There are many reasons to train in a martial art – fitness, mental focus, coordination, and self-defense, to name a few. Likewise, there are many ways to train a martial art. Many of us train with the idea we are preparing for self-defense, yet we train in complete isolation, removed from pressure.
Learning an art for art’s sake, practicing intricate combinations for the purpose of toning the body or sharpening the mind are noteworthy pursuits. However, if you are training in this manner, believing you are improving your self-defense capabilities, you are deluding yourself. You may be giving yourself a little edge by being more toned than if you did not exercise. Your reaction times may be somewhat improved, though you are not really preparing yourself for the random, wanton pressure of a fight.
Sparring is the primary tool for experiencing that random pressure, though it does not have to be the only way. It is possible to increase the pressure and “liveness” of an isolated drill. For the purpose of explanation, let us imagine a drill that is a response to an opponent throwing a punch. Too often, the opponent stand-in will not throw an actual punch. Instead, the stand-in sticks out their arm and leaves it there.
In complete isolation, this gesture allows the participant to practice a block, parry, or trap. In fact, this may be the best way to initially demonstrate the desired goal, and a good approach for the first few times the student attempts the counter. However, if this becomes the normal training pattern, the student becomes deluded with the idea they can activate the counter against a real punch.
The held out arm has no real forward momentum. In fact, the opponent stand-in intentionally gears their momentum to stop once the arm is extended – there is no hip or body movement that would be involved in a real punch. More importantly, they do not retract the punch. It is easy to trap or block and arm that is just hanging in space. If that arm is always in motion, the counter techniques become significantly harder. Additionally, in real combat, some other movement, such as a punch from the other arm, always accompanies the retraction. However, for the purposes of initial training that can be ignored for a time, though it does have to be added as training progresses.
At some point, isolated technique training has to be geared up. Increased pressure cannot be reserved only to sparring class. The instructor and the student participants themselves have to make the training techniques “live”. The opponent stand-in may stick out their arm a few times to allow their partner to get the idea of the counter moves. The opponent then needs to begin to emulate an attack – to make the arm go out and retract. As their partner gets some control of that, the opponent stand-in needs to begin to add hip and body movement – to add weight to the attack. Eventually, the partners should begin to move about, becoming dynamic, with the opponent stand-in throwing the attack with real-world intent, at random times. If practitioners do not do this, sparring becomes difficult. If sparring is difficult, self-defense is almost nothing more than a dream.
Are you training in isolation, or for application?
It’s Wing Chun – Relax.