Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Use the Right Tool

As a shade tree mechanic, long ago and far away, I was mostly of the "bigger hammer" school. As in, if it won't move, use a bigger hammer.

Eventually, I learned that the right tool for the job made all the difference. Of course, these days, opening the car's hood is the limit of my ability to work on cars. What is under there needs a degree in computer science and a bank of electronics just to figure out which module to replace. I'm calling AAA for a tow to the shop. 

Um. Recently in our martial arts discussions, here and on other blogs, I was once again struck by the notion that "general" and "specific" aren't the same, and that I should make a pass by the subject again.

Take the screwdriver. I suspect that if most of us were asked to draw a picture with no more instruction than "Draw a screwdriver," we'd mostly wind up drawing the same one. The default instrument is the flat-head, and we all know what the blade looks like. 

But: there is a veritable plethora of screw-head designs that range off into some complex geometry. Starting with the cross-point, or Phillips, into hex, square, torx, spanners, square, Bristol, torq, tri-wings, polydrives -- the list goes on, and most of these, I've never seen. 

Sometimes, you can make do -- a small enough flat-head can be used on a Phillips-head. A lot of times, if you don't have the right tool, all you do is mess up the screw's head and curse a lot.

So it is in martial arts, I think. The analogy isn't perfect, of course, and a judo guy can use what he has in his tool box to deal with an attack just as well as a boxer, if he knows what he is doing, but the more specific the training, the more likely it is to be able to deal with a specific threat.

However: if all you can do is stand-up striking, getting taken to the ground could be a problem. If you have never had to deal with a punch, that might be a surprise. 

On Blackgrave's blog, he brings up the current hot MA topic, the commando style. Probably you've seen these ads somewhere: "Learn the secret system taught to Navy SEALS!" (Or Spetsnaz, or Israeli Commandos, or whoever.) The pitch is is based on the grass-being-greener-on-the-other-side-of-the-fence. And, of course, once you pay for the DVDs, you, too, can be a little old granny who can clear out a biker bar without mussing your hair ...

In martial arts circles, we have a technical word for such claims: Bullshit.

Fighting arts tend to be focused on certain kinds of threats. If the streets are full of guys who carry knives, you will see knife arts develop. If you are in combat on a battlefield against swords, or spears, it would behoove you to know about those. If you are carrying an M-16 and pistol and ducking rounds from AK-47s, what you need to know is not the same thing you need to know barreling unarmed into a cell with a psychotic axe-murderer who doesn't want to shower and wash off a week's worth of dried feces.

What a small woman needs to know to fend off a rapist at the bus stop isn't the same as what a big man needs to know to deal with a mugger in the Safeway parking lot.

One size does not fit all. 

An art that offers a range -- bare, knife, stick, guns -- would probably be a better investment than one that only speaks to one: Hey, this Nippon-fu stuff is great! If the guy who attacks you is using a four-inch folder with a tanto point. Three-inch drop point? No, no, for that you need Point-fu ...

You probably would be best served by figuring out what instances would most likely befall you, vis a vis needing a martial art, and then focusing on finding one that offers ways to deal with those. It's a time-percentage thing. You want something that will stretch to fit more than one need, but you don't want to spend too much energy training for the one-in-a-million threat. Learning how to dodge meteors would be useful the one time you'd really need it, but what are the odds you will ever need it? 

Something to consider when choosing an art.


Dan Gambiera said...

You're right. If you asked a hundred people to draw a picture of a screwdriver they'd probably all come up with something like this:

Worg said...

The thing that constantly blows my mind about both kali and silat is the comprehensive modularity of the way they are set up.

In other words, while other arts present things as individual techniques, and then test the techniques, silat and kali present tool-like principles and then teach you many, many ways of applying them.

Kali is perhaps more conscious of this effect, and intentionally ingrains muscle-memory movements and body mechanics through the weapon practice that begins early on, then uses them again and again and again throughout the art. This means that when you're taught a new application for movements, you've already practiced the movements hundreds of thousands or millions of times.

But silat does the same thing through constantly-repeated and reused juru movements.

The thing that keeps me with these arts is not the asskickery-- I kicked ass in my 20s and grew out of that a long time ago-- but the head-explodingly fascinating way that they are set up.

The genius of the structure is jawdropping to me.

All of this might be analogous to getting very good at two-move chess problems and then being taught a system that applies those movements to any situation that comes up in the game.

Skip said...

I studied Cuong-Nhu, a vietnamese art for several years that taught 'Principles' as opposed to techniques.
You learned the basic technique as say, a punch, then as you progressed, you learned that it could be a throw or a push or something else. It's a great way to learn. You learn WHY something works, not just how to do it.

Steve Perry said...

Skip --

Makes perfect sense to me. We hear that a lot -- "Yeah, could be a punch, an elbow, a poke, it doesn't matter."

Techniques are expressions of laws and principles. You have to know how to punch without breaking your hand, and when one tool is better than another, but the principles should give you the choice.