What’s better: Aikido or BJJ? A classical Japanese martial art that puts a heavy emphasis on wrist locks, or a slightly more modern Brazilian art with an emphasis on ground work and constant testing in tournament environments?

Have a discussion online, and it’s going to be near-unanimous. BJJ wins every time. Look at the UFC, and see the Brazilian art proving it’s usefulness time and time again. Aikido? You’ve got to be joking. It’s got no place in the ring. And this is very true. If I’m training a MMA fighter, I’m not going to waste time teaching them Aikido. It’s got nothing to do with whether the rules prohibit technique, or whether the octagon is a real martial environment or not. It’s an art that has nothing of value to bring to the cage.

So back to my old job of bouncing. Here’s the situation: A very large man has gotten stupidly drunk, and is insulting people and spoiling for a fight. I’m working the door, and the other bouncer is inside. A server comes out and tells me there is a problem inside, and I better get in there. It’s Saturday night in the bad part of town, but it’s a nice bar. Very busy Irish-style pub. Classy, for the neighborhood. Clientele tend to be working class…lots of big beefy guys. The owner likes extremely discrete security.

When I get in things have progressed. My partner is former sheriff. A large, competent and experience guy. He’s got an enormous bull of a man in a full nelson lock, and is being tossed around like a rag doll. I’m not exaggerating when I say I come up to chest height on both these guys. The bull has forearms the size of my head.

In this case, we have one job, and only one job…get the bull out of the joint, as fast and clean as possible. We aren’t there to win, to be top dog, or to show everyone how bad-ass or cool we are. Get the guy out. Every second he’s still in the bar is one second more the bar manager is wondering why he’s hired us instead of someone else. One more second he’s worrying about damaged goods or being sued or lengthy discussions with the police instead of going home at the end of the shift.

I can take out the bull’s knee. I can bulldog him face-first into the ground, and choke him out or armbar him. Once he’s down to my height, I can probably beat him into submission. I have a world of martial arts options open to me. Within the context of my job? It’s different. I’m restrained by legally-allowed techniques. Because I am a licensed professional, I have to expect that everything I do will have to be justified at a later date in front of a judge, in a court of law.

To the average person, this is a clear case of real self-defense. It’s what most martial artists fantasize about. Real danger, real need, real challenge. A real test. The bit of paper in my wallet says that I’m not an average person. That bit of paper says if I want to keep my ability to earn scorn and minimum wage, I need to act professionally. So the fantasy of martial arts goes away, and it’s time to work.

For this job, Aikido is the best tool. Modified on the fly. I go for a wrist lock the way I’ve been trained, but no go. His hand doesn’t budge. My hands don’t even go around his wrist, he’s so much bigger than me. He hasn’t even noticed I’m tugging on him yet. I know what the wristlock I’m attempting is intended to do, so I modify it. One hand on either side of his wrist, bend down as hard as I can. He notices me now, and starts to resist. I crank up the pressure and something goes loose in his arm. And suddenly he’s following my lead.

Out the door we go. A few moments at the door of trying to stop us from taking him out, but a little more attention to the wrist and zoom, out he goes. At which point the switch flips and we spend the next twenty minutes consoling the sad drunk who can’t stop apologizing for his actions. His buddies eventually walk him home. I realize I don’t get paid nearly enough for this job.

It’s easy to look at another person’s training or approach to martial arts and think it’s wrong. With swordplay, there is a lot of discussion going on about the right or wrong way to do tournaments. A small number of people are starting up the old “I don’t do tournaments because I don’t want to remove my martial purity!” argument. That will shortly lead to the usual bullshit comments about your training being fake if you don’t compete.

Here’s the truth. Some people compete in tournaments because they crave a test. Some people avoid tournaments because they don’t want to lose, and have no real faith in their training. Some people compete because they want to do anything that makes them feel better than someone else, and swordplay is an easy way for them to do it. Some people don’t compete because they don’t really care about results…what they are doing in class is more than enough to make them feel fulfilled with life. And of course, some people train because they fantasize about being badass in lots of different ways.

Sometimes I wish I could snap my fingers and make everyone in the world smart and well-balanced. Make all the bullshit idiocy disappear with a wave of my hand. That’s a fantasy. The reality is that people are all screwed up for lots of different reasons, and they really…really…need to cope with that in different ways. That doesn’t make them wrong. It just means they are trying, in their own way, to make their life better. My happy won’t make them happy.

There is no ultimate true reality to martial arts training, no perfect test. The best way to see martial arts is not as a rigid doctrine or set of rules, but as an approach to life. It’s a bag of tools and the instructions on how to use them. I can make any damn thing I want with a hammer, tongs, forge and a good file. I have no patience for people who spend time arguing whether it’s better to make pots or horseshoes.