Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Advanced versus Basic Techniques

"There are no advanced techniques, only advanced applications." - Shooting From Within, by J. Michael Plaxco, 1991.

The idea that there are incredible, magical techniques at the upper end of martial arts ability is a popular one. In Karate Kid, the inscrutable Mr. Miyagi says, "If done properly, no can defend." Somehow, we believe, there are techniques known by the experts that we are just unable to perform or to comprehend.

In fact, there are techniques that are more difficult than others, perhaps because they require more muscle, more flexibility, a better understand of balance, or some other specialized ability, and these techniques are often reserved for students with more time in practice. If we look carefully at these techniques, however, we realize that they are actually composed of simple building blocks, just as are the "basic" techniques.

By practicing the building blocks over and over, we make them reflexive. By practicing the technique from beginning to end, locating the certain building blocks or transitions between building blocks that keep us from being successful, we train ourselves to succeed a high percentage of the time. Finally, we develop a "feel" for the entire technique so that we can apply against a variety of opponents, in a variety of circumstances, able to subtly adjust what we do in order to succeed almost regardless of the opposition.

Usually, the things that keep us from prevailing have to do with our execution of the building blocks. Here's an example: in judo, one of the most common stumbling blocks for beginners and experts alike is the failure to bend the knees enough. Unless the student practices moving with the knees bent enough times to make the position second nature, a percentage of his or her attempts to throw will fail. Because bent knees are a building block for virtually every throw in judo, it is essential that all students practice moving with the knees bent until it becomes second nature.

All technique in the martial arts are either basic techniques or are composed of basic techniques. That's good news - it means that, regardless of your natural ability, if you are willing to put in the time and work required to master the basics, you can practice martial arts at a very high level.