The Fundamentals

Why The Fundamentals Of Martial Arts Are Neglected

1. They have trained in the basics and are therefore put off for whatever reason from continuing to train in them.

2. They have had little training in the basics and are therefore unaware of their importance.

Let’s expand on that first reason and take a moment to discuss why people are put off from basics training.

such training is designed to toughen you up – Training in the basics is hard work, or at least it is hard work if you are doing them properly. To repetitively drill a technique over and over can be physically and mentally gruelling to do, which is kind of the point really. Demanding training of this sort is designed to tax and test the practitioner and work on building their capacity for physical and mental discomfort- in short, such training is designed to toughen you up, to condition your body and mind so that you may be able to withstand the many years of training ahead.

This relates to the article on incompetence. If you are incompetent and don’t know that you are, then the start of the road to competence is likely disorienting and disconcerting – not comfortable. If you’re opening up to the idea that you may not know, then it means facing the possibility of many uncertainties. The further along you think you’ve come, what you have been relying on to tell you what’s up, down, left, right, etc., how you saw and identified your self, how you’ve been relating to the world, all of these come into doubt, requiring revisiting. First, maybe ‘toughening up”, or building of tolerance is needed. But in the long run, it’s important for one’s sensibility to evolve. That which is disconcerting at first becomes an interesting challenge; so it’s not simply that you become unfeeling toward discomfort. The outcomes that are so encouraging and maybe needed for inspiration to continue in the beginning become less and less necessary.

The Western mindset, focus on getting good for the sake of satisfying our insatiable egos –  has a lot to do with why so many people dislike doing basic techniques. We in the West tend to think in a very shallow way at times, which makes us short-sighted and ignorant as to how things really are. When it comes to martial arts many of us tend to put all our focus on getting good for the sake of satisfying our insatiable egos, not for the sake of any deep and lasting benefit, especially of the spiritual kind.

I would agree with the words, “short-sighted”. This is relevant to when one is “coasting” and experiencing possibly too much ease, and when one is struggling and banging one’s head against the same door for possibly a long time. Or perhaps even doing the same tasks over and over again, experiencing ease or challenge, but not experiencing any difference in those tasks over the years – becoming habituated, or conditioned.

As I mention above, there should be an evolution in one’s sensibilities. As a beginner to a new practice, of course I should at least be open-minded to experiencing that which is beyond me. But even further, it would be great if a beginner understood that the process of practicing should “re-shape” their sensibilities. It is short-sighted, then, to think that we will be using the same criteria for assessment, same experiences for satisfaction, etc. on day 5000 as we did on day one. It is a short-sighted view of human nature and of the learning process to believe that we should be seeing through the exact same “eyes” after many years of experience and acquisition of skills. If not actively working on changing one’s sensibilities (eg becoming a calmer person, becoming a person who sees more deeply, etc.), we should at least be attending to whether this is happening. Otherwise we are no different from a robot that just acquired programming to do more things.

If you look at the way the martial arts are trained in the East you can observe a real difference in attitude and practice. Eastern schools put most of their emphasis on thoroughly schooling students in the basics until the students know them inside out. They train them over and over again, sometimes to a ridiculous extent, but that is why they are so competent and why the standard of excellence is so high in these Eastern schools. Just watch the movie Budo: The Art of Killing to see what I mean. Why The Fundamentals Of Martial Arts Are Neglected

Regarding the cultural piece, one of the consequences of this general “Eastern” ways of doing things is that the immediate gratification is not allowed or encouraged. If that’s what you’re in it for, then either you end up leaving or submitting to continuing the training for a different reason. Of course, it’s likely that in the “Eastern” way of doing things, the development of one’s sensibilities is an unstated, maybe even un-emphasized, goal of training, and accordingly, one and one’s ego may find other ways of attaining gratification.

not so competent and the standard of excellence is not so high – By comparison, Western schools are not so competent and the standard of excellence is not so high. There are exceptions of course, hardcore traditionalists who train and train until they become masters, but these people are rare in the West and most martial artists are average at best, compared to what they should be if they took things a little more seriously and left their ego out of the equation.

The above mention of the “short-sighted” student applies to the teachers also. It goes without saying that economically, the “you submit or get out” attitude of a school would not work very well in the modern world. But also, if the teachers have a short-sighted view of human nature, and accordingly don’t give acknowledge the relevance of individuals students’ evolution of sensibility, then they are also accountable for low competence and expectations. If the teachers subscribe to or are ignorant of following mainstream cultural norms of immediate gratification i.e., if they don’t know and embrace that they may be going against the norms that that new student walking through the doors has, then they may perpetuate an nonconstructive, unproductive experience for that student.

