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The Importance of Real-World Feedback

By Christopher Caile

Getting real-world feedback to your technique is a real problem for many martial artists. Yet it is especially important if the student is studying an art to learn self-defense.

Of course, if your interest is getting in shape, losing weight, or just developing discipline and other mental and spiritual benefits, this doesn’t apply. It also doesn’t apply if you are learning an art like iaido, kenjutsu or other koryu arts which have little relevance in today’s world. They are practiced for themselves although practitioners perfect their technique and its execution within the old-world applications of their art.

Most students of martial arts are taught their skills through one man drills or rote repetition of technique with a cooperative partner. Judo is a bit different (along with a few other arts) in that practitioners soon get to try their techniques on one another. This provides some real feedback. But in karate, taekwondo, many kung-fu styles, aikido, jujutsu and other arts, there is too little real-world feedback on the efficacy and practicality of techniques.

This is a primary difference between martial arts that have developed in the modern period and those earlier arts practiced by the samurai or other military warriors. In feudal Japan, for example, the sword, spear and a variety of other arts were developed, practiced and then tested on the battlefield. Poor students and/or bad technique were quickly weeded out. But today in most modern martial arts there is no verification or perfection process.

This can be a real problem if you ever need to depend on your technique. If you are very skillful, large or especially strong and powerful, you might be able to make poor technique work against a smaller, weaker, unskilled opponent. But, that’s not what you are training for. And if you don’t have these advantages you just might find, painfully, that the techniques you have learned don’t work very well on the street at the very time you most need them.

In aikido and many jujutsu systems, for example, the techniques practiced require cooperative opponents. This is fine at first, but few experienced practitioners have ever faced a person who knows how to punch like a boxer, or take them down like a wrestler or Brazilian Jujutsu exponent.

Another example is karate. Students practice basics and prearranged two man drills, but the opponent is expected to be cooperative. The etiquette of practice in these drills dictates that another student not embarrass you or disrupt the routine by resisting or countering your techniques. Another problem is that in these drills everything is predictable and prearranged.

Karate-ka, however, also practice fight (point fighting, medium contact, or what is called full-contact fighting). This is supposed to teach fighting skills, but this fighting is also unrealistic. Street type attacks using grabs, pushes, and sudden attacks are not addressed. Also, there are so many rules, off limit targets and restrictions (often dictated by safety concerns) that the strategy, stances, technique and distance used varies from what might be found in real street confrontations. Some schools do teach self-defense, but here again the practice situations are usually too structured and unrealistic. And perhaps most frustrating, while effective fighting skills and self-defense can be found in kata, few teachers teach this aspect of kata.

At some level, in whatever art you are practicing, if you are looking to learn how to defend yourself, some constructive real-world feedback should be introduced. This doesn’t mean you have to abandon safety, but experienced students, especially black belts, should be introduced to uncooperative opponents, a variety of real world attacks -- grabs, pushes, bull rushes and attempted takedowns. Students should also practice avoiding and/or blocking hard punches not only to the body but to the head, learn how to counter headlocks, lapel grabs, bear hugs and other typical attacks. This introduction can be done slowly and tailored to the ability and preferences of students.

The real world should refine and confirm your technique, not be a surprise when you try to use it.

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About the Author:

Christopher Caile is the Founder and Editor-In-Chief of A student of the martial arts for over 43 years, he first started in judo in 1958 and soon after added Kempo Karate to his practice as a student of Phil Koeppel. In 1960 he briefly lived in Finland and introduced karate to that country. Soon afterwards he started hitch-hiking eastward toward Japan to study karate. In Tokyo (1961) he studied under Mas Oyama and later in the US became a Kyokushinkai Branch Chief. In 1976 he followed Kaicho Tadashi Nakamura when he formed Seido karate and is now a 6th degree black belt in that organization's honbu dojo. Other experience includes study of judo, Wadokai aikido, Hakuhokai Diato-ryu Aikijujutsu, Itto-ryu kenjutsu, kobudo, Shinto Muso-ryu jodo, boxing and several Chinese fighting arts including Eight Star Praying Mantis, Pak Mei (White Eyebrow) and shuai chiao. He is also a student of Zen. A long-term student of one branch of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Qigong, he is a personal disciple of the qigong master and teacher of acupuncture Dr. Zaiwen Shen (M.D., Ph.D.) and is Vice-President of the DS International Chi Medicine Association.. He holds an M.A. in International Relations from American University in Washington D.C. and has traveled extensively through South and Southeast Asia. He frequently returns to Japan and Okinawa to continue his studies in the martial arts, their history and tradition. In his professional life he has been a businessman, newspaper journalist, inventor and entrepreneur.

To find more articles of interest, search on one of these keywords:

self defense, modern martial arts, karate, kung fu, taekwondo

Read more articles by Christopher Caile

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