High Performance

by Burton Richardson July 01, 2002

Isn’t this what we are all after in our martial arts training? Isn’t this what we strive to achieve in all aspects of our lives? We want to be able to perform at a high level of proficiency. Put another way, we want to become skillful at our endeavors in life. What is it going to take to become a high performance martial artist? I started using the term “High Performance Martial Arts” in the early nineties. The idea was to be able to perform our martial arts at a high level of proficiency, much like the difference between a regular automobile and a racecar. This was a fine goal, but my definition of High Performance was somewhat varied. I had not made a solid distinction between the entertainment part of the martial arts and the combative portion. As I entered more tournaments, and fought in different arenas, I realized that my path would primarily be one of teaching functional fighting and training methods to those who were interested in self-defense techniques that work under extreme pressure. High performance took on a different meaning for me. What I found was that regardless of how well I could flow my techniques together with a training partner, almost none of that coordination translated to sparring proficiency when I tried to apply the techniques against someone who was fighting back. I realized that for me, skill in actual fighting was what mattered most. I no longer wanted to be a person who taught thousands of techniques, but had never been able to actually do any of them in sparring. I changed the way I was teaching, and used the concept of High Performance Martial Arts as a guiding principle. There was one major obstacle with going through this change. I was making my living teaching JKD Concepts seminars, and the people who came to my seminars expected a certain style of teaching. I had a reputation for teaching in a very detailed manner, while exploring the thousands of variations that are available in the various arts. I had come to a point in my training where I realized that 99% of these variations had a very low chance of working in a real fight. What to do? I knew that I could not continue teaching in the same manner. I had to tell the truth that I was exposed to. What I did at first was to show a few functional techniques at the seminars, then go into what I referred to as “the art part” of the curriculum. I figured that this way, everyone would be happy. They would get some functional moves, and then get to play with lots of “fun” techniques and drills. Each individual could then decide whether to pursue the fighting or demonstration art. It sounded like a good idea, but what I found was that most of the seminar students could not distinguish between functional and fantasy techniques. It was the same trap I had fallen into. Due to a lack of consistent sparring, these good people had no frame of reference to judge what worked and what didn’t. Regardless of how I presented the material, people still went away with the feeling that they could somehow use these fantasy techniques in a real situation. Again, what to do? Was I going to just give up teaching the “art”? I really didn’t have much choice, because I could see that I wasn’t helping people become better fighters, but just adding to their delusion. I decided to speak with a close friend of mine about this situation. Matt Thornton had been only teaching the functional after discarding many non-functional aspects of our previous training. Matt encouraged me to just teach what I believed in. His advice was great. He told me that I would lose a lot of students doing this, but that many others would come who had similar goals to my own. He was right. I changed the seminar curriculum to cover only those things that either I or someone I knew of had been able to actually use in hard sparring. It is a simple concept. High Performance meant the ability to perform your techniques and tactics against someone who is totally resisting you. We train with progressive resistance so that the students get to spar in a very safe environment, and gradually increase the amount of resistance as their skill level improves. I knew that I was risking my living by changing my approach, but it has all worked out wonderfully. I had no choice, because I cannot teach something that I don’t believe in. Over the years the fighting methods have improved almost daily. Training is better, application is better, and we are having more fun than ever. I take the High Performance ideal and use it in every aspect of my life. I train in the fighting arts and other areas using the High Performance way. I take classes and work to become more skillful in other areas, from writing to business to charitable works. The different aspects of my personal life are working great. I even started a company called High Performance Videos so that people can see how many of my friends achieve High Performance in various areas of fighting. Keeping High Performance at the forefront of my mind keeps me moving in a positive direction in every endeavor I choose to undertake. You can do the same thing. High Performance is a creed that you can live your life by everyday. Is your life working for you, or do you seem to be stuck in a situation that you don’t want to be in? If you are not happy with your life, it is probably due to your way of approaching life. Living well is a skill that can be acquired. If you don’t like your results, change your approach. You must learn to believe in yourself, and only do those things that you believe are best for you. If you want to teach martial arts for a living, but are not taking steps to make that a reality, then you are short changing yourself. We get to make the choice to either live our dream, or just settle for what others believe we should do each day. Be bold and do those things that you want to do. Seek out the best teachers and train hard so that you can live the High Performance lifestyle.


Burton Richardson
Burton Richardson

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