That is Not What Keeps Me Up At Night

**Upfront Warning, this article is long, (but hopefully worth the read).

This article explores a fundamental disagreement between Tang Wei and some other systems out on the market today.  Although I can’t speak for all of them, I find that Tang Wei is one of a number of emerging “Practical Martial Arts” that represents a growing quadrant in the martial arts world. You have sports martial arts (SMA), Traditional Martial Arts (TMA), Reality Based Self Defense (RBSD) and Practical Martial Arts (PMA) as a primary breakdown of the market.

In the first 3 minutes of this video (, an argument is presented which is representative of a common logic amongst a growing part of the SMA world. The basic argument is that that ANYONE who is not teaching SMA is a liar and a fraud. SMA is posited as the only “real” martial arts because they win most often in their own competitions geared for and restricted to the tactics they specialize in.

The problem that SMA often comes up against is that it does not address the criminal assault scenarios that many of us who have no interest in preparing for sport competitions are actually concerned about.  What they address are simply not what keeps me up at night.  For me, SMA skill sets are, particularly dynamic training methods are incorporated into the mix of skills I think are essential but are not the core of what makes an effective set of mindsets, strategies and tactics for countering criminal assaults.

The “street self-defense” scenarios that Jiu Jitsu and SMA would be a great preparation for are one on one unarmed fights where honestly you could almost always simply walk away if you really have your ego and priorities in check. SMA does nothing to address weapon assaults, multiple assailants and the unregulated full spectrum use of sport outlawed empty handed tactics which are absolute game changers in a criminal assault.

Giving credit to Jiu-Jitsu and SMA in its various forms, it is heavily incorporated into the principles and practices of the Tang Wei Fighting Method but we recognize that it has limits which historically it has always acknowledged prior. SMA training methods as I mentioned are dynamic and high intensity and are superior to most traditional martial arts training.  SMA fitness components and natural incorporation of dealing with real force in training are invaluable and should be integrated into all good practical martial arts focused on “street” preparation.

Such as the video above, some SMA instructors now posit that anyone who claims to be able to address multiple opponents or weapon assaults is selling a fantasy and are deceiving the public who would be better off to train in SMA to at least be able to address the situations that can be addressed (I am sure there is no conflict of interest present in presenting their argument of course).

To start off, I will agree that some of what is said in the video is sound primary advice. In their own way they mention that If you can escape and avoid combat of any kind, then it is the FIRST option every time, no matter what.  I agree that IF you can run then you should, but this is a MUCH BIGGER “if” than these instructors portray.  The possibility of you running is something that criminals also keep in mind and strategize to prevent.

Secondly, I disagree with a common portrayal from SMA practitioners that they use by finding the worst, most fraudulent martial artists ever caught on tape in YouTube and then stating or implying that this is what ALL OTHER martial arts are.  Granted, there are many fraudulent martial artists in all sectors of the martial arts world and some of the worst are in the supposed Practical Martial Arts quadrant. Blatant examples are:


Besides the above videos there are others and they are pretty much universally thought of as fraudulent.  The SMA recent line of argument here is another in a classic erroneous line of logic that confuses one’s own experience for the limits of all that is possible.  Sometimes less innocently it is basically a marketing tactic employed to corner more of the market and work around what one has not yet ventured to learn by stating that “if I don’t have those skills, then they must not exist anywhere”.

Adding to the YouTube generated confusion are the many false portrayals of some styles showing drills out of context and inferring that the martial artists must therefore confuse their drills for reality, which some do and some do not and must be judged on a case by case basis. Examples are…




To counter the claim in the original video from this article, SMA holds many excellent skill sets and deservedly holds much of the market, but they are not complete to prepare someone for what they will likely be up against in an UNAVOIDABLE criminal assault. With this said, I would agree that it is much better to learn SMA than to end up training in a place that is highly traditional and uses fraudulent “secret deadly” techniques.

However,  there are a growing number of practical martial arts (Tang Wei admittedly being one of them) which incorporate the strategies, tactics and mindset needed for surviving serious criminal assaults with dynamic training methods similar to SMA.  These are in my opinion the best option for preparation for those kept up by severe scenarios like weapon or multiple attacker assaults.

For many of us, sport type fights are not what keep us up at night.  What concerns us are situations like:

The Tang Wei system as well as several other practically focused martial systems are focused on surviving criminal assaults, not in prevailing in ENTIRELY AVOIDABLE, HEAVILY REGULATED,  ATHLETIC bouts.  Unavoidable realistic criminal assaults start with a very real strategic component where you and the enemy work on UN-EVENING the playing field prior to fighting.  If you do not have the training to be aware of this part of the “fight before the fight” then you will be finished before the fight begins.  Having the general squared off, sparring match mentality can leave you dreadfully unprepared when your enemies stack the deck against you and lack of training as well as overly developed ego gets you into the conflict behind a deadly curve you don’t even acknowledge.  Examples of this are

PMA comes from a very different perspective and mindset. In PMA there is a real commitment to always avoiding fights that are avoidable which is often lacking (as demonstrated blatantly in the second video prior to this paragraph) in SMA. It seems that all the You Tube proof of other martial artists failing and SMA prevailing are from UFC and other so called “challenge” matches where the use of more brutal or “dirty” tactics would have neither the legal nor moral justification for use.  Certainly you would be legally on the fast track to prison if you incorporated weapons into such matches.  Practical martial arts focus on weapon tactics, weapon defenses or sport illegal empty hand tactics (which for those that reduce these tactics to only eye gouging and groin attacks you can reference to see the list of now 31 UFC rules).

