Martial Arts – What You Think You Know CAN Hurt You! I remember when I was a yellow belt in Kung Fu San Soo, and I was learning one of the set lessons that every student had to go through. San Soo was put together hundreds of years ago in China, from five different “families” of techniques/ideas, and further developed into lessons in the 1960’s in California. Trimming off many of the “esoteric” elements of the original systems, founder Jimmy Woo had said that Americans wanted to learn how to fight – and didn’t want the other non-fight-applicable aspects. All in all, this made San Soo a direct and efficient system.
However, that one lesson that I recall, had me stepping back and “catching” the opponent’s punch – a move that seemed quite obscure and impractical, in contrast to the philosophy of San Soo. When I questioned the move to the assistant instructor, she answered with, “I don’t like the move either, but it’s part of the lesson plan, so we teach it”. And, therein lies the problem with many “traditional” martial arts – we are taught many moves that would take a few decades of work in a monestary to make applicable. And those are not moves we want to rely upon when the going gets tough!
Another move that we are all taught in various traditional striking arts is the “block” – an upward, sideways or downward strike with our forearm, to intercept and destroy our opponent’s initial strike, much like a Patriot missle going nobly after a lumbering and primitive Scud. If you’ve ever watched any UFC or boxing matches, you’ll never see a block. Why? Because it’s easier and more time effective to duck, slip, or cover than to think you can cut off a strike that started before yours. So, now, when I train, I am aware of blocks, but I don’t use them. Try it for yourself when you train.
If you’ve done any research on the subject, you’ll soon find that the world of martial arts has more opposing views than religion and politics combined – and everyone is an expert. Traditionalists (many branches of Karate and Kung Fu) will claim that their centuries-old systems have proven the test of time, because they were devised long ago and humans remain the same – while newer martial arts systems claim to be just that: new and improved. Traditionalists will claim that the “sport arts” (boxing, wrestling, Judo, MMA) have the lethal moves discarded, and employ rules and referees. Sport art advocates will ask traditionalists why they rely on “lethal” moves that they have never executed – to save them in future altercations. The arguments and theories go around and around. Very confusing for someone looking to learn how best to defend oneself.
I also remember when enrolled at a music school, spending hours to decipher a very difficult guitar solo played by the virtuoso Allan Holdsworth. A thrilling, if not mind-numbingly difficult thing to do – which would have a hundred lessons withing one transcription – but at the same time – I was a guitarist that lacked the simple timekeeping and groove of playing a Chuck Berry riff correctly. Point is, that I love difficult, tricky, advanced moves – but don’t think for a second that you can skip the simple moves as well. An ugly, sweaty, sparse boxing or wrestling gym has no elaborate Dragons painted on the walls, and no proponents in silk outfits – but don’t think that you can’t learn some life saving lessons in there. Back in the 80’s I read a book on Kenpo Karate, by Grandmaster Ed Parker, and he described his art as being like “Chess”, while boxing is more like “Checkers”. Learning Chess is fine – but don’t forget your checkers. In fact, simple can be a great place to start, and to build from there with different and contrasting styles.
In fact, numerous newer martial arts (Krav Maga, for instance) systems focus on not memorizing a multitude of techniques – rather focusing on simple, instinctive, direct, interchangeable moves, borrowed from numerous traditional martial arts, drilled quickly under stress, like the more modern and realistic MMA training approach – a best of both worlds.
I’d say it’s time you get started!
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