Monday, January 10, 2011

Ebb and flow of experience and training.

I am working on a theory.  As I work I’ll add historical references and charts and graphs but let’s just start with the base of my theory. 
For this theory let’s define martial art as a system of techniques derived from field experience taught for the purpose of killing your enemy. 
Having said that I believe all martial arts started with field experience.  1000 years ago Roro went to war with a neighboring clan over farm land.   Roro had the bravery to face the danger (to run toward the leopards) but no real training / experience except for maybe hunting.  Roro engaged in personal combat won and survived to go back to his village.  He remembered as best he could what happened and taught what he thought allowed him to win to the others of his tribe.  Eventually there is another conflict.  Roro’s students go to war with the bravery to face the danger (to run toward the leopards) plus a trick or two that Roro taught them and the confidence that brings.  Those guys face combat.  Learn some new tricks maybe refine some of Roro’s old tricks.  They come back and pass on what they have learned.  And so on and so forth.  Eventually all lands are conquered and enjoy “the kings peace”.  Martial art is taught to the peace keepers (watch, sheriff, whom ever controls the violent with in the village) and to the young men of the village with some changes.  When used on your own tribe violence is different so techniques to kill are supplemented with techniques to control for the peace keepers.  Likewise techniques to show superiority or dominance are supplemented for the young men.  After generations of peace techniques to kill grow into disuse, control tactics and sport is all that is left.  But peace is fleeting.  Now this green generation goes to war with the tricks they have been taught.  Some still work, a lot don’t.  The ones that survive had to re-learn what works in combat through hard earned firsthand experience.  Repeat this cycle le.  Only this time in an effort to retain that hard earned knowledge training revolves around preserving exactly the techniques of that generation.  Students are rewarded for mimicking exactly the movements of the teacher over moving in a way that works for them.  Generations are taught mimicry.  Peace is ever fleeting time to war again.  This generation is confident in the techniques of the generation they mimicked.  Only the enemy wasn’t stagnant they developed new weapons and strategy.  Roro’s tribe is decimated.  The survivors have trouble adapting to a new world.  They teach what they know as means of personal growth as opposed to kill an opponent.
So my theory goes:
The more violent the era or location the more actual experience is earned and the more value is placed on practical application (a few, simple, gross motor skills that work for most situations).
Inversely the more peaceful the era or location, actual experience becomes rare.  More value is placed on sport / entertainment, preserving the system, or self development / “enlightenment”
Sport, Traditional, and Personal development each have ways to preserve their systems.  Sports have rules and competition passed on from generation to generation.  Traditional arts are based on passing everything to the next generation.  Sadly the practical seems to follow a pattern of being earned and then lost.  It is similar to the history of the sniper.  (Paraphrased from Dave Grossman) – In every armed conflict since the advent of fire arms snipers were deployed.  After the conflict the thought of killing from afar seemed “immoral”.  Until the next conflict and the need for snipers rises again.  Only they have to recruit and train from scratch again.  Finally it was decided that a maintained and trained sniper core is necessary to be prepared before the next conflict.
Even in times of peace lawmen still need combat techniques.  It fell to them to preserve the practical for the next generation.  A perfect example of this is W.E. Fairbairn. 
Fairbairn was trained in Jujutsu, Chinese “Boxing” and received a 2nd degree black belt in February 1931 (before Judo was primarily a sport) from Jigoro Kano.  Impressive right?  But anyone can study Judo and Kung Fu what impresses me and helps make my point is
Throughout his over thirty year career with Shanghai Municipal Police., Fairbairn not only made an in depth study of almost every known form of close-combat, but was also able to test these methods in actual combat against determined and often armed criminals who would rather kill an officer and make good an escape than be captured and face almost certain execution.
That is why in 1940 when England was at war with Nazi Germany and was hanging on by a thread, Fairbairn was called to put his talents and knowledge to excellent use training commandos and clandestine operatives.
My theory continues that a martial art follow a natural progression
                Physical –
o   Structure
o   Power
o   Balance
o   Speed
                Mental / Emotional –
o   Awareness
o   Avoidance
o   Escape and Evade
o   Violence Dynamics
o   Body’s response to combat stress
o   De-escalation
o   Counter Ambush
§  *You know by know  I stole all that from Rory right?
After fundamentals are developed, and taught an art progresses to combat proficiency.  Applying those fundamentals in specific categories of techniques
o   Impacts
o   Throws
o   Locks
o   Ground Work
o   Weapons
This phase is personalization.  Finding out what works for you.  Homma Sensei has two sayings that fit well here.  There is no wrong, just move is one.  The other is that we all have our own way of moving.  If you start Aikido training at age 30 you already have 30 years experience in “your” martial art, or “your” Aikido.
The last phase is playing / experimentation.  For those with solid training in the 1st two phases this phase can look like magic.  This is Ueshiba’s Aikido, Mifune’s Judo, or Oyama’s Karate.  Sadly the further society gets away from understanding / managing violence, the weaker the first two phases become or are skipped all together.  How many Aikido schools teach only Ueshiba’s Aikido but none of his Aikijujutsu or Aikibudo?
Even practical application arts are guilty of this the further you are removed from actual experience.  Fine motor skill joint locks and strikes that require you to relax completely, and use “internal energy” against specific, small, moving anatomical targets  rarely work under combat stress against a resistive opponent in real world conditions (the environment) .  Whether those techniques were taught by an Aikidoka in a hakama, or a former Spetnaz trooper in bdu’s and a black t-shirt they still won’t work, no matter the claims of the instructor.
Ok that is my working theory on the ebb and flow between experience and training.  So what is the point?  How does this benefit the reader?
In your training you must first work fundamentals, and develop a core of a few gross motor skills (Impacts, Throws, and Locks etc.) that work for you.  That doesn’t take 20 years of training.  That should happen in the very beginning of your training.  As you learn; Awareness, Avoidance, Escape and Evade, Violence Dynamics, The body’s response to combat stress, and De-escalation continue to refine those techniques to reflex speed to be used in Counter Ambush.  Only after that core has been refined and polished add the “magical” aspects of the martial arts for your enjoyment and enlightment.  You will be surprised what years of solid fundamentals will allow you to accomplish in personal expression.  Dr. Lewinski my Goju Ryu Sensei used this example.  I forget the name of the famous musician, but this musician was known for his free style solos and self expression.  The musician spent hours every day practicing his scales for years.  The most basic fundamental of musical training .  He said only through mastery of fundamentals is  self expression possible.  Otherwise it’s just slop. 
My second point is if you don’t have actual experience with violence (don’t go looking for trouble) seek out training from trustworthy sources that have.  Beware of hucksters living off the rep of buzzwords, or fulfilling fantasies.
If the timeline of your own training hasn’t followed my model, it doesn’t mean you can’t reinforce your fundamentals.  Buy meditations on violence and spend some time at 
Take a hard look at you skills and training.  Understand what you want out of martial arts.  Keep what works for you discard what is no longer needed.
Train hard – train smart – be safe


