Friday, March 23, 2012

How Much Technique is Too Much?

How much technique is too much?

When I was young and new to the martial arts, I wanted to learn as much as possible. At the time, I thought that meant learning as many different techniques as I could. Whether it was 20 different defenses against a rear choke or every mutation of an outside crescent kick, I wanted them all.

Later, when I was involved in several self-defense situations, I found that I invariably used the same simple techniques. Because they were simple and powerful, they were the natural go-to choices when I had to respond reflexively.

With this experience in mind, I tried very hard to make MBC—and everything else I now practice—as simple and straightforward as possible. Rather than focusing on numerous angles of attack like the traditional Filipino martial arts (FMA), I focused on categorizing angles from the defender’s point of view and based on the natural range of motion required to defend against them. For example, if the defenses against an angle 1, an angle 6, and an angle 10 are basically the same thing, angles 6 and 10 aren’t all that critical to learning functional self-defense. They all fall into one of four “zones” (Zone 1), so they can all be treated as an angle 1. Attacks on the centerline could be deflected into one of the four zones and then processed accordingly.

Taking that concept a step further, I defined the Defensive Responses of the system based on the physical “possibilities” and the target priorities that achieve predictable stopping power. I narrowed these Defensive Responses down to four—the pass, follow, crossada, and meet. Four Defensive Zones, four Defensive Responses, and 16 basic techniques made for a very simple, easy-to-understand system of knife tactics.

That basic system worked and still forms the foundation of MBC today; however, it does not include other very functional, practical, and combatively useful tactics. It also “forces” the inclusion of some Defensive Responses that are not the most practical choices for a particular angle of attack—at least when considered in a “matched-lead” context (i.e. right vs. right).

After codifying the basics of MBC, I continued to explore other martial arts and other approaches to knife tactics. I kept an open mind and applied my experience as an intelligence analyst to the problem. I evaluated drills, techniques, and tactics as objectively as possible based on the potential combative functions they offered. At the same time, I resisted the urge to accumulate techniques just to expand the system of have something new to practice. In fact, I actively tried to eliminate techniques that do not have high potential with regard to combative function.

Through this process, I am confident that I have made MBC a complete, highly functional system that is extremely versatile and scalable. It offers sound, combat-effective solutions to a full scope of potential violent attacks, provides built-in back-up and alternative tactics, and integrates all these with an exceptional level of clarity and understanding at both the conceptual and mechanical levels. The result is considerably more than 16 basic techniques and the tidy, simplistic logic that I still teach beginners on the first day. The additional techniques, however, are well worth the effort. The reason is that they were chosen to provide efficient function that didn’t already exist in the core techniques of the system.

For example, the Roof Block is a very efficient way of defending against an overhead attack. Back when MBC used to include the “Four-Count Crossada” and “Six-Count Crossada” drills, it was easy to relate the Roof Block to the “opening” crossada against angle 2. Over time—and the experience of teaching literally hundreds of students—I realized that the practicality of the opening crossada as a defensive response against an angle 2 was very limited. I ultimately decided to eliminate it and the Crossada drills because there wasn’t enough functionality to warrant keeping them.

Interestingly, this led to a deeper understanding of the “shoulder block” or pluma (“pen” block) movement that is used to defend against the angle 2 in the Sumbrada drill. In the context of the “16-techniques” approach to the system, the shoulder block (checking with the palm of the left hand and draw cutting edge up with the right) was, for lack of a better word, “unclassified.” It didn’t fit any of the Defensive Responses. However, when I dispensed with the opening crossada for angle 2, I had to determine whether the crossada—as a Defensive Response in any form—was still valid for angle 2. What I discovered was a more efficient version of the shoulder block. Rather than checking to stop the attacking arm and then draw cutting it, the movement was much more effective (and easier to learn) as a “push-pull.” Checking the arm and then shoving it into the upturned edge of the blade is much more powerful and comfortable. It also preps the next movement—a downward cut to the triceps—by shoving the arm away and into the perfect range for that cut.

Since the hands move in opposite directions to create a shearing force, the “push-pull” defenses for angles 2 and 4 are perfectly functional expressions of the crossada concept. More importantly, they’re simpler and more efficient than the classic “opening” crossadas.

Where does that leave the Roof Block? It is now “unclassified” based on the 16-technique quantification of the system. However, it’s still worth learning, as are hubud, punyo sumbrada, palisut, and the other highly functional tactics that are also included in the complete MBC system, but not conveniently categorized in the basic 16 techniques.

If you’re interested in this topic and want to explore it further, Stay Safe Media recently released Martial Blade Concepts: Volume 4. This DVD provides a comprehensive “review” of all the combative applications of MBC’s standard-grip system. In the process, it also allows the viewer to understand the full scope of MBC’s technique and understand the logic behind the choices I made in refining the system. Viewed as a complete body of work, it reveals the extensive “common ground” that exists between the vast majority of MBC techniques and clearly illustrates the simplicity and versatility of the core movements. Viewed step by step, it allows the student to analyze and appreciate the reasoning for the inclusion of specific techniques outside the four Defensive Responses. Along the way, I reinforce critical concepts of the system and explain how most techniques are subsets of other movements and how “live-hand” tactics share the mechanics of weapon-hand movement.

In reality, MBC: Volume 4 is much more than a “review.” It brings MBC full circle and offers a complete menu of its standard-grip combative applications, clearly demonstrating the versatility, completeness, and brutal combative efficiency of the system. It also provides the student with basis for evaluating his or her own progress in the defensive application of the system and offers an incredible resource for “one-stop shopping” when it comes to choosing the techniques that best fit your needs and your personal expression of MBC. If you view it—and the MBC system—in its entirety, you see everything we currently have to offer and receive a thorough explanation as to why I choose to offer it. If that’s too much for you, that’s fine. Scale your study and you’re your expression of it accordingly.

How much technique is too much? That’s for you to decide based on your personal level of motivation, skill, and physical ability. As we say in MBC: “You don’t have to fight like me; you just have to fight well.”

Stay safe,