Build your core, then explore.

“What do you think of Krav Maga?” asked a fellow student.

It’s another martial art. It offers much by way of defensive and offensive techniques. Often, you’ll see videos of people hitting a shield over and over and maybe some knee strikes. No, that doesn’t do it justice, I know.

Being a 3rd degree black belt, I encouraged him to go explore, take some other classes and pick up useful pieces of other styles and apply it an integrate it with the core he knows well.

So often today’s martial arts schools discourage students from exploring other martial arts. You’ll hear things like, “X is better than Y”, or “with A you don’t need to learn B or C”. So beyond the truth is this and do far away from true martial arts.

I do believe that practicing foundations in a single core martial art is necessary before moving into missing disciplines. Nothing wrong with getting a taste, but having a strong core is the prerequisite. Pick any, but make it your core first.

Often students will ask me what other martial arts are like, saying they might like to quit and try something else. I always tell them to get their black belt first, then they can explore, but not before then.

I’ve dabbled in several martial arts but I didn’t come to truly appreciate the field until I sunk myself deep into one and got my black belt (finally). Then I explored again, but keeping true to my core. UFC Champion Georges St-Pierre has a true core: Kyokushin Karate. He only then added Jiu Jitsu and wrestling. Those like GSP exemplify what it means to practice core and then be a real mixed martial artists. As GSP says himself, “I’m not a fighter, I’m a martial artist”.

Bruce Lee also said “Take what is useful, discard what is not”. You never throw away basics, they are always useful. You keep your core, because that is the cornerstone upon which you build your repertoire and skills.

If you were to learn one language, does it mean you can’t find learning other languages useful? Even a few phrases?

If you were an impressionist painter, would other classical styles be completely irrelevant?

Martial arts is just that, arts. Have a foundation, a core and be great at that one style, but embrace opportunity for growth and learning by never disparaging other arts, for they are useful too in their unique ways. (Implementation is another story, but maybe another post on that in the future).

Yes, once you have your foundation, go check out the rest of the world. Your roots will always be there, as long as you stay true to your core, but go seek out what is useful, learn pieces of other arts, take on other languages, and develop an appreciation for other styles. After all, it’s martial arts, not just a martial art.

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To see the whole, see past what is in front…

Martial arts students often ask, “How can I get faster at blocking?”

There are several different ways to block. Having the technique down is one thing, acquiring the perception is the more important thing.

Someone once taught me that sometimes the best way to perceive and react to attacks more quickly is by not focusing. Yes, that doesn’t sound right, does it? But it works.

In children (and adults) during blocking bat drills, they often focus on the bats and look for the attack. The problem with hyper-focusing on the bat is that it becomes the only thing to which you attend. Possibly, missing the fact that there is another bat or two legs that also have attack potential. Focusing too much on only one part leads to ill-perceiving, or even not acknowledging altogether, the other parts.

Perception, speed and reaction improve dramatically when you tell them to stop looking at the bat, hand, arm, elbow, leg, etc. and simply look at the base of the throat. By “de-focusing”, even if you are close, the periphery picks up movements significantly quicker and allows the body to react faster. The trick there is to get the brain out of the way.

Psychophysiologically, everything the body is processed through the brain, but it doesn’t mean cognition, or thought, is necessary to process everything. Think about it, do you have to think to breathe or think your heart to beat? Nope.

Likewise, perception and reaction, ironically, are improved when de-focusing. Ultimately, the goal is not to focus on the throat, but to allow one’s vision to pass through the target and see the space on the other side – moving the mind out of the way and allowing the brain and body work without active thought and perceive the opponent’s whole body, the big picture. Remember Mushin?

Not only in training or fighting, but in life too, should we strive to let go and allow ourselves to see through challenges, problems, issues and de-focus on the target so that we can see the space on the other side and let solutions and natural reactions take over.

I know one of my own personal difficulties is over-thinking things, second guessing myself and stalling decisions. Almost every time, I either already had the answer, had already made my decision, or it would present itself to me the moment I would let go and allow myself to see through it all.

Our days can be so hectic and busy with all kinds of things, we are frequently taxed physically, emotionally and spiritually and it becomes ever more difficult to see the whole in the mess of blocking the parts.

Perception, in it’s odd way, then, is actually sometimes about not focusing so you can see past what is just in front of you and see the whole picture.