Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Lost Art of Strategy

When i owned the martial arts school we would have a lot of birthday parties. In these parties, kids from our school would invite lots of friends and many of these friends trained in other places. During the party amongst the games and fun birthday activities we would also do a little bit of martial arts training. I would usually hold the focus pads for the kids and they would do kicks and punches and things while trying to avoid getting tagged by me. The kids from other schools would almost always come in and start flailing away and were very easy targets. The kids who trained with us were hard to hit, elusive, capable of defending themselves to some degree. I think that what happens at a lot of places is that people are taught some kicks and some punches and techniques and then they are sent out to spar. There is no strategy, no game plan.

It would be the equivalent of being a carpenter and learning how to use a hammer and nails, screw driver and other tools, but never making blueprints or a plan for putting up a house and then trying to do it. I am so happy that i met my teacher, Craig Stanton in the 90's. He was a full-instructor under Paul Vunak with Progressive Fighting Systems and introduced me to that system of Jeet Kune Do Concepts. The most valuable thing of this whole experience was that it gave me an actual game plan and strategy for fighting. A lot of what was taught was developed by Paul Vunak to teach the navy SEALs how to fight in a short period of time and it is reality based, practical with few bells and whistles. This is what those students that are so easy to hit in the head are missing. They have no idea what they are going to do and just flail around. I find that fighting and sparring with those who are traditionally trained follows this same pattern as well. They have no game plan and sparring with them is typically easy. I do not mean to make a blanket statement here, i have met many fine fighters from all sorts of different styles but the ones that are good have a concept of strategy. Most of those who are good fighters and a challenge come from styles that emphasize practicality as well.

Boxers, wrestlers, judo players, fencers, kendo practioners, etc. who train and actually compete in the class room and can weed out what works from what does not. Your body needs to learn to respond in the high pressure situation of someone trying to actually hit you and defeat you.

Some of the things that i feel are the most neglected areas of training are footwork and defense. Footwork is fundamental and should be trained until it is instinct. You do not have to think about which foot to place next when you walk across the room and you should not have to think about how to move about the ring or the street when you are trying to execute in a fight. It should be natural. You should not have to stop your movement and get flat-footed when you kick or punch or try and do a takedown.

Defense should be trained as well until you are comfortable that you will not be hit. The elusiveness of boxing is a great skill to develop. You have to have someone actually trying to tag you however. Shots that stop short of your face do not teach you how to get out of the way of an actual punch. This does not mean that your training partners should constantly try to beat on you for damage, but if they are not trying to at least tag you and touch you they are doing you a disservice. That touch is the only thing that is going to let you know if you are executing correctly.

We need to train for fighting the way it really is and not the way we hope it would be. Ask yourself the honest question about whether what you are doing would work or not. If your training partners are not making it difficult on you, they are doing you a disservice. A non-compliant attacker who does not have your best interest in mind will be a rude awakening if your training is not a good simulation of an actual fight.

For me, the spiritual quest of the martial journey is not separate from the practical. It is spiritual growth for me to find the truth in simplicity that actually works. It should be an honest quest. We would like to think sometimes that the fancy move will work when in actuality, sometimes the fancy move will only get you knocked out when a non-impressed assailant gives you a large dose of reality.

Happy training everyone and good luck on your own journeys.

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