Although it almost sounds too vague to be useful, comprehensive martial training should concern itself with 6 essential questions - namely "who?", "what?", "where?", "when?", "how?" and "why?".
"Who?" is both an ethical and a practical consideration. Who is your opponent? Are they someone you know or a stranger? Are they concerned with stealing your valuables, maiming you, killing you, or some combination of these? What is their motive and how will this affect how you deal with them? You may wish to deal very differently with a wayward teenager that you know, who has just had a bit too much to drink, compared with someone you know or suspect to be extremely dangerous and potentially murderous. This brings us to "What?"
"What?" techniques are you going to train in? A comprehensive martial system will have strikes, kicks, throws, locks, escapes, evasions and defensive movements as well as possibly covering restraint methods, weapon use and disarm techniques. Each discipline is executed a little differently, so the martial artist needs to spend some time focussing on each area of study.
"Where?" is concerned with optimum positioning in terms of where you are at any given moment in relation to an opponent or opponents. Also covered by "where" are the considerations of "angle" and "target". What is the most appropriate striking / throwing / locking / deflecting angle and where do you wish to connect with the opponent's body in order to achieve the desired effect. Also covered by "where" is where you will place your opponent - where do you want your enemy to be in relation to yourself, before, during and after executing any given technique. So think of where you are in relation to them and where you're going to put them in relation to you. Correct positioning of yourself and your opponent is a skill that develops over time through plenty of contact work, coupled with analysis of strong and weak angles. You will need to practice on all sorts of differently shaped and sized people and at a variety of training intensities to really fine tune these skills.
"When?" is a matter of both strategy and ethics. When do you use what? When do you throw and when do you strike? When do you perform a disarm? Do you strike first then disarm or focus on disarming an opponent straight away? Do you strike to disable their punching arm or to knock the opponent unconscious? Do you put them in a wrist lock, get them on the ground, put them in a choke hold or what?
"How?" deals with how to generate power for those given techniques. How to throw a punch or execute a kick or throw. Solo exercises (such as generic movement quality drills), forms / katas, shadow boxing and pad work all develop this "how" aspect. You will need to understand the movement principles the different techniques share and the movement qualities that are unique to each.
Finally we come to "Why?", which is a purely ethical consideration. Why are you using violent techniques against another person in the first place? In our school we cover our fist at the end of each lesson and state that we'll never use our fighting techniques unjustifiably. We state that we will only fight to defend ourselves or to protect others. I don't think there are any other situations where violence is appropriate.
In conclusion I will just say that if a martial artist keeps focussing on these essential questions each and every time he or she trains, he / she should be able to keep making progress.
Zorya is the head teacher of the Martial Tai Chi Association.
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