“That shit will get you locked up” – Using better questions to cut through the fog of martial “junk”

“We need philosophy to help us to ask the right questions” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=onCbj0Eh-18 this video from Slavoj Zizek.

If you look at any martial arts forum argu-thread you will see a mess of “opinions-masquerading-as-facts”, faux-logic and unchecked subjective preference blended with cherry picked personal experiences taking precedent over cold hard facts.

This is why I dont use forums any more. Its like sparring but without pre agreeing and sticking to the rules. Who gets the benefit? Why, whoever bends the rules firstest and mostest to fit their agenda of course!

“Oh you thought we were just boxing? well screw you I cant beat you at boxing, so take this kick in the nutsack, ha ha!”

You might call me a fascist or a control freak, but without strict codes of debate you get nowhere. Why should anyone subject themselves to “boxing” with anonymous online folk who cheat to make up for a lack of intelligence/ manners/ vocabulary / a proper point?

Lets be crystal clear: Debate is a skill. Thinking is a skill. Presenting an argument is a skill. These things take study, they must be learned if they are to be done well.

But people just rock up with their hand down their pants scratching their nuts with a straw hanging out of their mouth and go “oh look I has access to teh internetz, I has opinionz, let me spew dem out”. and then fill cyberspace with the rancid vom of their idiocy. “This iz fun, I haz audience, hur hur hur.”

Even formulating opinions and beliefs can be considered a skill. It can be done skilfully or… it can be done sloppily.
Talk to the average person about any issue that arouses an emotional response and you will find they usually do it the latter way. The easier way. The way that feels good. The way that doesnt require going the extra mile. The quick ego-fix mainlined straight into their cyber-penises.

Cyber- penii?

Whatever, its a metaphor.

This is where a goodly dose of western philosophy can become a useful tool. That is unless we just want to roll around wrestling in our own poo for eternity. Hey, dont knock it, some people like it! Just look at how many people have the same argument over and over again.
“MMA vs Combatives” – boom, yet another 400 page thread filled with hot air that goes nowhere and eventually gets locked as people mindlessly repeat the same points with ever increasing emotional fervour.

Just a little linguistic technicality called a “nominalisation”.
But forgetting that words are just words and not things. And this map sure as hell aint the territory.

“Mixed Martial Arts” means the blending of styles to fulfill an objective. “Combative” is an adjective NOT a noun that can be pluralised. Mixing the MA to reach a certain objective is by its nature “Combative”, no?

The martial arts seems at times like a machine endlessly spewing out “ANSWERS” – my style does this, my style does that, we train this way, my instructor says you must always … and so on.

But what questions are they answering? Are these questions ever questioned? And how did everyone get so damned “certain” in their conclusions???

“You must always…”

“You must never…”

“That technique will get you killed….”

“That technique will get you locked up….”

Really? HOW do you KNOW this is true? Philosophy 101: On what basis do you stridently present this assertion as fact? Do courts judge on techniques, injuries, intent or context? Or all of the above?

Is killing a person harder than they have ever been killed before till they are stone “dead dead dead” ever be justifed?

If YES then how can a preemptive strike to always be unjustified?

How can an instructor peacock around about what a badass he used to be “back in the day”, inclusive of advice to carry knives and side arms then go on to whinge that some of the unarmed training shown is just “too damn violent” and “will get you locked up”?


Uh, my headbutt versus your glock – which is worse for the perp oh wise guru of teh streetz? Is logic not working today? Can reason cover?

A punch to the jaw is unlikely to kill, maim or have someone pooping into a bag for the rest of their lives… however the tactical folder you carry everywhere just might.

“Give em enough rope and you can hang them with their own logic”. Said no one who had the good sense to not mix a metaphor. Ever.

Will a technique get you locked up or will a jurys perception of an action you took get you locked up? Is it a question soley of what you did devoid from context or is it a question of what you can justify?

Now Im not a lawyer, but I THINK the jury of peers is there for that reason, to look at the circumstances and facts of the indivdual case and make an assessment based on the old “balance of probabilites”.

I do not THINK there is a big red book marked “naughty things that you must specifically never do to a criminal if you dont want to get locked up”.

Page 1. “Premptively Punching him in the jaw : you must NEVER preemptively punch a criminal in the jaw, that shit will like, totally get you locked up bro.”

Page 2. “Ninja chop to neck: you crazy?”

Page 3. “Double single knuckle strike to temples: you must like prison food and bum rape, because you are going down son!”

And so on.

I dont THINK such a big red book exists.

But as I say, no law degree, cant be certain. I’d be shocked if there was such a book, truly I would.

How can a technique be “always illegal”? Who decides that and how?

How can it always be wrong to hit a man with my hand, but sometimes be ok to hit him with a bullet… from out of a gun… in my hand?


These are just questions. Some of them may help us to THINK a little more clearly. Rigid rules stubbornly held do not make for “truth”, no matter how curmudgeonly and smugly the attitude with which they are used to passively aggressively bash people over the head.
As an aside its all very well whinging “that will get you locked up” but what about offering an alternative? You know : “instruction”? Instruction is that thing that an “instructor” should offer? Beyond the self indulgence of mere smarmy comments? MMmm?




