Learning the Rhythm of Styles (Knife At a Gunfight)

I would like to introduce you to a concept that few fighters understand, but many great fighters use to their advantage.

There is a little-known characteristic of fighters that few fighters are conscious of, which is the rhythm of styles. A system’s rhythm owes itself to a variety of factors:

  • the culture of the system or the system’s founder (or teacher’s own culture)
  • the preferences of that system’s founder/school’s teacher
  • the physical attributes of that system’s founder/school’s teacher
  • the specialties utilized in that particular style or school

Notice that I did not discuss the system’s students or fighters. This is because I consider the rhythm of a system to be a separate characteristic of a particular fighter–although the one can affect the other or not be influenced by the other at all. This idea is very complex, so I will try my best to explain it as best I can in less than 1,000 words.

We all know that rhythm is almost synonymous with timing and speed, but there is something else that defines rhythm. It is a pattern that the mind thinks in that manifests itself in movement and reactive timing. One often finds this rythm in dance, but it also shows itself in speech; think of how a stereotypical New Yorker may speak faster than the southern drawl of a rural Virginia dweller or someone from Mississippi. While we may limit our understanding to simply speech, as a Filipino and as a martial artist I find there is also a varied level of patience and in other places such as culinary styles…. in the Southern American cooking, dishes are prepared with a slow simmer, stews, smoked meat, etc., where New England dishes are made quickly–like how they cook lobster, or a 20-minute pizza or 5 minute cheesesteak. This may seem like a stretch, but I also notice it affects the learning of its martial arts students (in the region) and their taste in styles and philosophies (such as one style schools vs schools offering many add-on styles).

In fighting, different styles move, think and react differently. In boxing, for example, fighters work in combination on quarter and third-beat burst. Yet in Wing Chun, fighters work with single strike attacks and react to attacks in a STOP-WAIT-TRAP/COUNTER. It is difficult to describe in writing, but imagine a block against a punch (stop), attacker follows up or defender counters, then the defender traps/checks and strikes simultaneously. These two rhythms make for different results and have their own advantages and disadvantages. The boxer can make himself difficult to block. However, he would miss more of his attacks–while the Wing Chun fighter is more accurate with his attacks. One is not superior to the other and in order to be used properly, the correct rhythm must be learned and applied for the techniques to be more effective.

The above example explains why many self defense experts speak about boxing not being effective for self defense, while the martial arts would be more appropriate. At the same time, many MMA fans would say that boxing is more effective because its rhythm is more applicable to the octagon than Wing Chun. In a self-defense situation, like upon entering a car, in a stairwell or elevator Wing Chun’s rhythm applies better–unlike a parking lot brawl versus a wrestler in mutual combat.

Likewise, when a Wing Chun man tries to box, he may not be using those techniques in the correct rhythm. Or if a Karateka attempts to box, his rhythm is off with exactly the same techniques. This is one of the mistakes that many cross training martial artists make. Too often we scrape the surface of an art with little regard to the true essence of that art, as if the only difference between styles are the techniques and prearranged sound bites so popular with cross trained artists. One needs to learn more than just moves and techniques and drills. Just as you cannot learn a foreign language by only memorizing phrases–the mistake martial artists make is to reduce an art down to a few catch phrases… a drill here, a defense there, a takedown or disarm over here. When you only know how to say “Hello”, “Goodbye” and “Where is the bathroom”, you cannot say that you speak that language–even if you know 50 such phrases. In the martial arts, we have men who have memorized these phrases, combos and drills–and it enhances neither their native tongue/art nor their knowledge of the new language/art. So in this light, a Wing Chun man still thinking like a Wing Chun fighter–throwing single punches and learning defenses from only jabs, crosses and one-two combos–will never capture the essence of boxing to put that knowledge to good use. And when he boxes, he fumbles around like a bodybuilder in a dance contest.

The rhythm of the various arts will control how you apply their attacks and counters. Some types of defense rely on a broken rhythm. For example, point Karate fighting has the same rhythm as a point boxer like Roy Jones Junior or Sugar Shane Mosely. These men rely on the broken rhythm–the split-second change of tempo, speed and direction–to land big, fight-ending attacks. They do not chop you down like a Muay Thai fighter, which I liken to the Klitchko brothers. The Muay Thai fighter also fights in spurts, but he does not rely on accurate, pinpoint punches. Instead, he hits whatever is present, like a chest or arm. Over time, the opponent slows from pain and fatigue and then the fighter moves in for the kill. The point fighter instead will move and force you to follow him, he will change direction or feed you fake attacks, he will sit further away and make you reach to hit him, and when you miss–or when your technique falls short–he flies at you faster than you can get away and he lands his attack before you know what hit you. It isn’t speed, it’s rhythm. The point fighter needs range and distance. The Muay Thai fighter needs to be close to you. At the distance a Klitchko fights, Roy Jones doesn’t have room to apply his weapons. At the distance and tempo Roy Jones fights from, the Klitchkos cannot use their weapons. In this example, you have two different rhythms of the same art, from two different styles (Slavic boxers, vs African American boxers…. who are unlike British fighters or Mexican fighters), and even then–all those boxers fight on a similar rhythm if you compare them to Karate fighters. This is why I call this The Rhythm of Styles. You must be able to sense, identify and adjust to rhythms, even when cross training.

Understanding this difference will help you apply new arts properly. As an Eskrimador, you cannot box like an Eskrimador until you have learned to box like a boxer. As a Tae Kwon Do fighter, you cannot kick like a Muay Thai fighter (or vice versa). My grandfather observed years ago of my own Kung Fu training, that one reason he liked my teacher was that we were not Kung Fu men who only knew how to fight Kung Fu people. If you look around at the traditional martial artist, you may notice that many of us treat combat as if everyone in the battlefield fights the way we do. And if they want to simulate other styles, they do so with the same rhythm we use for our own styles. Learn this small, but complex concept and a whole world of new skills and methods will be revealed to you. It cannot be learned simply by scraping the surface of arts in a seminar, or by copying skills learned through observation. Conversely, you cannot fully understand how to fight those stylists by merely observing or having one or two matches. This is a concept that is very deep and has an infinite number of lessons. One could cross train for 20 years and only skim the surface of many styles and really learn nothing, or one could study and train intensely and gain another world–or one could refuse to cross train altogether and learn to use his art to adapt to the various rhythms and come up with Eskrima vs boxing, Eskrima vs Muay Thai, Eskrima vs Kendo, Eskrima vs Judo, Eskrima vs a gun….

And this ^^^ concept is one of the secrets of the Masters. Simply put, write this down:

Learn to use your art against other arts.

Learning other arts is futile, unless you also learn how those arts are used.

It is more important to learn how you art must be adapted to fight other styles, than it is to actually LEARN other styles.

and finally–

To hell with “don’t take a knife to a gunfight”, learn to beat guns with your knife.**

Please go to Amazon and check out my books! (I’ve got three on Amazon) You won’t be disappointed!

Thank you for visiting my blog.

** If you dont think the knife can beat a gun, you have more to learn in Eskrima…

Author: thekuntawman

full time martial arts teacher, full time martial arts philosopher, and full time martial arts critic

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