12 Suggestions for Effective Practice
“Practice is the best of all instructors." - Publilius Syrus
“I'm into scales right now.”- John ColtraneWhen practicing either by one’s self or with a partner, there are several “responsibilities” that a person takes on. The first is to have a quality of practice that will help improve and/or maintain the current skill level in the given art. The second (which is applicable in partner/group practice) is to not give your partner (or yourself) bad habits and incorrect skills. The following is a list of 12 points that I believe will help with those responsibilities, and others that I am constantly stressing in class.
1 – Law of Beats
If we map a confrontation with music, we start with the initial attack as the opponent’s first beat. Within that beat (assuming we see it coming) we can move as well. So, let’s say that for the attacker’s first beat, he throws a haymaker. During this same beat we see it coming so we intercept. Now we are onto beat number two. The one thing you can be sure of is that the attacker will not stand there and let you tool off on them with impunity. On beat two, and all subsequent beats, you both get to do something – unless, of course, you did something to impede him. Some examples are attacking simultaneously as defending, using footwork, etc. Do not be lulled into the incorrect practice of an attacker who attacks once and then becomes comatose as you hit them with your best 24 strike combination. If practicing a more ambush-like scenario, remember that after you survive the attack – it is beat two and you have to expect something coming in and be prepared for it.
2 – Law of Equal Time Framing
I always stress that you should move in direct proportion to the speed of the person feeding the technique or practicing the drill etc. There is always something that gets to me when I see someone demonstrate a really fast counter to a very slow attack. This does not take much skill at all. If you were sparring and someone countered “just right”, but slow – and you moved as fast you could to counter. You got hit in reality. If they had gone even a little faster (which they could have) you would not have been able to move faster out of the way.
3 – Authenticity of Attack
I was at a seminar once and, while demonstrating a technique, I asked my student to throw a hard and fast punch at my head. He did. Later one of the participants asked me what would have happened had I not moved. I told them that I would have been hit really, really hard in the face. If you do not make your attacks authentic – you are training your partner to fail. You are also giving them destructive habits. This does not mean you have to try to cave their face in every time with a punch or stick strike. Even going slow, if they miss the block, your fist should push their face back. A slow angle one should follow through unless they stop it somehow. If you constantly lock out the stick as it reaches their head – you are not giving them realistic feedback no matter the speed. Pretty soon your partner is really good at defending against stick strikes that do not follow through and punches that would have never hit them. Now picture what happens the first time they spar or have an intense session with someone else…
4 – Plan A Comes First
“Plan A” is a term I use for the ideal of what we would like to accomplish in a confrontation. In a stick-fight Plan A is to hit the other guy while not getting hit our selves. That’s it… One’s technique becomes complex in concordance to one’s opponent’s skill. Things get complicated only because Plan A was thwarted – not because we want them to be. You don’t just walk up to someone during sparring, plant yourself at close range and then work on a specific technique. It should happen because you needed it to. Always revert back to Plan A whenever possible. I believe William of Ockham put it best when he stated, “Entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem.” (Things should not be multiplied beyond necessity.) This very idea of Plan A is why I focus a lot on basic footwork and strikes on footwork, regardless of the weapon being used. The actual techniques, drills, etc. only come out when needed. Even then one should seek to return to Plan A as quickly as possible.
5 – Deal With Collaterals When Doing Counters & Re-Counters
This one is seen the most in Disarms. Let’s say that someone is doing a counter to the 1X1 disarm. The person doing the disarm does an inside deflection / parry and then adds a reverse 7 to the legs, an outside vertical to the head, and then brings the arm around for the disarm with the simultaneous 9 strike. The person countering waits until the actual disarm is happening and then counters. What happened to countering the “collaterals”? The reverse 7 and the vertical need to be addressed if one is truly countering the whole disarm. It would be like Lennox Lewis throwing a jab, right hand, hook, right hand at you. If you wanted to counter the last right hand, it would be unwise to just take the jab, right hand, hook. I would imagine a good time later, when you woke up, you could think about what you would have done…
6 – Drill Integrity
The drills we do in FMA were designed for a reason. That reason was to impart very valuable principles and concepts. A lot of times in training the authenticity of the offensive and counter-offensive roles in the drills get lost and they become nothing but lifeless stick clacking exercises. To keep a drill “authentic”, no matter what the weapon type, always consider rules 1, 2, and 3 and make sure they are functioning in the drill.
