Friday, August 30, 2013

In Search of the Perfect Technique

"Tom swung his leg backward, and in an improbable, ungainly arc.  It was a downright ugly maneuver.  Graceless.  Something that would have had him laughed out of his dojo in Stanton Oklahoma.  But it worked.  Father Thomass boot crashed into the shades stomach."
Seventh Son: Descent, by By J.C. Hutchins

Some of my favorite moments in the martial arts have been learning what a huge difference the exact right technique can make.  More times than I can remember, I've struggled to apply a wrist-lock, escape a grab, throw a person, finding myself straining my muscles against a larger and heavier opponent, only to find that a small correction in my technique makes all the difference in the world.  Getting just a little lower makes my opponent hurl easily to the ground.  Sliding my wrist just a bit inwards lets me easily escape a crushing hold.  Knocking my assailant just an inch off balance makes them unable to resist my attack.

This is reflected in the way I teach.  I hassle the details, make my students practice the same thing over and over until they get it just right.  I have to make allowances for the different lengths of people's attention spans, but left to my own devices, we'd work just two or three techniques over the course of a full class.  On a few occasions I've done this with a particularly dedicated student, and they've always been pleased with the results.

This becomes even more critical when dealing with somebody who has limited flexibility, or limited strength, or an injury that prevents their full range motion.  Sometimes a certain technique will simply be infeasible for a given person, but sometimes I find it will still work, and work well, but only if they master the detail with far greater precision than the average student.  Most people can make a sloppy technique work if they muscle it.  When that isn't an option, it has to be perfect, or nothing.

So I'm definitely a fan of getting the details of a technique exactly right, and I spend a lot of time and attention on that point.

And yet...

The world is a strange and complex place.  Sometimes things go awry in the oddest ways.  People move the way you'd least expect them to, or you fall to the ground despite your best efforts to stay stable.  A solid punch bounces off your assailant harmlessly, or an insubstantial tap knocks them off their feet.

The important thing is to not stand their like an idiot, wondering "What just happened?"  Keep moving.  If it was bad, recover.  If it was good, keep going.  If you're finished, don't stop, scan your environment, be ready for the next attacker, or somebody on the ground who maybe isn't quite ready to stop moving.

Expect the unexpected.

I love great technique.  But the perfect technique?  It's whatever works.

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