Thursday, May 10, 2012

Curriculum in Russian martial arts - our take

My friend Paul Genge, a RMA instructor from UK, has recently written about the place and role of curriculum in training this type of combat methods, and what shape it should take. (For Paul’s very good and insightful article, go here: )
This post is my attempt at offering some guidelines in that regard. It needs to be clear right away, that the following methodology of teaching and training in RMA is not my own breakthrough, but rather the accumulation of knowledge and experience that has been embodied into what is now known as HomoLudens approach to martial arts, coming from the instructors in the club Vukovi (Wolves), with whom I have had the pleasure and privilege to work.

The first thing should be sorted out is what is the main focus of teaching? Is it on passing some specific body of knowledge in a more or less intact form, or is it making the students, as individuals, capable to express a degree of fighting competence in their own performance, and naturally, with their own individual style. We happen to be inclined towards the latter, which in turn dictates certain “progression”, or maybe it is better said hierarchy of things. The first issue is somewhat based in our integrity as a club – we teach what we believe the student NEEDS to know, not what they WANT to know! So far, it has pushed away many a Specnaz wannabe and Youtube “warrior”, who were focused on the image of things, over the substance. While maybe not the best business policy, the Wolves refuse to be feeding people’s illusions for mere monetary profit, and instead we offer an honest and authentic environment to train in.

HomoLudens club Vukovi

OK, so what is it that a student of (Russian) martial art needs? I guess there are as many answers to this question as there are instructors. The viewpoint also plays a significant role here – is it dealing with common types of attacks; mastering some “high percentage, surefire” techniques; having ready-made answers to wide variety of problems etc.

Our starting point is the bodily ability to deal with certain physical realities, pertaining to combat. Yes, those are many, but some fundamental ones are: free movement in space, comfort in any plane and any level of movement (standing, kneeling, squatting, sitting, laying and anything in between), handling the force of the opponent, issuing force of our own, emotional composure in dealing with all of the above.

Now that the needs have been identified, one can work on learning about the best way to execute those movements, i.e. the proper mechanics of delivery, and then honing and polishing them. Here we come to a couple more important points to cover. One is that our teaching, like in most other RMA schools, is based on the emphasis of principles over prescribed techniques. That does not mean, of course, that techniques are unimportant and irrelevant, far from it. Everybody needs techniques that best illustrate the principles that form the core of a training method…however, a technique is but one possible expression of a principle and should be taken as such. Therefore, the drills are meant to instill the command of a principle, not to build the “automatism” of a technique. It means that as soon as the student gets a grasp over the principle, he is exposed to the dynamic, fuzzy type of drilling, where his technical expression will have to adapt “on the go”, in effort to properly respond to the demands of the situation.

Think of it as the conversational scenario when taking a course of a foreign language. You do not practice your grammar by “drilling” the same sentence over and over…at least I hope you don’t.

Speaking fluently?

What you take a look at it, there is a sort of dichotomy here – on one side you need to develop good and efficient mechanics of delivery; on the other you need to be able of adjust it to the context at hand. The former focuses on technical precision, the latter on the emotional composure that enables the adaptation. How do we put the two together?

This is where the great insight of HomoLudens founder Alex Kostic comes in handy again, i.e. his formula of symmetrical and asymmetrical “work” in fighting. I have already discussed this distinction before, so let me go straight to how it applies here. We use the symmetrical approach to developing and refining the mechanical efficiency and technical precision, while the asymmetrical work is employed in enhancing the contextual adaptability, along with its emotional/mental component.

Alex Kostic

If we are to get back to that language learning metaphor, the symmetrical approach is building your vocabulary and grammar, the asymmetrical is becoming conversational – thinking in a foreign language, without the need to translate every single sentence in your head.


john smith said...

This is a really good read for me. I just found your website a few days ago.

martial arts training

Dragan Milojevic said...

Glad that you liked it, and even more so if you are able to glean something useful from it.