Andrew Villarico asked me to elaborate on the last sentence of the “focus” section of my article entitled “The Trick to Improving Martial Arts Performance.”
Something that is often looked over in the Filipino arts, but over emphasized in some other arts (like CMAs), is the concept I call “Discipline in movement”.
Forms, many martial artists are taught, are supposed to teach you correct movement. Yet the way martial arts students are taught to move in forms are not the way one is to move while fighting. In that case, are forms accomplishing the goal they were intended when they were created? I don’t think so. Side note: In some styles, such as Jow Ga, the forms are not to teach movement but are a way of coding and cataloging the techniques in the system. Movements in Jow Ga and some other styles are purposely changed to create a smoke screen for those who do not learn one on one from a qualified Sifu. This is why many of you who know me have heard me say, “The only form you need is perfect form.” We need proper form in executing not just individual techniques but our combinations, our footwork, our maneuvers, and execution of our strategies and tactics. In order to ensure that proper form in practice manifests itself in combat is by developing “discipline in movement”.
Discipline in Movement refers to the adherence of the fighter to what is trained in the gym at all times, regardless of the situation. Whether one is injured, fatigued, in fear, overpowered, surprised, overwhelmed in anyway–the fighter must stick to his plan at all times and never give up himself to the opponent in the form of mistakes and neglect. This is more than simply remembering to do what we’re taught; it is nearly a superhuman feat to have perfect form at all times during combat. For simple gaps in perfect movement, such as the slight stumble most fighters make before launching an attack, or the dip of one’s hand while kicking can be capitalized upon and exploited by an experienced and perceptive opponent. I have said since I was around 11 that Bruce Lee did not have a perfect side kick, as he regularly dropped his front hand in every photo and video I have ever seen him perform that side kick. You know what I’m talking about. The drop of the hand behind the kicking leg while kicking is something almost all fighters do–and it is a terrible mistake as the best fighters slip to the inside or outside of a side kick. That hand being ready to attack or defend is vital to the usefulness of your side kick.
In that, I am saying that even the great Bruce Lee lacked discipline in his movement.
The counter to my argument is irrelevant. People have long said that Bruce Lee’s side kick was so fast that he didn’t need to keep it up. This is something that many fighters use; they overcompensate a flaw in their arsenal with some additional strength they have (in Lee’s case, it is his speed and power). Yet no man is impenetrable, and no man can evade all attacks. And for this reason, we must eliminate all chances that the opponent has of success by ensuring that we have as few flaws in our movement as we can. Every fighter gets hit, and every fighter has a puncher’s chance to defeat an opponent–even when that opponent is considered the best fighter on the planet.
Fighting, as frenzied as it is, makes it difficult to fully focus on executing perfect technique. Our fighting stances must be relaxed but firm. Our initial attacks must be sudden and non-telegraphic. Our first strikes should be equally quick and powerful, yet retract in enough time to execute the follow-up. We must be able to quickly execute an attack and then return to the best position to launch the follow up attacks and ultimately, the finishing attack. During all of this moving around and chess-playing moves, we have to make sure that we maintain our guards, we have good balance, and are maneuvering to find ourselves out of the opponent’s line of fire at all times. Such a strategy is easy to create at the drawing board, but difficult to bring to the mat.
And this is why we must develop our focus while staying in control of our emotions, namely anger and fear. When one is simply concentrating on defeating the opponent, our strikes, blocks, footwork and choice of weapons will be clear and concise. But as we tire, or lose control of our emotions, we then leave our trained fight plan and begin to focus more on either surviving the attack or finishing the attack as quickly as possible. Rarely–whether in mutual combat or self-defense–will you actually be able to “finish an attack as quickly as possible”. There will be some wearing down attacks you will have to utilize and waiting for the right opportunity to destroy. In a true life-or-death fight (robbery, streetfight, a malicious or aggravated assault), where you will be under extreme stress, this ability is a matter of life or death. In those cases, where the attacker may be using his rage as a weapon, you have two choices.
- Use his rage against him by countering it with calmness. He will be reckless and therefore have little discipline in movement–giving you plenty of opportunities to exploit the openings in his attack. While he will have the advantages of being the aggressor and power and intent, think of it like a pitt bull racing out of the house to attack… a Cobra. This requires a lot of training and confidence to perform correctly. If you fail, you will end up being a victim and the opponent will be successful. But to recklessly attack a superior, but calm and calculating opponent can devastate the attacker. Good example? Mike Tyson versus Holyfield. Even after having his ear bitten, Holyfield remained calm enough to take out the ever aggressive and malicious Tyson, using his rage against him.
- Let him be like the dog who races out the house to attack… a Lion. You control your own rage, and release it when the “Dog” comes. Picture this, you are at the gas pump. Thug approaches and asks for money. You don’t have any, you tell him. He begins to become aggravated and demand payment. Let your anger well up… and then BARK. Didn’t I just tell you I was broke? What, do you want a broken jaw? (Take off your jacket) MFer, today is your unlucky day! What do you want to do? Square up and then turn into a Lion and then EAT his rage. Equally dangerous as it is as risky as gambling, few thugs will continue. Most will apologize and move on. He was planning bark at a lamb, not a Lion. This is why bullies work different social circles and they almost never fight each other. Let the opponent awaken the Lion in you, and they will most likely regret it and try to find another victim.
And though all of this, remember that we need to remained focus on finishing the opponent with our tools as polished as possible. If you lack the discipline to execute perfect punches, with perfect footwork, or perfect slashes with a tight grip on the knife at all times–none of the above will help you (except for a little bluffing and luck) and none of your martial arts learning will benefit you. The disciplined fighter never gives up openings to the opponent, and he must maintain control over his focus and emotional state in order to do it.
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