Thursday, March 12, 2015

Improve your martial art skills quicker by focusing on principles instead of techniques

Have you ever wondered why you are not improving anymore after you have trained a specific style for a while? It is frustrating to see others catching up on you and even surpass you in sparring sessions when you remember what this guy was like not very long ago when he was totally new. You train every day, learn new moves everyday but don't seem to be able to put them together and soon after you forget the moves you learned 5 days ago.

It happens to me as well. In fact it happens to everybody. The days when you feel your learning is exploding day after day is gone, now you have learned the basic moves, you hit the plateau. A lot of us gets frustrated and even discouraged after a while, some of us eventually train less and less. While taking a break from hard training is necessary sometimes, I don't believe in losing faith in the art when you hit the plateau. Maybe this is the time you should reflect on what you have been doing and taught and try a different approach.

Different Martial art styles have different philosophy, therefore their emphasis is different. Therefore, it is really important to find an accurate way to measure your progress in your martial arts training. It is not the same measures across all styles; it is not the same measures across different stages in your training either. If you find yourself hitting a plateau because you just can't do any better in your sparring sessions, maybe now it's time to measure your growth differently. 

In the modern combat sport styles such as boxing, Muay Thai, Jiu-Jitsu and MMA, the training largely focuses on physical conditioning and learning the moves and techniques. Since it is also a sport, there is going to be strategies, mind games, chess-like tactics involved in order to win the fight. While techniques and physical conditions are the bread and butter of your training, if you only focus on that, you will hit a plateau. After all, there is no secret anymore in this world, what you learn will soon be taught to everybody. You will soon find it harder and harder to apply the same move on someone because they know how to counter. Then you have to learn new moves, but moves can only get you so far because in boxing and Muay Thai, there aren't that many moves to master anyways while in Jiu-jitsu, there are hundreds of moves and variations, too much to master all. 

Therefore, after reaching certain proficiency of your art, its time to start focusing on your game, which is invisible ability that's beyond the level of individual techniques. Your game is your ability to do certain things well based on the techniques you have mastered, hence, you game eventually will become your principle of fighting. 

For example, in Muay Thai and boxing, do you feel more comfortable fighting from outside or inside? Are you an aggressor or counter-striker? Knowing where you want to be, it is time to focus on developing your ability to implement what you want to implement in a real fight. Next time in your sparring, don't worry too much about beating your partner, focus on accomplishing certain things during the fight. I want to work on maintaining distance with my aggressive opponents, lets focus on improving my ability to keep him away. Or if you am a clinch fighter, let's focus on developing my ability to block his attacks and grapple with him.

Although there are techniques and moves for every agenda you are trying to accomplish during the fight, it is really the ability to apply these techniques well during the moment that really seals the deal. It isn't too difficult to learn driving a car, but not everybody has the ability to drive well; every driver knows how to park the car, but not every driver can park effortless anywhere. Technique is just a move or set of move, it is as it is, without external pressures, without time constraint. Ability on the other hand, is to make the technique works, or to create an environment where techniques can be easily applied. 

Take Jiu-jitsu for instance, if I want to become a good guard passer, the first thing I need to learn is the basic guard passing techniques. However, there are hundreds of ways to pass closed guards, opened guards and half guards, how am I going to be good at that? Instead of focusing on the techniques and the next techniques, I will focus on developing my ability to not let my opponent catch my legs. Passing guards with different grips and hip switches are part of techniques, being able to move around and controlling my partner's body while keeping my body away from their guard pulling attempts is my ability. 

The only way to develop and enhance your ability is through constant focus during your training. Don't try to master every position, every move, focus on developing your ability to do certain things well. By doing that, you are developing your system, your principle that works well only for you. You won't be focusing on learning and memorizing new moves, rather, you will be selective about the new moves being presented to you and only pick the ones that compliments your system. 

In a competition, it is not the guy who knows more moves usually wins. It is the guys who implements their game before their opponents can implement theirs win. In other words, get in where you want to be before he does.

A truly good martial art teacher not only should have the knowledge of the art, but also has his or her own unique system. Moreover, the teacher should have the understanding of helping students to find their own system and principle by looking beyond the techniques.
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