A Martial Artist’s Dilemma

There is a common conception in the martial arts world. It goes something like this.

“Never misuse your knowledge. Always avoid a confrontation when possible. The best fight is the one that never happened”.

Back in the 5th century BC Sun Tzu, a Chinese military general and strategist, summarized this in his classical work “The Art of War” as follows: “The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.”

I totally agree that a strong and confident person will never show off his skills. Moreover, strong people are kind people (but not the other way around). But here is a puzzle I am facing after having practiced martial arts for five years now.

If I assume MA make a student stronger, faster, more technical and agile, and so on, isn’t a fight the best prove of this? In other words, is a fight situation not best for testing your knowledge?

Many will respond this is what competitions are for – testing you fight skills and spirit with an unknown opponent. This is true to a certain degree. However, all competitions are very far from real street conflicts.

First, the competition rooms normally have enough space, light, good surface, protection gear and cheer up teams.

What would you do though in a one-to-one confrontation in a dark small street? Would you perform worse, better, or the same? With no one around, shoes and clothes making it more difficult to move, possibility of a weapon coming up, and adrenaline boiling in your veins?

Second, even though competitions have an element of surprise (you don’t know your opponent), this is a way far from a real life-threatening encounter outside the training room.

Last but not least, some martial arts, like aikido for instance, do not have have competitions at all.

Does this all mean a martial arts student try to turn any potential conflict situation into a fight?

Certainly not, Besides, the more your train, the lest conflict situations you encounter, either in personal or professional life.

I have had to use my taekwon-do knowledge only once, defending against an adult drunkard on an evening tram in Budapest. That experience brought me lots of inspiration and confidence. At the same time, I think, that’s when the seeds of the Dilemma started to grow in my mind.

At the moment I don’t know how to resolve this puzzle. I only hope that with further training I will have a better vision how to match the desire to have a life physical encounter experience and the need to control yourself and stay out of trouble.

I guess my position at this stage is this. Try to avoid any potential fight as hard as possible. Don’t take unsafe routes. Try to talk it down if a conflict starts heating up. Give away your money if your are threatened with a gun. Yet when the need comes, when your life is under thereat and may finish off stupidly, when there a family behind your back, or your girlfriend, or anyone you love and care about, you must not hesitate and give a decent answer to an aggressor.

Stay safe!


8 thoughts on “A Martial Artist’s Dilemma

  1. Have a sparring match with someone you trust who agrees to fight as if it were a real conflict and genuinely test each of your skills. This is a common solution to your dilemma. Best of luck to you.


    • Thanks for your comment, T.D. Davis! Well, we do have free sparring almost every training, and that’s an excellent self-test of course. Still, there’s some degree of getting used to it. Of course there’s always a way to grow and improve, and for me that’s certainly the case. I just wondered that an unplanned life-threatening experience could be a better test. Or maybe, when time comes, and your are ready enough, then life will test you? Maybe having little fight experience now means I am not ready yet? These are the questions I am trying to answer. Thanks for your encouraging comment anyway!


  2. There’s no such thing as „ fight as if it were a real conflict”. The techniques used in a life-threatening situation can’t be applied in sparring or self defence training. You have to sacrifice something: the power, or the range of motion, or the dynamics, etc. Also, the circumstances of a planned practice (or even a surprise attack let’s say during a seminar) are very different from those of an unexpected attack on the street including all dirty tools and methods available. I highly recommend Rory Miller’s book „Meditations on Violence”. The man knows what it means being in trouble.
    I agree with you Sasha, the best approach still remains avoiding the conflict, when possible. As for the dilemma itself, my opinion after 20+ years in martial arts is this: the more you know, the less you want to prove your knowledge to others and to yourself. You develop a certain amount of confidence and people will respect your knowledge and skills. You won’t feel the urgent need of proving what you know, because your actions speak for themselves. On the other hand, comparing martial arts training to a life or death street fight is like comparing apple to pear. It certainly helps if you’re good in one of them, but self defence in life-threatening situation can only be practiced in real life-threatening situation. And that’s something that we just shouldn‘t wish to try. We have to keep on developing ourselves, be prepared and if necessary, fight like hell, but if you’re not as dirty as your attacker, you’re dead in no time.
    Very good article Sasha, keep up the great work!


    • Thanks a lot Gabor, your comment is full of so many useful thoughts based on your own real experience…

      We have to keep on developing ourselves, be prepared and if necessary, fight like hell

      That’s so motivating and inspiring, thanks a lot for this! I have always respected you as a talented martial artist and a trainer, and I’m really glad that you shared your opinion on the subject of this post. And I just downloaded Rory Miller’s book, the name is already intriguing 🙂


  3. Pingback: Taekwon-do Oath | Alexander Svitych

  4. I’m not into martial arts but I was actually doing research for a charachter I’m writing about who faces this martial artist dilemma you talk about on your article. She fells the urge to fight but knows she shouldn’t.

    This article gave me great insight on the struggle real life martial artists suffer from by having great power and great responsibility.


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