The Myth of the One-Armed Warrior by KJN Ronald Stone
This article is mostly for instructors or black belts who assist in the instruction of students. I truthfully don’t remember the first time in my forty some odd years of on again – off again training that I learned the concept of the one-armed martial artist. Being a fan of any type of mythology I do remember paying a little more attention to that lecture and it has stuck with me all these many years.
While that class never really did delve into the Monkey King or any other oriental mythology, I soon realized how important to my training the message was that they were trying to get across. The concept revolves around the idea that most martial arts styles teach repetitive techniques that react to a specific movement or specific attack with an individual counter.
We all know repetitive training is essential for developing the automatic muscle memory that is needed to react instinctively to a threat. There is however a small flaw in the systemology of such martial arts instruction. The flaw is that in a real world encounter the attacker seldom throws an individual technique (i.e. the famous knock out punch) and that in truth real fights are usually messy and confused. Worse yet, attacks usually involve multiple techniques that while able to inflict much damage are often very sloppy.
In his famous Karate Instructor skit (see You Tube) the comedian Jim Carey complains about a student attacking him the wrong way. Thus enters the Myth of the One-Armed Warrior. Most of us practice using a One-Two approach or maybe 0ne- Two-Three if we are progressive in our thinking. By learning to counter a punch with a block and counterblow (One- Two) or perhaps by reacting with a block followed by a stunning backhand and a finishing follow-up technique (One –Two-Three), we are limiting ourselves. Such training fails to consider that there is a second arm with a hand attached to it that may be swinging simultaneously. (In the real world both fists and feet seem to fly almost simultaneously, and head butts often get thrown in for extra measure.) In other words, our opponents won’t telegraph their attacks and won’t limit themselves to one arm or leg. (One armed warrior myth? Get it now?)
So enters the second lesson which I now preach as a corollary to the above myth. It goes like this: Now that you realize the opponent reacts with both sides of his body, Never stay inside an opponent’s arms and legs during a fight. While it is truly amazing to watch Jackie Chan and Jet Li bashing hands and feet back and forth in a brilliant display of forearm and tibial fortitude, not being a big fan of bone pain, I personally prefer not to spend so much time in a fight. Practice all the inside- to- outside blocks you like, but unless you are Harrison Ford fighting the one-armed Fugitive your opponent will usually have two arms with which to do you damage. Some styles teach a technique they call the wedge which is used to triangulate out and away from a punch or kick, while others like Hapkido, Aikido and Small Circle Jujitsu teach the circular theory. Regardless of how you do it: out, around or under, when attacked you should always avoid and escape to the outside, (especially in a knife fight!) Give me a good outside- to-inside push block or trapping technique any day.
Once you are behind an opponent your options are practically infinite and much safer. You can push off and run away, kick from behind to the knee, attack the spine or neck, or jump on his back and do a bronco busting rodeo imitation if you like. Regardless, even to the untrained it is obvious how much harder it is to defend against someone who is riding your spine like Roy Rogers than it is to trade blows with someone caught in your Hulk Hogan-like arms.
Please do not misinterpret the above as a condemnation of traditional martial arts training. I learned the above during a very formal educational process. There is and always will be an essential need for a step-by-step curriculum. Without a written curriculum there can be no gauge of a student’s progress and the instructor will often forget or overlook important techniques. (Try taking a formal test in school sometime without a clue as to what you were expected to study or learn!)
What I do mean however, and simply put, is that aside from rote punch-block-kick instruction, martial arts educators should be incorporating 360-degree multi-dimensional learning right from the start. This also means teaching students how to avoid fixating their attention and vision on just one arm or leg (or even on only one opponent). We must all learn to react with both arms (or an arm and leg) at the same time and to anticipate simultaneous attacks from various directions and from multiple attackers.
Just as an army should have a plan of attack, it should also have a contingency plan of escape if things go wrong. Part of our students’ education should be instruction in escaping, maneuvering, and repositioning, counter-techniques that are all designed to remove them from harm’s way.
One other suggestion: If your style incorporates forms, poomse, or katas into its teaching methods, watch your students’ eyes. If they are fixed on their own knuckles or toes, on the ground or worse yet over at you the judge, instead of on the imaginary attacker, or if their heads are stiff and immobile, you as the instructor are doing something wrong. Martial arts students were never meant to be plastic Rock-em Sock-em Robots fighting it out on the end of a stick but living, breathing and mobile organisms.
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