Techniques As A “Shorthand” For Learning Principles

Some of the newer and more reality based martial arts which emphasise real self protection (as opposed to sport) such as Krav Maga and Systema argue that the strength of their system is that they emphasise principles of movement rather than techniques. They argue that most of the older Oriental martial arts by contrast put the emphasis the other way round, on techniques more than principles. They argue that this makes their arts better for learning self defence more quickly and effectively.

Note: Systema is actually quite old, but has been seriously re-vamped and modernised by the Russian Communist government.

When you think about it, learning a principle is more important then learning a technique. If you learn one technique, you have just that, one technique. If you learn a principle, you have something that you can adapt to many different techniques and scenarios which makes if far more useful and versatile than a single technique. A system that places emphasis on learning principles over techniques would have a number of advantages as it wouldn’t take too many principles before you have a fairly wide range of applications in your arsenal.

Without any disrespect to these newer and reality based systems, but I think that they misunderstand how the Oriental martial arts are structured. I think it’s easy to forgive them for that as most people practising Oriental martial arts don’t fully understand either. I’ll take Karate as an example as that it my main style (though it applies to Taekwondo, Kung Fu and other styles too). What most of the Japanese Masters emphasise above all else is good form. Whilst I agree that good form is important, what I don’t like is that most senior Masters emphasise form over function and the functions are largely lost in history. Again, you can forgive them for this, as that is the way the Okinawans taught them. I won’t go into the political and social reasons for this as I’ve discussed this elsewhere.

But when you put emphasis on form and forget (or at least don’t study in depth) the function; then you end up being technique orientated. When you focus primarily on the form of the technique, you end up with a very restricted view of how you can use it!

However, each technique is really a shorthand method for studying principle(s) of movement and function. If I take a stepping punch for example. As a technique for stepping forward and punching somebody it’s a bit limited. It’s easy to see it coming! Usually to make it work you have to use a distraction as it’s a bit long and slow as a single technique. That said, distraction is always good and should be practised as a matter of course!

However, if we look at the stepping punch in terms of learning principles, what principles can we learn. Well there are several.

- Co-ordination of the breath with the strike.
- Co-ordination of punch with forward body momentum.
- Sinking the body weight at the end to have a good “root” when striking.
- Correct alignments of the skeletal system to impart maximum impact.
- Compression of the stationary leg (the one that does not step) during the first half of the step allows you to propel yourself forward in the second half of the step (release the compression).

Stepping Punch

So lets say for example that you are confronted by an aggressor. You do all the right things to try and de-escalate the situation and it doesn’t work. For whatever reason, lets assume that running away is not an option!

You decide you have to strike!

Note: Under UK law, you’re legally entitled to strike first if you honestly and sincerely believe you are in imminent danger of being harmed (but you may have to justify that belief in a court of law). If you’re not in the UK, you’ll have to check the law in your country/state!

So you’re in the fence position (or a guard). Either way, you have your hands up and front of you, between you and the aggressor; and one foot in front of the other. If you were to execute a classical stepping punch, by the time you’re half way there the aggressor will likely know it coming and be preparing his/her counter! That said, bullies often come close into your personal space to try to intimidate you, so you might not have room anyway.

However, lets just say you slightly lower your weight so as to compress the rear leg. You then slightly lift the front foot of the ground and allow your body weight to move forward. You enhance the forward movement by releasing the prepared compression and propelling yourself forward. As you move forward you use the correct skeletal alignment, exhale and sink your weight on impact!

You haven’t performed a classical stepping punch. In fact you haven’t even stepped through properly, you’ve just slid forward on your front leg!

However, you’ve used all the principles of movement/alignment/power generation, listed above which you learn from practising the technique of stepping punch. The untrained observer wouldn’t even recognise that there was a connection between the movement described above and a stepping punch; yet the movement described above would not be very powerful without a lot of repetition of the stepping punch.

This works with just about all of your other techniques.

And this post only covers the use of this technique for a strike. Most techniques are multi functional and can be used for striking, grappling and weapons, but the that’s for another post!

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