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Basic Skills are the Highest Skills

Posted Jan 25 2010 12:00am

Neal Martin from Urban Samurai has been writing recently about the importance of practising basics and why he thinks people sometimes neglect to do this (Why the fundamentals of Martial Arts are neglected). He e-mailed me and asked if I would write a post on the same subject.

As I mentioned in an earlier post (A Drive on Basics) we have been having a drive on basics in my dojo and so this is a subject in the front of my mind at the moment.

Neal specifically asked me to address the question of why I think many martial artists neglect the basics of their art. I think there are several reasons:

Wrong language. The use of the word basic gives the impression of something being simple - something that is for beginners or less able people. When I worked as a nurse we had the same problem. The core skills of nursing were referred to as Basic Nursing Care and as soon as many nurses were past their initial training they often didn't want to be involved in giving patient's basic nursing care, feeling this was the domain of lesser trained care assistants or junior student nurses.

Yet these core skills formed the backbone of good nursing practice, enabling nurses to assess progress, prevent complications, identify problems at an early stage and make appropriate interventions. This required a high level of skill that junior nurses and care assistants don't have leading to mistakes and missed opportunities to hasten a patients recovery or prevent their decline As a Nurse tutor I advocated a change of the word basic to fundamental to emphasise how important these skills were to good nursing practice. The basic nursing skills were also the highest nursing skills.

I think the same is true in martial arts. Many people clearly don't realise that basic skills are fundamental to good martial arts practice - they are core to it, forming its back bone. But words are emotive aren't they? If the word basic makes you feel 'babyish' then it's time to change the word not the activity. And if the ego is too big to do basics then maybe it's also too big to be a good martial artist. Why don't we just refer to basic skills as core skills or fundamental skills or just kihon if you're practising a Japanese art.?

Lack of understanding. Drilling basics is a very indirect way of training for self-defence. Direct training would involve learning actual techniques such as escapes from strangles, grabs, headlocks, knife attacks etc. Punching and kicking the air, pad or punchbag; practising stances and turns; drilling combinations or practising 'sticky hands' techniques seems a very indirect way of learning self-defence. Yet it is through this constant drilling of indirect training methods that we gain the necessary control of our muscles, balance and timing, and develop our mental tenacity. We become masters of ourselves. This then feeds into the development of good direct training techniques - it forms the glue that holds our techniques together. Without it, all we learn is a collection of disconnected techniques. Indirect training offers us education that unites our minds and bodies and enables us to eventually function intuitively in all situations. Direct training methods merely provide us with technical level training. Do you want to be the 'Professional' or merely his 'Technician'?

Wrong mindset. I think many people shy away from basics because they have adopted  the wrong mindset. They are impatient - too much in a hurry, to eager to learn the direct things. This impatience seems to be mainly an affliction of youth (not just in martial arts!). I greatly get the impression from reading many martial arts blogs that many 'mature' martial artists now were inflicted with this impatient mindset when they started their martial arts training as boys or young men but have since come to realise that there is no escape from practising basics. However, not all young people have this impatience and with good guidance from a good instructor I'm sure many will be persuaded that drilling basics is essential.

I think that to be a good and 'rounded' martial artist we have to see ourselves as more than just bio-mechanical instruments that can learn to push, pull, lever, throw and strike. The manipulation and control of body mechanics is important but is only half the picture. Mental and spiritual strength is as important as physical ability. To be able to drill basics consistently in every training session (and in between) month after month, year after year as well as train in direct methods requires mental discipline and enriches the spirit. If you lack this spirit you will not be able to sustain this type of training.

Training in martial arts is circular not linear. It is always necessary to return to basic skills training now and again because the basic skills are also the highest skills.

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