Some martial arts are silly. There, I said it. Sure, people train martial arts for many different reasons. Improved self discipline, physical conditioning, flexibility, and confidence are all benefits of training a martial art. However, at the very root of it, martial arts are about fighting.
The term “martial” means “of war,” and accordingly, a martial art needs to prepare students for combat. Yet, many popular martial arts emphasize techniques that only work against non-resisting (or even completely willing) participants. As an unfortunate consequence, uncritical students of ineffective martial arts can spend huge amounts of time and money training these techniques which would never work in a real combat situation.
The following video is an (admittedly over-the-top) example of this. A “Kiai Master” has convinced himself that he can deflect physical attacks from an opponent by channeling magical, invisible energy. Perhaps out of a misplaced sense of devotion (or complete delusion), his students go along with it. Eventually, he supposedly offers a $5,000 prize to any MMA fighter that can beat him. Grab some popcorn and watch in amazement.
The example above is pretty extreme, and in general, I think there is a gradient between absolute absurdity (like the Kiai master) and purely effective martial arts. Some martial arts teach some useful techniques, but tend to focus on aesthetic value for the most part. And while these techniques may look ultra fluid and beautiful, in general, they won’t work on a resisting opponent. At the other end of the spectrum, some martial arts make active efforts to continuously get rid of ineffective techniques. Coincidentally, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is about as close to the effective end of the spectrum as a martial art can get.
I think it’s fine to train martial arts for reasons other than strict combat. Yet I think it’s also important to understand the difference between effective techniques and those that just look pretty. I, for one, don’t want to end up on Youtube like the Kiai Master.