For practical combat focused martial artists, when facing someone “calling you out” and challenging you to some sort of challenge match, they will not take the bait. (By the way, the expectation that UFC and any sort of regulated contest is the litmus test for all martial artists is no more sound that asking a boxer to compete in a wrestling match and expecting the boxer to win if his style is really effective).   If challenged, a practical martial artist should do what they are trained to do and simply check their ego to then avoid avoidable (and illegal I might add) mutual combat encounter.

If at a location where you can leave, then leave, if at a location like your home where it is fitting for the other person to leave then ask them to leave and tell them they are trespassing, call the police and protect yourself as they make it necessary.  The only way to find out “how good” a practical martial artist is, is to commit a criminal assault that they cannot avoid and then see where everything lands when the chips are down.  Practical martial artists should know what is fighting for and what is not.  Ego is never worth fighting for.

When fights get serious to the point where you can’t walk away or run, they will involve weapons, multiple assailants or both.   Any honest practical martial artist also recognizes that in life threatening criminal assaults there are NO GAURANTEES, no magic techniques, only methods with varying effect for increasing (or decreasing) the likelihood of prevailing. Much like sports martial arts but with a different set of tactics that are best for “winning”, you have to execute what you have learned in a dynamic, free flowing situation against a LIVING opponent who in this case is bent on your destruction. Often you will hear instructors say things like “in a knife fight you must prepare to be cut” etc.

For those that have put in the time to train realistically, to get your head knocked around in force on force drills, to pressure test etc, it becomes clear that despite the fact that there are no full proof answers to a knife attack or multiple opponent attacks, etc, THERE ARE UNDOUBTEDLY methods that DO and DO NOT have the potential for success.  THERE ARE also tactics that are highly reliable and can dramatically increase your chances of survival when facing a serious criminal assault.  There are also some tactics that can give you a near zero chance of survival (such as trying to grab an enemy with a knife or one in a group of attackers, do a double leg takedown and go for and arm bar or rear naked choke).

The reality is that you can avoid almost all criminal assaults, but when your number is up, it is at best 50-50 that you will be able to run away.  When you can’t run away, you will still need to have an answer as to what you are going to do. The argument that you can always run away is irresponsible (it is about as responsible as the same delusional gun owner argument that if someone attacks, you can just shoot them).

Good luck running away when a person bent on attacking you who deploys a knife point blank or a group of people that plan to jump you who don’t give away their intention until they are within striking range. What if you are simply not as fast as your attackers?  What if you have family that you need to protect? Good luck running away when they come into your house on a home invasion (every man for himself, leave your wife and kids behind, I guess we are supposed to be like George Castansa on Seinfeld fleeing from a burning building, now that’s a video clip worth seeing if only for a quick laugh

All joking aside, although there are no full proof answers, for those with experience, there are undoubtedly answers that work and those that don’t.  This is what training in PMA and RBSD is really about, finding the strategies and tactics that work best, then training them effectively to ingrain better habits that increase your chances of surviving and protecting your loved ones when it counts.  It is irresponsible to lump all non-sport martial arts into frauds to control more business interest.   EVERYONE also knows instinctively that when criminal or terroristic assaults happen, they are only little more like what we see in a sporting contest than they are to fantasy movie fight scenes.

They are less contests of strategy where opponent’s spar and circle one another in prolonged conflicts.  They are chaotic explosions of violence where it is simply a contest of who can get to whose vulnerable targets in a significant way first.  There is no time to jockey between mount and guard positions, or to lock up to take a rest by holding your opponent in boxing, there is no referee to save you if you are struck HARD on the cervical spine when you go for a takedown. In these animalistic, violent conflicts, It is time to be good at suppressing their attack while landing your own and getting to effective targets HARD and FIRST.

Respectfully, while the likelihood of facing a criminal assault thankfully remains low in the United States, when that moment comes, attempting to run can get you knifed or shot in the back and/or run down like a dog.  If you are from mainly a PMA background it is important that your system incorporate dynamic and force on force style of SMA training methods adapted to safely incorporate what is most effective in an unregulated environment.  In the reverse, if you are from an SMA background and find yourself growing concerned about what to do against a knife or how to use weapons, or what to do to increase chances of survival when you can’t run away, then maybe consider incorporating some PMA into your training.  Typically, when there seems to be a debate between “this or that”, the smart money is to incorporate both into a comprehensive solution adjusted to your balance of concerns.

Lastly, there is something to be said about the ART of martial arts.  In Tang Wei and other PMA there are artistic exercises still taught that hold value for developing coordination and timing and staying fit.  People should also be careful not to mistake every technique as one representing whether a style is valid or not.  PMA certainly focuses on having a much higher concentration of techniques designed for practical application but there are still elements of curriculum retained for art and personal development.



Kyle Whiteley

Tang Wei Martial Arts Senior Instructor