Martial arts can be tricky to discuss. There are many arts out there, and many of them have dramatically different opinions about what are "good skills to know." Some arts don't teach grappling, others only teach grappling. Some teach punches, some teach kicks.

There is no scientific way to determine which is best, because there is no agreed upon criteria for how to measure that. Some have tried. Some claim that success in the MMA arena is the criteria for success. Others claim that success in combat is the criteria. Still others say that if you live a life enriched by your martial art, you have succeeded.

However, martial arts are a major time commitment. It takes many years to become proficient in any art. Thus it is common for any given martial arts group to loudly claim that their way of viewing thing is best, and anyone who disagrees is lesser. This creates great conflict because people do not like to acknowledge any possibility that they have been wasting their time.

If I want to have a civilized discussion of any martial arts concept, I have to be aware of these highly opinionated regions of the martial arts space. What are the best ways to avoid verbal conflict, and instead find a way for everyone involved in the discussion to gain from the discussion, even if the topic was one they did not consider to be "essential" to martial arts.

I hope the answers can address both halves of the issue:

  • How to identify and avoid initiating people's defensive mechanisms
  • How to identify when my own defensive mechanisms are being triggered, and seek to avoid making the situation worse.

This question is now misplaced

This question has been migrated to meta, which is for discussion about about how the martial arts SE forum should work. Its focus has thus been artificially narrowed to only the discussion within the SE framework, rather than the answers I sought for every day life (for instance, ways to maintain civility between two individuals, one who is learning Tai Chi, and the other is learning Krav Maga).

I will not accept any answers on this question which answer only the narrow question which only deals with martial arts SE. The only answers I will accept are those which properly address my actual question. Hopefully the question will be re-migrated soon.

  • 5
    The question is too broad, and its anwer will be mainly opinion-based, which will generate too much discussion. Commented Jul 14, 2015 at 20:01
  • @TheWudangKid I have added words to improve the accuracy of your opinion of my intent for the question. Hopefully those words are sufficient to make my question clearer for everyone.
    – Cort Ammon
    Commented Jul 15, 2015 at 18:26
  • @CortAmmon: This feels very much like a subjective discussion kind of topic, which means that the Meta or chat are probably the best forums for it. Commented Jun 27, 2018 at 13:46

5 Answers 5


It's really quite simple.

  1. Be respectful
  2. Have no ego involved

Case closed.

Optional 3rd: don't fight fire with fire. If someone insists that they're right and you're wrong, they're not someone you want to be talking to anyway, so tell them they're right, thank them for their time, and be on your way.


This could be a very lengthy discussion on debate, critical thinking, logical fallacies, Epistemology, and civil discourse. Instead, here's all I'm going to say on this subject:

Whenever you open your mouth (or in this case type something to a web-based forum), you are inviting criticism. If that isn't something you can tolerate, then don't say anything.

That said, there's a right way and a wrong way to be critical. Name-calling is an obvious example of something to completely avoid. But so is insisting you're right and they're wrong without explaining yourself sufficiently. And there are many other ways of going about it the wrong way.

People aren't born knowing how to do this. Without education and experience, we're pretty bad at it.

If you're really interested in becoming good at making arguments and critical thinking, you should read up on the subject of "logical fallacies" (Google it!). There are many logical fallacies. Familiarizing yourself with most of them will allow you to be better at formulating your own clear, concise arguments and therefore better at convincing others. It will also help you narrow in on why someone else's argument is wrong so that you can clearly and logically explain why they're wrong, rather than simply telling them they're wrong which is often interpreted as being rude.

Those that get upset by others criticizing their arguments in a thoughtful, logical way (as opposed to name-calling or "trolling", for example) shouldn't be making those arguments in the first place. They only want replies from people who like what they say and who praise them for it. This is a completely unreasonable expectation. They get angry and tell people they're just being "negative", "rude", or "cynical". When others see that, they feel like they're being told that they can't say what's on their mind, but the original poster can, which is unfair. And the discourse becomes very uncivil at this point.

So again, my advice is that if you say anything, you should expect criticism. And that's perfectly fine, so long as the criticism is constructive and thoughtful.

Stack Exchange tries to eliminate the usual reply-after-reply debating style, which nobody reads after the first few replies anyway. Instead, you post a single "answer" if you think someone else's answer is wrong or incomplete in some way. Your answer can serve as a rebuttal to some other answer. Other people can make relatively small comments at the bottom of the answer, in an attempt to make the author reconsider and change his/her answer. But these comments are not designed for lengthy, back-and-forth debating. And finally, answers and comments can be flagged as inappropriate or offensive so that moderators can review them and can remove them if in violation of etiquette rules.

Hope that helps.


