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I'm not dumb. I just have a command
of thoroughly useless information.
             Bill Watterson

Padding Information in Martial Art/Self-Defense

In order to keep students paying, many instructors "pad" their information. They cram the curriculum with lots and lots of details, minutia and techniques. This is especially appealing to people who like to "collect techniques." Such people think knowing many different complex techniques translates into being good at fighting. To tell you the truth, knowing countless techniques just means you know a lot of techniques, not that you are a good fighter. Just because you know it, doesn't mean you can do it well.

We should mention the difference between "discovering the depths of the art" and padding information is the same as that between genuine gold and costume jewelry. While padding information is sold under the guise of discovering the depths, it is, in fact, selling brass as fine jewelry. Much of it is flashy and functionally useless.

Padded information tends to focus more on the "sizzle rather than the steak." The techniques look good, they look flashy and, supposedly, they take a long time to learn before they become effective. Unfortunately, they are often like a car without an engine: They have the form, but not what makes them functional. And practice them though you might, they will never have real world application. They are too complicated and too time consuming to set up. In order for these moves to work, everything must be just right. Yes, they work in the school because that is a controlled environment where they can be set up. In the real world, however, things seldom -- if ever -- line up perfectly.

After excessive and unnecessary techniques, three of the most common forms of padding are bunkai, in-house cross training and dan advancement.

Courtesy of a particular marketing campaign, "bunkai" is commonly misunderstood to mean "secret fighting techniques hidden within the forms."(4) When bunkai is used as padding, after spending years learning a move as a punch, it is "revealed" to the senior student that the move is actually something else (e.g., it is a throw! Or a block!) This is a great way to keep black belts hanging around and paying for whatever cockamamie definition the head instructor comes up with. Rank, which had been a goal and standard of accomplishment in the system, now becomes just a road marker on an endless, ever-narrowing, road. The head instructor is still ahead of you on this particular road, and you still have to pay him to teach you more.

We make the comment about "ever narrowing" because this isn't real bunkai. You are still accepting someone else's interpretation, and you aren't thinking for yourself. You can give it 20 years of study and, at the end, You will only know that instructor's interpretation The simple truth is bunkai should have been incorporated in what you are learning all along. You needed to have multiple definitions and applications on simple moves from the start. That is indeed the beauty and challenge of plumbing the depths of the martial arts.

Trying to define a movement as something else at the late date of teaching a senior student is functionally useless because it already has been imprinted with a definition. This imprinting is how the human brain works. It has nothing to do martial arts, but has everything to do with neurology and psychology. Without years of breaking the 'mold,' that first definition is what it will remain as the sole "effective" application. That is especially true in the chaos of conflict. Your primary imprinting will be the moves you use. Unfortunately, that may not be what you need to keep from getting your head broken open.

But teaching you all these "secret" applications (that the instructor is making up as he goes along or which he learned from his instructor, who made them up) is a way to keep you as a paying student at his school.

The second common form of padding is having a belt requirement or offer "cross training" in some other system. It just so happens this other system is one the school also teaches -- usually at an additional cost.

For the record, there is NO such thing as a Super Wal-Mart martial art style. There isn't one-stop shopping when it comes to self-defense or the martial arts. This statement flies directly in the face of the current trend in the martial arts to promote either esoteric or amalgamated arts as "complete systems." Usually cobbled together "complete systems" are a conglomerate of current market pressures and demands. They more accurately reflect what the public thinks is involved in the subject, rather than the actual facts and complications.

Because the current martial arts market is hung up on grappling, for example, it is a major cornerstone of "mixed martial arts" (MMA). Current belief is that you cannot be a complete, or an effective, fighter unless you know a degree of grappling. And not even the "traditional" martial arts are exempt from the pressure of this myth. After the grappling craze, many schools revealed the hitherto "secret groundfighting techniques" that the system had. Or the instructor watched a few tapes on grappling and then dubbed in some other obscure grappling art that nobody else had ever heard of. Some of these schools even go so far as requiring that you be belted in these in-house grappling systems to achieve your primary black belt.

We have encountered several schools that routinely demand some kind of cross training outside the normal curriculum -- at an additional cost, of course. Whether this is grappling, weapons, for health concerns or even "spiritual," there is either a stated curriculum requirement or a pressure campaign to get you to sign up. In the latter case, senior students are often encouraged by the head instructor to promote seminars, events and programs to less advanced students. In this way, the head instructor doesn't seem to be the one pressing for more money from you. It isn't until you have worked your way up to where you are attending senior student/instructor meetings that you will see this pressure campaign being instigated. Or they just add it into the existing system to keep you paying longer before they give you your belt.

The third way of padding information is through continuing dan advancement. It is no longer enough to be a black belt, it is now a matter of what degree black belt you are. In order to understand the significance of this form of padding, you must know about two other common commercial martial arts school means to get your money because they are closely intertwined ...

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