The Urban Samurai asked me to comment on his recent post about knowing your martial arts basics. What follows are my thoughts on the matter.
Let me frame my response with a disclaimer — I am not a martial arts “master” of any style. Where a master has depth of mastery in a given art, I probably have breadth of experience across several arts or styles. I’ve experienced military training in self-defense, correctional self-defense training for a state agency, and have also paid for commercial lessons in a few styles. During all of this experience I have had the chance to be an assistant instructor on several occasions — the bulk of that teaching time (1.5 years to be precise!) was during my black belt run in Tae Kwon Do.
So do I think that the fundamentals of a given style are important? Definitely and here is why!
1. All military or para-military styles of hand-to-hand combat that is taught to large masses of troops is usually nothing more than a selection of basic techniques. These basics consist of gross motor skills techniques that are easy to learn quickly, are easy to use under real combat stress, and are also fairly effective. Are they as effective as the specialized hand-to-hand combat training that military commandos receive? No. Are they as effective as the experience of a martial arts master? Probably not. They do, however, give the average soldier, security person, or law enforcement officer a toolkit of basic techniques that will work in a pinch. Better still, these types of personnel get the chance to refine and improve these basic techniques through live use on the job, and also through annual re-certification. Simply put — the basics are being taught in some of the world’s top armies because they have been battle-tested.
2. I think my first point is probably the most important reason to stress repetition of the basics. However, my second reason serves to only reinforce my first point. I received my black belt in Tae Kwon Do from a university martial arts club. Our club served as a satellite school of Master C’s martial arts school. Due to the distance between schools we often did not have a Tae Kwon Do master instructing us. What we had 70% of the time were 1st to 3rd degree black belts who were tasked to teach our students. In that mix were two senior students that were required to help teach the fundamentals. As I’ve already noted, for 1.5 years I was one of those senior students.
We also did not have a martial arts studio with nice martial arts mats and all the fancy equipment you’d see in a commercial school. What we did practice in was the crappiest of four ballet studios that smelled like feet. It also had a hard wood ballet floor–not mats. In addition, we had a rag-tag collection of hand-me-down sparring gear, focus mits, kicking shields, and the like.
What we stressed where the two things that our collection of instructors had the most experience in: 1) the fundamentals and 2) live sparring. Despite the less-than-stellar conditions and limited access to true masters we did very good at tournaments. We usually sucked at forms but we excelled in sparring and breaking. So much so that we came back from one tournament with a sizable collection of trophies. In addition, our humble little school saw two people to black belt. All-in-all a pretty good run for a school that did not have much. So how did we do it? Without a doubt by stressing the fundamentals!
Or, as this instructor says, “you are only as good as your basics.”