In days gone by, a person who held information about survival in the world was revered. Much sort after by everyone, the lessons they gave were typically quick and brutal, but ultimately effective. The martial arts instructor was just such a person, holding the secrets to survival on the battlefield or the harsh world. Times have changes, and the world has now split into civilian life and the military. The civilian world of the martial arts is very commercial having turned into big business where the holder of the knowledge peddles his wares to an ambivalent and complacent populace.

Knowledge needs an outlet, something to hook onto. Without this hook it literally goes in one ear and out the other. The school system we have been exposed to over the last 100 years fits directly into this category and has left us with the ever-widening chasm between knowledge and competency. That I have the knowledge about something does not mean I can do it. So what is the point of the knowledge? It's big business, because that's the way we've been brought up. Competency should be the goal not knowledge for knowledge sake.

In the martial arts school, information and learning without some form of emotional content winds up in the realm of knowledge. Students know all the technique of the school, but don't understand their purpose or can't apply them when the shit hits the fan. The very best lessons in life are those that were emotionally charged in some way or had some physical ramifications (good or bad). However, to most of us at the schools, our world is no long a dangerous place, nor are we asked to put our lives on the line (unless we are in the military, police, fire dept). Therefore, we expect our lessons to fit into our safe world, but it's a square peg in a round hole! We gain knowledge about the martial arts but do not gain competency in combat.

The only way to modify people's behavior is to attached emotion, in the world of combat there is no room for error, lessons must be learnt well and the good instructor knows that the harder they are the more chance their students will survive. What comes across as cruel or painful is in fact an instructor caring about the students. When I see a soft instructor I think one of two things, initially I think of a poor student who does not deserve the instructors concern, lastly I think of a poor instructor who does not care about the students.

Commercial martial arts is about having fun, competing in sport, getting fit and making money, without any of the nasty ramifications like the possibility of dying if you don't learn your lessons. The last thing an instructor needs is to piss off students because he yells at them, especially when they pay the bills. Where is the balance?

Competition is possibly one of the last link between sport and combat, there has always been a fine line since the times of the gladiators. It is a tenuous link with many arguments for and against, which I don't intend to enlarge on here. Needless to say, some form of competition is better than nothings.

Anyway, let's not kid ourselves; it's great to live in a society where our lessons are not hinged on life or death. However, if you take up a martial art, indulge in all aspects of it, remember the hard lessons are the best lessons. Go to the school with the hard reputation, not the easy one. Ultimately in this way and from a good instructor you will gain some competencies in combat, which is really what it's all about.