Why I don't give a crap about how "hardcore" your school is anymore
As some of you may note, I have "kenpo," listed in my style. It isn't EPAK. It's something of dubious provenance (Okinawan, apparently) that I trained in actively for eight years or so.
Going by Bullshido standards, the training holds up well for standup (there was some grappling, but the techniques were taught in isolation, with no set ground skills). There was hard contact sparring in virtually every class -- we just tried to take it easy on the face. The instructor was ripped and gave us weight training regimens two years into training. He knew the traditional conditioning exercises but didn't care for them. We almost never did "one-steps" of any sort.
It was grueling stuff, especially for me. I started out barely being able to get out 10 sloppy-ass pushups. I've never been particularly athletic and I was more timid that other folks I know about the degree of contact. But my friends (and some people who I couldn't let my 15 year old self show weakness around) were in, and I was in, so I stuck it out. It worked. I pretty much stopped losing fights after three years, the only exception being some judoka who pwned us in a friendly challenge and one Wolfgang Droege, a white supremacist who tried to kill me with a steel flashlight in 1993.
All in all, five of us stuck the class out for longer than two years. We either trained outdoors or in a church gym, and had to occasionally explain ourselves when we had to see somebody about injuries that stretched the gamut from a simple sprained ankle to a broken hand, a lumbar compression fracture and a stab wound from a "safety" knife.
Eventually the class fell apart for various reasons, I left Toronto and moved to my current town, and fell out of training. Getting back into it became more and more difficult because I suppose I was thinking from two different directions. Part of me couldn't respect some of the schools and wanted what I was used to, but when I got it . . . I came to realize that I'm not one of those guys who gets seriously into improvement through pain. I'm a wimp, in other words. But somehow, I stuck it out before -- so how the hell did that happen? What was the special quality that got me to the point of very rigorous practice, and what was the missing link I needed from a school to feel inspired again? Less rigorous training wasn't it, because I didn't respect it, but jumping right back in wasn't working either. This was exacerbated when I developed some pretty severe health problems that weren't treated until about two years ago.
That answer is something I think is relevant to the kind of talk we do here (well, during them times when shitflinging doesn't blow it apart, that it). I think I'm a pretty average guy. I am not someone who is "hardcore" by nature and I think that goes for a lot of people, including more folks on this board that would really care to admit it. It's natural for us to respect and emulate that drive and athelticism. It's healthy and useful to have these role models.
But it looks to me that this technique for self improvement (finding the best and using them as a guide) has taken over the whole concept of how to train and what art to choose. It's this kind of warped thinking that's made nutriding (including "counter"nutriding) a barrier to serious discussion. And it's why I no longer give a **** about how hardcore your school is.
I'll use "hardcore" to describe a whole bunch of factors, like the emphasis on alive training, heavy contact and conditioning as a prerequisite for success. We know that the arts that have these factors but out the most respectable fighters. What we are perhaps less willing to admit to ourselves is that the average person is not with the program for two reasons. First of all, they don't have the inclination for this kind of rough training, and secondly, they have a combination of myth and truth that tells them there's another way that won't let them beat a Gracie, but will give them the direction they need to deal with violence. Bullshido hates the myth, but when a true account of self-defense that doesn't involve a board "darling" comes up, nobody has anything useful to say. The analysis leaves hardcore, nutriding territory, and gets promptly polaxed, because Bullshido doesn't seem to have the intellectual tools to look at the kind of situations where average people and martial arts successfully get something done.
Related to this is the conflation between method and style. The CMA/anti-CMA threads are full of stupid noise relating to this. Everybody agrees that conditioning, live training and contact are key -- but this has nothing to do with techniques. How the **** can anybody actually figure this **** out if we're not even talking about the technical base any more? Then again, maybe that's the problem. There's some truth to the idea that people who like the aesthetics of martial arts don't like the fact and a big ************ who can take a punch can use that as 90% of his game. And really, if the best you can say about your art is that you tend to have more shaved gorillas, and the best defense you can come up with is, "Contrary to popular belief, we also stuff large primates into rashguards!" well, you're losing. You're arguing about how *un*necessary your training is.
The other problem is that we are no longer having any sort of conversation about how the average person can acquire effective self-protection skills and something of real value along with the sense of community and cultural practice. Yeah, I'm sure we can feel elite about how hard a regimen is or feel good that the fat guys wash out and the hippies cry, but this attitude not only keeps martial arts in a sorry-ass shape, but is the hallmark of assholes everywhere. I can only think of one period in history where everybody *did* adopt hardcore training as the basic way to do martial arts, but somehow, something tells me that emulating the sports culture of fascist Japan would be a fucking stupid idea.
I know it sems like I'm drifting, but it all comes together. What I've come to realize is that I stuck with the kenpo because it was smart about *progressively* applying intensity in a *personalized* fashion. And what I realize in my CMA now is the same thing taking place. Like I said, I'm an average guy. In the gap between kenpo and CMA, there were weak-ass schools that would not challenge me, and strong schools that I could stay with, but at the expense of so much initial discomfort that I was better off doing something else.
What I've noticed with this approach is that it also seems to actually fulfil the promise you hear so much in martial arts, about transforming a meek person into someone wioth increased confidence and solid self-protection skills. Contrast this with the typical McDojo attendee (who's too weak or has untested techniques under the hood) or athletic martial artist (many of them are, in my experience, already fit and aggressive *before* training). I appreciate this transformative effect and at this point, I'm interested in how to get it to work. My reasons are both personal (I have two kids *and* I'm trying to get back into shape without over training) and theoretical. It's definitely much more interesting than how terribly fucking important it is to be hardcore, since, as far as I gather, everybody already agrees with that.
Just some thoughts. I don't mean for this to have simple answers. It's just been something I've been thinking about.