In any body method training, where the maintenance of attributes is a priority, there is a level of precision that is required to maximise the results. We will often be working within the confines of movement concepts or patterns that must be strictly maintained if we are to build specific attributes. However, for martial artists there is another type work that is important to us. This is the work that we will do in the ever-changing conditions of a fight where perfection is often sacrificed for necessity. Here we must learn to find perfection in the imperfect, and that is the subject of this article.
It is common to see martial artists of almost all styles refining and adjusting their technique. Indeed, the process of moving and then be adjusted by a teacher is probably the most common sight in your average martial arts school. As I have mentioned in previous articles, the understanding of the methods of a given training paradigm, and the embedding of those methods is the essence of many martial practices. Exponents will constantly refine the angles, movements and directions that they express in their methods. From this approach they will steadily refine and understand their connection to their own body, improving their ability to move with precision.
However, this practice can, for some, also become a trap. The trap is what i call ‘dogmatic adherence’ and I have seen it inhibit many a martial artists ability to express their personal skill.
Dogmatic Adherence is when someone is so concerned with ‘maintaining’ the requirements of their styles movement that they lose the freedom and creativity that is so often a requirement in an more freeform martial encounter. We see this in the early stages of jiu jitsu training for instance when beginners, who have learnt a catalogue of technique hang on for dear life to a technique that has already failed. It will often fail because the opponent was in a slightly different position or posture to what they were used too, and because in this early stage they lack the ‘feel’ or creativity to go outside the framework they have learnt, their technique is unsuccessful.
However, we also see this in the many more serious ‘style vs style’ encounters where one person, often accustomed to sparring and ’free exchange’ will easily handle another who is holding static stances and moving almost robotically as they are accustomed too in training. Anyone viewing these encounters will quickly realise that the freedom, changeability and imperfection of the movement of the victor is often a determining factor in the outcome. They are able to hold or change their method in the face of fighting techniques they may never have encountered before.
Many of the greatest MMA fighters are those who are able to be creative with their methods or movement, they are not dogmatic to the standard motions found in May Thai, Boxing, Wrestling or Jiu Jitsu but will, many times KO their opponent with something that seems ‘new’. I recall Rhonda Rousey finishing one of her opponents with a spectacular armbar that seemed ‘new’ and the internet becoming a-blaze with people replicating and drilling it. When asked about the finish she said ‘I didn't drill it, it was just there so i took it’. It was her ability to go outside of the norm, to find the method that fitted the moment, that made this technique so successful.
We need to think about how we view and approach our practices so that they can produce reliable creativity and freedom should the need arise. As I mention early, often the martial artist will be focused on perfecting precise movement, partner or body skill during their training. Indeed, this is vital if we are to refine the attributes that we express and is the foundation of the MartialBody Method.
Building the MartialBody is like building a race car. We spend many hours making sure that the frame is strong, we add good suspension, brakes, safety features, we add a powerful engine and steering system and we need to be precise with all of this. The last thing we want is for the steering to fail when on the race track!
However, when it comes to racing the car on a track against other thinking, and moving, drivers in we would not be thinking about the steering mechanism or the way the frame is welded. Similarly, during free martial exchange, our body skill, and often our techniques should be largely forgotten. Most skilled fighters will have a general ‘approach’, a strategy or tactical outlook that will inform how they handle a free exchange. They will implement this strategy in order to succeed in the encounter, be is sport or self-defence. However, it is this movement from the level of strict adherence of body requirements, techniques or methods to the larger tactical or strategic layer that will allow us to become more creative.
I call this ‘Imperfection’ because it can often appear to the person viewing from the outside that the individual is not actually using the ‘correct’ methods of moving. We often here this from many traditional martial arts camps.
“That isn’t Aikido”, ‘that’s not correct Tai Chi!’ etc.
Ultimately however, imperfection is a subjective position. It is what is going on inside the fighter or exponent that matters. How they fuel the seemingly wild or random techniques that they display on the spot, in the spur of the moment, to win the fight.
The house of Cards.
I have encountered many, highly skilled individuals who have very good ‘internal’ or advanced body skills. People who have spent much of their adult life refining the ability to move their body in the way prescribed by their given style. These people can often display very interesting results and effects in partners within the confines of specified drills, push tests or sensitivity work and often these people were highly concerned with what was ‘correct’ movement. They would talk of how to use the hips, the legs, the shoulder, how to keep the body taut or any of the other points that I also express as important in the solo MartialBody training.
They would look at me wrestle or spar and mumble “he’s not using his Kwa correctly” or ‘Look at him lean a little”, regardless of the success in the encounter. However, when I then saw these people try to work from their back on the floor, when backed into a corner, when faced by two partners ‘attacking’ simultaneously or even in the freeform conditions of simple sparing the methods they were so dogmatic about, broke down immediately. Their reliance on specifics was like a house of cards, ready to be blown down at any moment with a simple change of circumstance. This break down was not because their training methods were poor, but because they had not embraced imperfection.
So why do we need to focus so much time on being precise without solo training if it all goes out the window when we fight?! This is a question that often comes up when I discuss this subject.
Depth of Body skill = adaptability
First and foremost is important to understand that true freedom of movement and adaptability are not born out of an unskilled or untrained state. To move in accordance with the changing conditions, to be free to act and move as we please, but maintain fight ending power, timing and precision is not something you ‘just have’. It is a state created by dedicated and precise training to create the MartialBody.
The ‘trained condition’, where body skill is refined and of a high level allows our minds to simply act to direct the body to move without the body screaming back at us “I can’t move that way!”. It also means that the body will use what it needs to use to be a success in the encounter, specifically what you have trained it to use. The trained body can express power, agility, and all of the martialBody attributes without thought as and when they are required.
For instance, you could be caught on one leg, falling backwards and still maintain the weight in the hands to knock out your opponent. This highly imperfect condition didn't mean that all your body method training had broken down. To liken it to the race car, if we were caught headed into a corner and someone cuts up the inside causing us to swerve and slide the car wide, we would not be thinking of the car itself, but it would be the car and all of the various high quality components that would make such a manoeuvre possible.
The Mindful Martial Artist.
Of course, one of the keys to adaptability is our mind and its link to the body. Without awareness, mindfulness of the moment and connection to the changing conditions we will not be able to maintain adaptability. We need to be able to create a level of mindfulness that will help us succeed in the Martial encounter, much like the Race Driver maintains mindfulness during the race. For the martial artist this mindfulness can be ‘flavoured’ in one form or another, with dominant intent, aggression, subterfuge or any other mental attribute. This is the subject of the ‘FluidBody’ and that of an upcoming article so I will not dig into deeply here.
In conclusion it is worth considering and exploring the imperfect. Limit yourself, create conditions where you cannot use all of your ‘requirement’ and see how your Body Skill holds up in these situations. Observe some of the great Muay Thai, Judo, JiuJitsu or MMA exponents and observe their adaptability during times of imperfect conditions … there is much to be learn in this fertile place.