Letting Go

IMG_1682You don’t necessarily have to empty your cup to take on board new knowledge. You may not have to tip anything out at all. You might choose to simply collect and learn more and more things even if they are contradictory, useless or of no feasible value to you whatsoever. That’s your choice. Learning and experiencing new things is one of the greatest pleasures there is.

Value and usefulness are relative. They depend on your training aims and, if you are an instructor, the training aims of your students. You might try to be all things to all people (I think I’ve seen a few promotions for institutions with names like Family Mixed Martial Arts Karate Kickboxing Self Defence Club), and indeed clubs/venues that have multiple streamed specialised classes (often with different instructors) may be able to meet many varied training goals, but frequently too broad a focus results in low standards and training of very little value. The usefulness and value of information and skill sets depends upon whether it is the currency of the territory. Some forms of plastic or paper currency in your wallet are valuable and welcome everywhere, others are rather limited. The same applies to knowledge and techniques with regard to the different styles and purposes of martial arts training.

Choosing to let go of things that no longer serve a purpose in your training or teaching can be a relief, but it can also be hard. Are you letting something go because it is superfluous, useless, bad practice, valueless in the context of your teaching, inconsistent with other elements, you don’t understand it, or it has been replaced with something you deem superior?

I would drop any element of my physical repertoire if I found something superior that also fitted with existing elements and met as many of the underpinning principles that I work to. If evidence steered me towards replacing multiple elements as part of that process, I would do that too. In my Shotokan classes I restrict myself to elements related to Shotokan kata movements (which is less of a limitation than many would believe), but in my DART classes I’m far more open to change. I might be sad to leave something in which I have invested so much time, but like moving house or taking on a promotion at work, often you have to leave things you like behind in order to experience and benefit from something better.

What I will not drop given my current training and teaching aims are the principles that underpin my decision making when it comes to the techniques and combinations I choose and how I train them. These principles shape what I perceive as having use or value for me and those that I teach, they determine what stays in my cup and what is added to my cup.

HAOV Relevant– focusing on habitual acts of violence, whether for pre-emptive defence in aggressive pre-fight posturing, recovering the initiative from the most likely forms of initial attack, delivering an effective follow through in the event of tactic failure, or dealing with likely secondary or tertiary attacks from failures is important to me because that is the environment for which I am training my students. The physical acts of violence within HAOV may include defending against ‘professional’ or skilled tactics, but I do distinguish between habitual and historical. Purely focusing on the physical techniques is martial arts training and not self protection, teaching them alongside patterns of crime, avoidance, deterrence, negation/de-escalation, legal underpinning, aftermath etc. is where more accurately you are teaching self defence as part of personal safety/self protection.

Legally Underpinned– this is not the weak option. This is not about increasing your risks in a situation, it is about decreasing your risks afterwards. This is about understanding force and how to use it effectively within the law. It’s about having a training methodology that results in drills that lessen the risk to practitioners should they have to engage in non-consensual violence. This is an important aspect of self protection. You’re not in an action flick; violence has consequences.

Effective, Efficient and Easy – does it do what I need it to do, is it direct and is it simple to acquire and maintain proficiency?

Minimising Risk of Harm– I don’t often stress this because I think it is obvious. Protect your head! Don’t rely purely on your technique working. I shudder every time I see someone hit or enter while demonstrating a kata application without doing this. I slap myself if I get so distracted by teaching that I don’t do it in demonstration. If both hands are engaged then not doing this makes sense, but both hands should not be engaged if your head is in or going through a potential striking line. I also get annoyed when people are so focused on ‘stopping’ the aggressor that they fail to spot that without their training equipment or excessive conditioning their ‘go to’ movements may give them injuries that could negatively impact not only on successively navigating a violent encounter but also how their actions are perceived by others, or give them long term or even career ending problems. This also applies to training methods that take unnecessary risks with the long-term health of participants (risk of progressive harm to joints, sloppy safety procedures, casual attitudes to training injuries, ignorance of the implications of head injuries).

Technique Multiplicity with Transferable Skills– You don’t want a huge repertoire. You want a small repertoire that can effectively be used to do a lot of different things. You also want the training efficiency that comes from transferable skills.

Utilising Predictable Response– This isn’t simply about how people are likely to attack you if you stand one way rather than another, it’s more about understanding how people really move when things work and when things don’t. You need to hit people and grapple with people to find this out.

Taking and maintaining the Initiative

Inherent Redundancy– Things go wrong, things fail. It might be due to size, strength, angle, or intoxication. You have to have back-ups that seamlessly fit less desirable positions. 

Vital Points Targeting– I’m not really talking about Kyusho here, although there are overlaps. Go for weak points. Maximise the efficiency of your movements. This is the secret ingredient in the icing on the cake – the ingredients and cooking of the cake are  more important overall. 

Adrenaline Tolerant– It’s got to work under pressure. Raising your heart rate can simulate some aspects of this but it’s not the same. While I’d like to see it with bigger group samples to draw firm conclusions, I’ve seen similar increases in combination lock opening times between 5 minutes of hard aerobic exercise and 1 minute of verbal argument followed by 3 second fight simulations in scenario training.

Low Maintenance– It should be simple. That doesn’t mean it can’t have several stages and turns. A lot of things look or feel complex until you’ve done them a few times (watch beginners trying to turn their hips or coordinate arms and legs or learner drivers trying to combine clutch and gear changes), but it should be easy to keep at a high skill level.

Stable Posture– Your techniques should not compromise your balance.

Unbalancing– We should always be looking to reduce the other person’s ability to unbalance us, hit us, or brace against a hit. Understanding chains of balance, structure and movement is a key part of being able to maximise the efficiency of striking and grappling.

Multiple Person Awareness– you can only effectively fight one person at a time, but doing so should hinder the ability of others to join in rather than make you an easy target. Some favour close range for this, others favour long range. I certainly favour movement, changing angles and head protection with any free arm. 

Holistic Integrity– A technique can be great, but if it doesn’t fit with everything else you do it’s near useless to you. Techniques and tactics need to fit together and be able to flow into each other (see redundancy). An application may look cool, but does it force you to make a completely different initial response to normal?

My training is not fixed. I’m still learning. I’m still working to improve every element of everything I do. There will be many things I’m sure that will stay with me throughout that journey, but it is also true that there will be others that I will have to leave behind. To do that I have to be prepared to let go.

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