Wednesday, October 12, 2011


We all have our limitations, and sometimes, those become our boundaries. Sometimes these are real, physical limitations, and sometimes they are mental.

If you are six-five and three hundred pounds, chances are you won't be riding in the Preakness. No way to get there when you are almost as big as the horse. 

If you are four-eleven and weigh a hundred and five pounds, good luck on getting a job as a defensive lineman for the Seahawks. Consider swapping jobs with the giant jockey.

If you want to dunk a basketball and you are five-seven in your Nikes, that could be a problem–unless, of course, you are–see the picture–Spud Webb ...

The first two examples are mostly physical; there is wiggle room in the third.

What you do when you have a physical limitation and you want to go down a road where that is a problem is, you figure out a way to compensate.

Let me use martial arts as my focus here, since this is something about which I know a little.

I have been a lightheavy shading into a heavyweight and then back for most of my life. When I graduated from high school, I tipped the scales at one-eighty-five. Been as heavy as 212, and now back to 195. And I never had naturally fast hands. Slow-twitch, long-slow-distance, that was how it shook out for me.

I tried this and that and eventually wound up in an art where the focus is on position and not speed. Yeah, yeah, one has to be able to outspeed a glacier, but being in the right place at the right time matters a lot. If I'm set and you are moving in, I should have the advantage, according to what I've learned. If I get to my spot before you get to yours, (or even to yours before you do) and I have a clue what I'm doing, I win. Or at least, it's mine to lose.

In theory.

You hear creation myths a lot in the marital arts, many of which are laced with plenty of fiction. Like the old Fugitive TV series, some of them concern the one-armed man.

As it happens, I have been involved in two of those arts myself. The tale goes something like this: Master So-and-So, having only one arm, developed the art of the circular block and counter (or the punch-block) to an insane degree, compensating for his disability. He got so good at it that he was never again defeated ...

(All these creation stories seem to feature a creator who, once he got his shit together, never lost another match until he retired and went to live in a tree and wrote his memoirs. Funny how all these guys never bumped into each other.)

Not to say this isn't possible, but that's not the point of the example. What is the point is that if you have a limitation, you might be able to figure out a way around it.

This can be a benefit if you go on to teach. If a two-armed guy can learn to do stuff with one arm, and he has a spare? That can be put to goodly use.

My teacher in silat tells me his teacher had a bad back. (As most of us will have at some point in our lives, given how evolution didn't quite get that transition as right as it could have.) And as you get older, if you are going to keep doing a martial art, your circles need to get smaller. If you don't know what that means, it's this: You can be strong and fit for a long time if you work at it, but there will come a point where you can't run with the young dogs like you used to. A fit ninety-year-old might might shame a twenty-year-old couch potato, but a fit ninety-year-old won't run a twenty-year-old jock into the ground. So, to compensate for the imbalance of speed and power, the old guy goes to techniques that rely more on skill. 

A small, circular block applied at the right instant works as well as a big and powerful move. A finger in the eye will do the trick as well as a power punch to the solar plexus. You work with what you got.

And cheating, of course, but that's another post.

The old guy can also augment his skill with tools. A sharp knife takes away a lot of a barehanded attacker's skill. So does Sam Colt's boomware. Speed and strength are lesser issues if you can cut or shoot.

Because my teacher was taught by a man who was compensating for something, he got good at it that way. But eventually, he realized that there were other venues to approach the thing, and he took examples of this and that, studied them, until he came up with ways to integrate those into what he had. Not "instead of," but "in addition to," and like the two-armed player who learned how to do it one-armed, another tool in the chest.

Here's a method for when you are old or slow or weak, or all three. And here's one for when you are young and fast and strong. One size might not fit all, so better to have an option than not. Sometimes breadth is good; sometimes depth; it all depends on what you want.

I've been showing up at silat for a long time. People ask, "Why are you still going, don't you know the stuff by now? Sure. I know more than enough to get by. Because the teacher is constantly reassessing his skills and improving them, it's to my benefit. It's not like, "Oh, here's the Secret Ninja Trick you only get when you've been here fifteen years." Instead, it is, "Here's something I found, a way of using what you know in a way you might not have considered."

Does anybody have all the answers all the time? No. But if somebody has more than I do, I can benefit from the association if I elect to do so, and compensate for a great deal of lack on my part.

Or, to put it a little more simply?

Just keep on truckin' ...

1 comment:

Brett said...

To your comment about why to keep going and training...
It's amazing how quickly these types of skills dull when you don't keep honing them. And your own body is changing constantly so what you may be capable of today, maybe not so much tomorrow.

Besides, it's just fun.