INB #02: Adient and Abient Training

It doesn’t matter which aspect of Martial Arts you’re discussing, there is always an adient and abient face to it. It’s like the Yin and Yang of training. First, definitions. Adient means the stimulus that attracts: abient means one that repels.

Teachers understand but students are often confused. They’re going along, learning at a record clip when, suddenly, there’s a part of the form that’s totally awkward. It all seemed so easy up to here! “That’s doesn’t seem natural,” they say, referring to the same section twenty other people have learned with no complaint. They don’t know that each form, exercise or partner practice is a like a course of herbs – and some of the herbs are bitter.

Martial Arts is constructed this way. For example, even some of the best fighters I know, who don’t particularly like forms, still practice them. They know that fighting tends to reduce responses to a smaller and smaller range. Forms practice forces their bodies into uncomfortable positions and actions. In other woods, it keeps those neurons alive.

This may seem like the guy who hits himself with a hammer because it feels so good when he stops, but it’s not. It’s just that Martial Arts is not exercise. By exercise we mean the repetition of a proscribed series of movements for specific benefits. That’s why you don’t really need your brain to run the stationary bike or the treadmill. For better or worse, Martial Arts is always intentional; movement with mental engagement.

Mental engagement is generally encouraged by abient actions. The concentration required to perform actions that are “unnatural” is just the focused attention martial training needs. Every aspect of the art, little or big, shows this. It’s like a holograph (a source of information in which each section contains the total information of the whole entity). You start with a basic: reverse punch, say. Twenty years later, you’re still working on it because more and more difficulty has accrued. Forms are the same way. Each form has a specific segment of uncomfortable movements. And each series of forms is graduated in complexity and levels of difficulty.

There are even whole styles that are abient (depending somewhat on the nature of the individual student). For instance, after I got my black belt in Kenpo, I studied for quite a while under Kwong Wing Lam. At that time his two main arts were Hung Chia (Southern Tiger/Crane boxing) and Northern Shaolin. Because I had already studied some Hung and Kenpo was a Southern-based derivative, it would have been a shoo-in for me. But I picked Northern Long Fist because I knew it would force me to reconsider everything. I’m glad I did. It took a long time and, being a little on the stumpy side, I wasn’t particularly well built for it. But it showed me a side of martial thinking I wouldn’t have otherwise encountered.

Painters, poets, artists in general, need new challenges to grow. The sooner the martial artist begins to see the art and its challenges, the sooner the abient will be appreciated.

By now, you’re probably wondering about the adient stuff. Well, since the nature of Martial Arts is to seek now challenges and never rest on its laurels, those comfortable, familiar and easy moves won’t be that way for long. Another way of saying it is that many things that were abient to you, or might be abient to a normal human being, become adient with hard training. It’s by concentrating on not allowing the aversity to stop you that everything becomes adient.

Martial Arts is about change.


Nowadays, there is a lot written about martial arts, probably more than any time in human history. But very little of this is at the instructor level dealing with the problems, goals and strategies of imparting the arts. This series, written by martial instructors, will be a frank and directed discussion of such topics. If you are a beginner and new to the martial arts, you may find some of these subjects a little distressing. And, indeed, this may be premature for you. The only thing we guarantee is a sincerehandling of informed viewpoints.

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