Attempts to categorize the various styles of martial arts practice typically place them into one of two groups: striking or grappling, soft or hard, internal or external, etc. But this type of classification is overly broad and misleading; all comprehensive martial arts transcend simple dualism.
Here is a different model you can use to describe and analyze your training. This model is based upon four distinct stages of movement practice. Each stage contains unique challenges, and attaining mastery at each stage confers specific benefits.
The Four Stages of Movement
No movement. In stillness, you discover the precise location of your center of gravity. You learn to position your limbs and torso such that balance is maintained with minimal effort.
The ability to remain upright is a vital skill, both figuratively and literally. Expending less mental and physical energy on this task means having more energy to allocate to other goals (martial or otherwise).
Solo movement. Graceful movement requires stability and balance. Without these qualities, you must constantly engage your muscles (and your mind) just to keep from falling down.
Solo movement training teaches you the exact amount of effort required to move your body from one position to another. You learn to avoid the clumsiness associated with underestimating or overestimating this amount:
- Underestimation causes an early loss of momentum, requiring re-engagement of agonistic muscle groups, and results in wasted effort.
- Overestimation requires excessive use of antagonistic muscles to halt the movement, also resulting in wasted effort.
To master solo movement is to end the fight between your mind, body, and the force of gravity.
Movement with a partner. This non-competitive training builds sensitivity to your partner’s position and intention.
Without training in this stage, you will often find yourself reacting to what your partner did in the past, or to what they might do in the future, rather than what they are doing in the present. Consider the following scenario:
- Tony punches Bruce in the nose, knocking him a few steps backwards.
- Tony takes a step towards Bruce.
- Bruce instinctually raises his hands to protect his nose, leaving the rest of his body exposed.
- Tony punches Bruce in the chest.
Combat takes place in the present moment, and nowhere else. Attempting to prevent the past or predict the future is an exercise in futility. Effective self-defense requires calm awareness.
After mastering both awareness and balanced movement, your partner will not able to maneuver you into a vulnerable position for a strike, joint lock or throw.
Movement against a partner. In this stage, you use cultivated awareness to capture and occupy a superior position, from which you may successfully attack at will. You learn not to fight an opponent—fighting implies a mutual struggle—but rather to beat them effortlessly.
Failing to incorporate any of these stages into your martial arts training will hinder your progress. Although it is possible to learn these skills in fewer than four stages, it is not very efficient to do so.
Do you address each of these stages in your own practice? If not, why not?