7 – Transcend & Include
In short, this simply states that whatever drill, pattern, and/or technique that you are doing – is only a vehicle that needs to be transcended and the skills it imparts included into your arsenal. One of the first pieces of advice Tuhon Bill gave me after passing my Mataas na Guro test was that I should “take the system apart” and just start flowing / fighting with the various sections (single stick, double stick, knife, etc.). He told me to break apart the drills and techniques and let them come out when needed and move beyond just rote memorization. This point is exemplified by Manong Florendo Visitacion who was fond of saying, “Learn the system, destroy the system, rebuild the system.” One can see this same methodology espoused by Magino’o Tom Bisio in an article for Black Belt magazine where he states that one must “Learn the drill, master the drill, dissolve the drill.” The rote techniques, drills, etc. of Pekiti Tirsia are profound, but they are not “it”. They too must eventually be dissolved and their lessons internalized in order for them to be truly functional.
8 – Work in Progressions
When one is learning a skill, it is best to work that skill in various progressive drills that vary in risk and/or predictability in order to truly functionalize that skill under pressure. It is counter productive to teach a student a #1 umbrella and then immediately gear them up for full contact sparring. There is a better chance of the student actually being able to use the umbrella under pressure if they have had sufficient time drilling it and have confidence in it.
9 – Pressure Test
This is the end result of 7 and 8. In order to make sure that your skills are “workable” one has to eventually either spar or drill in a more free style (or Juego Todo) type way. Or if you are concerned with certain self-defense skill sets, to use scenario work with what’s called “force on force” simulations. Either way, there eventually has to be “pressure” (or risk) in order to test out one’s skill sets.
10 – Teleological Knowledge
In philosophical terms, teleology is the “study of the ends or purposes of things.” One should always strive to know why one is doing even the smallest part of the art. Within the bigger picture of drills, technique, combinations, etc. it is helpful to know why and to what ends the given activity is meant for. That way one is not parroting the movements with no idea of what the goal is. Also, this point is here because I really wanted an excuse to use a big word…….
11 – Basics First & Last
This one is pretty self explanatory. Every system is built around a core set of basics that are cohesive throughout the curriculum, no matter how “complicated” or “large” it may seem. My friend Allen Hopkins (a Gracie Jiu-Jitsu black belt) always says that there are really only two Guard Passes – everything else is variation. This really exemplifies the idea that you always return to your basics. It is easy and sometimes alluring to get caught up in the more “technically fancy” drills and techniques – but in reality they are built on the foundation of basics. This is almost a variation of point number 4. Plan A is always rooted in your basics.
12 – Have Fun
Yes this seems obvious, but I believe there are three very important points contained in this statement. One is the obvious, enjoy your training. This does not mean that it’s always easy, or that you don’t get hit, slammed, etc. After all, as my good friend Mataas na Guro Jack Latorre said after getting hit by Tuhon Bill and Tuhon apologizing, “No need to apologize sir, this isn’t knitting.” If you dread your training each and every time – why do it.
The second is a point that is emphasized a lot by Tuhon Bill, especially when talking about knife work. He says he tries to keep the mood light and funny (even though the material is serious) because it is really easy to slip into a “cult of the knife” type of atmosphere. And let’s face it – no one I know wants to get into a knife fight, nor do they desire to seek it out. Most of us do this art for both martial (self-defense) reasons and art reasons – all the while having the maturity and experience to know that violence is best avoided and having left the adolescent fantasies far behind us.
Third, is that this point references safety. As a practitioner (and especially as an instructor) one should always keep safety in mind and make sure that the martial environment is as safe as possible without sacrificing the quality and intensity of training. Of course there is risk involved with martial arts, and sometimes at advanced levels you take away certain safety factors; but overall it is hard to have fun with a training dagger sticking out of one’s eye.
I hope that some of these points resonate as things already stressed in training, and perhaps one or two may be more crystallized ideas that are easily assimilated. There are more I’m sure…
Wesley Tasker teaches Ba Gua Zhang, Xing Yi Quan, Qi Lin Pai, and Pekiti Tirsia Kali at the Somerville Martial Arts Institute and practices Zheng Gu Tui Na (Chinese medical orthopedic body work) and Die Da Shang Ke (Chinese trauma medicine) at the "Da Guo Tui Na Clinic".