Pressure testing doesn't work.

- Sifu Jarvie

Pressure Testing is the idea that in order to know a technique, tactic, or strategy works, we need to test it "under pressure" which usually means sparring or competition. Sparring or competition is not a realistic way of testing these things. Furthermore, there is no real way to know if a move works. Even if a move fails in a real world scenario, all that proves is that it didn't work in that scenario, and vice versa. There are three reasons why pressure testing doesn't work.

1. Controlled Environment

Sparring is done on a flat, smooth, hopefully non-slick surface, with proper athletic apparel, in a well lit room. You are warmed up, and stretched out, and likely haven't just eaten a big lunch. You know there are no weapons involved, unless you know they are for this training. And rarely if ever do we spar with 2 or more opponents at the same time, and even then we know who and where our opponents are. You know there aren't any surprises like the lights going out, or stepping off the mat onto gravel or wet grass.

Of course we can amp up the training by having impromptu late night sparring sessions next to the dumpster behind the studio where the street light barely reaches. Street clothes, no chance to warm up, or stretch, if your shoe is untied... too bad. You could make it extra realistic by having someone punch you in the back of the head just before you start to simulate a surprise attack. You could have the coach randomly through a trainer weapon to someone, or call another student to jump in. But of course no one does this. Just going out to the parking lot, or wearing jeans doesn't change that fact.

2. Limited Pool of Training Partners

Chances are you will spar with everyone in your club within a few weeks. After a couple months you've sparred with everyone available to you. Now you want to 'pressure test' this new move, but your sparring partner likely just learned that move too, and they know you are going to try to pull it off. Even if you go to a different gym and try your moves on a guy who practices a different style than you, if he's any good, he will pick up what you're doing, and figure out how to shut it down. Some guy on the street isn't going to know that you train in martial arts. Even if you told him, he probably wouldn't even know what that style is. He almost certainly wouldn't know what move you're about to demonstrate on him, or how to counter it.

3. Asymmetrical Combat

This is the most true when we talk about competition. Some people will say that competition is the only way to truly 'pressure test' our skills. When we compete, we likely have weight classes, we are divided by gender, and we certainly know that the person we are competing against has at least some degree of training. Many competitions are limited to a specific style, and even if they are not, they have rule sets that favor a specific way of fighting. Meaning our opponent has either trained in this style, or a style that favors this way of fighting.

At the higher levels of competition, ourselves and our opponent have fought through the brackets to the point where we can compete against each other. Demonstrating that they are at a roughly equal skill level. In Serious competition we can be assured that our opponent is in good health, highly athletic, and probably under 35 years old. All said, we can assume that the person we are competing with is at least near our physical ability, experience, and skill level.

In a self defense situation, the chances of this are extremely unlikely. The offender could either be an 18 year old linebacker with a grudge, or a 50 year old drug addict that thinks you are an alien sent to harvest his organs. In the former, I would likely get seriously hurt, while the latter, I would feel bad about how much I hurt this guy. A move that might easily be shut down by a trained fighter could just as easily end the fight against an untrained criminal.

To discount something, just because it didn't work in a narrow circumstance, or to have the highest confidence in something else for the same reason, is senseless. We can't simply apply 'pressure' to a move, or principle to determine its absolute effectiveness. This only illuminates one facet of the thing we are examining, and fails completely to look at unknown variables.

I'm sure many of you by this point are saying "well, are we just supposed to have blind faith that this move or that works?" No, we should always be critical of everything we learn.

We should foster a community where we challenge each other's concepts. And more importantly, accept criticism of our own concepts. We should look carefully at everything we do, looking for flaws, and opportunities. When a move doesn't work, we should try to figure out why. And when a move does work, we should be even more careful to make sure it wasn't just an artifact of training.

This isn't to say we should be disrespectful to our teachers. We can, and should be respectful and humble when we question what our teachers show us. And teachers likewise should be open minded and encouraging to new questions. This is how we defeat the cult-like behavior that many traditional martial arts engage in. However we can do it without throwing everything away just to chase some new fad.

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