Can martial arts be over structured?
Structure is very important in almost everything we do in life. In the military structure equals efficiency and is effective in the movement and training of large groups. The same holds true for the martial arts in that when you take a person that knows nothing or very little about the martial arts, it requires structure in order to get them through the different stages of training.
Students are comfortable with a structured curriculum because the stages of progression are clear and simple. An instructor feels comfortable because structure makes their task easy and adjustments can be made with very little stress to the teacher or the student.
“Learn the drill to learn the skill and when you learn the skill, forget the drill.” – Abner Pasa
Before martial art drills and forms, individuals learned how to fight by fighting plain and simple. When individuals reached high levels of proficiency at fighting, people sought them out in order to learn how to be good fighters themselves. But these fighters had to figure out a way to teach people who couldn’t fight effectively so they devised drills and broke training down into techniques, steps, and/or modules. This was probably a difficult task for many fighters. I’ve seen many amazing fighters that had no structure when it came to teaching others and many students couldn’t learn from them because it was too difficult to comprehend the concepts, principles, and techniques on such a high level.
So how can martial arts be over structured? Martial arts become over structured when teachers rely on drills and forms too much and neglect having their students engage in fighting practice. When I practiced Kung Fu many years ago my teachers would shy away from fighting practice because they were afraid to lose students. Many students lose confidence when they are bested at fighting and sometimes they experience real pain and then lose interest. Some teachers that do have their students engage in fighting practice try to avoid the pain and potential injuries by padding up their students from head to toe. Students enjoy it because there is usually much less pain involved and teachers like it because they don’t have to worry about students getting injured which could be costly in martial art schools today when it comes to insurance, medical bills, and law suits.
Although I’m an advocate for safety in training, I believe that pain or the potential for pain has some benefits as well. For one thing students are more careful and not over daring when they fight. It teaches students to respect weapons whether they are implements or anatomical. It also teaches students control so they can avoid potential injuries to themselves and their training partners.
How do we break free from being over structured in martial arts?
Fight, Fight, Fight! Fighting is the primary purpose for martial arts. Drills and forms are only stepping stones to get to the reality of it which is the act of fighting. This is why many people that engage in boxing or grappling give little credence to many traditional martial arts. Boxers and grapplers spend numerous hours sparring against a live opponent. What good are drills and forms if you can’t use them in an actual fight?
I’ve heard many Filipino Martial Arts practitioners say that you should not spend a lot of time practicing disarms because they seldom work when actually fighting. They say this because in their experience it doesn’t work for them so they figure it’s useless. They have a very narrow scope of thinking when it comes to disarming because of their lack of experience and understanding about fight strategy and methods.
The method of FMA that I’ve trained in places a great deal of emphasis on close quarter fighting. At close quarters there are many opportunities to trap, stick, lock, and disarm. Long range is a different game entirely. Sure there are opportunities to disarm but mainly by striking the weapon hand or weapon itself.
“When you fight an opponent, you fight your way not their way.” – Pendekar Paul de Thouars
Since my method of Eskrima focuses mainly on close quarter or corto fighting, the dilemma my students face is; how do we close the gap in order to fight where we potentially have an advantage? A group that focuses on long range tactics or Largo will probably focus on how not to get to corto range.
I know what you’re thinking, that’s why we train at all ranges… Yes, we do train at all ranges but just like that old saying, “Jack of all trades and master of none”, the same holds true for martial arts. We should be familiar with as many aspects of martial arts as we can but we can’t master everything. People are very good at certain things because they spend many hours focusing on that particular thing they are good at. Just like a fine artist is skilled at painting, drawing, sculpture, and so on, there’s one area that usually out shines all the others and other areas that are very weak.