Martial Arts Myths
The martial arts are filled with mystery, some of it justified and some
of it, well, not so justified. This section takes on some of the more
common myths. While there are some things that are flat out wrong, others
are just misunderstood.
The myths that really irritate me the most revolve around fighting and
self-defense, and students regularly ask me about these. I’ve listed 10 of
the more prominent myths in this article. Believe it or not, a great
majority of people still believe these to be indisputable facts.
The one-punch kill!
This is numero uno, the biggest myth of all; I can’t believe so many
people still fall for this one. Most healthy people on this planet are
extremely resilient and very hard to kill with empty hands. There are
however instances where a person may have a personal weakness that can
lead to extreme injury or death. Case-in-point, an incident that happened
in New York years ago. A few guys riding in an open jeep were trying to
make a right turn. A pedestrian was moving too slowly for their taste and
a shouting match ensued. Next, a passenger hopped out of the Jeep and
reverse punched this guy in the chest. He immediately collapsed and died
on the spot! The newspapers issued a statement “karate man kills
pedestrian with one punch!”
It was later discovered during the autopsy, that the victim had a
particular heart condition that would have killed him if he had fallen
down a flight of stairs the wrong way -- no one-hit-kill, just a person
predisposed to a particular tragic condition. Even karate legend, Egami in
his book several years ago, admits there is no such thing as a
one-strike-kill, he even went further and stated karate punches were the
least powerful among all the types of punching styles he reviewed. The
one-punch kill is undoubtedly a myth that was propagated to instill fear
and misinformation, too bad many intelligent people still believe it.
Every professional boxer’s hands are registered with the police; therefore
most people have little to fear if an altercation is about to ensue in
Wrong! A boxer’s just has to obtain a license in order to fight in the
ring. In most cases the promoter will help him attain it. Boxer’s do not
register themselves with any authority whatsoever. Having a license has no
bearing on whether or not he will punch your lights out if he chooses to
do so. He may in fact be the first one to deck you. Remember Tyson and
Version 2 of the above myth: My martial artist instructor has such
dangerous hands that he had to register them with the police.
If I had a dollar every time I heard this myth I would be living in a
multi-million dollar condo on 5th Ave. There is NO SUCH THING. The typical
story goes, “my instructor is so deadly that he had to register his hands
with the local police.” It never happened and doesn’t exist. If someone
tells you this story ask to see the documentation – there will be NONE!
My master’s hands are so tough and so well conditioned, he can break any
inanimate objects at will, and feels no pain.
Conditioning limbs and body parts to break inanimate objects are as old
as man. It does take skill and time to become conditioned, but it has
nothing to do with martial arts and more to do with circus performing.
The ability to break huge slabs of ice, bricks and boards doesn’t
necessarily mean you can fight. I knew a bricklayer who would
break stacks of bricks with a moderate slap. He never studied martial arts
in his life.
Actually if you closely observe breaking contests you’ll notice that
there’s more ingenuity used than power or martial skill. In most cases
boards, stones, bricks and tiles are carefully spaced, this creates a
domino effect to help break the entire stack. Training to break inanimate
objects is also not healthy, it can injure bones, muscles, tendons and
ligaments. One of the more famous breaking acts was
Mas Oyama's breaking off of bull’s horns, which wasn’t as noble as you
may have heard. He procured sick bulls (tied up inside pens) and would
attempt several strikes before the bull would go down. When he got older,
he had so much pain in his hands due to arthritis that he could barely use
My master is impervious to pain [anywhere on his body] and no matter how
hard I hit him, it has no effect.
Anyone can train to take full body shots to any part of the body with
minimum effect; I’m not saying it’s easy; it’s a skill unto itself. This
again has nothing to do with martial arts; this is more related to many
documented turn-of-the-century circus tricks. If you observe these
exhibitions carefully, you’ll notice that practitioners prepare themselves
mentally for the strikes in a similar fashion that a yogi would prepare
himself to walk on fire or lie on a bed of nails. What you never see
though, are these same individuals summoning these super-protective powers
during a real fight. Light a fire in your yard and invite a yogi to take a
walk; you’ll be waiting a long time!
