YOUR Martial Art Sucks! Why It’s Dangerous to Teach People to Swim Without Water

Below is the opinion of Fighting Fit Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Coach Chris Paines, so take all your fury out on him.

If you’re reading this and wondering if I’m referring to the art that you do, it’s probably safer to assume that I am.

Let me set the scene. Imagine you want to go out and learn some life saving swimming skills because there are rivers and lakes near to where you live,  and you want to able to save your life or a loved ones life should there be a tumble into the water. You do a Google search and find a local club teaching the very life preserving lessons that you want, taught by a Professor of Aquatic Preservation from the Council of Atlantic Floating Deities (damn they MUST know their stuff). You turn up, and see someone standing before you in nothing but a pair of Speedo’s and goggles. They take you through a talk about what they teach WILL save your life because freak waves are very common and by the time you’re done, you’ll be the equivalent of an Olympic Level swimmer. They then take you over to a table, which you then lie upon and the next hour is spent imitating the movements that you will need should the worst happen. You ask when you will get a chance to actually get into some water, like a pool, and try out what you have learned, in a controlled but live environment. Instead you are rebuffed, informed that water is simply too dangerous. But you shouldn’t be alarmed, because every few months, you can pay to be tested in what techniques you have learned so far, allowing you to learn more advanced techniques afterwards, on your way to Olympic proficiency.

Sound dumb to you?

Now I’ll change the perspective slightly. You believe outside your door is a big bad world filled with big bad people, so you want to learn some self-defence because should you or a loved one be attacked one day, you want to be able to stay safe. So you do a quick Google Search and find someone that advertises the exact lessons you’ve been looking for, taught by a Master Sensei from the Ancient Oriental Martial Arts Council. You turn up and see someone before you in a crisp white Gi and Black Belt. They take you through a talk about what they teach you WILL save you should you have an altercation because attacks are all too regular in this day and age. You then partner up and practice these techniques in a fully compliant manner. You ask when you will get a chance to actually try out these techniques in a fight, like sparring, a controlled but live environment. Instead you are rebuffed, informed that these techniques are simply too dangerous to try sparring. But you shouldn’t be alarmed, because every few months, you can pay to be tested in what techniques you have learned so far, allowing you to learn more advanced techniques afterwards, on your way to Black Belt proficiency.

Yeah, that’s how dumb it all sounds to us too. So let’s try this once more.

Instead of going to the Aquatic Preservation club/Ancient Oriental Self Defence dojo, you go down your local swimming baths/combat sports gym. The instructor tells you that they will teach you to swim/box/grapple etcthat they regularly attend swim meets/competitions, and regularly race/spar against each other. They don’t mention anything about freak wave survival/street attacks, but that’s fine. You climb into the shallow end/boxing ring/mats, and you do some practice. At the end, they have you swimming some lengths/sparring, and you see how useful what you’ve learned already is. Yeah, you’ve got a bit wet/bruised, and your muscles are sore, but you’ve done some swimming/fighting, and isn’t that what you wanted? You ask if there are any exams or gradings, and the instructor tells you, there is if you wish there to be, but that it won’t be on the amount of techniques you know, instead on how well you hold yourself in the pool/sparring that will dictate your level.

So who survives in the FREAK wave accident, the person from the Aquatic Preservation club, or the person who was doing some swimming down the local pool? One trained for that very scenario in a dry environment, the other one got wet but was swimming for sport.

Some stuff to consider when choosing to do Martial Arts. There is NO strict governance. If YOU actually wanted to invent your own Martial Arts Council, and Style, call yourself the grand 10th Dan Master of it, put on a Gi and buy a Black Belt, and teach people down your local community centre in techniques you saw on TV and Youtube, there is really no lawful reason you can’t. No one would know any the wiser because neither you nor them actually has to see these techniques in proper use. But this is where the sport based arts become the safe bet. Like the swimming analogy, you can see the techniques in action, in a live setting, trained at full speed in a resisting environment. Combat sports don’t specifically teach for self defence, they teach to spar and compete, but them in an adverse situation, and I know where to put my money.

You’ll also know how good you are, not by the colour of your belt or how well you can demonstrate the techniques in a non-stressed environment, but how you perform in competition and sparring against ATTACKING opponents. People who want to genuinely stop you. Anyone can punch thin air and believe it’ll work when they need it, but that ignores all the nuances of how hard a head is to hit, or how fast it can dodge and move. Only frequent practice and sparring will allow you to learn that. In other words, you need to get wet.

You may wonder how these snake oil salesman get away with this, or why they do it in the first place. Some actually believe what they teach will work, simply because at one point they were a student, and they’ve never really had to use it since. There are ample examples of people being proven otherwise on Youtube.


But some also know that it won’t work, and they are allowed to continue through general ignorance. They are being paid to teach people to swim without even using water, and it is the lack of understanding coupled with an almost expected mysticism of Martial Arts that means people don’t question what they are being taught.

And this is why it’s dangerous. There are dozens of places in every town professing to teach people how to defend themselves, people will take that at face value, look at their belt, and have that false sense of security of safety. The world is not as dangerous as you are told. It is a lot safer than at any time in our collective history. But that doesn’t mean these things won’t sometimes happen, and being armed with nonsense is almost more dangerous than knowing nothing at all, because at least the person with no input might use more common sense and avoid the situation altogether.

You need to feel the stress and adrenaline dump of confrontation, the rush, the feeling of energy leaving your muscles in an instant, and the immense tunnel vision that can only come from intense confrontation. Without the practice to deal with those feelings, how do you know how you’ll react when the proverbial does hit the fan? Fighting itself is also VERY physical. Just like how swimming requires cardio and athleticism, so does fighting. But doing press ups and jumping jacks improves your ability to swim approximately as much as they will improve your ability to fight, as in not-a-great-deal. To get better at each of those, you actually need to do them.

SOME places do teach competent self-defence, but they are few and far between, and do deserve your scrutiny when you visit. The safer bet is the place where people congregate to punch, kick, throw, strangle, and submit each other. They may seem gritty and pretty brutal places, but swimming pools are filled with voids of murderous water (‘cuz drowning sucks), and people visit them readily.

This is not to say Combat Sports are the saviour of Martial Arts from the charlatans that are out there. But they are considerably more honest and up front about their potential and their limits. The lessons are geared towards improved sporting prowess, through increased athleticism and superior technique, not spending every session shoving the “what ifs” of violent urban confrontation down your throat.

A frequent argument is that sporting arts are unrealistic and that self defence techniques like groin strikes and eye pokes are not only more likely to succeed but also cannot be trained due to their inherent danger. A response to that would be that they are dangerous to drill, but if you need to pay someone to teach you to go for those zones, then that’s the same as paying someone to tell you to not breath in when your head goes underwater. A competent sports martial artist is going to understand distance, timing, weight distribution, and body mechanics an awful lot more, and those techniques are still available should they need them. They’ll just happen to be sitting on their assailant when they attempt them.

I understand the above video is a rather extreme example, but it is not too dissimilar to being told to fall down because the demonstrated technique WILL hurt when put on fully and being conditioned to react a certain way. Effective arts and techniques should be allowed to be held up to scrutiny. Like I mentioned at the beginning of this article, there are no true governing bodies out there making sure terrible arts don’t make it into our towns, so there has to be a self governance between all arts.

IF you do want to still take up Martial Arts that have no real defensive value, then be honest with your intentions. It’s fine to be interested in the art, the forms, the culture and the history of what you are learning. But understand that it is just that, art…

It is not fighting…


Published by Chris Paines

Grappling Coach

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