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
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
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
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.
About the Author:
Christopher Caile is the Founder and Editor-In-Chief of
FightingArts.com. 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.