So much has been written on the merits of each martial art: there are countless opinions on why one martial art is effective or another is not. Certainly many people have had their attention consumed by technical analyses and comparisons of various martial arts.
I have been teaching martial arts for many years and have trained in several, and over the decades have had a chance to explore numerous areas and put together an image of what it takes to be a complete martial artist. There are no shortcuts, and the path requires great dedication and long-term commitment.
When I hear questions like “Does this work?” or “Is this practical on the street?” in their various forms, I often also witness a form of distraction on the part of the student. I believe this distraction is a misdirection of the student’s attention on the particular technique rather than their own development.
It is tempting to go into a deep dive into the context in which a technique might be used, along with a variety of “what if” caveats, such as “what if the attacker is shorter /taller /stronger /faster/…?” The analysis at this point can be endless, and in my opinion, meaningless. In the intensity of conflict, all that discussion goes out the window, and what is left is one’s training: pure and simple.
I suggest an alternative approach: let’s not get distracted about which art is the best (for whatever purpose the student has in mind). Let’s assume that most of the martial arts out there are excellent for whatever their purposes are. After all, many very talented people dedicated their lives to ensuring those arts would be very good indeed, and can offer countless examples as proof. Let’s instead assume that each person is attracted to a particular martial art because of the complex variations in their humanity and personal history, and leave it at that. My assertion is that it doesn’t matter which art one chooses: it matters a great deal what one does with the training.
I believe this situation is a great opportunity to encourage students to examine their dedication. I would suggest offering students who ask such questions the possibility that there is a more productive question they could be asking: “How effective is my training and martial arts development?” This can create a years-long conversation between the student and yourself.
“As a student, do you take full responsibility for your training?”
“Do you objectively assess your skills, strengths, and weaknesses?”
“Do you take firm action to improve yourself either in class or outside of class every day?”
“Do you take full advantage of what your teacher and school have to offer?”
“If you have weak muscles, do you strengthen them?”
“If you are quickly running out of breath, do you work on your cardiovascular fitness?”
“Have you trained the basic techniques 10,000 times each? How about 100,000 times?”
When a student learns a martial art, they don’t just become a clone of their teacher. They eventually own that art, make it part of their mind, body, and spirit, and apply it in ways that are unique and unrepeatable when compared to all other human beings. It makes no sense at all to compare the objective forms, because it is not an objective form that is being hypothetically tested in the mind of the student – it is the person.
I think the answer to the student’s original question is this: “If you fully commit to the training, this martial art will become your martial art, and will be exactly as effective as you train yourself to be.”
4th Dan Aikikai
Shugyo Aikido Dojo website
Shugyo Aikido Dojo in the World Aikido School Directory