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Martial Arts

glen.gif (8145 bytes) Everyone possesses an inborn ability to fight; it is a natural reaction to threat or stress and requires no formal training. What, then, distinguishes these random patterns of attack and defense which arise spontaneously in the untrained from the actions and reactions of a trained martial artist? The answer to this question lies in the trained fighter's application of certain principles to the movements and strategies of unarmed combat. These principles form the basis or "essence" of martial art. It is because these principles are utilized that fighting is elevated to the level of "art." In fact, it is the understanding and application of basic natural principles, which allows mankind as a whole to continuously improve and refine capabilities in any endeavor. Such knowledge is made manifest in technique; technique, in turn, is based on the understanding of natural principles. Technical application of natural principles makes it possible for construction workers to build houses, doctors to treat diseases and the weaker to overcome the stronger in a fight.

Without formal training, the larger and stronger naturally defeat the smaller and weaker. Therefore, a basic premise of training to fight as an "art" must be that the methods employed should make it possible for the smaller and weaker to defeat (or at least successfully defend against) the larger and stronger. As we have observed, it is not necessary to create techniques for the stronger to defeat the weaker, as this occurs without formal training. So it is logical that the basic premise of creating fighting techniques which qualify, as "art" must, at least theoretically, be designed so that a smaller and weaker combatant can apply them successfully against a larger and stronger opponent. Now that we have a definition of martial art, the next logical question to ask is what type of techniques will allow the weaker fighter to defend him or herself against the stronger.

Which techniques will be effective against larger and stronger opponents? Common sense tells us that techniques based on brute strength will never allow the weaker to defeat the stronger (the stronger opponent by definition possesses more brute strength than the weaker, so a technique based on brute force is doomed to fail the weaker fighter because in a contest of force against force, the stronger force invariably prevails). Once techniques of brute force (that is, techniques which require the use of force against force) have been disqualified as fitting our definition of martial art, upon what shall we base our techniques? The logical answer is to base martial techniques upon principles which allow us to use our strengths against an opponent's weaknesses, thereby circumventing superior force and applying our own force where it will have the greatest effect. Another way of describing the techniques of martial art is to say such techniques are based upon maximum efficiency in obtaining the desired result. What is efficient technique? In a violent encounter there is a real possibility for injury, and the longer the fight lasts the greater the chances of you being hurt. Therefore, efficient technique should allow one to end the encounter as quickly as possible. This means that an efficient technique should either disable an opponent or afford one an opportunity to escape in the shortest possible span of time.

Now that we have a definition of martial art (techniques of combat based upon principles which allow a fighter to use his or her strengths against an opponent's weaknesses) and have defined the parameters within which we want these techniques to operate (maximum efficiency in ending the threat to one's person in the shortest possible time), we need to discover which principles are relevant to creating efficient martial technique. A logical place to start is with ourselves. We should begin by discovering which principles of body use will allow us to use our minds and bodies most efficiently, thereby maximizing our abilities to move in a free and coordinated manner as we generate power appropriately. These principles of maximum efficient use of ourselves must be universal (as there can be only one best way to use ourselves), and will apply to movements in any physical endeavor. These are the principles that underlie all efficient motion. It is these same principles which are included and discussed in the various martial classics (ancient and modern).

The cardinal principle of efficient movement is balance. This includes an internal balance, which unifies the mind, and body as well as the actual physical balance of the body itself. Balance is a dynamic state, one that involves constant adjustment even when standing still. When the body is in a state of true balance (that is, aligned with gravity and completely free of excess tension), it is poised to move and work (generate force) most efficiently. The mind and body have innate mechanisms that act to maintain the alignment and balance of the body, in motion and at rest. Allowing these mechanisms to function, as they should, free of subconscious bad habit as well as unnatural posturing under conscious control is the first step toward creating efficient martial techniques. In fact, all martial techniques must be structured around the innate reflexes and natural design of the body if they are to be truly efficient. In short, using the body as it was designed to be used will always prove more efficient than using it in contradiction to its natural design.

