The Beatings Will Continue Until Morale Improves!

The Role of a good Beat Down in Martial Arts.

The paradox of martial arts is the conflict between its two elements: the martial, which deals with raw violence, and the art, which deals with aesthetics and personal expression. Balancing both of these elements is an ongoing challenge for those who choose this pursuit.

Many schools are infamous for their brutal approach, where senior students welcome the new by physical initiation, using martial arts as an excuse to demonstrate their physical prowess on victims who are unable to fight back. Most would agree that this is at best a form of bullying, at worst a crime. This approach clearly lacks in basic ethics.

However, most experienced martial artists, especially those who teach, would probably also argue that, on occasion, there is a time and place to lay a beating on someone. It’s a fine line–you don’t want to cause permanent physical injury or damage, but rather put someone in their place and remind them that pain is not fun.

I do not condone using martial arts as an excuse to inflict pain on those who don’t deserve it, but there are times when people need to be put back in line. This article will explore some situations and examples when laying a beat down on someone is actually the appropriate move.

Control? What’s that?

One recent situation was when we were doing a bit of light sparring in a class, and one particular individual decided to go not so light. I had noticed in a previous class that another student was very quiet and seemed upset after the training, but because I had been working in with another partner, I wasn’t sure exactly what had happened. Based on the evidence that followed, I could fill in the blanks.

This student was throwing techniques very hard and with very little control. I found some openings and gave the student a little taste of his own medicine.

This was actually quite difficult to do. Again, if the goal was just to drop him and not care about the consequences, that would have been relatively easy, but the fact was that I wanted to send a message without causing any serious damage. The control required to hit someone with enough force to cause pain, but not enough to injure, is a difficult edge to walk.

At the end of the training, I also made sure to verbally address the issue with the entire class. Actions speak louder than words, but sometimes people need both. A student can misinterpret the increased speed and power as permission to continue escalating things, which would result in the opposite outcome as what I wanted. I made sure it was clear that if you’re going to go at your partner like you mean it, you can expect the other person to match your intensity. This results in less happy learning, and more painful lessons.

The bottom line was that the student got the message. The next week, the sparring was noticeably lighter and more controlled. It seemed to be a more pleasant experience for everyone.

Intervening here is necessary. If not, that student could approach others with the same wild enthusiasm, and they could get hurt. If the safety of participants is in jeopardy, it is the responsibility of the instructor to step into the line of fire and diffuse the situation.

Great, kid! Don’t get cocky.

Another common situation where demonstrating your ability to kick someone’s butt is called for is when success begins to go to their head. It’s not always the case that promotions, advancement, and skill development will lead to inflated ego, but it does happen. On those occasions, it makes sense to remind a junior of their place.

A good example of this is when rolling. Sometimes a student may be getting encouraged by their success, not realizing that they are rolling a lot harder and that the senior student is actually taking it easy on them. If this translates into a “See that? I tapped him like ten times” attitude, then the student needs to be reminded that the bar is actually a lot higher than they might have realized.

There is a hierarchy in most martial arts for a reason. Success should not come at the cost of humility. Being humble is an important character trait, because it reminds us that we still have skill areas to develop, and that there will always be someone who is better than you.

Hammer Time!

Actually, in this case, the hammer is grading time. Again, this should be done with the requisite control and safety measures in place, but a grading should be an opportunity to pressure-test techniques and strategies developed under passive resistance. There should be more intensity and physicality required.

Again, this can’t necessarily be done with every technique. Some are too dangerous to practice without equipment, and even then, research shows that shots to the head (even ones not severe enough to cause concussion) can add up in the long term, leading to CTE. However, with proper precautions, situations such as bear hugs, tackle attempts, and wrist or lapel grabs can be facilitated with a fairly realistic amount of resistance.

The student in question will end up very sore the next day, but also with a legitimate sense of accomplishment.


Overall, an instructor has to make calculated decisions about whether and when they need to send someone a message. It could be for the purpose of an attitude adjustment or to push the student’s boundaries in the case of a grading. However, this tactic should never be used out of anger, spite, or cruelty.

Martial arts is the study of physical violence, so ultimately it needs to be violent. However, giving someone a good old-fashioned beat down should always be done with the right motivations in mind: protecting other students from someone’s lack of control, slapping down someone’s ego when it starts getting too big, or pressure-testing someone’s technique to see where it begins to show cracks. These reasons ultimately are for the benefit of the students, and not just an exercise in intimidation.

Respect is a value that is often thrown around in martial arts classes, but it is a two-way street. If the instructor is respectful of the other human beings in their club, it will reflect in all of their actions. The line between utilizing their skills to be a jerk and using it for a benevolent purpose will always be clear.

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