Structure, Structure, Structure. …

A Few Powerful Techniques – Above is the “San Ti” posture from Xingyi. Good structure, good root. Five basic techniques. That’s right, Five. All the advanced techniques in Xingyi are minor variations of the Five Elements. It is generally agreed on that Gross Motor Skills are what works in the chaos of an attack. …

1. All military or para-military styles of hand-to-hand combat that is taught to large masses of troops is usually nothing more than a selection of basic techniques. These basics consist of gross motor skills techniques that are easy to learn quickly, are easy to use under real combat stress, and are also fairly effective. Are they as effective as the specialized hand-to-hand combat training that military commandos receive? No. Are they as effective as the experience of a martial arts master? Probably not. They do, however, give the average soldier, security person, or law enforcement officer a toolkit of basic techniques that will work in a pinch. Better still, these types of personnel get the chance to refine and improve these basic techniques through live use on the job, and also through annual re-certification. Simply put — the basics are being taught in some of the world’s top armies because they have been battle-tested.
2. Results – What we stressed where the two things that our collection of instructors had the most experience in: 1) the fundamentals and 2) live sparring. Despite the less-than-stellar conditions and limited access to true masters we did very good at tournaments. We usually sucked at forms but we excelled in sparring and breaking. So much so that we came back from one tournament with a sizable collection of trophies. In addition, our humble little school saw two people to black belt. All-in-all a pretty good run for a school that did not have much. So how did we do it? Without a doubt by stressing the fundamentals! Or, as this instructor says, “you are only as good as your basics.”

Well here at, we think that basics are not a list of techniques but a list of attributes. Things like correct posture, well balanced and stable body positioning, timing, correct distance when performing techniques, correct breathing (which is more important than people think), hip rotation etc. All of these attributes and more are the bricks and mortar needed to produce techniques which are as effective as possible, no matter how advanced they may seem.

Many people think that basics involve basic techniques like basic punches, grappling hold downs without resistance, basic footwork etc and to an extent they are correct. There are techniques which can be learnt within a few minutes and techniques which need more time and possibly physical development and because of this, may be seen as “advanced”. However, without the attributes listed above, these advanced movements will never be mastered no matter how well one is developed physically and one will not be able to progress. For example, without mastering body rotation and correct posture, one will never be able to produce powerful punches, regardless how much weight they can lift in the gym. …

Now, a martial artist who is well trained in one art (i.e. with good basic attributes) will soon click on to the fact that it is these basic attributes learnt from there original art that also make up the basics of the art they are cross training in. It is not coincidence that timing, good body movement, leverage etc are part of the basics of every art. …

Rather than teaching something new every class, training in the honbu dojo seems to have retained much of the traditional approach adopted back in the days of the karate kenkyu club (1926). There is a real emphasis on strong basics, repetition and routine. And, while this kind of training might be considered less interesting or exciting than what’s offered in other clubs, as I see it, the traditional approach does offer a few advantages:

1) Repetition of basic techniques (when done well) makes for solid foundations and whole body conditioning. If practiced daily these techniques become ingrained and help form the basis of the “goju-ryu” body.

2) The same routines become habit forming and teach students how to train on their own. By minimising indecision and gaps due to “thinking” or “decision time” between activities, it becomes easy to work through entire sequences of techniques, drills and corrections in individual training.

3) Daily repetition of the same basic techniques also teaches discipline and etiquette and makes for good “spirit” training. When we’re not learning anything ‘new’, even more concentration is required to stay present, focused and to continue working on improving each rep.

At times progress can seem slow when repetition is one of your main teachers, but personally I’ve gotten a lot out of this traditional approach to training. If nothing else, it’s really taught me how to be more disciplined in my independent sessions – an important lesson for someone who’s easily distracted and would often end up just working on the “fun stuff”. The problem there being, the stuff we enjoy is usually the stuff we’re best at and the things that actually need the least work.

Martial arts basics

Neil got the ball rolling and asked me to join in. I gave it some thought and here’s my take on it. His premise was that people often neglect the basics of their art because they either don’t understand the importance or think they’ve already done enough of them. Odds are these two reasons form the bulk of what causes the problem. On the other hand, I think that to a certain degree the main fault is always with the teacher. If his students don’t have good basics, he’s the one who failed to teach them.

I’m a firm believer in doing your reps and the quality of movement in a traditionally trained martial artist is often light years beyond what modern practitioners can show. So this method does work.

The other side of the coin is that in Asia, people seem to accept the fact that you have to train the same thing over and over. And those who don’t aren’t allowed to protest and have to do it anyway. In the West, we want to know why you do things a certain way and want to have our say in the matter. Try the Asian way over here and you usually end up with very, very few students.

Some people say you should never adapt your teachings to your audience in the name of tradition. I think that’s bullshit. I strongly believe you get better results by a combination of ingraining basics with reps but also by adding slight variations as soon as a student performs them well enough.

From the get go, the whole process of learning is streamlined to bring them to a point of mastering the basics (at a beginner level) as soon as possible. That means they have to train a certain way, do things in a certain order every single class. As this structure makes them work the basics over and over, though every time from a slightly different angle, progress is usually fast. To avoid messing up this whole process, they are not allowed to improvise unless I explicitly tell them so.

Again, it all fits in a larger whole and as long as they aren’t technically proficient enough, as much fun as it can be, free-wheeling only slows down their progress. Basics come first.


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