One of the primary failings of most self-defense and combatives systems is that their knowledge is primarily sourced from one geographical region. Their so-called “experts” and “masters” may have experience with violence, but it is typically in one culture. Not all cultures do violence the same way, thus attempting to take lessons and experience from one culture and apply to others can be dangerous. More importantly it is dishonest, although most likely the exponents of these systems are typically unaware of this problem.
It was “Born On The Battlefield”, You Aren’t.
In the world of violence experts refer to this as “cultural endemics”. This is a fancy way of saying; violence that is specific to this region. When I began learning Krav Maga there was an obsessive focus on defending an overhand stab with a knife. Instructors from all parts of the world would train their students to confront this threat with religious fervor. The primary Israeli exponents of Krav Maga would tell everyone this was the most common stabbing attack. The problem is that it is only the most common in SOME cultures, one of those being Arab culture in the Levant. No doubt it is an extremely violent and powerful attack but was specifically relevant for Palestinians as their targets were often Israeli soldiers who wore body armor covering the chest and the vital organs housed within. A straight on or even upward stab would be ineffective, however the downward stab would land in the top of the chest above the body armor and potentially arteries in this regionKrav Maga boasts it is derived from the Israeli military, thus it adopted these axioms of violence. This is not a criticism of the Israeli military, they are preparing their soldiers for the likely attack with a knife. This is not as relevant to a man in his mid-40’s living in Denmark.
Violence Varies by Culture Like Language Does
The theme of “developed on the battlefiel0” is a common founding myth of martial arts and will be addressed in another post. It is a tool to imbue the system with a “deadly” reputation and to sell memberships and seminars to those that do not know better.
This attack is not at all the most common in all cultures. American prison culture uses entirely different methods of attack, as do many Asian and South American cultures. Again, the exponents of Krav Maga were not wrong per se, they were simply ignorant as they had spent their time training in martial arts, not researching the relationship between culture, geography, and violence.
The Source Culture Creates the Axioms
Another prime example of cultural endemics run amok is “Brazilian” Jiu Jitsu. The early exponents of this system, the Gracie family, built their reputation on having used this system of modified Judo to conquer countless challengers and opponents first in Brazil then in the early UFC promotions. The major problem is that the entire premise of the combat was built around what a fight was in Brazil. Brazil is a conservative, orthodox, and macho culture thus the fighting that the Gracie’s engaged in was exclusively social violence built around codes of honor and machismo. Early on Helio Gracie engaged in these so-called “challenge fights” at the local country club, others on the beach, or in various martial arts gyms.
This process stress tested and proved Jiu Jitsu as a dominant fighting system in social violence, where two opponents were matched and were expected to fight without assistance from bystanders or weapons of any kind. The early UFC was largely an infomercial for this style of fighting. This is not meant to tear down the accomplishments of Jiu Jitsu or the Gracie’s, they successfully cemented Jiu Jitsu as a staple art of any serious combatives system. However, many of their axioms of violence have been challenged and changed by subsequent practitioners of Jiu Jitsu (Dean Lister, Erik Paulson, John Danaher, etc.…).
Weapons Vary by Culture
Endemics goes beyond empty hand fighting. Most of the current edged weapons training is derived from Filipino martial arts. The primary issue being that the edged weapons used in the Philippines are agricultural tools (it is a heavily agrarian society). Thus, the focus of their martial arts training is with tools like the ones present in every day culture. Japanese edged weapons training looks very different, and the reason is obvious. Does this mean Filipino martial arts are worthless? Not at all, however any valuable techniques or principles simply need to be adapted to other cultures. This takes a critical thinker, not a thoughtless disciple.
What does this mean? It means that anyone simply teaching a “curriculum” from a system or master who is not present in the same geographical region may be hurting his or her students’ chances in a violent conflict. To be a serious, honest, and professional instructor you should be developing training that is principle based and easily modified to different cultures. You should be researching what the likely threats are in those cultures and developing training modules that address those issues in rank order of importance.
Apply Your Own Critical Thinking!
Remember the best tool you possess to save your life is your brain. Applying some critical thinking to your circumstances can usually render a good solution. It would also pay to be aware that almost all martial arts have been developed by men, for men, to be used against other men. Beware of hard and fast axioms about violence. Remember, when you train (whatever you train) that is exactly how you will perform under stress. Any assumptions built in will play out, if those assumptions are faulty the cost could be enormous.