Saturday, December 26, 2015

Hidden in plain sight

Isn’t it strange how people will occasionally pick a single aspect of a phenomenon to interpret as its essence, and then mock or argue another person for doing the exact same thing, only with a different aspect? We have all seen (maybe even been part) of those endless arguments over minuscule details in martial arts – is the hand held horizontally or vertically when punching; is the front foot in this or that stance held at the angle of 35 or 38 degrees; the supporting leg carries 55% or 60% of the weight..? Some training approaches, such as those common in Russian martial arts universe, don’t get stuck so much with the technical details, being declaratively based on principles, and will see the above debates as childish and the waste of time.

However, some of those schools will embrace one (or a couple) of those principles and concepts as their staple, other schools another one or few, and lo and behold – the debates and bickering are raging again! For example, on one end of the spectrum one may find schools that are almost entirely devoted to the work on the psychological and emotional equilibrium, breathing, maintaining composure and so on, in hope of being able to take advantage of such mental state and come up with physical solutions on the spot, in case of an unfortunate situation when they may need them. The other far end holds the belief that if the practitioners have a firm grasp of the mechanical principles, steeped in scientific foundations, it will in turn instill the deep sense of confidence and calmness, hence the ability to deal with the same potential calamities with efficiency. There are, of course the schools and methods that find themselves somewhere along the middle portion of the continuum, in hope of getting the best of both worlds. Interestingly enough, all those training avenues share the same problems.

Admittedly, I had spent time in both camps, and got something useful from each. Still, there was a missing element, and unfortunately either approach tends to be condescending on the exact portion of the fighting world that may hold the answer. But, let us see the main challenge first.

In their (often earnest) quest for the sound combative effect, so many of those schools and their practitioners spend their entire time and effort working on themselves, i.e. how to improve their own perceived efficiency and effectiveness in combat. Naturally, there is nothing wrong with such goal, but it is just one side of the equation. Years ago, I learned about the training dichotomy used in certain JKD circles, and it presents two different, and at the same time complementary, vantage points – self preservation and self perfection.

If I have managed to get my point across with any success, it is clear that the problem of most RMA systems is the almost exclusive dedication to the latter part. Having that in mind, they work for the most part in the learning/discovery environment, with slow movement and drills, but rarely in the practicing and functionalization mode, with resisting partners who are actively looking to hinder the attempted actions. Even when working with some commitment and considerable energy, they usually lack the intention. The related aspects of this problem have been already discussed on this blog, so I will move the part that seeks the solution.

Again, if you read the description of the challenge in the previous paragraph, some sort of criteria for the “cure” starts emerging – resisting partners (NOTE: we are still talking training partners, not opponents or enemies), effort to hinder the action, in order to actually take over the advantageous position. I don’t know about you, but it sounds very much like sports to me. That said, it bears saying right here: I do not think it is necessary to compete and get involved with the entire dominance/hierarchical paradigm. Adding that segment of training methodology to your work is very much needed. Finding the right balance should enable the trainees to reap the benefits of such training, without getting bogged down with the injuries, frustration, overexertion and other maladies often associated with serious competitive training.
Be the fulcrum - hold balance
Why is sportive approach useful? Well, it puts you in touch with the fundamental part of any combative training – the other. And I mean it in more than a simple prop, something to deal with or an object for your techniques/action. The training partner is not just the helper (as important as that role is), but also the measure of your training, pushing you toward your goal, maybe even challenging and redefining that goal.

In the end, don’t be superficial on a different surface, but believe you are better than those who are unable to dig deeper on another. Look for the building blocks of any training methodology, past the visual, technical and/or ideological differences; avoid becoming entangled in the terminology and go for the substance… It can only help you grow in training.

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