These crazy “rules” could drive a person crazy, their defiance of logic is so powerful they have a gravity that cant bend time in towards themselves.

“Never hit first”. Never? Even as he is pulling out the knife he just told you he is going to stab you with? Are you mad blud?

“Always try to run away.” Always? On a bus? Are you dizzy fam?

And are the (implicit, unheard) questions of martial arts that are being answered themselves checked for “structural well formedness”? i.e. Do the questions continue to make sense even when subjected to critical scrutiny?

For example “what is the best way to defend a punch in the street?”

Instructor brings out equally sized opponent who delivers straight punch at half speed to half a foot in front of instructors face from arms distance away in loose tracksuit in well lit, silent dojo on matted floor.

Er, how about this question: “before we even get into the defense, how closely does the attack shown represent any street assault ever seen on this planet at any time in human history?”

“Oh its a symbolic point of reference to develop a technique.”

Is it? Is it indeeeeed?

Did you tell your students that? Do they know they are training “symbolically” not literally? Did they pay for symbolic training or literal training? Do they need to be attacked by a symbol for this defense to work? What types of symbols will this NOT work against? What about cymbals? If they are here to study symbology why dont they spend their money studying heiroglyphics instead and get to the point ? Why are you shoehorning this technique into a scenario? Who told you to go from the technique and work backwards? By what protocol do you decide what and how to train? Can you write it down for me please? Shouldnt it be up there on the wall? Whats the flipping context? Why havent you defined that? WHAT ARE THE FLIPPING OBJECTIVES? Is it unimportant to define them? Whats so important about this technique anyway? Do you suffer from an OCD technique fetish?

What are we training FOR?

Zizek @ 1.35mins : “There are not only wrong answers, there are also wrong questions. There are questions which deal with a certain real problem but the way they are formulated they effectively obfuscate, mystify, confuse the problem.”

He goes on to make the point that some questions have an implicit doctrine, they force the answer into a certain paradigm or reality tunnel. Zizek notes : Racism always seems to become a question of “tolerance”, ecology always seems to become a question of “humanity’s guilty rape of mother earth.” and so on.

In martial arts every question, any question seems to lead to a big, sweaty, long winded mass debate of “style” or “methodology”.

Why? Is this truly open minded questioning or just the mindless drum beating of zealots brainwashed into the martial art cult du jour?

And the despicable posturing “oh we are just rationally asking questions and discussing possible answers, being objective, we are objectivists” Are you? Are you really?
Or is this innocently delivered line of poppycock trotted out and delivered with fluttering eyelashes and a “butter wouldnt melt” demeanour there to cover the ugly truth of a very nasty hidden agenda:
“we are here to sell ONE solution and one solution only… the RIGHT SOLUTION. Our solution. Delivered on tablets of stone and chock full of truthiness.”


Also notice that most forum arguments are not so much about “what” to do but “how” to do it.

Guy attacks you in street with no provocation.

Do you >

1. quickly don your gimp mask and help him to ensure he injures you as proficiently as possible without exerting himself or getting your nasty blood on his hush puppies?

2. try not to get injured/ take some action that stops his intent from being fulfilled even if that means clobbering him upside the jaw?

3. ask him nicely to please stop his illegal activities or else you will be forced to make a citizens arrest?

4. Flip out your smartphone and show him your latest forum posts so he understand the dangerous alter ego you might call upon should he force your hand.

This is NEVER the argument.We all agree on “what” to do so why do we have to agonise over “how”?Because of the hidden agenda: One “style” versus another “style” for ego or profit.Lets not forget the nonsense-reality this creates when discussing “how to not get beaten up” and which system is “best” for acheiving that goal.

As if having decided the “what” to do in a violent, unprovoked, unprepared for situation of high stress and immediate risk (not get your head kicked in) there is going to be a cornucopia of options for us to choose from that will determine the “how” (of not getting your head kicked in).

“MMMmmm, lets see, drunken monkey? BJJ? karate? wing chun? hsing-yi? I think I really want to give him the spinning back elbow, but its just so 80’s you know?”

You can count yourself lucky if you get ONE option of “how” to not get battered. You will be forced to roll with whatever “how” the situation gives you as and when it presents itself. If it does.

Here is a good question: Why do we always assume we will get that first option of “how”? Is that realistic? Should we not also prepare for the shock of being judas punched before we even know the fight is on? Does that happen?

Its funny, every body asks “what style do you do?” which translates as “HOW do you train?” right?

You know, its like this: “Oh you do martial arts, what style do you?”

But nobody ever asks “what are you training FOR?”

Isnt that the most important question?

Shouldnt that come first?

Thinking skillfully and carefully could be said to be nothing more (or less) than the discipline of asking questions skillfully and carefully.

About The Author

richie grannon

Richard Grannon is a martial arts instructor and psychology coach.


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