Karate vs. Kung Fu, Part 2

In yesterday’s “Karate vs. Kung Fu” post, I mentioned some of my views on training and there was some good stuff in the comments section.

John said:

I think in the end, that’s all any of us can hope for… there is always someone better out there but at least for me – the competition is with myself. You know – self-improvement/enlightenment.

I believe this is one of those keys to make it through the difficult patches when you train your entire life. When I was younger, I competed a lot and it was tons of fun. Beating opponents always felt great, obviously. But for me, the training and preparation was the most fun of all. Every day, push yourself to be faster, better, stronger. I learned so much just by training for my fights, I doubt I’d know half of what I know now if I hadn’t done that.

But there’s another side to this coin: training is fun, winning is awesome, but losing is the most important lesson of all. I lost to guys who were way better than me. They cleaned my clock. I won fights against less able opponents but also better ones. But most importantly, I lost fights against guys I could have beaten easily, if only my head had been screwed on right. I learned important lessons from those losses. They taught me to place things in the proper context and how fighting is rarely black and white, one side being “better” than the other.

Fast forward another decade or so and things have changed again. These days, it’s no longer relevant where I rank in that subjective hierarchy of who is “better” than me in any given art. Or who is the best fighter. Like I said yesterday, there are loads of people with more skill than me. There are also a truckload of others with less skill. Sometimes the differences are really big, other times not so much. But who cares? What does it matter?

Somebody else’s (lack of) skill doesn’t change anything about my own. If he has less, I don’t automatically get any extra. If he has more, I don’t automatically lose some. It just is what it is: a momentary assessment of somebody’s qualities. A year later, the assessment might reverse where the both of us stand, so why worry about it now? It doesn’t mean that I’d automatically beat the guy with lesser skill if we were to fight. Nor does it mean the one with more skill has nothing to worry about if we were to go at it.

Fighting, by its very nature, is never done in a static environment. There are many variables and skill is just one of them. An important one, but not so to the exclusion of all the others.

Patrick had a great story about this topic too. Sometimes you end up baffled by what the other guy throws at you. But if you keep a cool head, you can often prevail. That said, there’s another aspect to this: what if he hadn’t been able to handle that spinning hook kick?

The first time I entered a pushing hands competition was many years ago. My teacher and I went to the Dutch Open and he gave me some basic strategy to follow. I applied it to one of my first opponents and broke his balance easily to score a point. I figured, what the hell, so I did the same thing again with the same result: other guy falls, I get points. After about the fifth or sixth time, I start thinking “He’s setting me up. Where’s the trap? ” but still I kept scoring with the exact same technique. At the end of the match, it was something like 30-0 in my favor and the guy looked really frustrated. That’s when I realized he really didn’t know what to do against my attack. Even knowing full well what I was going to do, he couldn’t handle it.

Just trying to make the point that sometimes, the “magic” works. :-)

Finally, here’s a comment from Mark:

Also, versatility, cross training, keeping an open mind etc. These are all phrases that compliment every martial artist and can do nothing but GOOD for their fighting. It is not uncommon for an expert fighter to train in another style and get dominated. It is best to train with as many styles as possible, as all knowledge gained will be useful. Having said that, I do feel that it is wise to stick to one style only for a few years to grasp the basic principles of movement, body usage etc, if you are just starting out. This would also help you pick up other styles easier later on.

Mark touches upon one of the major problems today’s starting martial artists encounter: there’s too much choice. When I started, we had a couple of schools in a variety of arts where we could train.  There were books and and some videotapes to see how other arts worked if you couldn’t go train elsewhere. When my own teachers started, there were just some books and that was it. If you couldn’t go train with somebody, you couldn’t learn anything.

Today, martial art schools and gyms pop up like mushrooms. They’re all over the place and give you the widest possible range of arts to practice. Even some of the more obscure arts are now almost always available in a gym near you. And if they’re not, you can buy videos from the country of origin or watch clips on the Internet. Putting it mildly: there has never been so much information available.

But perhaps because of that, many practitioners change arts like they change clothes. If there’s something they don’t like about it, they can pick another one no sweat. If that one has some lame things in it, they’re off again. And so on.

Yup, theyre warriors allright..

Yup, they're warriors alright...

If there’s one immense drawback to all the benefits to an abundance of information, it’s this tendency to propagate shallow knowledge. Just because you spent three years in a style, it doesn’t mean you know everything there is about it. Nor are you in a position to correct people with decades of training in it. Even more, you certainly don’t have any reason to assume that what you learned is universally true for all other styles or even different branches of your own.

This really shows in some of the comments I get on my Youtube clips. And it’s not just my stuff. Pretty much everybody who puts a video on line gets a fair amount of misguided, or at worst, vile and idiotic comments. Like I mentioned before, I’m perfectly fine with what I can and can’t do. Nor do I present anything I teach as the “Ultimate-Unbeatable-Betterthaneverythingelse”- whatever. But that doesn’t stop people from writing the silliest things in the comments section.

