Over time, it is natural for a martial artist to narrow their focus of study to specific aspects of their art–I mentioned this in my recent article on the development of martial artists. There are also some martial arts which are narrow in focus, to begin with. It is rather likely that those arts and styles are specialized because their founders had already narrowed their focus of study by the time they began teaching. This type of specialization can be very good for a martial artist, but it can also be a bad thing. Specialization works well for martial artists with a solid base set of fighting skills. It does not work as well for martial artists who only ever work on specialized skills.
Some martial arts are specialized for sporting purposes. This works well for them, because they have a specific context to work within, and can train accordingly. Boxing specializes in punching, judo specializes in throwing, Brazilian jiu-jitsu specializes in grappling on the ground, etc. The people who train in these types of systems usually recognize that they are specialized, and that outside of their competitive ruleset, they may need additional training to round out their skills.
Within those specialized arts, there are people who are specialists. There are boxers who specialize in countering with a straight left hand. There are judoka who specialize in using a double-lapel-grip double-entry uchi-mata. There are Brazilian jiu-jitsu people who specialize in using the worm guard. All of them, despite being specialists, have a base set of skills from their system that they have built on. If you were to take someone with no skills and try to teach them one of these specialties, they might reach a point where they can demonstrate it, but being able to apply it in an “alive” manner will be very difficult for them, because they lack the proper foundation.
This same issue can appear when people who practice specialized styles try to enter another realm of fighting, even if there are similarities between the two. There have been boxers who lost kickboxing matches, judoka who have lost BJJ matches, and BJJ people who have lost wrestling matches, all because they had a base set of specialized skills, but were not familiar with the array of skills required for the competitive arena they were entering. The most glaring examples of this come from mixed martial arts competition, because it is the most open competitive ruleset in combat sports.
There are some people who try to make entire styles out of specialized skill-sets. This is often done as a way to make money. By removing the skill-set from its parent system, it can be marketed to the wider martial arts world, even though it may not work as advertised. Chin-Na, Tuite-jutsu, and Kyusho-jutsu are all examples of this–they are components of larger martial arts systems, but they are not martial arts, themselves. Despite that, there are people out there claiming to teach these skills as if they were martial arts styles. Removed from their parent arts, and the base set of skills and delivery system that go along with them, these skill-sets are crippled.
It is important to remember that specialized skills are meant to be used as part of a greater system of martial skills. For combat sports, that system may be narrow to begin with, but for self defense–as in MMA–we need to be more well-rounded. Most attackers are not trained martial artists, but as you can see in the video, above, they can be ferocious, and will use whatever tactics they can to defeat you if you fight back. They also don’t necessarily stop when they have “won,” as Wim Demeere recently pointed out. This means we cannot afford to specialize until we have developed a wide base of skills to deal with that. Ideally, you should be avoiding situations where you have to defend yourself. If you do find yourself in a situation where you must defend yourself, your should do your best to dictate the course of the fight, so that it is more likely to work out in your favor. No matter what, you should be prepared for the worst.