Every once in a while, I’ll leaf through some comic books and sometimes I find a fight scene complete with exposition on how the hero/ine or villain learned their combat trade(s). As it is, however, I can usually tell when the writer in question has a very limited knowledge of fighting arts, regardless of what the art is or where the art actually originates from. Here are some misconceptions about martial arts and why they are so:
1. Learning from the Top Martial Artists is Best:
Actually, no it’s not. The reason for this is because the majority of the “best” or “strongest” combat artists get to this position because of their physical talent and dexterity, not “mastery” of techniques. This physical talent allows them the only necessary advantage in combat that is needed, especially if all else is near even.
Sadly, while this makes for a better fighter, it has been my experience that the majority of the top fighters, especially in the United States, are unable to pass that technique effectively on to others. Far too often, the demonstration of their technique is rather superficial; while they may be able to perform the technique properly, most never explain which muscles on the body are engaged and when.
In other words, if you are being given an offer to be trained by Batman, Wonder Woman, Lady Shiva, Karnak the Shatterer, or anyone else of similar fighting caliber, decline.
2. There Are Secret Martial Arts and Deadly Martial Arts Moves:
There is no such thing for either. It is, in the end, all about knowledge.
Again, if someone comes to you making claims of either having secret martial arts knowledge or a number of “deadly” martial arts moves, save your money and find a cookie-cutter Martial Arts school.
3. Knowing Multiple Styles is Better Than Mastering a Single One:
Not true. Also, knowing martial arts does not give anyone any advantage over a person that does not know martial arts. In any fight with an assailant, especially one that is larger, faster, and/or stronger, you have about a 30-second window of advantage with your first technique. Meaning your first attack (or counter-attack) needs to be one that disables your opponent’s will to fight. This where your knowledge, skills, and training are needed the most.
Because these 30 seconds are the only ones you get before your opponent has figured out that you fight with martial arts and proceeds to neutralize that advantage in fighting technique. And the longer the fight continues, the worse it becomes for the martial artist. This is because other factors, like endurance, dexterity, toughness, and physical strength all play a role.
Studying more than one fighting technique may provide you with a little more insight to make your overall fighting technique better, but a practitioner of a single fighting style who trains with dedication and intent of mastery may have an advantage over someone who has trained in more than one fighting style. In other words, beware of the adage, “One who is a Jack-of-All-Trades is a master of none.” Because it may apply.
4. Having an “Asian” Master Makes Your Technique Better:
This is the one misconception that gets the most mileage. This is used because it is necessary for non-Asian characters (particular White ones) to have some kind of “authenticity” when trying to explain once again why a non-Asian character is yet again considered to be the “best” at a contest of fighting skills.
This idea is seen movies like “The Karate Kid” series, the “Kill Bill” series, “The Forbidden Kingdom” and many, many more. The “hero” often has to travel to some Asian-like country so that they can study under a group of monks who spend their time either meditating or performing impossible martial arts techniques that would give the hero a big advantage in the western world of combat, where simple fisticuffs rule the day – at least in the movie in question.
This, however, is a very pernicious cultural stereotype that diminishes Asian people as a whole. While it is more likely that an Asian martial art will be better practiced and demonstrated by an Asian of the country’s origin, bear in mind that the Asian arts often sent their most skilled and charismatic instructors and performers to make the art popular. As with any skill or trade, there is a wide spectrum of ability, but showing ordinary talent does not lend itself to increasing revenue.
There are other martial arts misconceptions out there. And, unfortunately, they will continue to leave their mark in popular culture for some time to come.