Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Secret to Superior Martial Arts

"First, do no harm."  Ever since the time of Hippocrates, Doctors have made a promise to this effect before engaging in a career in medicine.  This is so deeply ingrained, it is taught in countries all over the world.  Society goes into conniptions when we consider if maybe there should be exceptions, such as euthanasia for the terminally ill.  Pretty much everyone agrees that the Hippocratic Oath is a good idea.

Why don't we have a similar oath for Martial Artists?

People who have never trained in the Martial Arts will likely scoff at the very notion.  Aren't the martial arts expressly designed to hurt, maim or kill?  People who have trained usually (I hope!) know that this is a gross over-simplification.  Martial Arts help you avoid fights, and only if all other options are exhausted, to prevail.  Some styles, such as Aikido, don't even stop there, and attempt to find ways to neutralize an attack without harming the assailant.

Leaving your assailant's well being out of the picture, I hope its relatively non-controversial that the first and foremost goal of a martial arts school is to avoid injuries to the students.  Why?  You could argue it's good business, as injured students are less likely to return, and might even bring costly lawsuits.  This is true, but it's not the real reason.

Safe training makes better martial artists.

This isn't always a popular thing to say.  No pain, no gain.  Get in there and take it.  This is a karate dojo, not a knitting class.

There's a grain of truth to this, but a small one.  You need to understand what it feels like to get hit.  You need to be able to continue fighting in the face of adversity.  But if you're building your whole fighting strategy around being able to take whatever punishment is dished out, you're going to be in for a rude awakening the first time you discover there are people out there who are a lot bigger and stronger than anybody in your dojo.  Or even a lot smaller but carrying a baseball bat.

The first reason why safe training makes you a better martial artist is because it allows you to train.  Nobody gets better while they're out due to injury.  The more time you spend on the mat, the better you get.

The second reason is that the more realistically you can practice techniques, the better you'll be at them.  Some years ago, a particularly nasty neck breaking technique was removed from the syllabus at our school. 

It was a good technique.  An effective technique.

And there was no way to practice it safely to get really good at it.

We try to remember that it exists.  You need to know what's out there.  But I'm much deadlier with "safer" techniques that I've executed hundreds or thousands of times.  I know how to enter them, and how to tweak them.  Because I can safely stop before the point of injury, I've been able to practice with fast moving, resisting opponents, and learn when they really work, and when they do not.

So make sure that any school you train at puts safety first.  You should learn to fall before you learn to throw.  You should never practice a technique if you can't control the results.

Your progress as a martial artist depends on it.

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