joefall.gif Since balance is paramount to efficient movement in general and efficient martial technique in particular, it follows that postures and patterns of movement which interfere with the continued dynamic balance of the body should be avoided. Improper skeletal alignment and excess muscular tension are the causes of loss of true balance (although you may not fall to the ground if you have bad posture or tense muscles, you are no longer in the state of full and natural balance as dictated by the design and nature of the human body. When the physical structure is misaligned, you are not balanced in the gravitational field, and are literally forced to "hold" yourself up by expending constant effort). When true balance is maintained in stillness and motion, one is capable of utilizing and focusing his or her entire physical potential. In this state of balance, we work with the innate design of the body which allows full access to all our inherent strengths, as well as harmonizing our movements with the great natural forces to which we are subject. The force that we are capable of generating when completely relaxed and aligned with gravity I refer to as "natural power". "Natural" because it is generated without undue effort or strain, and because it is power created in harmony with the body's design. If the above holds true then the basic movements of martial technique must be based upon the principles of true balance and natural power.

Now that we have a definition of martial art (techniques which allow us to use our strengths against an opponent's weaknesses and are designed to remove us from the threat of physical harm as quickly as possible) as well as a set of guidelines for which types of body motions will be most efficient (those based on true balance and natural power), the next task is to actually create techniques which adhere to the principles of body use and fit the definition of martial arts are must be taken to continually balance the requisites of body use with the demands of efficient technique. This means that not only should a technique be based on true balance and natural power, it must also meet the requirements of maximum efficiency in application. Within these parameters there is still room for great variety in technique. Martial techniques that are based on the correct use of the body and are designed around maximum efficiency in application, no matter how diverse, all qualify as martial art.

The next logical question, now that we have created a system of true martial technique, should address how to practice these techniques so that the martial artist may apply them successfully in actual combat. It is obvious that an intellectual understanding of a technique is no guarantee that it will spontaneously manifest in a fight. In order for techniques to be useful, they have to be practiced until they are internalized, that is, until the practitioner applies the appropriate technique without conscious deliberation over individual movements (that is not to say one cannot consciously choose a certain technique to be applied, it means that the physical manifestation of the technique should occur with as little gap in time between the conscious decision to apply it and its actual application. Internalization of a technique also implies that the various movements and flow of the technique, once the martial artist makes the decision to use it, occur as spontaneously as a reflex). Another consideration when choosing a set of techniques to internalize deals with their universality in application. Obviously, one cannot practice and internalize a separate technique for every possible situation that may occur in a fight. It is important, therefore, to design and practice techniques that have a broad range of potential applicability. Unfortunately, there is no single technique, nor collection of a few techniques that will be sufficient to deal with the vast spectrum of randomness within which fights occur. Fortunately, it is possible to internalize a basic number of carefully chosen movement patterns and techniques (chosen for their relative universality in application) which the subconscious mind will modify and combine, providing the trained martial artist with constructive responses to practically every situation likely to occur in a fight. But the question of how to practice in order to internalize martial technique remains.

It is a fact known to every student that the amount of information absorbed and retained through focused awareness is far greater than the amount absorbed through mindless repetition. I'm sure you have had the experience of reading a page in a book while thinking of something else, only to realize as you turned the page that you had no idea what you just read (although you read every word). No matter how many times you read the same page without focused awareness, you will still not absorb and retain the information contained therein. So it is with the practice of martial technique. Mindless repetition of technical movements may qualify as exercise, but the vast majority of time spent in practice of this type is wasted as far as internalizing useful patterns of movement is concerned. On the other hand, focused awareness on the practice at hand maximizes the time spent in practice, allowing one to internalize techniques in the shortest amount of time, as well as guarding against the negligent acquisition of unwanted habits. In short, the most efficient method of training for internalizing martial technique involves mind and body unity, with the mind (intent) actively aware of and guiding the movement of the body. The goal is to maintain conscious awareness of the thought process (the mind in the brain) as well as the kinesthetic sense (the mind in the body). The key is awareness." Focusing this awareness on what we are doing is the method of efficient practice.

armbar.gif In summary, it is important to remember that an almost unlimited number of efficient martial techniques (those based on true balance and natural power, which allow us to use our strengths against an opponent's weaknesses and remove us from the threat of physical harm as quickly as possible) are created and developed from a relatively small number of basic principles of body use and technical application. It may be helpful to think of techniques (including the methods of body use as well as martial applications) as being physical manifestations of underlying principles. The principles of body use and application are the unchanging foundations of unlimited technical expression. And the focused awareness of mind and body unity in practice is the method through which martial movements and techniques become internalized, and therefore useful. These principles and their method of internalization form the essence of martial art.

Tim Cartmell