Sometimes, it cracks me up. I’ve literally laughed so hard I started crying over some comments. Other times, I shake my head at the bile my “pygmy detractors” (as one of my teachers calls them) spew. For the most part, I’ll try to give a respectful and clear response. Other times, I’ll respond with humor because I don’t take their insults seriously: keyboard warriors are to be pitied because their lives are already hard enough.

I’m guessing a lot of those comments are fueled by a lack of training and understanding. Three years in a style is nothing. Ten years is just enough to get you started. Twenty years is when it starts getting interesting. I’ll let you know what happens after thirty years when I get there. But I’ve heard some neat things about it. :-)

So I totally agree with Mark. Cross training has huge benefits. But you need a stable base first.

OK, enough rambling. Thanks for making it this far. :-)

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Comments

  1. Those “versus” clips are useful if you engage them with your brain and use them as an educational tool. You do but most do not! My old TKD instructor pointed out that basing one’s opinion on one YouTube video that shows one style losing is pretty dumb. It’s simple statistics: You just based your opinion on a very small sample size — one!

    My current Kung Fu instructor occasionally posts to Youtube but when he does he turns off all the comments. There’s just too many MMA-wannabes who trash talk what he’s put up there — so much so that he got sick of it. He jokes that most of these people probably still live in the parents basement and their martial arts experience is probably based on playing Mortal Kombat and watching UFC!

    • @Bob: Your instructor makes total sense! I still leave comment on but moderate them. I’ll publish them all, the good, bad and ugly except when they’re just some dude spouting profanity or insults. I don’t give those guys the satisfaction of reading their words on my page. And I enjoy deleting their comments and blocking them from page. :-)
      Another thing is this: I’ve met loads of really interesting people on the internet. Via my sites, this blog, other blogs, youtube, etc. Closing comments down would prohibit that. So I tkae the bad with the good that also comes along.

  2. Those “versus” clips are useful if you engage them with your brain and use them as an educational tool. You do but most do not! My old TKD instructor pointed out that basing one’s opinion on one YouTube video that shows one style losing is pretty dumb. It’s simple statistics: You just based your opinion on a very small sample size — one!

    My current Kung Fu instructor occasionally posts to Youtube but when he does he turns off all the comments. There’s just too many MMA-wannabes who trash talk what he’s put up there — so much so that he got sick of it. He jokes that most of these people probably still live in the parents basement and their martial arts experience is probably based on playing Mortal Kombat and watching UFC!

    • @Bob: Your instructor makes total sense! I still leave comment on but moderate them. I’ll publish them all, the good, bad and ugly except when they’re just some dude spouting profanity or insults. I don’t give those guys the satisfaction of reading their words on my page. And I enjoy deleting their comments and blocking them from page. :-)
      Another thing is this: I’ve met loads of really interesting people on the internet. Via my sites, this blog, other blogs, youtube, etc. Closing comments down would prohibit that. So I tkae the bad with the good that also comes along.

  3. Shane MacLaughlin says:

    Hi Win,

    Great couple of posts. I’m not sure that I agree about beating a better opponent in a competition, or losing to a worse one. If you win you are better, if you lose, you are worse. Simple as that. The competition is the empirical test, for a given set of rules at a given moment in time. We sometimes are surprised by beating or losing to someone, and occasionly luck can play a part, but if we can’t use competition to gauge relative ability, what can we use? Past performance? Maybe. Reputation or the color of the belt holding someones trousers up? I sincerely hope not.

    I used to enter a lot of pushing hands comps, and a few karate ones when I was younger. I mostly lost, but through pererverence gathered a handful of medals over the years. On those occasions, I dare say some of the other guys thought they should have won. If they could have, they would have, hence they were demonstrably proven wrong :)

    I hate the ‘what if’ game. You know, if I had just done this technique, I would have won for sure. If I was more mentally prepared. If I had lost a few pounds and gone down a weight. (Or in my case, if I had just spent less time sitting on my arse drinking beer, and more time doing nei kung) It’s all fantasy, and competitions are the corresponding reality check.

    All the best,

    Shane

  4. Shane MacLaughlin says:

    Hi Win,

    Great couple of posts. I’m not sure that I agree about beating a better opponent in a competition, or losing to a worse one. If you win you are better, if you lose, you are worse. Simple as that. The competition is the empirical test, for a given set of rules at a given moment in time. We sometimes are surprised by beating or losing to someone, and occasionly luck can play a part, but if we can’t use competition to gauge relative ability, what can we use? Past performance? Maybe. Reputation or the color of the belt holding someones trousers up? I sincerely hope not.

