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The Consequences of Marital Arts: It's Knowledge or Lack Thereof

Updated on April 9, 2017

In the martial arts classic, Enter the Dragon, Bruce Lee’s character utters this phrase while speaking to a head monk: “A martial artist has to take responsibility for himself and tp face the consequences of his own doing”. On the surface it’s the typical kung fu, mystical, mumbo jumbo circa 1975. And yet I think it is importance more so today than it was back then.

Most tutorials on knife fighting in videos or books show the techniques and what they are for.  It can make using them appealing. Most don't show what happens after someone is cut though.
Most tutorials on knife fighting in videos or books show the techniques and what they are for. It can make using them appealing. Most don't show what happens after someone is cut though. | Source

The Diversity of Ass Kicking

Martial arts have become much more diversity and accessible than they were in the 1970’s and possibly than they ever have been in history. It has been used from exercise like tai bo and kick boxing, to meditation like and relaxation like Aikido, to entertainment like MMA, and of course, for self-defense. However, at its heart, all forms develop the human mind and body through movements initially designed to do damage to another human being and when taken far enough, kill them.

There is an argument to be made that the responsibility aspect of the styles has been lost. Discipline is there to be sure, but not much teaching on that what you are training people for is to harm other people. I have taken six styles and in none of them told me the ramifications of what I learned after they are used.

For example, throat shots are effective, especially against larger attackers or just to end a fight quickly. However, you can also permanently damage to the throat leaving that person with difficulty breathing for the rest of his life. Worst case, if you hit the throat hard enough and in the right way, they’ll die. An eye gouge is also effective for stunning or breaking up an attack, but it can also lead to blindness and temporary or permanent eye damage. There are legal consequences for these actions, even in the act of defending yourself. And unless you are a trained soldier, mercenary, or plain killer, you may not be prepared to deal with that after the event, though justified.

These are pressure points in the head that most martial artists know about. What maybe less known is that three of these can lead to death or severe bodily damage for which there maybe legal questions: cranium, brachial plexus origin, jugular notch
These are pressure points in the head that most martial artists know about. What maybe less known is that three of these can lead to death or severe bodily damage for which there maybe legal questions: cranium, brachial plexus origin, jugular notch | Source

General Ignorance

Other times, it simply may not be popular teaching this knowledge.

The promotional nature of mixed martial arts entertainment is designed to make noise and draw crowds for the big fight and initial payout. These are professional athletes who know techniques that can do serious damage to people, but the promotions focus on showing how much they can kick the other person’s ass. Look at Rhonda Rousey’s and Connor Mcgregror’s trash talking for their fights, or the latter’s display of throwing objects at his opponents during press briefings. Not much room for consequence of actions there beyond other people holding them back.

Even traditional martial arts are not immune to this lack of knowledge. I’ve seen many demonstrations of how to cripple or beat up someone. Only one have I ever seen one that talked about the results of the techniques and their long term affects, or the legal severity of types of strikes when used and to be mindful of them.

The one time I did see teachings on this was with a Krav Maga instructor who explained that the target zones were divided into three levels of pressure points. The most lethal being rated level one, potential lasting medical damage but not necessarily lethal points at level two, and level three being painful areas but not lethal and should stop an attack.

In movies, martial arts make their stars seem like bad asses. There isn’t any thought given to the harm they have caused another person. Which brings us back to Enter the Dragon.


Though later versions have the main character of Chen Zhen survivng, Bruce Lee's original portrayal has him dying as a price for killing a Japanese official.  This was Bruce's idea that martial artist need to be accountable.
Though later versions have the main character of Chen Zhen survivng, Bruce Lee's original portrayal has him dying as a price for killing a Japanese official. This was Bruce's idea that martial artist need to be accountable. | Source

The Philosophy Behind Brutality

Bruce Lee maybe most well known for being a phenomenal martial artist and action star, but his few movies was not without thought. He majored in philosophy and as such put in thought behind the actions for his characters that may not be readily apparent.

Enter the Dragon’s villain, Han, is being hunted by Lee because he used his skills taught to him by the Shaolin monks for personal gain. He needed to be held accountable. Fist of Fury, Lee’s character kills a Japanese sword master in revenge for his students killing of his friends. The penalty for that was death and the movie ends with the implication of him being shot as he charges the riflemen, accepting what he has done while being defiant. And in Way of the Dragon, where he has his legendary fight with Chuck Norris, Lee cripples his opponent, but Norris refuses to give up. With a shake of his head, Lee communicates to him that he will have to kill him if he continues, which Norris does anyway. After the deed is done, he covers the body in respect for his fallen enemy.

The reason I feel that more knowledge of the consequences of martial arts is important is exactly because of the diversity of martial arts in our society. A kid can just go on YouTube if he wants to learn some techniques and practice with a friend, rather than go to an instructor. Or they can just try and copy the moves they saw off a movie, even if it has the “do not try this at home” message in it.

It is almost like anyone being able to buy a loaded gun from anywhere and test out on the nearest person, with no real clue how to use it, respecting the weapon or human life, and the legalities if the weapon is used. Even cops and military officers have to turning their weapons if they are used in force.

Martial arts are ultimately just tools, no matter what capacity they are used in. In the most objective sense, there is no real obligation for any user to abide by any rule or code of behavior. Users learning the value of life, in conjunction with the ability to harm or end it, can create awareness along with balance. The person fully acknowledges the power that he has just learned, and make no mistake that the ability to affect other’s lives is power, and will therefore use it sparingly(hopefully).

The person with the power is the first one to walk away from a fight, not throw the first punch, because they are aware that if a fight breaks out, the fallout cannot be predicted. No matter the training, real fights are unpredictable and not a controlled environment. Anything can literally happen and an educated practitioner is aware of which techniques to use and not use because they will have to answer for them.

That person is conscious that a martial artist has to take responsibility for him or herself and face the consequences of their own doing.

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