Home » Aikido » Musings 020811: Street Creds

Musings 020811: Street Creds


Just now I’m shaking off the experience (horrors) of a seasonal retail position and a nazi for a professor. More on the professor and a month’s worth of homework for another day but for now I’d like to bring up something that I believe isn’t brought up too often. Something that I don’t hear many martial arts instructors talk about: Getting yourself in a “real” situation.

I am of course talking about fighting on the street; where you’re minding your own business when suddenly a mugger(s)  jumps your ass to steal something from you – be it your life, your money, your significant other, drugs, your virginity, or your pride (among others).

Now my question to the world out there is this: To be a “bone fide” martial arts instructor – or even a martial artist, do you need to have been through a real fight?

Now I’m no expert, but just saying: everyone has been in some sort of scuffle in their lives at one point or another. I’ve never been in any fights in my life – yet. But I did punch a kid in 1st grade in the face and got sent to the office. One punch and that was all (funnily enough I forgot why I did that but it wasn’t anything serious – that I remember). I’ve also been punched the face and ears a few times in training – my left ear is ringing right now from the two-minute mini-concussion that followed an impact there a year ago (proof of muscle memory?). And lastly I’ve been kicked in the diaphragm region via a training partner’s heal. I remember this because of the two-minute paralysis that followed – while I was laying on the mat motionless and having difficultly breathing.

I guess I really don’t know. Now understandably no one really wants to get into fight – whether it be the neighborhood punks, your significant other, the enemy on the battlefield, etc. But experiencing a physical fight could only be an asset in one’s martial journey I imagine. One reason of my decision to take up another martial art at the moment is not only that I feel like using my fists and feet (Aikido has little to no punches and no kicks), but also something that would allow me to experience that adrenaline rush/dump in a controlled environment that usually happens when some punk is squaring off on you.

I think about the two martial artists who I look up to at this point and I can only see that they started out from having to deal with people who really wanted to beat the crap out of them. Morihei Ueshiba, better known as O’Sensei (founder of Aikido) went through a period in his youth where he beat up people for self-protection and (some aikidoists are going to hate me for saying this) just for the hell of it! This is not mentioning the fact that all the way up to his 50s there were Japanese martial artists who were challenging him to duels (akin to the gunslinger duels of the American wild west) where they really, really wanted to kill him. O’Sensei walked away (literally) from all of these and usually without a weapon too (in most of these he purposefully never requested one). Most of  his challengers (if not all) ended up hurting themselves – but that’s a story for another time.

Bruce Lee lived in the gang-infested streets of Hong Kong in the 50s and probably lost count of all the fights that he got himself into (and some that came to him!) as a teen. In fact according to some biographers he got into Wing Chun when at age 13 or 14, he had his ass jumped by a group of boys wanted to make an example of him. After that encounter, bloodied and beaten, he asked his mom if he could learn kung fu (which she in turn asked his father, had a discussion, and through him met Ip Man). The rest is history; this is not mentioning the fact that he was also a boxing champ.

So the issue whether these two had “street cred” as martial artists is self-explanatory. Here I come back to my question: Do I need “street cred”?

And for those of you who don’t know, it’s short for “street credentials”. I’m sure it’s a different term nowadays but that was the one that I grew up with.

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6 thoughts on “Musings 020811: Street Creds

  1. It’s an interesting question. Do you want to learn “self defense” from someone who’s never had to defend themselves?

    We are happy to pay big bucks to the university to learn a “profession” from who have no actual experience in the subject they are teaching as a practical matter.

    Is it the same thing, or is it different?

  2. Concur with the university portion…

    That being said, I think having street cred is not that big of a deal, unless you’re learning an art that specifically deals with that. For example, I kow what I’m learning is effective because over half my time in class is spent sparring. But realistically speaking, I’ve only tested it ‘within’ the art, if that makes sense.

    On the other hand, a friend of a friend is a Regional Transit Authority officer, who routinely uses Hapkido in his work. Sometimes on a daily basis if you’re to believe some of the stories. I do know that what he studies is a ‘subset’ of Hapkido known as Combat Hapkido, and from what I understand is a sort of Hapkido-lite designed for the street. I’ve been told that within the LEO community, street cred is a major factor.

    So yeah, I think its important based on what you’re ultimately looking for.

    Actually, I just posted yesterday sort of dealing with this subject. I had a buddy jumped Tuesday night, and long story short, he gained a little street cred…

  3. Hmmmm, I believe in order to be an effective instructor you need to have spent some time in combat. Unless one know what it is like to be hit, many students have that overly fear of being hit. Even when I was growing up I had fights, but I still did not like being hit, but I knew I could survive and still function after taking a blow… on the other hand.
    However, you can still be a good instructor without having been in a real fight, if you have put in a lot of time working with a partner on timing , speed, technique, flow, body anatomy, Pressure points, etc. Also how to avoid a fight the best defense is not to be in that space where you need to fight. Being aware of your surroundings…not looking like a target…

    In a way it is a complex question, some tournament fighter get there Arse handed to them in the streets. Some street fighter can not fight in a tournament…short answer…it depends. Most things are usually yes and no 🙂

  4. Stefan & Zen – Great points both of you. I guess the answer is it depends. I definitely agree that what a person is looking for plays a role and I agree with Zen on that some tournament fighters can’t deal with the street yet some street guys can’t deal with the tournaments or can’t deal with a skilled tournament fighter.

    What I had intended with this post is that (and Zen you gave me this thought) one must have balance. Take Bruce Lee who was training in Wing Chun and in western boxing yet was actually using it on the streets of HK to save his own ass. So he was training in a classical MA as well as putting himself in “real” situations.

    The university remark is right on the dot – you can’t just study something and not have to use it and call yourself “learned” – learned knowledge is much, much different than experience.

  5. I guess one would have to define how to win in a street situation. My mind set is to be aware of the environment around me and avoid the conflict through the action of not being open.

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