Principle-Driven Skill Development

martial principlesA book like Principle-Driven Skill Development was inevitable. The western attraction to de-construction can be highly functional and, as demonstrated here, is particularly applicable to martial principles.

In this book, teacher Russ Smith not only presents solid information but dissects years of experience to show the foundational principles of martial studies. He really thinks about how to get the most content from the “external” world into your “internal” brain (the true “internal” style). Instead of focusing on just series of techniques, this book concentrates on things like gate control, penetration, timing, unified movement and more. If you are in any phase of teaching martial arts, there are many “lesson plans” to be had here.

Some of the variations in fighting technique might make you nod your head and suddenly see a new angle. By the same token, a previously hidden correlation that you have suspected for years may show you just exactly why some movements “fit together so perfectly.

3 Responses to “Principle-Driven Skill Development”

  1. Jeff says:

    I have just started reading Russ Smith’s Principle Driven Skill Development. One recommendation he makes early on is to remove the flowery language from the beginning of training. Tai Chi uses many phrases that do not express martial intent in English – Repulse Monkey, Brush Knee, Parting the Wild Horse’s Mane, Embrace Tiger Push Mountain.

    Perhaps adopting martial expressions in the beginning of training would help convey that it is a martial art? Palm Thrust, Low Block and Reverse Palm Thrust, etc. You do lose some of the lovely mystery of the art by doing so, and for many people that is what attracts them to Tai Chi in the first place. I think it would depend greatly on the class and how you intend to teach it. I’ve only done a bit of casual training in Tai Chi, but the solid foundation in martial movement that I have developed helps me to better understand what I am doing is martial in nature, as well as beautiful and peaceful.

    I also think that perhaps it is a waste of energy trying to justify Tai Chi as a martial art. It’s like trying to answer which is martial art is the best.

  2. Ted says:

    You bring up a lot of good points, in agreement with many top-flight instructors. A few additional considerations might be in order.

    In a “pattern” culture like China, rather than “90 degrees” you get “Phoenix Spread Wings.” Certainly this is not as precise but, on the other hand, it is more evocative. This encourages a more memorable and interesting story. Not to mention, that a descriptive phrase tends to piggyback more the ‘feel’ and the ‘sense’ of a movement—its intrinsic shape. Poetry sometimes allows more latitude than exposition.

    Does this mean naming like this is right? No, but on the other hand, I’ll never forget some of my kenpo/engineering compatriots calling an inward block “a cross-body diagonal blocking action accompanied by simultaneous cover adding the power of gravity marriage.”

    After all, modern culture is not above the name game. It proudly present symbols like a Statue of Liberty play (football), Birdies (Golf), Guillotines (wrestling) and the like.

  3. Jeff says:

    Response to Principle-Driven Skill Development
    There should be a degree program at Cal-Tech – kempo engineering!

    In karate, there is tremendous social pressure to use “original” Japanese names for techniques. I find this to be distracting to new students, who have to learn a technique at the same time they are translating it into English. But in many cases, the Japanese term, in its original, usually technical form, can actually be more descriptive. So new students learn “high block” but later they learn “age uke” which describes much more complex movement than simply sticking an arm above your head.

    Even so, I have read that the “traditional Japanese” names we are supposed to use for these techniques are themselves a recent invention, and that of old in Okinawa definitions were more fluid, which would make sense, seeing as how much of it came from China!

    Also, I finished reading this book and found it to provide an excellent instructional template. I plan to incorporate many of its ideas and methods. So glad you offered it here, as I probably would never have run across it.

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