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Kelly McCann delves into the dangers of having a closed mind when learning self-defense. For ammo to backup his claims, he looks at a few boxers who dismissed what they were taught and succeeded anyway.
Fighting skill is one of the most unconventional abilities to quantify. There are so many variants, so many metrics and so many stylistic considerations that determining “what works” is sometimes like U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s comment when he was asked to describe his threshold test for obscenity: “I know it when I see it.” Because of this, there is no room for piety or blind loyalty to any one school of thought, system, martial art — or person or group of practitioners.
It gets tiresome when people speak in absolutes and are judgmental while offering their opinions about the validity of techniques or styles. It’s not because they’re necessarily wrong but because they don’t offer contextual balance to their comments. Bear with me.
Conventional thinking tells us to keep our hands up in a fight for obvious reasons like maintaining a solid defense and ensuring that our hands are able to return fire, right? Yet world champions Roy Jones Jr. and Floyd Mayweather, as well as other prolific fighters, would hang their hands and employ the “Philly shell” or shoulder-roll defense with complete effectiveness. Watching technically superb fighters like Mikey Garcia or Leo Santa Cruz fight unconventional yet equally “effective” stylized boxers is interesting, to say the least. It will broaden your perspective and help you understand that effectiveness — “what works” — has a lot to do with the personal attributes of who is working it.
FEW THINGS polarize people as much as opinions about how to defend themselves, how to pursue a combat sport most effectively and which martial art reigns supreme. If you’re interested in truly bumping up your game, you can’t afford to be pious. You have to admit that no single way, master, sensei, soke, founder, teacher or instructor is the burning bush. With a few exceptions, there is legitimate content that can be used or valuable observations that can be made by examining any form of fighting. In fact, even negative examples are useful when determining what’s right for you personally.
The problem with being pious isn’t necessarily what you know; it’s what being pious prevents you from knowing. The closedmindedness that keeps you from looking at other ways of accomplishing your goal just might be what’s keeping you from reaching that goal.
The validity of a technique, system, style or art doesn’t rest on its utility to everyone; instead, it rests on the proven effectiveness demonstrated by those who can.
MANY TIMES, it’s either the least experienced who are the most pious (confusing the quest for expertise with being disloyal to their teacher or art) or the most heavily invested (founders of individually developed systems who misinterpret development as an admission of not having gotten it right in the first place). No one can — or should — throw shade on something they don’t really understand or have knowledge of.
When you truly consider the breadth of styles and skills available to study, you start to get your head around how silly hard and fast judgments are. In boxing, there is huge disparity between fighters’ styles and how each person applies skills in the ring. Watch a video of “Prince” Naseem Hamed, International Boxing Hall of Fame member and titleholder in several weight classes between 1995 and 2003, and you may think, “How in the hell did he get away with that? No
one fights like that!” But he did. And he was obviously effective at it.
Roy Jones Jr., an incredible cham- pion across several weight classes and dominant in each, used a style that confused his opponents, relying on his incredible hand speed and eccentric movements. Most people who attempt to emulate his method can’t pull it off and would get destroyed if they tried it, yet there he was, in fight after fight against top opponents, just owning them.
THE POINT of this column is to encourage you to avoid the trap of piety and truly be a “student of the craft.” Of course you should throw away the outliers, the obviously ridiculous and the impractical. You also should avoid the social media absolutes made from afar, often by people who have no personal experience doing what they’re condemning and no experience training with the teacher they’re trashing.
Remember, first and foremost, that the more you learn, the less you realize you know. Piety could have prevented many of the most revered martial artists and fighters from ever evolving into the capable, competent experts we recognize them as. The validity of a technique, system, style or art doesn’t rest on its utility to everyone; instead, it rests on the proven effectiveness demonstrated by those who can. Combatives, by contrast, is generally considered a utility-based collection of techniques that are less reliant on extraordinary attributes. It’s been specifically adapted as an “everyman” approach to fighting. And still, mastering even simplistic techniques can be elusive to some.
The bottom line is, there is no panacea, no one-size-fits-all super system. You owe it to yourself to experiment. If you’re a teacher, you should encourage your students to do the same. It’s a really big world with a lot of really tough people in it. Just imagine what you can learn if you leave the piety behind.