    I used to enter a lot of pushing hands comps, and a few karate ones when I was younger. I mostly lost, but through pererverence gathered a handful of medals over the years. On those occasions, I dare say some of the other guys thought they should have won. If they could have, they would have, hence they were demonstrably proven wrong :)

    I hate the ‘what if’ game. You know, if I had just done this technique, I would have won for sure. If I was more mentally prepared. If I had lost a few pounds and gone down a weight. (Or in my case, if I had just spent less time sitting on my arse drinking beer, and more time doing nei kung) It’s all fantasy, and competitions are the corresponding reality check.

    All the best,

    Shane

  5. Hum…

    I’ve seen some weird comments on youtube. One of them was leaving a karate practitioner as a clueless beginner dressed as a black belt. I think it was a video of Morio Higaonna.

    OTOH, having a good background is important. However, I’ve had unexpected insights between kajukenbo and kenjutsu, two wildly different arts. And I don’t know either that much (technically, I first met them some 15 years ago, but just started seriously 2-3 years ago). Same think with my very brief experiences with Bob O.’s silat. Sometimes, even –maybe specially– in the beginning, it’s good to see things from the outside. Among other things, you might avoid some “Oh, shit, I have to retrain my last 15 years doing this movement; now I see”. Might. Some.

    Keep well

    • Ferran: The insights are great but can also be misleading. It’s the whole “seeing only part of the elephant” thing when you look into a new art, or one you don’t have much training in. Been there, done that.

  6. Hum…

    I’ve seen some weird comments on youtube. One of them was leaving a karate practitioner as a clueless beginner dressed as a black belt. I think it was a video of Morio Higaonna.

    OTOH, having a good background is important. However, I’ve had unexpected insights between kajukenbo and kenjutsu, two wildly different arts. And I don’t know either that much (technically, I first met them some 15 years ago, but just started seriously 2-3 years ago). Same think with my very brief experiences with Bob O.’s silat. Sometimes, even –maybe specially– in the beginning, it’s good to see things from the outside. Among other things, you might avoid some “Oh, shit, I have to retrain my last 15 years doing this movement; now I see”. Might. Some.

    Keep well

    • Ferran: The insights are great but can also be misleading. It’s the whole “seeing only part of the elephant” thing when you look into a new art, or one you don’t have much training in. Been there, done that.

  7. Yes. However, I’m not saying about doing things different (at least, this is not my focus) as much as I’m talking about different POVs about the very same move.

    For example: after my former years in something they called Jujutsu (sic) I have a very hard time punching the face. I can do hammerfists. I can also do hacksaws. And the idea came from a video on Combat Sanshou –and, further, with some Bob O’s seminar–. It integrates perfectly in my way of doing things and has no problems with my system. It is, in fact, there (could show you the kata, for example), but most people simply prefer to puch. Have tested it, showed it to my seniors and OK’ed it by peer review. It would have been much harder to see it on my standard path.

    Ovbiously, the similarities between my two examples in the previous post are few, but: Proper frontal structure, pushing from the dantien, winning the certerline, distance… It wouldn’t work with other styles, probably, but both are quite frontal. If we ever meet I can show you the points. Some of them are more mindset than anything.

    Also, being longer in the forest does not guarantee success: ATA is my counterexample. Yeah, OK, that’s a bog, not a forest.

  8. Yes. However, I’m not saying about doing things different (at least, this is not my focus) as much as I’m talking about different POVs about the very same move.

    For example: after my former years in something they called Jujutsu (sic) I have a very hard time punching the face. I can do hammerfists. I can also do hacksaws. And the idea came from a video on Combat Sanshou –and, further, with some Bob O’s seminar–. It integrates perfectly in my way of doing things and has no problems with my system. It is, in fact, there (could show you the kata, for example), but most people simply prefer to puch. Have tested it, showed it to my seniors and OK’ed it by peer review. It would have been much harder to see it on my standard path.

    Ovbiously, the similarities between my two examples in the previous post are few, but: Proper frontal structure, pushing from the dantien, winning the certerline, distance… It wouldn’t work with other styles, probably, but both are quite frontal. If we ever meet I can show you the points. Some of them are more mindset than anything.

    Also, being longer in the forest does not guarantee success: ATA is my counterexample. Yeah, OK, that’s a bog, not a forest.

  9. I love the photo Wim and the Blog. So it all boils down to which is better black or white, green or brown. It is a personal thing thats what it is whats best for you. There is no shoe that fits all here. Even harder, faster, better, stronger doesn’t fit for all some people want to become softer, slower, still better, but not necessarily stronger and some just don’t. :-)

  10. I love the photo Wim and the Blog. So it all boils down to which is better black or white, green or brown. It is a personal thing thats what it is whats best for you. There is no shoe that fits all here. Even harder, faster, better, stronger doesn’t fit for all some people want to become softer, slower, still better, but not necessarily stronger and some just don’t. :-)

  11. anyone know the similarities between Karate and Kung-fu?

  12. anyone know the similarities between Karate and Kung-fu?