Javascript is either disabled or not supported by this browser. This page may not appear properly.
by Craig  Smith

   I took my first karate class in when I was 12 years old. I don't remember where it was, except that it was in the back of some kind of shop or store, nor do I remember the instructor's name. I do, however, remember the class. Feet wide apart with knees pushed
out, we were introduced to the horse stance. Elbows held back as far as we could get them, with fists turned upside down at our waists, rear tucked under and hips pushed forward, head pulled back with chin down, we were told that this was the ultimate fighting stance -- and one we must master before we went on  to learn other secrets of karate. Well, I wasn't all that experienced at 12 years old, but I had been in enough scraps to know that this was about the
position I wanted to be in the next time somebody picked me to tussle with, and I never went back.
   The next karate class I went to was when I was about 17. While looking in the paper for a job, I saw an ad that said something like "Karate Instructors - no experience necessary - will train". Well, the deal was that you paid $10, and got two friends to pay $10 each, and you could learn to be a "karate instructor". Naturally, it was a con, but I wanted to see what  they had to say, so I got my brother and a friend to go with me to check it out. When we got there, they had all of us "future karate instructors" sit on the floor to wait for the "master" to come in.  To properly prepare us (set up the con), some shill came out and talked for a while about how wonderful the "master" was.
   Finally, out came the "master". He was dressed in some kind of shiny silk or satin outfit that was made up of so many colors he looked like a Baskin-Robbins had blown up on him.  He strutted up and down in front of us as he told us that he (as undoubtedly only he could) was going to show us the true secrets of fighting. He went on to tell us that there was no need to try to hit someone in the head or body, when you could simply strike your opponent's fists (big targets, he called them) and destroy his weapons. Yes, he said, if we proved to be good students, he would show us how to strike the back of our opponent's hands with the knuckle of our pinky fingers, and smash those weapons to smithereens!  I looked at that candy-colored clown and thought about asking for my money back, feeling fairly sure that my fists would be safe from his pinkies, but I sat through the rest of his spiel, took turns throwing and being thrown, then left. And never went back.
   So this was karate, huh? Well, I remember thinking, I sure wish that some of the guys I tangled with would learn karate -- it would be a lot easier to deal with than all of the punching, kicking and grabbing they always wanted to do.
   Of course, what I had seen was not reflective of the good instructors and schools (as I later learned), but they were reflective of the schools that I was aware of, because they were the schools who had run aggressive promotions, which I had just happened to see. I had never really had a desire to learn karate, as there always seemed to be plenty of opportunities to learn by trial and error. Back then, guys fought all the time. It started with a word, a look or a rumor at school, and before you knew it a fight was scheduled for after school. There were so many fights that the ice cream shop where all the fights were scheduled finally painted a yellow circle in their parking lot for the fights to be held in. I guess the fights were good for their business.
   As the years went by, I saw Chinese movies where guys jumped up into the air and fought for a while before returning to Earth -- only to jump back up in the air to battle some more. I saw Kwai Chang Cain (Kung Fu) kick a knife out of a guy's hand and make it stick in the ceiling. I saw all sorts of things, in the movies and TV, that made me think less and less of the martial arts -- though I did enjoy some of the stories. Finally, I saw "The Karate Kid", in which a young student learns self-defense by painting fences and waxing cars. "Paint the fence", said his instructor, as the "Kid" effortlessly, and apparently to his own surprise, successfully blocks his teacher's punches with rising and falling wrist blocks, perfected, we are expected to believe, by the millions of paintbrush strokes he applied to his teacher's fence. "What a crock", I thought. "How wonderful", thought millons of others, who immediately signed up themselves or their kids to learn such magical and mystical ways.
   Have things improved?  Well, to those of you who are not now either laughing or cussing at that question, the answer is a simple and resounding "NO". If anything, they are worse.
   The reason that I say it is worse is that there are now thousands of "instructors", black belts or not, who apparently actually believe that the idiotic things they teach will work in real life. And millions of students are paying millions of dollars to earn things that will get them killed -- not get them home. Where once, dishonest instructors may have scammed students for their money, today, honest instructors are scamming students -- and don't even realize it.  I say they are honest because they don't realize it -- they actually think that what they are teaching is effective on the street. Why do they think this? Two reasons: because their instructor told them it is, and they have never had to use it (or try to).
   Within the last few months, I have had two black belts show me how they taught police.  They were from different styles, and one was a very senior instructor. The first thing that both of them wanted to show me was how they taught people to get out of a wrist grab. I went along with the first one, as I didn't want to embarrass him in front of his students. But with the second one, we were alone. When he told me to grab his wrist, I asked "Why?".
  "Well, so I can show you how we teach police to get loose from it," he said.
  "That never happens," I told him.
  "What do you mean?", he asked.
  "The last time someone grabbed me by the wrist," I told him, "was probably my mother pulling me out of a store when I was a little kid. In all my years in law enforcement, nobody every tried to grab my wrist."
  "But what if someone tried to keep you from drawing your weapon?", he asked.
  "Then things have gone way past the 'let's do a tricky little wrist roll so we don't hurt him' stage," I said.  "A grab to his throat, a knee to his groin, a kick to his knee and a slam dunk to the asphalt is in order at this point."
  "Gee, that seems kind of violent", he said.
   Now, I teach wrist-grab techniques in some of my self-defense for women seminars, but I stress that it is mainly a "No, I don't want to dance" response. It is for cousins at the family reunion and old boyfriends who won't take no for an answer. And in the latter case, another more violent response should be at the immediate ready.
   Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is another example. I don't know how many people I've heard say that  Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is the most complete martial art. Now, I don't claim to be an expert in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu -- far from it. But I have been in enough real (not sport) situations to know that the last position I want to be in when things get real is on my back on the ground with my legs wrapped around some guy. No offense to the BJJ guys, but in the world where people fight to kill, having someone "in your guard" means you aren't long for this world. In combat, and by that I mean when death is the goal of a conflict, the guard is not a position of strength, control or dominance -- it is a position of death. Don't believe me? I hope you never find out.
   Sadly, I don't see many places teaching quality, applicable martial arts. Most teach an ineffective, inoffensive kind of social "experience" that makes people feel good about themselves (and often makes them feel they are somehow superior to others) through false study of a true discipline. Most don't know how to punch or kick, few know how to avoid effectively, and very few have any idea how to access the body's most vulnerable points with any kind of destructive force. I support this by my observations and the number of people who tell me that they train "full contact" at their club, and never have any injuries. Well, maybe all of their students are indestructible.  In the club I sponsor, we stay with light to medium contact, and we still have cracked ribs, broken fingers, busted lips, teeth through lips and knockouts.
   Instructors can choose which way they want to go; teach trash for quick money, or quality for an investment in the future. Students can choose which way they want to go; learn trash for a quick black belt, or learn quality for an investment in the future. Life is full of choices. And everyone is known for the choices they make.

Painting the Fence
Columns by Craig Smith