Question the Answers
It is interesting to note that everything in our lives can be made better. There is always room for improvement in every facet of our lives, and in everything around us. This is very true of our martial arts training. It will continue to evolve and change for the better as long as we persevere in our quest for the truth; constantly looking for those techniques and training methods that yield favorable results under the stressful and unpredictable reality of combat. The only way to keep this upward spiral of growth alive is to constantly question the answers that we tend to take as gospel. It is easy to fall into the trap of being what one of my friends calls a “true believer”. This is someone who believes so much in his or her system that no actual thought is given as to whether or not the techniques or training methods are valid, i.e. actually
functional in combat. A typical conversation can go like this. “Does that technique work?” “Of course!” “How do you know that?” “My sifu told me so.” “How does he know that it works?” (This question is rarely asked because the sifu is supposedly beyond reproach, and can never be questioned!) “Sifu said that his sifu said that it worked.” “And how did that sifu know that the technique worked?” “Because the great grandmaster of the system said so 400 years ago!” This is a common line of reasoning that is simply not reasonable. Krishnamurti referred to this kind of reliance on others for your information as being a second hand human being. If you really want to understand the martial arts, the information must come from first hand experience, or it is merely hearsay.
This is something I emphasize to my students. Learning the martial arts through the Jeet Kune Do approach should be experiential. The student must learn for him or herself. Instead of watching others or taking someone else’s word, you should find out if it works for you. This is the path to developing true confidence in your art. If you have never tried to pull off your technique against an aggressive opponent, what is going to happen if you have to face a large aggressive foe in the street? The street is not the time to find out whether you have developed timing, power, and flow. Discover this in the school where you aren’t going to be sent off to the hospital for making a mistake. Practicing in a more realistic environment will prepare you physically and mentally for the street.
This brings us back to questioning the answers. You must try to look at your training with the eyes of a child who has never seen your particular methods. After training for years it is easy to become so used to doing the same old things that you forget to analyze your art. If you want to be your best, it is imperative that you periodically analyze your training and see what you can do to improve yourself. Here are a few questions that you can ask yourself.
1- Is my current training method the end-all-be-all, perfect martial art? If you truly believe that it is, growth is going to be difficult for you to sustain. No method is “perfect”, because situations always change. There is always a new counter waiting to be discovered, and another counter after that. Nobody knows it all. We all have partial truths. The only thing that really counts when under the stress of combat is whether or not you can apply some portion of your art that is appropriate at the particular time against that particular opponent.
2- Are my training methods as good as they can be? Spar with some of the top fighters in other arts and find out. If you have experience in you art, but are totally lost when sparring, there may be a problem. If you do well, you should still recognize that there are always new training methods to experience.
3- Am I really a complete fighter? It is very important to be a complete martial artist, because in the street you can’t always dictate the range that the fight takes place in. Can you fight well in kicking range? How about in punching, or trapping range? Can you keep someone from taking you to the ground? How are you in the clinch? On the ground? With weapons? Defending against weapons? Do you have sound tactics for multiple opponents? Have you tried them out? Competence in all ranges is a must.
4- If there is a range that I don’t train in, why don’t I? Is it because of fear of the unknown? Afraid that you might look silly? Afraid of what your students might think if they find out that you don’t know everything? Just jump in there and practice and in a few years you will be comfortable in the new range, and you will have more to teach.
5- Are the techniques I am using actually battle tested? Techniques that work against a cooperative, slow moving opponent may not work well against an aggressive attacker. Speed, power, and unpredictable movement must be countered with strong basics, not flashy, complicated combos.
6- If I think my techniques are battle tested, am I getting this information through 2nd or 3rd hand knowledge, or by way of my own experience? If you haven’t done it or seen it done under stress, you don’t really know.
This is the scientific approach. We have to be asking ourselves tough questions if we want to get solid answers. It is very important to me that my students are receiving the best techniques and training methods that I can find. Sooner or later one of those students is going to get into a bad situation and if I have merely been entertaining that student with the fanciest techniques that I can find, there is a good change that he or she is going to get hurt. I couldn’t live with that. That is why I am so adamant about my research and development. Not just for my own training, but so I can make the road a little shorter and a bit straighter for my students.
Enjoy your training, and be happy each time you discover a weakness. That is the first step to massive improvement.
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