  1. I agree up to a certain point although I'm not quite sure where that point is. I have been an avid martial artist for over 30 years. I wear 'jamies and practice forms. I was also a juvenile gang member for several years prior to my MA journey. After that, it was the military and two and a half years of bouncing. While not up there with the likes of yourself, Mr. Miller, or Mr. MacYoung, I'm no stranger to violence. My point is if you spend your life working, refining, and ingraining certain patterns and physiological mechanics into your motion, you will move one way and only one way (hopefully the correct way). As a kenpoist, I like to think that Ed Parker's "Science of Motion" has a foundation of practicality behind it. It's not perfect and unfortunately, many instructors have taken the business side of Mr. Parker and ran with that but the principles, concepts, and theories are still there. When asked about combatives compared to TMA, Frank Mir replied (paraphrasing)" When getting into a gunfight, do you want the man at your side to be a two-three nights per week shooter or do you want him to be the guy that lives and breaths combat shooting". There is no reason why a TMA can't incorporate the above mentioned Fundamentals while still wearing a "uniform" and practicing pre-arranged patterns of motion. Several of my students as well as myself have been in life/death situations and our kenpo worked. I agree that TMA has a bad rep but taught properly, can still give an individul a fighting chance.

  2. Agreed TMA can be fantastic!!!!! But many of the things that make it fantastic get lost. They are still there to be found by the next generation. The lenses of experience show the lost elements. For example perhaps a movement in a kata your sensei said was this. Years later you do that movement again and are like oh its not that but is this. Why did I never see that before?

  3. Hey, just out of curiosity did you mean to send people to the pantyhose link? :D