Martial Reviews

Top 10 Surprisingly Common Martial Arts Myths

Martial arts, like many things in life, is full of some rather surprising myths. Some of these are believable and even have some basis in truth whereas others are downright stupid. I list my top 10 martial arts myths.

1. Martial artists used to be given a white belt which would turn black over time.


This is the so called Dirty Belt Theory. Basically it says that before coloured belts, a martial artist would have a white belt and as they trained it would collect dirt and sweat which would make it darker and darker and in the end black. Even though this myth is within the realm of possibility and may make for an interesting story, there is no real evidence to suggest that it's true.

2. My instructor has supernatural healing powers.


Believe it or not, some instructors actually claim that they have healing powers. Probably something to do with the flow of energy and all that. I've got some perhaps hard hitting news for you. Your instructor is just a regular bloke. Possibly with a few screws loose.

I knew one guy who did this. I certainly hope he didn't actually believe that he really possessed the gift of healing. Anyway, a kid would injure themselves and he would perform his magic. He would hover his hand over the affected area and after a minute or so the pain would fade. Of course, the trick is that the pain would fade anyway, but the kid always thought it was cool.

3. Every black belt is good at teaching martial arts.


Worse is when they assume they're a good teacher because they have a black belt. A black belt is by no means a teaching qualification. In fact some black belts are absolutely awful teachers. I'm sure we've all met black belts who are exceptionally good at their techniques but then bore us to death with their poor teaching. Interestingly, experience doesn't always improve their teaching. I suspect it's because they fall into the complacency trap meaning that they think they're doing fine so they don't change which means they never improve. Here's some advice: your teaching methods can always be improved.

On the flip side, not every great martial arts teacher is a black belt. There is plenty of untapped teaching potential in those who don't hold a black belt. I suppose this raises the question of what the minimum grade someone must hold to teach. Too low and you risk inexperience causing problems. Too high and you may waste teaching talent. It's essential to strike a balance between these two extremes. But I digress.

4. Striking the nose can kill a man.


More specifically, the claim is that it's possible to strike the nose in such a way that part of the structure of the nose becomes embedded in the brain, thus killing the intended target. The trouble with this claim is that the nose has only two small bones with the rest being mostly cartilage. This together with the fact that the brain isn't at all close to the nose, a strike to the nose cannot alone be fatal.

5. There is a death touch.


Some martial artists believe that they have the ability to perform the so called touch of death. Such a strike can apparently, with very little pain, cause organs to shut down and the eventual death of the target all from a relatively light strike.

Of course this is completely untrue. Stories of such killings exist only in legend. There are no recorded cases of fatalities caused by the supposed touch of death, although it would be quite hard to actually prove it.

6. Black belt is the highest grade.


This is not entirely true. While in some styles a black belt is the grade at which the wearer is supposed to have mastered the relevant techniques, there are different ranks of black belt. Wado Ryu, for instance, has 10 ranks of black belt known as dan grades. Other styles use a red belt to denote the highest grade.

7. Okinawan farmers invented karate to defend against samurai.


This sure makes for an entertaining story. It could even be the basis of a film. It's not true, though. Well, not entirely. Okinawan royalty developed various forms of karate, but when they lost their status they were forced to take up farming and fishing to make a living.

8. Black belts cannot be beaten.


Black belts may have studied martial arts in depth and put in many years of hard work, but they're still human and as such still make mistakes. Anyone who has truly mastered a martial art will recognise this. If they suggest otherwise then they're either showing off or have embraced the most dangerous and risky mindset in martial arts, that of complacency. We always tell our new black belts what I think is a rather neat saying:

Black belt is only the beginning.

Where this quote comes from I'm not entirely sure, but a variation of it was on The Mummy Returns. It's completely accurate though. Learning and improving doesn't stop at black belt, or ever in fact. Your martial arts journey is never complete.

9. You must be strong to train in martial arts.


While strength is obviously an advantage, it is by no means necessary. Martial arts is all about fluid movement and excellent technique. Locks, holds and strikes are effective not because of strength, but because they are targeted at the most vulnerable points.

You can start martial arts with average physical body strength.

10. You must register yourself as a dangerous weapon with your local police station.


Seriously, some people think this is true. When someone told me this I thought they were joking. Apparently not. If you had to register yourself as a lethal weapon then imagine the other things you'd have to register. Knives, garden tools, your toothbrush, even your pen. It's even more amusing when they suggest that you must register your arms and legs separately.