way, and if you would rely on one, you must find a way to pressure test it and hone it against a "live" opponent with freedom of action.

The moral and legal consequences of some of these deadly techniques are worth considering, too.  Suppose you're an average-sized adult male assaulted by a lone, unarmed, average-sized adult male, who tries to push you around and punch you.  In legal terms, there exists no disparity of force, and – barring other complications – you are subject to simple assault.  Striking your assailant in the head until he is unconscious, choking him unconscious, or threatening to break bones or damage joints are all proportionate and defensible actions legally.  However, If you drew a concealed handgun and shot your assailant, you would be guilty of at least aggravated assault.  Whether you use a tool (firearm, knife, club) or not, if you know that your actions are likely to cause "bodily injury that creates a substantial risk of death or that causes  death, serious permanent disfigurement, or protracted loss or impairment  of the function of any bodily member or organ" in response to a lesser degree of force, you might be in a lot of trouble.  Failing to stop applying force when the threat has ended is also criminal, so a chain of techniques that trains you to unthinkingly apply a multi-step sequence of attacks is likewise legally and morally unwise.

Notice that I have not refuted the claim that there exist self-defense techniques too deadly for sport.  However, I stipulate that robust training methods, physical efficacy, and appropriate moral/legal context are required before a "deadly technique" is included in my repertoire.

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