I have long said that the real skill in the martial arts will not be developed in a class. We must differentiate between learning, practice, testing, and training.
Let me restate for emphasis:
These are not the same, and if the martial arts teacher, student or fighter does not understand this–they will never reach their potential. There must also be a balance. Classroom time must be split between the four aspects, and none can be eliminated. Some martial arts programs will favor one over the other, but if any are neglected–martial arts development will be stunted. Teachers and coaches may be better at guiding one or the other as well, and as a result a team of instructors should be formed to ensure success. Often, arrogance or denial will prevent a master from admitting that he is not qualified or competent in all areas (note: I do not consider competence in all areas a prerequisite for mastery). In that case, teachers will downplay the importance of the areas he is not skilled or knowledgeable in. He may also overemphasize one or two of the areas, and this is also counterproductive. Students may not know they are lacking in one of the areas, until some future time, when his skill and knowledge exceeds or catches up to his teacher. <—- This, my brothers and sisters, happens far too often in today’s martial arts world.
Let me expound a little on the four areas:
- learning–students “learn” new techniques and strategies. the new information is taught, students are supervised until they can mimic the teacher’s movements, and display what has been taught. notice I use the term “display”, as this is not to be confused with “learned” what has been taught. I could teach you to say “Magandang umago po” (good morning), and even though you have repeated it, you do not speak Tagalog. however, it is a good start to getting you closer to competence in that area. too often, martial artists are stuck in this stage, only “learning” to display new techniques and new styles without actually learning them. this area must be followed by
- practice–students must perform the new material repeatedly over time, until these new techniques become second nature. the nuances and minute, intricate details must be understood and self-correcting. it is in this stage that one can begin to say that he or she has “learned” a technique. practice should be done both with cadence being called by the teacher as well as at one’s own pace. I do not prefer one over the other–and neither is better than the other. teachers may count cadence to ensure that a minimum number of repetitions is reached. some students, however, may be more hands-on learners; meaning, they must handle this technique on their own with their own timing and at their own pace in order to obtain a good grasp on the information. once techniques and strategies are taught, students need ample time to practice their techniques under low stress in order to perfect every part of the technique. we should keep in mind that practice is done under low stress, so that techniques are not rushed, are not done while fatigued, and full attention is given to every part of the technique. as with any technique or strategy, if any part is missing or performed incorrectly, the student will not maximize his use of this skill. in my experience, I have seen teachers spend too much time in this stage or too much time in the learning stage–both for their students as well as for their own learning. then there are those who spend too much time at
- testing–in other words, “sparring”. sparring need not be freestyle all the time. one good way to practice a skill is to spar with an opponent who can do anything he wants, but is told to try and stop a certain technique. this method is good for learning to use a technique or strategy as well as learning to counter a technique or strategy. and then this knowledge is combined to develop the skill at countering the counter to this new technique or strategy. this is an important element, because fighters must understand aspects of techniques and strategies that cannot be taught; they must be experienced. it is in this stage that one’s “practice” will experience a sense of urgency, they will experience success versus failure, and they will learn the outcome of using or stopping this new material. when I teach students to use the knife hand (which most teachers spend almost NO time practicing at all), it is important for students to feel the knifehand strike against their trapezius muscle or neck in order to appreciate what type of hit this is. this is also vital in the understanding of Eskrima, where good hits are felt in order to develop a healthy respect for the stick. how often have you heard an Eskrimador dismiss the Abaniko strike as “weak”? this is because he has never been hit by one. there is no learning quite like the learning your opponent helps you with through a good fight. this area can also be overemphasized as well. if students spend all their time sparring with a technique, rather than fine tuning their skills in solo practice, we end up with uncoordinated, sloppy tough guys who feel and cannot think as well as they can hit. again, we must have balance. when one practices a skill without stress, he is more clear minded and can think. when he practices with stress, he is learning to think and move under pressure. both are extremely necessary. as the saying goes, the tough will always rule the weak. but the tough will always be ruled by the smart. we want to be tough and smart, and one way to ensure this is to learn to think, and then learn to think while being pushed and challenged. and finally, the best bridge to this is
- training–if sparring and experimentation is mental pressure, training is physical pressure. we must learn to use our technique while exhausted and fatigued. our students must have time to themselves to train their techniques in high repetitions, with resistance, and pushing these skills to their limits. only a few FMA people truly train their Eskrima and empty hand skills. most practice casually at their leisure, while never using their technique to get stronger. this is apparent when I shake hands with an Eskrimador with slender forearms; often, many Eskrimadors have the hands of a woman, small, weak, and smooth. Eskrima should leaves one with hands like a mechanic. ask yourself, if you can throw 1,000 full power strikes (any one of your style’s numbering system)? if you cannot, you may consider adding a true training plan to your repertoire. as an expert of the arts, you must have bulletproof skill with at a minimum, your style’s basics. many do not train this way, and in fact, have confused the term “train” with “practice”. at any Eskrima practice, you must have performed a strike at least 300-400 repetitions (with power), and your combinations and techniques should be thrown at least 100 repetitions. the learning stage is where you learn how to perform a technique, the practice stage is where you rehearse doing it (and fine-tuning the intricasies), the experiment/testing stage is for seeing how it works against an unwilling opponent, THIS stage is where all of that knowledge comes together and you perfect those skills with the same level of energy you would use when you are actually in combat. in my 30+ years in these arts, I have only seen a handful of FMA men using this stage–and I am happy to report that most of them utilize all four areas.
A teacher is only required for the first stage. His presence for all four would be excellent. However, many FMA men and women may find themselves without someone to supervise and guide their practice, sparring and training. If that is true, you would still find much success in gaining experience in the last three areas on your own with training partner, opponents, and finally, by listening to your soul. What you discover on your own through your experiences, reflections and from your body no man can teach you. It is through this process that one can say he has truly learned a technique.
Now go and do it with everything in your arsenal.
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