Sunday, April 8, 2012

Challenges in training - focus

To set things straight right away, this post will not be dealing with the focus in the sense of being fully present, “right here, right now” during each and every one of your training sessions. As hard as it is sometimes to maintain, I take that one as understood. Instead, I will touch upon the question of one’s focus in view of the entirety of their training. The big picture if you want.

We have two basic widespread problems here, of course, on the opposite sides of the spectrum. One is characteristic of beginners and young practitioners, who are so concerned about covering as much ground in the shortest time possible (running through the belts, or whatever grading system is used, if it is implemented in their chosen school). In the process, they lose sight of the fundamental principles and teachings, so while they may end up having a fairly complete idea about the system they are studying, they also have a fairly shallow understanding of any of its parts, let alone the whole of it. That reminds me of people who run through a museum to see as many things as possible for the price of a single ticket, but in the end do not really remember anything they had seen.

The other problem occurs when a practitioner (either beginner or advanced) stumbles upon a portion of the system that they really, really like. Now, in this case, liking means feeling very comfortable with the execution of the moves (favorite drill, technique, exercises), so just for the sake of enjoying it, the trainee loses from the horizon the place of that segment within the entire system, i.e. the purpose it is meant to achieve. In extreme cases, this will even lead to the skewed view of the system itself. 

Distance? Structure? Power?
Probably most frequent appearance of this is the notion of “flow drills” and “sensitivity/softness in training”. The former is quite spread in the Filipino martial arts, Indonesian silat, pushing hands in some Chinese boxing styles etc. namely, in order to make those drills really flow as water, the exponents will often disregard some fundamental principles like mechanics of delivery, posture, footwork and so on. And of course, when they engage in sparring of other drills with resistance, they wonder how come none of their hubud and/or siniwali never seem to appear in those. The analogy I have for this one is a person who reads a book and stumbles upon an illustration they really like, but then only thinks of that particular illustration through the rest of the book, while losing the track of the plot .

Mechanics? Power? Balance?
The overemphasis on softness is traditionally characteristic of aikido, but seems to be spreading throughout the world of Russian systema as well. What was meant to be the exercise developing the evasive ability on defense and swift changing of targets/attacks on offense, has turned into the totally non-resisting performance that hinders the development of both competent defense and offense. So much so, that even the people who offer even the slightest resistance, as in the case of simply waiting for the technique to just start actually working on them, are frowned upon as “brutes and muscle-heads”. 

Posture? Intent? Balance? Power?
While there might be such thing as the guiding idea or overarching principle in any martial art system as such, keep in mind that there is no single best training method to attain it, especially not to a degree that would allow and justify completely neglecting everything else. Can you imagine a student of physics who becomes so mesmerized with learning Newton’s second law for example, that he or she then never moves on to any other laws and principles of physics?

Naturally, it is absolutely necessary to have some teaching/learning progression in place when embarking on the study of a martial art. However, none of those steps in the progression is be all end all, otherwise all those other steps would not be there, would they?

Of course, there is always the matter of different people training for different motives and aims, but even they would benefit from keeping things in perspective, as that would help them keep track of how to best enjoy the aspects they like.

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