Love him or hate him Joe Rogan makes some very valid points on the topics of mysticism and self-defence in martial arts, specifically in regards to what works and doesn’t, and he does so in a clear and concise way that people get and understand… but he always creates controversy.
1. Mysticism. We have all seen the videos, mostly of little old Asian dudes in various parts of Asia using their Ki or Qi to send people flying, and sometimes North American’s as well, knocking people out with a touch.
In the demonstrations you will have VERY willing opponents seemingly being thrown through the air, or collapsing, with the “master” seeming to do very little. It looks like magic, and for the most part, it is. Magic in the sense it is completely fake. I mean come on! Give me a break. How can anyone believe this nonsense?! I understand it must be very difficult if you have studied a martial art under the lineage of one theses guys, but it is just nonsense. It has been proven over and over, and now with the advent of MMA since the early 90s, there is no more curtain to hide behind. The call is out there. Prove it! And every time it comes close, it is either proven to be fake, or the practitioner has some lame excuse. The person wasn’t breathing correctly. The wind was off. Whatever. Sure, it looks magical and fun to watch, but people can’t be fooled as easily any more.
Not to say there are not people who can do some amazing shit. Someone like Wim Hof can do some crazy stuff with his mind! And he’s legit. Using meditation to stay submerged in ice water for 1 hour and 53 minutes without his core body temperature changing. Climbing Mount Everest in his shorts, resisted altitude sickness,
completed a marathon in the Namib Desert with no water and proven under a laboratory setting that he’s able to influence his autonomic nervous system and immune system at will. BUT! That is his own physiological system. He isn’t sending people flying like rag-dolls.
2. Self-defence. This one is a little trickier, and causes a lot more controversy and raises emotions. However, it is an area I speak from with some experience and authority. Does bunkai and fancy martial arts moves work in Self-Defense? I am going to say for the most part, no. Now, this is where the tension and ager rises and people get very upset (usually at Joe!), but lets try to look at this objectively and factually.
I studied a martial art called American Kenpo for many years and obtained a black belt in it. American Kenpo is often referred to as a “system designed for the street”, working off a multiple striking principle. Became famous from a movie called The Perfect Weapon, with Jeff Speakman. I felt pretty proud of the black belt achievement and had worked hard for it. I was very fast, I was very flashy and I looked like I knew what I was doing. However. This was only with a willing opponent. If I had someone stand and throw a punch or kick, let the strike linger and I knew what was coming, I would pull of the most flashy looking thing which looked straight out of a movie. The problem is… it basically is movie fighting.
When faced with a situation when I did not know what strike or attack was coming, and I wasn’t fully prepared for it, and the person was recoiling their strikes… I couldn’t do shit. My training went out the window, and I just began swinging and reacting. When the UFC came along it further gave me pause for thought. In the early days I would see people of different disciplines enter the octagon, only to have their training go out the window and begin swinging.
This had a profound impact on me. I had to admit a few things to myself. Firstly, everything I had learnt gave me an okay foundation, but there was no practicality to any of it. Secondly, I did not know what it was like to be hit, or to really hit someone. As everything I did was prearranged.
Thus, I decided later in life to study Kyokushin Karate, which is a Japanese full-contact style without all the other nonsense. Made famous by fighters like Andy Hug and Georges St. Pierre. Luckily I lived in a city that had not only a phenomenal teacher of Kyokushin and former champion, he also was a kickboxer and understood the combat game. Steve Fogarasi of Contact Kicks Martial Arts. I started over again from the beginning, as a white belt, because in the combat world, I was a white belt. And let me tell you, it was a real wakeup call stepping in front of someone who was trying to hurt me.
So, I get it when people are upset when Joe Rogan says their Wing Chun just won’t work. Or their Aikido won’t work. You have spent sometimes years or a lifetime studying something that some guy is saying is bullshit. But, I believe the reason there is so much anger is that people know its true, Joe is speaking from real experience and you feel you’ve wasted your time.
Lets face the facts, MMA is the closest we will ever get to testing this, and it has proven it to be true over and over again. There is a caveat. It isn’t all useless, and I think that is what people need to realize. You see it more and more. Someone will use with success a technique from his or her traditional martial art inside the octagon, and it works! Could be a kick or a way of moving, but it is unorthodox and it works. That is why the UFC is great. It can prove what works and doesn’t work. So, like Bruce Lee would probably say, adapt and use what is useful. Anything else, disregard.
Bringing this full circle, this is the reason many of these so-called self-defense martial arts create a false sense of security. Like my teacher, Steve Fogarasi, I do believe you can make some of it work, and there are legit people out there who can. However, you would need to focus hours, days and years of your life to make it second nature. Drilling and training over and over again. Or, you could just learn some very basic boxing skills a little grappling and call it a day. You would have enough to defend yourself in most street situations, and if you couldn’t, its unlikely more of that type of training would help you. It’s your choice.
There are some exceptions to this of course. Things like Krav Maga and Filipino Martial Arts which focus on close quarter combat specifically for military application. But generally, like MMA, they will use what is useful and disregard what is not. Very different in more traditional martial arts, which tend to hang onto everything.
So, yes, I agree with Joe and my own instructor. The only way to get better is to learn how to strike, block and grapple and use it. You can practice all the kata or forms you want, and you can practice as much as you want with a willing opponent. But the only way to truly defend yourself is to actually use it and drill it over and over again in a fighting situation, learning how to deal with the stress and emotion of it, the exhaustion of it, to learn how to take a strike and keep moving forward and survive.
In closing, I will say for me, my favorite “Self-Defence” practitioner, will always be “El Guapo”, Bas Rutten.