Friday, January 06, 2006

Martial arts != "Arts of Combat"

"I can do that technique."
Yeah, right.

One of the things that keeps martial arts from being simply about hurting people, is that you can do an awful lot of damage to people while using really horrible technique. I had a buddy I used to spar with, whose technique was atrocious, but we played even because he was fast as hell, and strong as an ox. Well, strong as an ox on specific angles. There's a big difference between being able to military press a guy's body weight (which he could do, easily), and being able to apply that power on funny angles.

So I was talking to my Dad and my brother about Pugil sticks. I think they'd be a lot of fun, because you'd get to engage in the sheet unmitigated joy of hitting folks with good technique and full power, w/o worrying about damage. Now, for y'all who don't train, let me step back a bit. When you first start training in some so-called "combat art," unless you're an ox, you usually don't have any power. So you spar, and you bring your "A-game," and put everything you've got into your attacks... in order to achieve no results whatsoever, because you're working on a crude and inefficient level where your muscles are fighting against each other, and you've got all sorts of horrible parasitic movements built in that you don't even know are there. Your seniors are always blathering about "structure," whatever the hell that means. And they're all a bunch of meanies who hit too hard.

Then you start to figure out structure and get some technique, and all of a sudden you're the meanie, trying to understand how everybody can have suddenly turned into such wusses. Well, of course, they didn't: you started to get some actual technique. And from there on out, unless you live as a crook, soldier, or security specialist, or else get in the ring and restrict the techniques you use, you're never going to hit anybody full-power again without a ton of padding between the two of you. (And, conversely, when guys rock your world w/o even trying, you start to recognize where that's coming from, and to begin to be able to distinguish the guys who are simply competent from those who are truly scary. Oh, and y'all in the "no holds barred" crowd can stuff it: I could spend twenty minutes describing all the stuff you guys aren't allowed to do in the ring, or octogon, or whatever you're calling it this week.)

I am my school's senior student (ugh). After five years, I can throw a jab, a cross, and, actually, a pretty decent hook if I can get in the right position. I can do one of the kicks in my style.


That's right. I know how to do others... but that doesn't mean I can do them yet. Some of them I can sort of frame in, a few others I've got windo glass put in, and there are even one or two I've got waiting for the trim... but I can't really say I do any of them correctly: the windows of my kicks are all incomplete. Knowing how doesn't get you squat. Until you can do it in perfect form like a tireless machine, while smiling and telling dirty jokes, you're doing something wrong in the technique. Now, some styles have an inherently higher "despair factor" than others, which is why everybody and their grandmother makes fun of Jeet Kune Do (df way too low), and why 99.44% of the so-called "internal martial arts" you see done out there is complete crap (df stratospheric, and therefore usually corrupt in transmission). Our salle's primary style has a medium-to medium-high df.

Same game last night, when we worked on the "hip twitch," which lets you ride impact off your opponent to throw a second blow. The puppies can't do it. They're frustrated. What they don't really seem to realize at any intuitive level is that the dude who's playing at being senior student and demonstrating the technique (aka, me) can't do it either. All I've got are its rough outlines. I've got a clue, where a couple of them can't even wrap their brains around what it's supposed to look like... but "clue" != "do" != < ..."correct."

And that's where martial arts begin to really deviate from its argument-by-dictionary* etymological definitions. "Rough outlines" are all your average scrapper has, and pretty much all he needs. Add "toughness" and "heart" to the mix, and he's good to go. Because his goal, which is to pick up this moron who's just harassed a chick in the bar, and monkeyhop him out the door to the street, is different than the goal of the guy who's pursuing a hobby where you just happen to smack each other around a lot.

*As an aside, is there any field outside of high-school geometry where arguing by definition actually helps to further understanding, or to stifle your urge to throttle the poor clueless jerk who thinks he's being intelligent by engaging in it?

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