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Martial Arts – The Basics of Basics
Posted on Wed, Nov 10, 2010 at 7:43 am
by IDMA Editor

Basics are the foundation of the martial arts. As such, all students, from the newest ones to black belts, are expected to study them. The theory behind this requirement is that no one can master punches, strikes, kicks, blocks, and rolls. But through continuous practice, students can come close. Here, approaching perfection is the goal—something that’s done through repetition.

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This theory—never being able to achieve perfection-is at the root of the martial arts. Instructors who adhere to it generally produce students who have perseverance and are patient and perhaps even humble. But these traits don’t come easily. There will be times when you’ll silently curse your instructor for making you practice the same technique over and over again. You’ll think he has gone mad, or you’re going to if you throw another kick or punch or whatever technique you are being drilled on. There were times during these drills when I despised my instructor for making me do the same combination of moves over and over again, and at top speed. But as quickly as thoughts of quitting or screaming out during class come, they go away.

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New students often report feeling clumsy compared to other students—and that’s because they are. Unless you’re a dancer or tightrope walker, you probably never had to do anything on one leg, or do something with your legs and something totally different with your arms. Don’t get frustrated. Throwing a kick at an imaginary opponent behind you, as well as developing eye and hand coordination, doesn’t come easy. But it’s the first step in learning basic moves.

Contrary to what the name implies, basic moves are anything but basic. Throwing a punch is not as simple as squeezing your hand, then thrusting it forward. It involves knowing how to make a fist, where to position your elbow and shoulder, how to use your hip to strengthen the impact of the punch, when to inhale and exhale, how to place the stance, and what to do with the arm that’s not punching. Add them up, and you’ve got a lot to think about.

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Now consider that basics are comprised of not only punches, but stances, strikes, kicks, and blocks. Consider further that for each basic there are numerous variations. For example, there are straight punches, rising punches, hook punches, parallel punches, double and triple punches, reverse punches, circular punches, vertical punches, lunge punches, and more. Within any style, there could be hundreds, if not thousands, of different variations on the basics.

New students who persevere eventually get the knack of performing basics. Then it’s on to combining them—perform ing a block and a punch consecutively, for example. Later, you’ll perform thre6 or more basics in a row.

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But this process doesn’t happen quickly. It could be six months before you’re ready to perform combinations of techniques. If a new student is taught a technique too early, it more often than not results in frustration. For example, learning to throw a roundhouse kick is senseless if the student hasn’t developed an understanding of, and knack for, using the flexibility in her hips, or adjusting her feet so her stance is strong. What’s more, basics are developed in increments. A new student being taught roundhouse kicks won’t be expected to aim for her opponent’s head. Rather, she’ll be taught to kick low, say to the knee, then she’ll work her way up to the midsection, and later the head.

Initially, you’ll be throwing punches and kicks at an invis ible opponent. Later, you’ll be required to practice techniques with a partner. As with warm-up exercises requiring a part ner, new students are expected to handle this part of their training seriously and maturely.

Practicing self-defense techniques with a partner will give you your first taste of the importance of developing a rapport with your partner. At first, you’ll be teamed up with high-ranking belts (the thinking is that experienced brown and black belts will be more careful than low-ranking students). And it’s true that high-ranking belts are more careful—sometimes to the point where they get hurt, not the new student.

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During one class, I was asked to work with a new stu dent—a tall, young, fairly strong male. We were working on mats, practicing some fairly complex moves that built up to a throw. I talked the new student through the move slowly to the point where he would throw me. Noticing that I wouldn’t hit the mat if he continued with the throw, I told him to go no further. He continued with the technique anyway, and I ended up diving into the floor. The result? Ten stitches on my eyebrow.

Was the accident the new student’s fault. No. Was it mine? Probably. If I had tucked in my head and just gone with the flow, I would have been fine. Instead, I panicked and suffered the consequences. On the other hand, maybe the technique was too advanced for this student.

Students should not feel pressured to perform a tech nique. If it feels too advanced, chances are it is. Keep in mind that the instructor is supervising every other student in the class, and is prone to misjudge the abilities of some of them. Tell the instructor of your apprehension. Even if he tells you to try the technique, he’ll at least keep a closer eye on you.

Naturally, the chances of injury increase as you learn more complex self-defense techniques. You’ll find your repertoire of techniques will grow from simple punches, blocks, and grabs to fancy foot and hand combinations and spinning jump kicks and fast, hard sweeps. This constant grabbing, pushing, and throwing takes some getting used to. People simply aren’t used to, or accepting of, people who grab, pull, or push them.

During technique training you’ll be grabbed by the sleeve, collar, belt, hair; subjected to having sensitive pressure points poked; grappled with until you fall to the floor; and have joints twisted and turned until you tap your partner, indicat ing you can no longer bear the pain and she should loosen her hold. It takes a lot of getting used to, especially when you’re working with a partner who is stronger and rougher than you care for.

When students work together properly, it doesn’t matter if one is half the size of the other. Self-defense techniques are done under the supervision of your instructor, who should set firm rules for these situations. He’s not interested in having students injure one another because it affects his school’s reputation.

As you continue your technique training, you’ll discover how to fall without batting an eye, how to move smoothly in the direction of a technique, and how to signal your partner that the technique was effectively applied, and it’s now time to loosen the grip or let go. The latter is done with a simple slap. Say, for example, two students are practicing wrist grabs on one another. One student grabs the wrist of her partner, who reflectively brings her hand up to her face, in effect loos ening the grab, peels her opponent’s fingers off her wrist, then proceeds to slowly twist the wrist of her opponent, who slaps her side or her opponent when she can no longer take the pain. Certainly, you’re not required to hold your slap until you’re dizzy with pain. On the other hand, you shouldn’t before you feel anything.

As your training progresses, you’ll be required to work with all students in your class—not just the high-ranking ones. The tendency among many students is to work with those students with whom they feel most comfortable. As a result, women team up with women, men with men, tall stu dents with their tall counterparts, and so on. I’ve actually stood in a class of all male students as they scattered to find male partners, going out of their way to avoid having to work with me. In addition to summoning up memories of being the last team player picked in gym class, it drove home the fact that adults can be as childlike as children.

It just goes to show that people are naturally inclined to avoid situations that may make them uncomfortable. A good instructor realizes this, and will, after letting students work with their chosen partners, stop the class and have students choose new partners. Eventually, students have no choice but to work with someone of the opposite sex, or someone who is stronger or weaker, taller or shorter, or more or less aggressive than themselves.

While the tendency is to get caught up with who your partner is, it’s more productive to consider what your doing. Even a relatively simple technique requires thinking about several things at once: where to move your feet, what direc tion to move in, which hand to grab, how to move your hips, when to add speed, when to slow down, and other numerous thoughts. On top of performing the technique accurately, you have to consider your partner, and ensure his or her safety.

When you first begin to work with a partner, chances are he or she won’t put up much, if any, resistance. You may even begin to think that this martial arts stuff is pretty easy, and that you’re just naturally inclined to it. Then as you progress, you’ll find that senior students don’t cooperate as much, and that every time you get a little better so do they.

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