pi•e•ty(n)abeliefor­pointofviewthati­sac­cept­ed­with­un­think­ing con­ven­tional rev­er­ence


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.

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