Tuesday, September 3, 2013

A martial artist knows…..There are no mediocre techniques; only mediocre effort.




I often hear discussion about one technique being better than another, or this style being better than that.  Discussions of this type are generally a waste of time. Often they are initiated by people who do not have a basis of understanding because they either have not trained or they have not trained long enough to come to the realization that there are more similarities between the various martial arts than there are differences AND that it is the dedication, understanding and application of the technique by the practitioner that makes it superior or inferior to another.

I have students of all shapes and sizes, as well as all ages and ranks. If you were to compare a technique executed by a white belt and then try to compare it to a different technique performed by a Black Belt on the surface you would say the technique of the Black Belt was a superior technique and could try to conclude that you should always do the technique he/she was performing.  The flaw in this analysis is obvious in its extreme – we are not looking at apples to apples. While an extreme example it serves the purpose of helping one realize that the skill of the practitioner is an important component when evaluating techniques/styles and if you are going to make the comparison you should at the least try to match the skills of the practitioners who are demonstrating the techniques before you begin to try and make a determination of which is better.

However, even this is insufficient because it does not bring in the context of the situation in which the technique is being utilized. In my town there was a Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) school – I had a person come in off the street inquiring about our school and style and then trashed it saying MMA was better because we were not prepared to go to the ground.  As a fair disclaimer this gentlemen was not from the MMA school in town he was completely uneducated about any form of martial art and was basing his opinion strictly on what he had seen on TV.  With this bold statement his bravado inflated only to be popped when I simply stated that the problem with going to the ground MMA style was that it did not generally take into consideration weapons that are commonly seen on the street. I informed him that getting stabbed repeatedly in the kidney with a pocket knife while he had someone in the mount position was not a good way to spend the last days of his existence. He shook his head and walked out. He did not have enough experience with the martial arts in general and the real world of street survival to offer an educated opinion.

So which style is better or which technique is better. All skills and all styles can be valuable when utilized in the proper situation. What the martial arts student should work on is making the techniques they have been taught the best they can possibly be.  In my style we have the “14 Attitude Requirements for Mastering Tang Soo Do”. One of these is “When learning a new technique learn thoroughly the theory and philosophy as well”. A student should strive to maximize their understanding of the techniques/style they are learning. This includes: proper execution of the technique, timing, position, alignment, power& speed generation and traditional application. Once the basics are understood then the student should investigate alternative applications.  Can a low block for example be used as a strike instead, can it be used as a joint lock or throw. Can a single low block be used against multiple attackers.  Every technique follows a path or trajectory of motion.  How many different points along that path is there a useful application. This analysis should include the movements after the traditional application is executed. A punch travels from the chamber position – out to the target – strikes – then returns to the chamber position usually while the other hand is executing another punch in a basic punching exercise. Are there applications (striking, grabbing, locking, throwing) that can be done with the motion after the full extension (strike) when the hand returns to chamber.

When all the possible permutations of application, timing, targets, etc… have been investigated then the student may say they understand the technique. Most students however would look at the technique as a punch – spend some time hitting the heavy bag with it and then want to learn a new technique. Or worse yet be unsatisfied with the technique and demand to be shown a better (i.e. more advanced) technique.  The issue is not that the technique they were shown was inadequate, their attitude and therefore understanding of the technique is inadequate. 

Before one judges a technique as inferior or superior to another they must first do a thorough investigation of technique.  When they understand all its facets then they will understand that all techniques can be superior techniques when one understands how and when to properly apply them.

Tang Soo!

Master Homschek