Basic Technique Training
Why Bother With The Basics?
This is a valid question, especially today. With the popularity of “extreme” and “cage-fighting” martial arts styles a new student might wonder if combat oriented practice might make a better use of time in class. Maybe practice would best be spent learning to be comfortable with a more application oriented exchange of strikes, holds and take-down moves. It could be argued that a student would be better served jumping right in with “real-world” fighting combinations and rehearsal drills. And, truth is, that is a path that would help most martial arts enthusiasts get defense-capable the quickest. Even with no prior experience in any particular method or style a student could memorize the most likely scenarios and become very effective most of the time. Think of military basic training hand to hand combat.
Why, then, do highly qualified and capable martial arts masters continue today to teach and emphasize improvement in basic technique? Funny but this question has been a topic of concern to martial artists for a long time. Even in reading some of the old manuscripts and translations of 16th century Samurai sword training writings those teachers addressed the same issue. Why would a young Samurai (or even an older experienced warrior) take valuable training time to practice basic sword drawing and cutting techniques when they could be spending that time in “battle rehearsal”? The Masters’ answers then is the same answer today…because it is VERY useful.
Ok, just how is this type of training useful…especially in light of the time it takes from the other kinds of training? First, it is good for joint stability. Elbows, shoulders, hips, knees and ankles take a lot of pounding in martial art-style combat. If those support muscles and ligaments have been strengthened and “taught” proper alignment through practice then there is much less chance for injury during the activity. Also, there is much less chance that a trained martial artist will become injured in other sports and activities. Proper tracking for the knee in a front kick or front stance will translate to stronger tracking on the tennis court or soccer field.
Next, proper mechanical movement for technique teaches a student about leverage. A high block, executed correctly, will work against a punch from an attacker who is much bigger and stronger. It will even work against a club or other downward-swinging weapon. A properly aligned and executed punch (even by a small person) can generated enough force and leverage to break through boards or concrete blocks. Quite an unbelievable feat unless you understand the effect of acceleration, proper leverage and position. Interestingly, mechanical movement is also quite necessary for both golf and weight-lifting. Two very different sports that both require exact alignment and motion to maximize the effect of the athlete.
Here is another very basic need filled by technique training…FITNESS! Skill drills, performed correctly to the point of fatigue, will provide a level of fitness that most other martial arts practitioners will never achieve. Why do football players practice driving out of a stance into a blocking sled over and over? Because that activity emphasizes an enduring ability to perform the correct activity even against another person and even when tired. Correct kicking technique done vigorously for 15 minutes can give the martial artist an indispensable tool for long matches or even real crisis times. There is no tastier elixir than to know that you still have more in the tank when the chips are down. Three mixed metaphors to mean that you can do what you want to do when you want to even if the other person is trying to stop you!
Let’s talk music next, and you can pick your favorite brand. Superior musicians know that it is only through repetition that they become familiar with their instrument. Fingers on a keyboard or air through a mouthpiece done for hours on end lends a sense of “home” to that artist. Similarly, a martial artist who has become as familiar with their body movements in the space around them starts to feel at “home” even in ballistic combative encounters. Another benefit that comes from that sense of familiarity is an overall feeling of confidence. A sense of being at “home” in one’s own skin even when involved in a new situation or surrounded by strangers. Maybe a companion of confidence is the cool calm of an easy mind. Yoga and Tai Chi are disciplines that are known to instill a peaceful spirit in the practitioner. That same peace is available to anyone who approaches their martial art technique practice with a demeanor of dedication and patience.
Before I relate this topic to my teaching at Blue Wave I want to first say that this is how I was TRAINED by my Master. Every class that Master Chung taught always included a 10-15 minute segment at the beginning of class that was only basic technique. Basic blocking, kicking, punching and striking every day…even with the advanced students…even with the Black Belts. Sure we sparred and did defensive work but that was the icing on the cake. First things first. Every day. Basic technique training. That is how I continue to teach. Even though it is several decades later I still follow the same template with my children’s classes and the Tae Kwon Do population as well. Now, I do know a thing or two besides basic technique and we always cover other issues and learning directions (as did Master Chung) but all learning is built on a platform of basic technique.
I remember an evening spent in class with Grandmaster Won Kuk Lee (founder of the Chung Do Kwan). He remarked that he was very pleased to see that there was still at least one Tae Kwon Do school that emphasized the fundamentals. It was his experience travelling around the globe that most modern Tae Kwon Do schools had left off teaching basics for more gymnastic and acrobatic skills. That was 30 years ago. Present time, most martial arts schools are ditching the basics in favor of the fighting flavor of the day. Many instructors are fleeing the kinds of training that gave them real expertise to pedal the latest in cool combat. And, let’s face it, it is hard to argue with what is popular and attractive. What is inarguable, however, is that the most famous martial artists/fighters/warriors in history were all extremely disciplined students who honed their skills for hours on end. The baddest of the bad practiced A LOT! And, whether you practice Tae Kwon Do or some other style the need for fundamental practice still remains the most overlooked opportunity in martial arts schools today.
Finally, if you still think after reading this is that basic technique practice is too repetitive and/or too boring let me ask you this…Is it boring to be amazing at something? Is it boring to win a championship sparring match or to have the ability to crush and devastate some would be attacker? Is it boring to be stronger and faster and more agile than everyone else you know? I will leave you with this quote by Saint Thomas Acquinas: “Repeticio est mater studiorum” or translated ”Repetition is the mother of all learning.” Believe it!