Saturday, October 02, 2010


Question came up in a forum about why people stay in martial arts once they get past the basic tools. 

The hardcore street guys allow that once you get the basics that's what you need, and if you can't get enough tools in a few months, staying for a few years won't help.  They have a point -- past what you need to physically do the job, you shift into attitude and awareness and whether you are training for reality or fantasy, and what that entails. (I confess I kinda like the notion that most martial artists are training to fight dogs and when they run into a wolf, they will have big trouble. I don't agree with the notion that all martial arts are a waste of time for self-defense and won't work against the wolf. But that's a position I don't need to go into for the purposes of this discussion, save to allow that it exists and that it's an agree-to-disagree thing.)

There are all kinds of reasons to study a martial art, ranging from gaining confidence, to learning real skills in how to move, to camaraderie; getting in shape, or learning a trade might be there. Competition. And where I find myself these days, trying to master a discipline simply because I want to master it.

Do I know it pretty well by now? Yes. But I put a different premium on "mastery."

Back in the day, the cachet of the black belt was a big goal. Get there, you could teach, and you would be a bulletproof monk and all. Not the case once you got there, but it was part of the program that set a lot of people on a path. Sometimes an unrealistic expectation can still pay off.

I liken this long-term commitment to mastering a musical instrument. Yeah, at some point you'll get good enough to maybe entertain an audience, but the really great players never quit practicing and learning. When Segovia was pushing ninety, he was still practicing six hours a day. Not as if he didn't already know how to play, but he kept at it. At that level, the motivation is something else. What your ninety-year-old self can do isn't the same as what your thirty-year-old self could do. There is a difference between what you need and what you want, and as in many things, you will sometimes have the option to choose which you pursue.

For martial stuff, there is a point of diminishing returns vis a vis the usefulness. If Ali wins the heavyweight championship of the world, that his wrist was crooked when he threw that punch in round three that knocked his opponent down is maybe not really something that should keep him up nights worrying. But if it makes him feel better to know that his wrist was straight? Good for him. 

I used to shoot smallbore pistol silhouette. Small targets at progressively longer ranges, starting with one about the size of a teacup at twenty-five years and ranging out to one the size of a dinner plate at a hundred yards. Forty targets, forty shots, your score was how many you hit. The goal was 40/40. I was in the 38/40 class most of the time. It was a game of precision.

A combat shooter who can keep all of them from his nine within the A-zone at twenty-five meters is happy, but using his weapon on a ram silhouette at a hundred yards? He might hit one or two, but I wouldn't bet on ten for ten. His weapon is great for what it is intended to do, but it's not a precision tool for a long-range discipline. He doesn't need a tack-driver; the silhouette shooter does. At short range, I'd want the 9mm combat pistol. If I had to make the head shot at a hundred yards? The hit with the .22 LR is better than a miss with the nine.


Dojo Rat said...

I agree with the notion of learning for learning's sake.

I fought in a dozen large tournaments, the last at age 38. Gave it up.
Learned over twenty Tae Kwon Do forms and twice that many defence patterns. Threw them all out.
Repeated the process with Kenpo. Threw them all out.
Now the softer Chinese stuff suits my aging body. But I'm driven to learn complete systems, so here I am ten years into another serious study. But this one is something I can practice as I get older, without unrealistic goals.
Great pic of the young Obi-Wan Perry in classic Karate pose...

steve-vh said...

My trainingpartner got a new rifle. Put in 400 shots the first day. Other hunters questioned why so many.
That's why he's a great hunter, not a good one.

i used to have to explain FMA to the country folk around here with a gun/bow analogy. No difference in learning to master a skill.