Are you training, or fighting?

Aren’t fighting and training to fight the same thing? As we’ll discuss, they’re not. The very catalyst for this post is the regularity over the years in which I’ve encountered students in training who would rather test their skills, or the skills of the trainer, than learn through rote process and planned training. The training I’m referring to specifically is martial training, but I’ve seen it in a variety of contexts. Have you ever been in a class in school, for example, with “that guy” who regularly pits himself against the knowledge of the instructor? I think many of us have. Hopefully this isn’t you, but I know that I’ve done it. What I realized a long time ago though is that it isn’t profitable and worse yet, I didn’t learn anything. I’m sure that ego plays a large part in this type of behavior, but I don’t think that’s always the case. Even if it is, those who know better owe it to those who don’t to guide them in the process. So, here are a few points I’d like to make on the topic in hopes that it helps direct both student and teacher.

Training is not fighting. While simulations of fighting an opponent (like sparring) may exist within a training routine for a martial artist, boxer, mixed martial artist, etc., the two are are not the same. In fact, even sparring sessions will have a general set of rules and controls put in place because there are specific training goals for that particular session. In aikido, for example, there is jiyu-waza (open technique) and randori (literally meaning controlled chaos). Judo also uses randori (dissimilarly from aikido) and kata (which contrary to popular misinterpretation is not individual forms training but is paired or partnered training). Jiu-Jitsu schools will have formats that are similar to Judo, which makes sense since Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is essentially Kodokan Judo.

Training is preparing the mind, body and spirit for a specific task. Training is participating in tasks that give our minds and bodies stimuli so that there can be a proper response from them when we need it. Essentially, training is the regular practice of physically or neurologically encountering stimuli in order to construct a base level appropriate response.

Fighting is not training, but like training it exists inside a controlled environment. Fighting is seen in sports contests like boxing, grappling, mixed martial arts competitions and such. Fighting is the competitive or sportive engagement of persons in a controlled environment utilizing knowledge and skills accumulated through training. Within this potentially imperfect definition is the point that training leads to improvement in sport combat. That is the goal of training. Thus training yields a product, i.e., better performance.

This distinction may still not be clear for some, or perhaps trivial for others. If you want to advance in a given skill, whether it’s playing the piano, becoming a better grappler, shooting a rifle more effectively, or learning a foreign language, you have to approach the task intelligently and planned. Training should be a series of varying tasks that are designed specifically to neurologically build you up in the area that you may be lacking, or in which you must maintain proficiency.

It is fairly common for beginners to mistake training for fighting. In a training environment such a Ju-Jitsu school, a newby can become overwhelmed and intimidated by other students, or may have a feeling of inferiority or a desire to please the instructor, so he puts his entire heart into it and goes very hard and fast. I’ve never seen this happen in a martial art school from a woman, and I feel it’s probably something that is predominant among men, and probably statistically non-existent among women. Sorry guys.

The problem with this approach to training is that it typically can end in an injury to either party, which should be avoided. An injured person can’t train, and isn’t able to help others train either, and worse than that, the goal of the training session is not achieved. It’s a lose-lose situation for everybody.

Earlier we defined fighting loosely as a sportive or competitive engagement. This descriptor is specific for planned acts of simulated combat in controlled environments (i.e., boxing, grappling matches, judo or sambo matches, etc.) Fighting as a term does not describe actual life or death scenarios or parking lot battles. Those instances in life of unplanned, spontaneous violence are termed “engagement”. Engaging another individual or several people is different from fighting for many obvious reasons, namely the fact that at least one of the parties involved is unaware of an engagement prior to its occurrence, and there are no rules applied outside of those inscribed on the moral code of the parties involved. There will be a future blog detailing this nuance, but for now there should be an understanding that training can encompass preparation for fighting or engagement, fighting and engaging are not the same, training is never a fight or an engagement in and of itself, and training is useful for both.

To summarize, training, fighting and engagement are three separate terms describing three separate but interrelated concepts. Training prepares the mind, body, and spirit for a given task. Training should be specific to the task for which one is preparing, and should be planned and progressive.

Fighting and engagement have similar characteristics, but are differentiated in that fighting exists in a controlled environment and has rules. Engagement, prior to its occurrence, is most often unknown by at least one of the involved parties and has no rules other than individual moral code. (In the context of military engagement, the act of engagement is more complex. A future blog will discuss these nuances.) Both fighting and engagement utilize training for better effectiveness.


About Nathaniel Ryan

Nathaniel has been a martial artist since 1983. He has matched his training experience in real-world environments since 1997. Nathaniel is on the constant pursuit of refining technique and tactics for real world environments.
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