ARE YOU TEACHING MARTIAL ARTS OR MERELY DEMONSTRATING TECHNIQUES?
Ever wonder why the founding members of the martial arts all seemed so young and skilled, whereas today it takes decades to learn the same thing?
Well, you may not agree with the above, and while it is certainly true that we modernize and build on our foundation, it is still a fact that many who have been in the martial arts for decades still feel insecure on their knowledge. Perhaps this is because they merely trained in repetitive techniques and did not progress through the ranks by learning and teaching concepts and applications. Such schools instruct by having students memorize techniques but in Hapkido alone there are over 3500 techniques with five variations of each one. (That would be 17500 movements, so good luck with that.)
Most practitioners today are aware of the first couple of principles in Hapkido such as the Principle of Nonresistance, the Circle Principle, and the Water Principle, but how many supposed masters are truly aware of the other 33 principles? They should be because this was how the art was meant to be taught. Just try to imagine a medical student trying to learn to be a doctor by imitating scalpel movements without understanding concepts like blood loss shock, sterility and asepsis, or the many ways pain can be controlled. Well guess what? To teach a martial art correctly concepts and applications must be an essential part of the curriculum. If your school doesn’t even have a curriculum, then consider looking for a truly accredited one that does.
If the concept of “principle-based teaching” is difficult to grasp, perhaps an example might be helpful. One of the many principles of Hapkido is the concept that the Circle defeats the Line, and the Line defeats the Circle. Now any martial artist who has passed white belt level has learned to punch and kick and realizes that there are many variations of these two moves. Many schools as stated however, today teach “technique-based curriculum” such as “learn drill 1”, (let’s say deflected to the outside and countered with a front kick, or 2. straight punch is deflected by an inside kick and then the attacker is hit with a knife hand.) As mentioned, there are over 17000 variations and attackers seldom fight by the numbers. If, however, you understand the concept that a circle defeats a line then a straight punch or kick can be defended against more easily with any circling defense (such as pivoting your stance into an arm grab and then a circular wrist lock.) You don’t learn primarily by the numbers, but rather by following the concept.
Another such example would be that since the Line defeats the Circle, if a roundhouse kick is beginning to come your way, instead of trying to remember countless numbered counter technique drills, simply knowing that a straight in or Line counterattack will be effective (such as an advancing straight punch or a quick front snap kick) allows for a more instinctual defense.
An example would be from the movie “The Karate Kid” when Daniel asks Mr. Miyagi how to avoid getting hit. Instead of telling his student about a multitude of techniques Miyagi merely explained; “the best way to defend against a punch is to not be there.” Exactly which technique to use he left up to Daniel’s level of competence, but at any level the core concept still applies.
Some years back I met colleague for dinner and was surprised to hear this man relate that he had studied the martial arts up to 5th dan level and yet knew almost none of the concepts I had mentioned. In fact, these are concepts the Koreans taught to their colored belts. In essence what this man had done was to exercise an hour or so in each class three to four times a week and then repeat a few techniques repeatedly for years. He was in essence a victim of technique-based training.
The next question that usually arises is "why if such training is more effective did the martial arts switch over? Based on my research which I
cannot precisely document I believe the reason was financial. In the aftermath of World War II and the Korean War the martial arts community was suffering economically and teaching techniques one at a time was far more profitable for the professional instructors than concept based training. It is almost the same reason some western schools today divide the basic-colored belt ranks in half and charge for stripe testing to double their income. After all, twenty tests produce more than ten tests. Produce more income to the instructor that is, since there is no proof that a single-color student is less competent than someone who attained the same rank with two tests rather than one.
The army long ago realized this when they lowered the number of self-defense techniques taught and began to emphasize more survival training. Therefore, classically trained martial artists like William Fairbairn, Patrick O’Neill, and Rex Applegate all developed simplified and modified survival courses rather than complicated what was designed to be a short-term period of hand-to-hand training. All of this is not however meant to mean that martial arts training should be radically abbreviated, quite to the contrary, the martial arts are about more than merely surviving a single battle, but rather have a multitude of other benefits such as health, mental acuity, physical fitness, self-awareness, and lifestyle training in the tenents of the art such as Integrity, Perseverance, indomitable Spirit, Courtesy, and self-control.
To put this in modern present-day terms I would pose the question. who better serves his or her country, the uneducated citizen who knows nothing of the issues or the one who studies the candidates and their positions and makes an educated decision? Both have every right to call themselves voters but only one truly makes an effective contribution to the society they live in. So, who is better suited to pass along a martial art?
Those gifted athletes who never bothered to learn the why’s or the wherefores, or the scholar who understands what the art involves at its deepest levels.
Dr. Ronald Stone, 7th dan HaeMuKwan Hapkido
American Dragon Korean Martial Arts
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