Martial Arts: Fighting Spirit Vs Technique

Sometimes you see in martial arts forums and/or magazines, debates on what is most important in training; focusing on pure technique or developing a fierce fighting spirit?  Everybody seems to have an opinion and as the old saying goes . . . . opinions are like a**e holes, everybody has one.

So I though I’d add mine to the mix as well.  Opinion that is.  Obviously both are very important and nobody will get far without a certain amount of both.  However, as for which is most important . . . . . . I would say that depends on what stage of your training you’re at.

For beginners, I would say that more emphasis should be placed on technique.  Good technique is the foundation to traditional martial arts.  It is the basic building block on which all else is built.  People often argue that pure basics are unrealistic in a real fight.  I would agree.  However, when you build a house, the first thing you do is dig a great big hole and fill it in with cement.  This is your foundation.  When the house is built, you don’t actually see the foundation, but without it the house will fall down.

It’s the same with fighting skills.  When you fight or spar you take short cuts and you seldom see pure basics being used, but without good basics the techniques that you do fight or spar with will be limited.

I do think it is good to do some reality based scenario training (see the video’s in my post below) early as well, as that does teach the student tactics to deal with the raw aggression and pre-fight stage when somebody is trying to pick a fight with you.  This form of training can yield very quick results, particularly at overcoming any likelihood of “freezing” in a confrontation, so I don’t really feel that you need to do a lot of it.  Also, it should be separate from technique training, at least in the early days.

To learn good techniques takes time and is best learnt in a relaxed environment.  Learning under pressure tends to hard wire results into your brain very quickly, hence bad habits from early training can become hard wired and be difficult to remove later.

However, when the student becomes proficient at their techniques, then you can bit by bit build up the pressure and intensity.  But by this time, there should be a good foundation in place.  This can of course be done through several different methods:

  • Sparring is the most obvious as the student is on the receiving end of random attacks and has to react to them as they happen.
  • Even pre-arranged sparring can be intense.  When you are partnered with somebody who is fast, powerful, accurate and they come in at you with full intent (and you have to wait for them to initiate), it can requires full attention.
  • Kata/patterns/forms or even basics can be used too if you really visualise an opponent in front of you.  The body’s nervous system does not know the difference between what is real and what is imagined (that’s why you heartbeat goes up and you jump at a scary movie, even when you brain knows that you’re safely snuggled up on your sofa).
  • More reality based (scenario) training, though now you can involve more technique.

This is particularly good at the approach to 1st Dan, when the balance can shift in favour of emphasising the spirit a bit more than technique.  Throughout the kyu/kup grades the techniques have been emphasised, but when the student goes for their Dan grade, they really need to show that they have the will to fight for it (mentally as well as literally).   It is often said that it is harder to live up to a black belt than it is to earn it, as a black belt is supposed to be courageous, confident and an example to others.   Somebody who folds under pressure (no matter how technically competent) cannot really be held up as an example.

Besides, martial arts are not only there to teach us to take the physical knocks of the Dojo (or even a street fight), they are also supposed to teach us to take the mental and emotional knocks of life itself.  That certainly requires great spirit.

However, as you continue to progress, (especially as you get older), you should learn to relax both physically and mentally under pressure.  This means switching back to focusing more on technique again.  I would say that by the time you’ve passed 2nd Dan or above, you should be accustomed to being place under pressure and rather than continuing to meet it with a “GRRRRRRR” mentality, you should be looking to casually evade, become deceptive, learn how to incapacitate using the least amount of your energy as you can.

Why?

Two reasons.

Firstly, martial arts are a lifetimes study and if you want to keep training as you get older, you need to consider the implications of age.  A lifetime of martial arts does not mean that you the same thing throughout your life.  A martial arts matures as the martial artist matures. Why would people in the 60′s or 70′s want to kick head height?  But without evolving into pure (and softer) technique as we move throughout our lives, then we bring forward our sell by date when we are forced to stop training.

Secondly, its a far more effective and efficient way of fighting, especially against multiple opponents.  A real fight can be exhausting, so using up all your energy fiercely and spiritedly defeating the first guy, just to find that his mates want to have a go too, is not wise.

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