The right question gets you far

Framing a question properly goes a long way. Be clear on what you're asking for, and in what context - are you asking for people's personal experiences, resources such as videos, books, or schools to go investigate more, historical examples, schools of belief, etc?

Also consider the differences between these different questions:

  • Does X work?
  • How can I learn to do X better?
  • Where I can learn to do X?
  • What are some accounts/records/examples of experts in doing X?
  • What are your experiences with X?
  • Is X a good choice for Y goals?
  • Given Y conditions, will X be a good choice?

Notice how this sets up a key point: context. There may not be a single martial art that is good for everything, but there are some martial arts that are better at particular things - setting up context for your question allows people to give better answers.

People may decide to ask about the framing of the question if things seem to be out of place or based in off assumptions ("Are high kicks a good way to prevent baldness?"), but otherwise you can avoid a lot of problems with a clear question.

Second, understand some questions may not be answerable the way you want. "What's the one technique that will make you invincible?" If a question has remained unanswered or contentious over a broad group of people and time, it is probable that the question is wrongly framed or needs to be considered in a very different way.

Third, make sure you are asking a question you don't already have an answer to. "Can someone tell me how I'm right?" isn't really asking a question and clearly already has an answer in mind. In those cases you don't want a question and answer forum - you want to google for things that support what you believe and usually to win some kind of argument against someone else.

If you find that you're getting the wrong kinds of answers, look to how you might reframe the question. It's a skill to develop.


In answering, look to how someone is framing the question. Try to answer within the framing, unless it shows some kind of deep misunderstanding, and in that case, providing larger context information can help someone figure out where to look or how to ask a better question.

If you are talking about your personal experience, note that. If you are pulling from historical resources, or traditions for the questioner to look up, point out what those are. If a particular art has strengths or weaknesses, you can note that without having to go "This is the number one best in the world"

The easy way to identify defensiveness

  1. If someone is wrong and you've informed them about useful information, is there really any reason to keep trying to convince them? Who are they to you? What do you care what they think?

  2. If someone is right, and you are wrong, what would that mean for you?

  3. Are you asking a question where you will only accept a single answer? If so, why are you asking?

Usually the sign of defensiveness is the compulsive need to get the last word in, to be acknowledged as correct. The answer is pretty much the same - say the one thing you need to say, then walk away. The information is there for others to look up or try out and find out for themselves.


Firstly, you cannot and should not force others to gain something from what you say. Maybe you are just wrong and too ignorant to know it. Maybe they are wrong and are happy to wallow in their own ignorance. It is their choice to learn something from you. As the saying goes: "The mountain does not need to proclaim it is dangerous, everyone knows it is".

Second, in your interactions, Wil Wheaton's "do not be a dick" seems appropriate. Accept that others have a different view point and should you chose to, try to learn from them. Or not. Your call.

Finally, learn to be wrong. It is okay to be wrong. It is okay not to understand something you though you understood. This, in my not so humble opinion, is really really hard.

Stack exchange does not have a good conversation interface. This is by design and is a good thing. Comments are all ephemeral. I use them to ask for clarification, explain how the answer could be better, or just why I think the answer is worthless1. They are not here to discus things. If you want to discus things: martialarts.stackexchange is not the right medium.

1: I used to justify my down votes. In my experience, a tiny fraction lead to a better question/answer, the rest was split between abuse thrown at me and no effect whatsoever. Thus, I no longer justify my down votes as I do not enjoy being abused.

  • Medium is a good point. I do catch myself forgetting that I am communicating through a limited medium. Many of the situations where I find my civility in question are ones where I know the other person is wrong, and could prove it, but the medium is the wrong one for such a proof. Stack exchange is a particularly tricky medium because there is often no message which is helpful for one reader without "being a dick" to another reader with a different background!
    – Cort Ammon
    Commented Jul 16, 2015 at 12:06

In an offline setting, you can physically fight with some rules agreed upon by the parties. This is a simple way of understanding what each person may be able to show the other about how to improve themselves. Martial arts are inherently about fighting at some level, and frequently the best way to convince people of a point is to show them rather than talk. The civility part comes in when each party avoids permanently injuring the other party.

One master stated, "[redacted] is only fit for fighting old women and children." If someone said that to you about your style, you are basically in a position to challenge them or stay quiet. It used to be that challenging could be friendly, the martial arts version of doing collaborative research.

This is why I disagree with you about whether your question is better suited for meta. Your question assumes the physical option is not available.

  • 1
    La raison du plus fort est toujours la meilleure. Commented Jul 16, 2015 at 10:57
  • The most interesting results are when the "weaker" party can demonstrate sufficient skill to be interesting or win.
    – mattm Mod
    Commented Jul 16, 2015 at 15:44
  • Fighting is not about the best style, it's about the best fighter.
    – Anon
    Commented Jul 17, 2015 at 13:46

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