I have done high-risk sports since forever and physical work since the age of 14. I’ve had a lot of fun, but I’ve also had more accidents and injuries than I care to recall. I don’t regret a thing, but it’s made me rather aware of my body’s capabilities. I know that I have a breaking point, and I can make a reasonable judgement call as to whether something is going to push me beyond that point.
For instance, I’ve learnt about leverage in school, but I’ve really absorbed the learning when I needed to lift and manouvre heavy stuff. In the process of acquiring that knowledge, I’ve also learnt what happens when things go wrong, or when you misjudge your body’s ability to withstand a load. It’s not a lesson I care to revisit. So when I’m at the dojo and the instructor tells me I have to bridge someone off me solely with a hip thrust, and the guy weighs at least three times my weight, I’m going to say no. Because it’s not just “all about technique”; it’s about me using my body’s strength to make that technique work. It’s about the structure of my body being able to sustain that level of stress. It’s about the whole thing being somewhat stupid; in “the real world”, I’d be doing something else in addition to bridging to get the big lump off me, because I know that if you pitch 8 st. against 24+ st. you are going to lose unless you play dirty. Ultimately, it’s about me being unwilling to seriously hurt myself to either please an instructor or prove a point.
Through work and play, I’ve also learnt a lot about the difference between sharp and blunt, and between static and moving. I’ve taken blows by hammers that, had they been applied with the chisel instead, would have been amputations. I’ve felt sharp blades cut through flesh, hit bone, and grind to a halt. I’ve had heavy loads dropped on me. I’ve been flung against solid objects. Most of the above things hurt, but they didn’t hurt the same, and the resulting damage wasn’t equivalent. This may sound a bit like discovering that fire burns, but apparently it’s not. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen techniques being taught against a static, blunt knife in the expectation that it should work against a sharp, moving one. And yes, I don’t know anything about knife fighting; but I know a lot about getting cut, and those instructors don’t seem to.
It’s not just about the fact that we’ve turned martial arts into sports and made them both safe and silly; it’s about the fact that most people live lives that spare their bodies. Most people in our society aren’t put in positions where they have to handle loads that break them, or work until their joints give up (newsflash: “back-breaking labour” is NOT just a figure of speech). They don’t have to carry out jobs that put them routinely in harm’s way. Not only they avoid getting hit or cut, but they don’t even hit or cut other bodies; how many people do you know who have butchered their own meat?
It strikes me that maybe one of the greatest problems in self-defence and martial arts instruction isn’t that the teachers don’t know Real Violence. It’s that they don’t know real injuries. They have a theoretical understanding of what a technique should achieve, without a matching understanding of its practicality and potential costs.