My name is Seth Murray, and I am the founder of Via Potentia. I've been involved in martial arts since about 1980. I've met some great people, and I'm very thankful for the experiences. However, I gradually realized that, as good as most martial arts are for developing coordination, discipline and healthy relationships, they also have many shortcomings and a lot of unnecessary baggage. They also tend to promote a kind of traditional martial arts fantasy land which is very different from how real violence takes place (this wouldn't be a problem, except that so many martial arts claim to teach self defense, which is precisely what they do not do). I now have six children and wanted to find a good program for them in which they would learn effective self defense, good conditioning, and that retained some of the good elements of common martial arts while eliminating the bad. After years of searching, I couldn't find a perfect fit. Too many martial arts perpetuates one or more common training errors:
|Martial Art ≠ Self Defense: Contrary to popular belief, studying a martial art is rarely an effective way to learn self defense. Many martial arts students may be impressive, and the instructors are sincere and skilled, but if you watch what they do (and follow crime statistics), you quickly recognize that these fancy techniques that earn belts, win tournaments and put trophies on the mantle won't make a difference when one is facing a violent, aggressive attacker who intends harm. Indeed, the very way in which they practice makes most martial arts ineffective in a self defense emergency and gives people a false sense of confidence. This is the never-spoken, embarrassing truth of most martial arts today.
||We teach effective self defense first. Once a participant has learned good self defense principles and techniques, then we teach him competitive and demonstration (sport) martial arts techniques, while continuing to hone and improve his self defense skills.
High kicks -- especially jumping or spinning ones -- and fisted punches in a front stance with hip-chambers are precisely the wrong things to be teaching to anyone wanting to learn practical self defense. In Via Potentia we start by teaching you low kicks, dirty strikes to the eyes, neck and groin, and how to defend yourself from an overwhelming assault.
Via Potentia isn't something you spend years learning and then have to adapt to a self defense situation. It is self defense training.
|The exercises cause injuries: The conditioning exercises are fine for people who are already in good shape, but often cause injuries in less fit adults.
||We teach proper conditioning practices that minimize the chances of injury. This means doing only dynamic stretching prior to dynamic activity, reserving static stretching and muscle-fatiguing calisthenics until after dynamic activity, and reserving difficult techniques until students have necessary strength, flexibility and coordination.
|The methods of training are a setup for failure: Most "traditional" martial arts train with overly-compliant partners, in pre-scripted patterns, repetitive single techniques, kick and punch in the air, and emphasize precise form over effectiveness. The same techniques, if simply practiced differently, could be made much more effective for self defense.
||For self defense students need to know how to deliver a spontaneous flurry (a combination) of strikes that deliver power to a variety of targets. Martial arts that practice primarily in the air (no contact), do repetitive single techniques, or that limit sparring to sport-style targets are training their students to fail. We train students to deliver power using heavy bags, targets and contact sparring, we always practice known techniques in combination with other moves, encouraging students to create their own combinations, and we allow strikes to any target (but limit actual contact to the eyes, groin, neck and spine).
|Technical Overload: Adults in particular can not (effectively) learn more than one physical technique every few days. Yet most martial arts pile multiple techniques on their beginners all at once.
||Modern learning studies indicate that people -- especially adults -- can effectively learn only a single complex physical move at a time. If a second one is taught closely thereafter, assimilation of the prior one ceases. We teach a single new technique at the end of class to maximize assimilation.
Knowing 200 different techniques from forms isn't going to help you in an emergency. You just need to be really good at about three, whichever those are for you.
|Excess Baggage: They have added a variety of distracting and unhelpful requirements that are really nothing more than revenue sources for the owners (e.g., uniform and membership requirements, test and belt fees). If your martial art has more than about four amateur ranks and charges to test and promote you, then you are being fleeced.
||We do not require uniforms or frequent, costly examinations. In fact, all of our examinations are free.
|Here, drink this koolaid: Many require an unhealthy level of submission to and exclusivity with the parent organization; some actually threaten to sue you if you ever participate in a different martial art.
||We do not require your obedience, submission or exclusivity. We only want what is best for you, and leave it to you to decide what that is, whether that means continuing with Via Potentia, some other program, or none at all.
|Hypocrites: They lecture students about "tradition" and "loyalty" when the systems are, themselves, breakaways from other organizations and have rarely existed for more than a decade or two.
||Loyalty and faithfulness are good things, and we encourage them in their proper context. We should be faithful to our spouses and our legitimate obligations. Children should be obedient to their parents. Etc. We don't try to guilt you into staying with us, and we are open and honest about our independence from any other martial arts organization.
|Irrelevant and Fantasy Weapons Training: Weapons training is critical for self defense. Unfortunately, most martial arts that teach weapons and weapon defenses often use weapons that are illegal to carry and are never going to be encountered in a real defense emergency, or they have very unrealistic drills that are likely to fail catastrophically if attempted against a real and unpredictable attacker. They also teach weapon defenses before the student ever learns about or understands how a particular weapon is really used and how dangerous it really is.
||We teach stick use from very short (six inches) through cane length. We also teach about other common and self defense weapons like pepper spray, knives, guns, tazers, stun guns, etc. We teach about how to defend from a weapon only after you are familiar with its positive use.
|It is more important to learn to save a life than to take one: They don't teach proven, life saving skills like CPR, First Aid, etc.
||We urge our participants to take First Aid, CPR and similar training. We try to offer it once a year at our location. It is required for patronus (black belt) and above.
|Great athletes and martial artists don't always make great teachers. Some aren't even very good people: Many martial arts have unhealthy moral and spiritual philosophies, and engage in a "cult of personality," where the art is more about the top leaders than it is about the content and curriculum.
||Having a good instructor is important, but it doesn't make up for poor curriculum or unsafe facilities. Our emphasis is upon having rock solid curriculum content, safe training facilities, and skilled instruction. In most martial arts, the instructors tell you what to do, then sit back and watch. We do it with you, even the tests. When adults are testing and performing self evaluations, our instructors go through the test with you, doing all of the same exercises, the forms, the sparring, the calisthenics, breaking, etc. We work together.
|Frozen in time: They are locked into "their way" of doing things, and refuse to change to address these shortcomings.