Myth # 6:
My master has mystical or supernatural powers
Never happened, never will! These stories usually come from China and
other parts of Asia and refer to the vibrating palm, the death touch,
flying etc. Again, if you understand China, you’ll appreciate the cultural
foundation is based on mysticism and not practicality.
I recently overheard a hilarious conversation in a New York Chinese
martial arts shop. A customer and the shopkeeper were seriously discussing
how to fly kung-fu style. They both were comparing notes and scoffed at
the general public for being non-believers. These guys were serious! I
almost exploded in laughter.
I have been to China many times and after coming across some very famous
masters who weren’t very accomplished fighters, I finally met a
(non-martial art) scholar who cleared up this myth. He told me, in the old
days, if anyone died outside of the normal physical injuries [during a
fight], it probably happened in two very distinct ways. #1. The person
could have been predisposed to a certain injury, that is, he had a weak
heart, an aneurysm or something similar, or #2. poison was used. In China,
weapons as well as finger picks were used to transmit various poisons. A
slight touch and the victim would die within a few days and the mysterious
death touch would be credited.
I practice the real style, not the watered-down styles everyone else
These statements started gaining popularity with the advent of the UFC.
All of a sudden traditional martial arts were on the defensive, why, they
were losing all the time. The only recourse was to say that everyone else
was studying the watered down version, and that a real master didn’t fight
in the ring, he only fought to the death. I noticed this trend
specifically with wing chun, aikido and karate. I had a conversation with
a wing chun practitioner last year. He informed me that his master’s
master was better than Bruce Lee’s master’s master. Well if you recall,
Bruce Lee created Jeet Kune Do because he had lost faith in wing chun as a
fighting style? Many Karate practitioners use this line as well, “well my
master was the true master, not the phony master, but he only teaches from
his cave because he’s so deadly.”
Learning how to defend yourself from a dangerous situation takes years of
Absolutely not! Studying traditional martial arts for 10 or 20 years
doesn’t necessarily mean you can fight. Being able to defend yourself from
a violent street attack can take as little as a few weeks of intensive
training. We’re not talking about developing cage fighting skills, merely
defense and escape. I’ve seen great results with individuals who studied
basic combatives for a week and maintained a serious and ongoing practice
schedule. Most street fights are won more with awareness, a proper mindset
and the will and determination to do whatever’s necessary.
The military and police all know how to fight!
Nothing could be farther from the truth. Reflecting on all the military
and LE personnel I’ve taught, over the years, these guys can’t fight. Of
course there are a few who have outstanding skills, but for the most part,
they are the exception. The state sees soldiers and police as expendable.
The military doesn’t have the time and resources to promote a long-term
hand-to-hand program; soldiers and police use guns predominantly.
It was meant to be (aka. it happened for a reason)
I saved this one for last. Although it’s not directly related to martial
arts or self-defense, it is however an important contributing factor to a
person’s mindset. And when it comes to fighting, we all know, mindset is
95% of the equation.
The phrases, “It was meant to be,” or, “it happened for a reason” is
most commonly used when a tragedy occurs, and I can sympathize. However,
many people have a difficult time accepting that things can happen
randomly in the universe.
The mudslide that killed a relative wasn’t planned specifically to wipe
out that person. The shark that killed a schoolgirl didn’t get its
instructions from a higher power, things happen at random often, cause and
Many individuals, both religious and non-religious use this statement to
explain their own failure. For a secularist these statements make no sense
since they don’t believe in any omniscient or omnipotent being controlling
their lives. For fate to be in control is out of the question for them.
For religious individuals it doesn’t make any sense either, since all
religions believe that individuals always have the choice over good and
evil. If we indeed do have a choice, then the choices we make are up to
us, not an outside force. The reason I dislike this statement so much is
because it’s used as a crutch, to the point that a person gives up the
chance of winning.
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