If you have visited many martial art web sites, you have probably seen claims that a particular art is “deadly.” You may have seen magazine advertisements about some “deadly” martial art. You may have heard some “master” speak of how “deadly” is his or her art. You may have heard some martial artist state that his or her art is too “deadly” to use in the ring, or that they would like to spar with your students but, since their techniques are so “deadly,” they do not want to chance harming your students.
What is deadly? We hear of deadly weapons—what is a deadly weapon? A firearm is considered a deadly weapon, a knife may be used as a deadly weapon, but a hammer, a cooking pan, or a pencil may also be used as a deadly weapon. Is a hand a deadly weapon? If so, can you be charged with carrying a concealed weapon if you have your hands in your pockets?
What constitutes a deadly weapon is the way in which the object is used. Some things are inherently a dangerous weapon because the primarily purpose of the object is to kill or injure. The primary purpose of a firearm is to kill, that is the purpose for which what it was originally intended; therefore, it is inherently a deadly weapon. The primary purpose of a knife is to cut, but it may easily be used to kill; therefore, it is inherently deadly even though it has many useful purposes that do not include killing or injuring. Hammers, pans, and pencils have original purposes that do not include killing or injury, so they are not inherently deadly even though they may be used to kill or injure.
So, what makes a martial art deadly? An adult may wrestle with a child, box with a son who receives boxing gloves on a birthday, or remove a rowdy drunk from a bar without, all without using deadly techniques, or even fearing they might harm the person. Have you ever watched dogs play with each other? They play exactly as they fight. What separates the two activities is intention. While playing, they do not intend to cause harm; while fighting, they do intend to cause harm. People may act in the same way. They may spar in much the same manner as they would fight in a real situation, except their intention is to play, not harm
Accidents happen. For example, a simple punch to the chest may be deadly if it strikes over the heart between beats, which may cause the heart to stop. However, this does not in itself make any technique “deadly.” Death or serious injury may result from an activity but that does not mean the activity is inherently deadly. People die while skiing but skiing is not considered a deadly sport.
However, just as firearms are inherently deadly if used incorrectly, some techniques may also be inherently deadly. If you purposefully kick a person on the side of the head with a full-power spinning heel kick, the implication is that you intended to kill or serious injure the person, because this action is inherently deadly. However, fully focused and controlled spinning heel kicks to the head are used every day during sparring sessions with no injuries. What makes a technique deadly is the intention of the technique and the way it is used.
Therefore, any martial art may be ‘deadly” if it is used in a deadly manner. Conversely, any “deadly” techniques may be used a harmless manner. The practitioner of a deadly martial art can easily spar with anyone; the practitioner merely has to use his or her techniques in a safe manner. Any true martial artist has the ability to control his or her actions, such as the amount of force used in a technique, or the area targeted. How else could practitioners of “deadly” martial arts practice their martial arts? If they did not have control of their actions, they would be no one left to train with since they would be killing each other.
If indeed there is a “deadly” martial art, then how do you safely train in it, and what good is it in the real world if all it teaches you to do is kill. What do you do when an obnoxious drunk is bothering your wife? What do you do when a teenager snatches your purse? Alternatively, what do you do when an irate motorist is raging out of control after a minor traffic accident? What do you do—kill them all! If you have control over your art enough that you may use it in situations that do not require or permit deadly force, then why do you not have enough control over it that you may spar with opponents of other martial arts?
Whenever a person claims his or her martial art is too deadly to be used in the ring or in a sparring session with another martial art, what he or she is really saying is, “I do not have the skill or confidence to use my martial art safely” or “I know my martial art is phony and I would be embarrassed if I tried to use it against your martial art.” Firearm enthusiasts safely fire their weapons in competition all the time with no injuries or deaths. Ultimate fighters train with their friends everyday using their “deadly” techniques, without harming each other.
No empty hand martial art is inherently “deadly.” An empty hand technique is only deadly when the user intends to make it deadly, or is so incompetent in the use of the technique that it becomes deadly. A warning that a technique or martial art may be dangerous or deadly if it is used improperly or it is used properly with the intention to cause harm is justified. However, a statement that a technique or martial art is “deadly” is just hype by someone who is either ignorant or a fraud.