Sticking with the basics to become advanced

I try to weight my physical classes according to the skills I believe my students are most likely to need.

We have a broad syllabus, we cover a lot of different things, but to do so I try to rely on a small number of interlocking drills and techniques that can be used in lots of different ways. The size of the toolbox is not what impresses me; I’m not impressed by high numbers of techniques, drills or kata: it is the versatility of a small carefully stocked toolbox and the user’s ability to skillfully use the best tool for the job that catches my attention.

This does mean that I have one or two drills that I try to teach almost every single training session, and I have a number of things I always do in my personal training.

A small number of my students welcome these like old friends, they are the rare perfectionists: they know that while they can do it, it could be done better.

A larger proportion sigh. They want to be doing the cool stuff. They want to be fighting on the ground, or breaking out of a control, or experiencing the challenge of running an unpredictable cascade failure through a series of drills against a resisting opponent trying to better them. The stuff I want them to do is boring – it’s the first thing they learned, they know it, and working a jab / cross (or similar) preemptively or in reaction against a pad is tiring, as is constantly dealing with head punches. They don’t want to sweat the small stuff.

If the ‘small stuff’ isn’t strong, isn’t biomechanically right, then the ‘big stuff’ will be weak. Beyond that if the small stuff isn’t as good as you can possibly make it, you’ll never need to go to the ‘big stuff’ because it will most likely be over when the ‘small stuff’ fails.

Working on the basics is not easy, whether you are training as a student or planning your class as an instructor.

Much is often made of the discipline of the martial arts, the self control it can develop. Often the focus of that is on turning up to train. That can be difficult, of course it can. I very much doubt there is a single martial artist who has reached a stage where they are teaching who does not have occasions when they really struggle to force themselves to do some personal training, where the fatigue and the aches and the call of the couch or the fridge are telling them ‘missing this session will be good for me’.

In my opinion a harder discipline than turning up is the discipline to rigorously focus on the basics, on your underpinning movements. Constantly exposing yourself to your weaknesses, tirelessly working to get the same thing better is physically and mentally punishing. The visible rewards and changes from each practice become so small that at times they are often barely perceptible. It’s not an easy task and it is not a solo task, and it is a never-ending task.

The advanced level, the ‘big stuff’ is not a new move, or a new form, it’s the same stuff we’ve always done, done with greater reliability, greater precision, greater efficiency and better timing. I’m working hard to get there. Are you?

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