It is my belief that the martial art has to be tailored to reflect the need of the times we live in. The one hit kill may no longer be necessary but martial arts effectiveness is.

Greetings my martial arts brethren. I was worried that you might be falling into complacency and I had better shake you back into full awareness. Are you guys ready to get on the ‘way back machine’? I think that a little time travel might do us all some good so here we go with one of my ‘back in the day’ dissertations.

How many of you remember when our hands and feet were considered lethal weapons? Remember when we were all considered trained killers? There were even rumors circulating that we had to register our hands with the police department. We were so deadly that we were afraid to put our hands in our pockets in the dead of the Chicago winter. Might get arrested for carrying a concealed weapon. I even heard of a karateka who tried to salute and knocked his own brains out. Of course I’m exaggerating but karate ‘back in the day’ was a completely different animal from what it is today. I’ll address that in a minute but while we’re on our time travel gig we might as well go back to the time when karate and such arts meant the difference between life and death. Maybe the contrast will give us a better idea of where we are today.

There was a time when the unarmed arts were the only recourse that the average person had in the way of self defense. Japan was pretty feudalistic and tried to conquer all of its surrounding neighbors. It was pretty effective in many instances. Places like Okinawa and Korea came under the influence of Japan’s militaristic culture. They were conquered and forbidden to own or bare any type of weapon. These laws were enforced by samurai who weren’t especially gentle in the fulfilling of their obligations. The slightest infraction or disrespect met an instant reprisal that more often than not resulted in the death of the person involved. There were no halfway measures for minor infractions or misdemeanors. In any and all instances the results were generally the same. The people in these countries responded with the only weapons left to them. The traditional unarmed fighting systems of those countries were developed to their ultimate level of efficiency.

Many of us are somewhat aware of the skill of the samurai in those violent times. They were some of the most devastating warriors in the known world. The people of those subjugated countries had to contend against them and their combative skills unarmed. Can you imagine facing one of those superlative warriors and their sword arts bare handed? The karate masters of Okinawa often did and on many occasions they were able to subdue and defeat their armed opponents. That required a skill level that most of us can’t equal today. Most of today’s best martial artists would be more than hard pressed to meet such a challenge. Very few of us could rise to the occasion.

Not only did the samurai carry superior armament, they wore armor. That meant that the hands and feet had to be strong enough to penetrate the armor of the opponent and find access to the nerve centers and pressure points that made victory possible. That required extensive conditioning of the body’s weapons.
Morph back to the twentieth and twenty first century. In the late fifties and early sixties when I began to study jiu jitsu and karate the martial arts were still taught in the old way. Probably not to the same extent but it still embraced many of the old methods of training. We conditioned our weapons beating them on makiwari pads, wooden posts and anything else that would make them tough and impervious to pain and injury. We practiced tamasiwari techniques breaking everything from boards to quarry rock with our hands and feet. Our hands were severely calloused and we sported knots of bone and calcium on our fists the size of pidgin eggs. I suffer arthritis in my hands today behind such practices. I’ve managed to break practically every bone in my hands at one time or another. We exercised and stretched our bodies to the point that we could do things that should have been nearly impossible. The martial arts weren’t popular in those days and small wonder why. Anyone with anything that even vaguely resembled good sense avoided anything like that like the plague.

Karate was taught different in those days. That was before kenpo or tae kwon do invaded the martial art world. We were taught differently. We trained towards a different objective so we trained differently. There were no boxer type jabs to set up a finishing technique. An adversary wasn’t worn down with a flurry of punches, kicks and strikes. All of our strikes were designed for maximum damage and all of our techniques were finishing techniques.

There is a lot of argument today about the validity of the one hit kill. Did it really exist? Is it possible? The arts that we study were originally designed to accomplish just such a result. When you were facing a trained samurai and he was wielding a razor sharp length of steel you didn’t get more than the one shot. There were seldom second chances in such confrontations. The first strike had to be made to count and that single blow had to drop and finish the opponent.

Of course, we have to question the practicality of such extensive training and conditioning of the body today. These are modern times and we can’t afford to abuse our hands to the extent that they did in those days. They did very little precise work with their hands in those days. They were primarily farmers and laborers. They didn’t require a lot of manual dexterity. This is a different world. We can’t beat our hands into bludgeons and make them into clubs and swords. Those days are gone. A martial art has to reflect the time that the practitioner lives in. These aren’t feudal times. Still though, if we insist on using the same techniques we have to have the tools to make them work. Punching someone on the tip of the chin hard enough to render them unconscious will do you more damage than it will them. It’s hard to fight with a fractured hand or a broken wrist. That’s what we risk when we fight in the old way with unconditioned weapons. We have to be realistic in our approach.

So, does the one hit kill really exist? Oh yes. It is still alive and well. We just have to reassess our approach to the fighting arts to make it realistic. We have to either condition our hands, change our weapons or change our technique. Something as simple as striking with a palm heel instead of a fist or kicking with the shin instead of the toe of the shoe can make all the difference in the world. Please understand, I’m not suggesting that we should try to kill everyone who confronts us with this mystical killing ability. The punishment has to suit the crime. Breaking someone’s neck for talking about your momma might be a slight overreaction. As we develop our ability in the arts our sense of responsibility and humanity has to develop also. With great power comes great responsibility.

I love the devastatingly fast techniques of American kenpo and I’m equally impressed with the bone shattering ability of old school karate. Either is pretty effective by itself but when the capabilities of both are seamlessly married a fabulous happy medium is accomplished. You now have the best of both worlds each complimenting the other to good effect.

It is my belief that the martial art has to be tailored to reflect the need of the times we live in. It’s been ages since I’ve had to face an armed samurai and I seldom have to crash through armor to reach an opponent’s weak points. Hench the radical conditioning of the hands are no longer necessary. Still it would be nice to know that if I am called on to defend myself that my weapons will be effective. If I have to hit someone I want to know that they’ll stay hit. That is to say that they’ll be incapacitated long enough for me to make a strategic withdrawal. Taking into consideration that discretion is still the better part of valor. If we’re honest with ourselves and realistic in our approach to the fighting arts we should be able to find the happy medium or combination of ingredients that will work for us. The one hit kill may no longer be necessary but martial arts effectiveness is.

God bless you, my brethren. Train hard and go with God.
Rev. Dr. Donald Miskel

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Donald Miskel
Donald Miskel started his training in 1959 at the Jiu Jitsu Institute in Chicago and trained with several well known and respected martial arts instructors in a number of disciplines. He has attained black belt ranking in six different martial art disciplines. Sensei Miskel taught at several locations in and around the Chicago area for many years. His focus was self defense instruction for civilians and specialized, individual, training for law enforcement personnel and security officers. He worked in several areas of law enforcement, mental health and personal security as well as performing Pastoral duties at several churches and ministries for a number of years. e helped to create the Black Lotus Combative System and he founded the Dante Ryu Gojute Kenpo karate/ Ju jitsu fighting system. Dr. Miskel is an original member of the Black Dragon Fighting Society.