You can never say anything critical about the art unless you wish to be excommunicated and have to do months or years of grovelling to return.
(For example, I have black belts in two different styles of Tae Kwon Do and have nothing against it. TKD is a fine pursuit for many people. But just by leaving Kim's Tae Kwon Do and starting Via Potentia I became persona non-grata and a target of a campaign of defamation by them. There were implications that I was a "traitor," or just couldn't handle their "art." The ignorance and animosity was quite amazing to experience. This attitude is prevalent in many martial arts systems.)
|Our emphasis is upon providing relevant instruction to all students. That means that we know we must adapt and change, depending on the students' needs and the cultural context. If something isn't working for the participants, we find a way to make it work, or we eliminate it.
We welcome your thoughtful criticisms and comments on how we can make Via Potentia better for you and the general public. We do not pretend to be perfect, and we are constantly studying the curriculum, looking for ways to improve it. Many of the best changes to the curriculum have been made as a consequence of participant input.
That is a pretty harsh list, and if you have been a longtime student of the martial arts -- especially if you are an instructor -- you might be a little agitated after reading it. Of course, if you are observant or honest, you'll also recognize that these criticisms are accurate. As was popularly stated a few years ago, "a litany of complaints is not a plan." I agree. So I spent several years studying the causes of common adult athletic injuries, best practices for physical conditioning, sports injury avoidance, and hundreds of actual assault scenarios.
From that study we developed a curriculum that maximizes conditioning, minimizes injuries, and dramatically improves people's understanding of real violence and how to escape it. It simultaneously addresses problems common to martial arts programs, while retaining (and adapting) drills like forms and board breaking that, though they aren't directly beneficial to self defense, do serve a useful purpose.
This isn't a jettisoning or rejection of so-called "traditional" martial arts. There are many good and enjoyable elements in such programs that we have retained. We have simply eliminated those that were superfluous or specifically detrimental to adult physical conditioning or practical self defense.
The results have been outstanding. Our injury rate is much lower than the industry average, the average participant has great physical improvement, and develops useful self defense skills much faster than he would in typical martial arts programs.
Most martial arts schools will try to impress you with a mystical lineage traced to someone long dead in a foreign country, to an ancient warrior tribe, to a secret clan, or some other legend. We don't waste your time with any of that. Via Potentia did not descend from the heavens, is not the carefully-kept knowledge of some ancient monk/guru, or anything of the kind. It isn't a cafeteria-program (a system created by cherry-picking and repackaging other martial arts). It is the practical outcome of studying safe, effective methods of physical conditioning, examining what actually works for self defense, organizing these in a way most compatible with adult learning styles and limitations, and then places these within the context of traditional ethics and friendship.
We refer to Via Potentia as "Modern Self Defense Training" in order to distinguish it from the (many) programs that refer to themselves as "traditional martial arts." In most cases, their traditions are either cultural observances or philosophies from a foreign country, or just organizational decisions no more than a few decades old (e.g., belts, uniforms, ranks). We called Via Potentia "Modern" because we aren't bound to past traditions, but are always examining what works, what doesn't, and trying to improve the curriculum. We also incorporate modern conventional and improvised weapons, instead of irrelevant ones from the past that have no practical purpose today.
For example, consider common martial arts weapons; nunchaku, sais, tonfa, longstaff, etc. For the most part these were common tools for work... a long time ago and in a completely different culture. To become an expert with the nunchaku is kind of like becoming an expert in 16th century cattle husbandry. It would have made a lot of sense at the time, but things have changed a little since then. Today's "martial artist" wouldn't be practicing with farm implements, but with wrenches, umbrellas, and cell phones.
Weapons like swords and spears pose an entirely different set of anachronistic problems. First, these were the tools of soldiers, not average people. Second, they have no practical place in modern society (whether that is good or bad is an entirely different subject). The bottom line is that there is little point in developing expertise with weapons that you'll never have on you and that don't "fit" today. Rather, people should learn to use short sticks (as these simulate improvised weapons from the environment), knives, and modern self defense tools like handguns. They need to learn to use whatever they have on or around them, not devices from centuries past.
We call it "Self Defense Training" instead of "Martial Art" because our emphasis is on being able to truly defend yourself. Forms, board breaking, and about 90% of what takes place in traditional martial arts does not prepare you to defend yourself from an actual assault. People don't realize this -- the instructors don't even realize this -- because most people (thankfully) have little experience with real world violence.
It has always been difficult to express precisely what Via Potentia is. People want to know what style it is in comparison to Tae Kwon Do, karate, Jujitsu and the like. Ironically, once our techniques were compiled into a curriculum and tested over several years, we gradually discovered that it is almost identical in style and philosophy to one of the oldest known combat sports and martial arts: Pankration. Pankration was the Greek term for a system of unarmed, no-holds-barred fighting that has ancient records dating back thousands of years, and was among the earliest Olympic events. Like various forms of wrestling and boxing, it was (and is) found in almost every continent. So, while we present ourselves as "modern," our system is actually demonstrably (and accidentally) much more traditional than those that present themselves as traditional.