This article will be the first in a series of round table discussions with other martial arts instructors and students regarding their views on all things martial arts. This is part one of two. Part two can be found here.
Martial Arts Round Table Discussions #1
Ashe: What do you wish you’d known about martial arts, 10 – 15 years ago, that you know now? What do you know now that you wish you knew then?
Jeff: What do I know now that I wish I knew then? Focusing more on reps. Finding a drilling partner and just drill a lot more and get better faster. Not get caught up in the hype. Back when I first started, I got caught up in some of the hype that martial arts was mystical and magical. Looking at everything that was in the magazines like ninjitsu back then; and kenpo, tai chi, all these different martial arts... Just taking what I had and appreciating what I already had and just drilling a lot more.
Ashe: It’s interesting that you say that because in I Liq Chuan, we don’t train any techniques at all. It’s all drill-based, so it’s just all “reps”. But sometimes when people are looking at it from the outside, they don’t make the connection between just drilling the fundamental skills, like body skills or whatever you want to call it until it’s, more effortless. Like smooth and natural.
I don’t want to say ‘second nature’ because, for us, we always want to do everything consciously, and with attention; like Bruce Lee, right? He talked about “I don’t hit, it hits it by itself” or something like, but that kind of feeling, that muscle memory, training a technique until it becomes reflexive, the attention isn’t there. There’s no consciousness there.
So, for [I Liq Chuan], because we put so much emphasis on training with the attention that everything that we do, we want to know.
But you still have to train, there’s still a nervous system element there; if you train movements over and over and over again, the nerves that “fire together, wire together”, so you increase the myelination on all those motor pathways to increase the efficiency of how well you move in that movement pattern. But yeah, that’s all of our stuff, and like I said, people see it but they don’t see the connection, or value between just running simple drills over and over again, and high level martial arts skill.
Sometimes, with us, I’d say it’s a bit of a shortcoming sometimes to be able to help people bridge the gap between ‘Hey, this is drilling. This is how we drill and then there’s still a little bit of a leap from drills into application.
Jeff: Right, and that’s where I’d look at in jiu jitsu, we drill and drill a few times, then stop and not just develop that muscle memory, but also having that type of resistance training that will help prove whether your stuff is working, or not.
Because sometimes I’dl do a move back then, and when it goes to a live situation where I try to apply it, it kind of falls short, because I wasn’t adding resistance from a partner.
It’s just like in lifting weights, slowly adding more weights over time so you can handle more, it’s the same with technique. So I wish I had more resistance training [against an opponent, i.e. pressure testing] earlier on when I first started and that would have jumped me a lot farther on in progression , just focusing on the fundamentals and then testing them, always testing them.
I see how you [I Liq Chuan] guys do it, too, the connection with the hands and you guys move around and it kind of has some form of resistance to be able to move the way you need to move and make the techniques work, the same idea. Training different moves that you can slowly add to sparring.Like, I can tell you from my experience in the striking arts, like with Shaolin Kenpo for example, that’s at the school I was at: when I used it, it was difficult to get the techniques into sparring a lot. Just because of how I was approaching the training process.
I would just do the point sparring style; back fist, punch, reverse punch type stuff, but trying to get all the techniques into sparring was more difficult. I should have spent more time trying to drill it more under resistance and figure how to make it work.
Ashe: Right. And what I was going to say, too, is the value of having a good partner, or good training partners, is so important and valuable. Somebody that is able to kind of scale their level of resistance to your skill level. It’s like if they can push you to just that threshold of where skill growth occurs, at the edge of your ability, but not so far beyond your current ability that your nervous system will shut down, then you’ll just fall back on your habit. There’s some interesting research that was done with that kind of stuff around extreme athletes, like X Games athletes etc., and they found that the threshold is about, if I remember correctly, is around 4% of your current maximum. (You can read more about his in the book "The Rise of Superman".)
So, somebody that can be able to kind of find where your 96% mark is, for your threshold for resistance, and kind of keep it right there.
That’s one of the things I like so much about a lot of the Thai boxing gyms. You know, when you see those guys training [sparring] it’s almost like play fight. They’re so smooth and relaxed, and they use everything they trained, everything, but it’s almost like full speed, but only 10% power or even 5% power so they don’t hurt each other, and they can play freely with all the different kind of attacks and strikes that they like to use.
For me, that’s one of those things that is hard about being a martial arts coach is to be able to get people into that space where they can just be relaxed enough to keep it at that level and not escalating the drill.
Jeff: Oh, absolutely. You made a good point about Muay Thai, and play fighting...