There is a commonly used phrase in martial arts and self-defense circles, one you can hear or read when practitioners from one art see a technique from another art:
We do that too in our style.
It’s right up there with phrases like:
A punch is just a punch.
The human body can only move in so many ways.
I disagree with all three of these phrases, but I’ll only talk about the first one here. In essence, it boils down to the “the differences are just as important as the similarities” theme you can find in all of my writing. If you see a technique and all you look at are the similarities, skipping straight ahead to the “we do this too” part, then you miss the opportunity to learn something. I feel that the better response is to focus on the differences and everything else that you don’t know about that art. The main problem is that you can only do so in a qualified manner by actually practicing that art. Which is what most people don’t do. They just look at the superficial similarities, label that technique as “similar” to one of theirs and move on. That’s a shame.
There are two broad categories you can look at when digging for these differences: physical and abstract.
The physical category is things like body mechanics, angles, footwork, distancing, etc. In many ways, this is all relatively easy to spot, except for body mechanics. A technique may look similar to what you do, but feel radically different when you’re on the receiving end of it if the person has different body mechanics than found in your art. This is why it’s often necessary to have somebody use the technique on you before you know what’s going on.
A second trap is understanding camera angles and how you create clear instructional footage. The technique may look a certain way to you, but depending on many factors, you could be completely mistaken. I wrote a three-part series called How to Learn Techniques from Video in which I explain some of them. The main gist of it is this: the camera lies. It doesn’t tell the truth, only one part of it.
The abstract category is more difficult to get a hold of. It comprises of all the concepts and choices that are inherent to that specific style. Things like tactics, strategy, basic assumptions, training methodology, goals, etc. All of these, you know nothing about, unless you train in that style. So how can you confidently judge them with a trustworthy measure of accuracy?
I don’t think you can.
Which doesn’t mean you can’t form an opinion on a technique, only that you should realize upfront that your opinion is both uninformed and in need of further research. If you don’t feel the need to look further into it, that’s obviously perfectly fine. But then wouldn’t it be smarter to hold back on your judgement?
Case in point.
I recently posted a self-defense technique on my Facebook page, one we did during a class I was teaching. One of the commenters claimed it wouldn’t work because the “chop to the rear” wouldn’t stop a haymaker. So he dismissed it.
The problem is that I wasn’t doing a chop at all, though it might look like one to people from other arts. The technique actually works very well, in particular against haymakers but you need to experience it to feel it. Though you can make it work out of the box, if you add a specific kind of body mechanics to it it’ll work even better. That’s the part about having to experience a technique to believe it.
There is an inherent flaw in quickly accepting or dismissing techniques based on simply viewing it once: it assumes your filter is accurate for all techniques outside of your art as well.
This is simply not true.
Whatever training and knowledge your style has given you doesn’t automatically apply to every other style out there. Thinking it does is delusional. It’s a big world out there and whatever way you train is miniscule by comparison of all the possible ways people could do things differently. If you think I’m wrong, here’s a fun project to try:
For your black belt test, one of my teachers makes you create a map of all the martial arts in existence. Their main lineages, branches, origins, etc. The point of the exercise is to see just how very little you know compared to all that exists.
Give it a try. I’ll even help you get started. Here’ a list of Chinese martial arts. What’s more, I can tell you that this is a rather incomplete list. Nor does it take into account all the many branches of each of those styles, branches that can be radically different one from the other. Start clicking on all those styles and you’ll see the numbers multiply. And that’s just Chinese arts. The world is a lot bigger than China…
This is why you’ll routinely hear my qualify my opinions with my lack of experience and knowledge of another style. Just earlier today, somebody asked my opinion on Savate. I replied I didn’t really have one, because I don’t know much about it. I’ve seen some fights and have read a lot about it a long time ago. One of my friends is (if I recall correctly) a Silver Glove in it. Other than that, I really don’t know. So why should I presume my limited knowledge would lead to anything other than an uninformed opinion? I shouldn’t, so I best not say anything and let others with more information talk.
All that said, there is a lot to learn from sharing information and being curious by asking the right questions. I’ve had incredible discussions with people from other arts and learned tons in the process. But every time it came from a place of “this is how we see it, how do you see it?” followed by “if you do it that way, how do you handle this problem?” and so on. Those impromptu training sessions were always fascinating and a source of growth for the both of us as it made us question our own assumptions and see things from another point of view. It also helped us understand both the strengths and weaknesses of our respective arts. Everybody wins.
I prefer to take that approach whenever possible.