I am on a YouTube rant again, so bare with me.
Back in the day, before the advent of the net as we know it today, the only way to know what someone was teaching was either to go to one of their classes, a seminar or if you were lucky you could pick up a VHS tape they put out. Today, things have changed. YouTube is now arguably the one stop shop in martial arts information. You can find anything you like there. You want to learn how to jab, there’s a video, need some self-defense lessons, yup, YouTube has you covered.
While all of this is great, it has also presented fatal flaws in many martial art ‘experts’ teaching methodology, flaws that in the past may not have been so easily seen — as getting your hands on their approach may have been difficult as I alluded to earlier (you would need to train with them, and or hope they put a VHS tape out). As has often been in the case in the real world of martial arts teaching, there is no benchmark for entry to post a video on YouTube. Anyone can say they are an expert, and anyone can post their approach.
In one sense this isn’t a bad thing. A discerning and rational person can then put on their bullshit detector and cut the wheat from the chaff so to speak. However I am not convinced that there are many discerning people out there though. On a cursory glance, those videos that I would deem of real world practical application often reach no more than a couple of thousand views. However, the garbage stuff, the stuff that will get you killed if you tried to apply it for real on the mean unforgiving streets often have 100s of thousands of views (maybe they are buying views? Possible)
Most People Are Really Clueless About Interpersonal Violence
As I have noted elsewhere in previous articles this is really no surprise. Most people are clueless about what actual interpersonal violence entails. Most people who train in self-defense are the kinds of people who live in the upper middle class neighbourhoods of the world, not exactly war zones right. And, not withstanding, that from an evolutionary perspective the human brain fixates on step-by-step answers, that are neatly packaged, and promise minimal amount of energy expenditure. In other words, we are fucking lazy, and we want the easiest route to answering the problems we face.
But for those of us who have lived through the reality of fighting, on the street, in war, we are well aware that theory to practice is very different. In the real world, where fights happen — this world is a quagmire of unpredictability, chaos — and even the best laid plans go south. It is, well at least for me, blatantly obvious that many (not all) of the people peddling their wares on YouTube are absolutely clueless about the reality of fighting themselves, and now where is this more obvious than in the ‘street’ stuff. Pretty much everything they cover is against a bumbling fool. A person who feeds the right energy when attacking, stops on the first attack, gives the right response when countered on, and goes to the fetal position after the first strike. If there is ever a way to give a person the absolute totality of false confidence — it is this way of presenting what the truth of a fight may be.
In reality, you should expect at the very least that the person who is audacious enough to lay there hands on you, is likely more skilled in interpersonal violence than you are. In other words, never assume the person who attacks you is a bumbling fool. When I worked the door for several years, there were a few groups of roving gangs who got a kick out of going out to fight, that was their party. These guys were skilled in interpersonal violence, and if you happened to be one of their unlucky victims that night, you were likely going to get a serious beating.
Test Everything, Take Nothing For Granted
If you want to watch YouTube for your ‘self-defense’ fix do it (just remember though it’s free, but free is often free for a reason). But here is some advice, test everything, and test it with uncooperative, resisting opponents. This is exactly what I do with my own students. We look at a scenario, consider a response, train the techniques necessary and then see if we can apply it against someone who fights back. When I mean fights back, I mean not someone who is a bumbling fool who will feed me the right energy and then just stand there and allow me to do what ever I like to them. You can of course be progressive about it, starting at a pace, and isolate a specific scenario to test the waters so to speak, but ultimately if it doesn’t continue to hold-up once the intensity and unpredictability is dialed up, you need to throw it away.
For example, lets say I want to teach my students how to deal with someone grabbing them, showing them what to do at the moment of the grab is actually very easy to do. What isn’t so easy to deal with is what happens after you stop the assailant from controlling you with a grab and they start fighting back! I can see why most self-defense experts begin and end with a specific scenario, like someone grabbing you, and then you do X, Y and Z. But the truth is, people fight back, and you have to be prepared that they will fight back with everything they have, as if their life depended on it.
If in every YouTube self-defense example the person doing the attack, was allowed to immediately fight back once the ‘expert’ had deployed his ‘magic formula’ — you would be seeing a very different kind of self defense. You guessed it, not only would allot of what is being taught have to be thrown out, what you will end up seeing will be closer to reality. A lot of times these self-defense experts say they teach this way, because they are demonstrating what it should look like for the student. I say, they teach this way exclusively, because if they had to take a real approach — they wouldn’t have much left to teach — simply because 99% of the junk they are peddling would need to be thrown out. I suspect deep down inside they know this too.