The Basic Skills

Realistically, one can never fully master a martial art. There is always room for improvement. However, with a good understanding of the essential aspects of the art and, most importantly, a functional ability to apply it in a practical means, one may rightfully claim a level of mastery. This is defined as comprehensive knowledge or command of the skill. To achieve a “master’s” rank may be likened to earning a master’s degree in academic schooling. It does not mean one is the best at something, but it should indicate what may be deemed an expert level of accomplishment.

Do not become overly concerned with whether or not you can master a total martial art. It is better to focus on developing and maintaining even a limited set of martial skills. During a confrontation, your opponent will not have any concern for what formalities you may have missed from your chosen style.

You may well be able to stop all opponents with a very limited knowledge of a system. It takes only one good shot to end a fight. Prize fighters often gain a reputation for one or two strong attributes, around which they build their entire career.

The basic skills form the foundation from which you execute all techniques. Martial artists fail at fighting when they lack one or more of the basic skills. They lack conditioning. This is not only the hardening of the anatomical weapons, but also encompasses flexibility, muscular development, balance, movement, speed, timing, an so on.

These skills, or attributes, require constant development and refining if they are to be maintained. People mistakenly claim to “know” martial arts. This is relevant in a teaching capacity, but the intended implication is that “knowing” martial arts equates to competent self-defense ability. Knowledge alone is not sufficient without active training. Understanding how to kick and punch is of limited use unless the body can meet the demands of application.

Certain skills, are emphasized more or less, depending on the particular approach to fighting. When it comes to striking systems, damaging force is the requirement, yet it is this very force that most would-be strikers lack. Very often, these practitioners actually manage to land some of their blows. The problem is, the strikes fail to stop the opponent.

There is debate regarding the need for exceptional power when pressure points are struck, but realistically, most practitioners will not be able to strike such targets accurately in a live scenario. Even under ideal circumstances, pressure points which may be painful when manipulated in the dojo, will not necessarily be effective against an enraged attacker. One can theorize indefinitely, but theory must be tested through experimentation.

If you discover that you actually can reliably incapacitate opponents with pressure point attacks, then you have a rare ability. If not, you might consider conditioning yourself to generate real knockdown power.

Self Defensiveness

If a technique seems weak to you, do not simply accept it because it is a traditional teaching. Practitioners become so defensive of their chosen art that they blind themselves to its faults.

Assess your skills honestly and discover whether the fault is within the technique itself, or in your misinterpretation of it. If you do not understand how to properly apply it, then it is not useful, at least, not for you. There is always the temptation to settle for bad technique because it requires less effort.

Others judge you by your weaknesses. Even if you have many proven techniques and only a few questionable ones, critics are quick to point out the ineffective aspects of your system. While this is not completely fair, it is a predictable reaction. If you can hold yourself to such a standard, it will allow you to weed out any vulnerabilities you may have otherwise overlooked.

In order to avoid getting swept up in all the half-truths, you would be prudent to ground yourself with basic skills.

Forms and Formalities

A combative martial art is a discipline and, as such, can be used as a method of culminating strength, control, and inner peace. Still, let us not forget that the primary purpose of a martial art is the development of practical fighting ability.

I strongly believe that this ability is intertwined with the other spiritual and mental benefits of martial arts. The development of fighting skill holds you to a more accurate and authentic practice of your chosen system. To reap the full benefit of a discipline, you must seek to understand it in its true form. Otherwise, you are merely dabbling in a parody. One must master fighting in order to master a combative martial art.

Economics and a “supportive” attitude may tempt an instructor to advance unqualified students simply because they have “paid their dues.” Over-ranking students does a disservice to the art. Incompetence spreads exponentially as unqualified practitioners go out to teach others. It fosters the cycle of dilution and consequent revision of countless systems.

New names are usually employed to uniquely distinguish each revision. This results in a thousand styles, or a thousand names really, all based on the same core techniques and hoping to accomplish the same goal.

Styles have different forms and formalities which make them appear unique on the training floor, but most times, once practitioners step up to fight, you cannot easily determine who is representing what style. The effective applications boil down to the same basic techniques.

Most martial schools share the same kernel of truth because they are all based on achieving effective fighting skill. Lots of excess baggage gets packed on in the process of revision and re-revision, with each new master presenting his own interpretation. There are plenty of genuine and useful insights thrown into the mix, but there is also a lot of junk.