“Martial Arts Don’t Work” Marketers

When I was a teenager and new to martial arts training, my cousins and I kept coming across print ads proclaiming that martial arts didn’t work and we could learn how to fight “for real.”

Eventually, we took the bait and sent away for a VHS tape of these secrets to self-defense….

What a waste!

We were suckered!

The tape showed BASIC MARTIAL ARTS MOVES, thing I’d either learned in class or saw higher ranks practicing, but these guys with the real secrets were supposed to be different because they weren’t wearing martial arts uniforms.

We felt like Ralphie from A Christmas Story, who got his Little Orphan Annie Secret Decoder only to have it be a commercial to “Remember to drink your Ovaltine.”

The same scam continues today, with a much larger reach thanks to Google, YouTube, and Facebook which are filled with ads targeted to anyone interested in martial arts.

Only now everyone is in on the “martial arts don’t work,” “Your martial art doesn’t work,” “These techniques don’t work,” “nothing works but what I do” bandwagon.

The latest ad that popped up on my YouTube screen hit close to home (the point of target marketing) because the guy listed several arts I’ve studied over the years and showed some random clips of people teaching the mechanics of various knife disarms.

So the pitch is this:

  1. Your knife disarms don’t work,
  2. We show you that we can’t make them work and laugh at anyone who thinks they can,
  3. And now, buy our crap (which is just re-packaged martial arts techniques).

Also, because they are playing the role of wise, knowledgeable person who tried it so you don’t have to, just buy their stuff, they assume an air of superiority and expect you accept without question.

However, just like martial arts, their counter-arguments are not the end, and their claims themselves are subject to scrutiny, not that they want you to keep that in mind.

Let’s look at their claims, hidden assumptions, and bad faith demonstrations.

First, they show clips of teachers introducing specific disarms or demonstrating how they would work in isolation.

Teachers have to start somewhere, and that usually entails breaking down the principles of any technique so students can see how it works properly.  Then, they can go practice the fundamentals.

Next, they “try” the technique with their training partner to show it doesn’t work, proving (only to the gullible) that the move can’t work while accusing teachers of lying (quite the accusation) to students.

They mention Russian, Israeli, and Filipino Arts specifically, setting up a Straw Man argument by attacking the technique in static isolation.

All three of these martial arts traditions place disarms in the larger context of moving, counter-striking, unbalancing, etc. BEFORE attempting any disarm.

The reminder, “Never Disarm an Opponent in His Right Mind,” sums up the overall strategy behind disarming – before attempting a disarm you need to strike, gouge, distract and disrupt the attacker’s body and mind to facilitate the disarm.

EVERY KNIFE DEFENSE ART KNOWS THIS and this guy conveniently leaves that part out of his critique.

So as far as standing there and failing to do a disarm to prove they don’t work, this poor argument fails.

It’s a regular occurrence for me to introduce a specific move and have someone blurt out a litany of “what if I did this,” and “what if I did that.” My teacher used to say that as soon as you teach someone a backhand swing in tennis, people expect you to compete at Wimbledon.

Teaching and learning is Progression, but sometimes I just go into Systema-mode when teaching and let them DO whatever they are thinking and I just counter it because I don’t sit there and let them do their move on me. Then I get back to teaching so they can practice and improve.

Which brings us to the next point, his counter-demonstration.

So in the ad, he demonstrates with his partner to show the techniques failing. There’s a lot to unpack here.

First, he shows his partner what he is going to do so the guy knows exactly what’s coming, an advantage an attacker wouldn’t have on you.

Second, he tried the disarm on a fully aware, resisting opponent who has all of his mental and physical resources ready to thwart the disarm.

I don’t do Krav Maga, but I will defend them too because they also strike the person several times, usually knees and elbows, BEFORE doing the disarm.

Third, he tries the disarm STATICALLY. No moving, no off-balancing, no strikes, no distractions, no disruptions. 100% NOT how any of this is trained.

The striking disarms he shows should be done from MOVEMENT, meaning the knife arm is in motion, not when they guys is standing still with a death grip on the weapon.

Further, his ludicrous attempt to emulate proper disarms speaks to either his duplicity or his stupidity.

The guy tries the disarm just like Newbies I teach who try and fail because they are way too stiff and their mechanics are off.

No one could pull of a disarm they way this guy is showing it fail in his video; I cringe at how tense he is.

When I have overly tense students fail at any move, I sometimes will do it the same way, with the same amount of tension, and guess what, I can’t do it either.

Yet, when I next demonstrate properly, the move works.

Again, I fully acknowledge that no one would be able to disarm the way this guy tried it, just terrible execution to try to prove his point.

Even further, he tried the disarm himself instead of finding someone who could do the disarm to teach him how to do it properly, so that’s another fail.

Remember, no one learns any move in five minutes and then expects to be competent enough to pull it off against a skilled opponent who knows it is coming. At least they shouldn’t.

Just because a technique can be countered doesn’t mean it is invalid.

I can take any person who is not as skilled as I am, have them show me any technique, and I can counter it as they show me…because I’ve been at this for decades , doing it and teaching it full-time.

By this guy’s argument: because I can dodge a punch, punches don’t work; because I can escape a joint-lock, locks don’t work, because I can escape a choke, chokes don’t work, because I can counter a takedowns, takedowns don’t work.

Myopic and wrong.

Guys make all sorts of moves work, provided they train well enough, even if you can’t, and you underestimate acquired skill to your detriment.

Systema is NOT a Technique-Based Martial Art

Finally, his Straw Man argument railing against TECHNIQUES utterly fails to understand that Systema is not a technique-based martial art, but rather one based on constant movement and adaptation.

His demonstration shows him acting flustered because his one specific disarm didn’t work.

NO skilled Systemist would react this way to a resistant adversary, we would instantly flow to the next movement, knowing that his resistance at one spot leaves him vulnerable in another, and continuing until the adversary is vanquished.

We don’t invest psychologically into any one technique or movement because we know that only subsequent moves TAKEN AS A STRATEGIC WHOLE will result in victory.

Have you ever seen a boxer or an MMA fighter try a technique that fails and then just stop and give up?

No, because they keep going, trying other moves until something works.

This is the nature of martial arts training, and someone needs to tell this guy.

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