Thursday, September 6, 2018

Martial Arts is a Piece of (Layer) Cake!

In a martial arts discussion group I belong to, someone asked the question how do you teach complex, nuanced concepts to new people.

This got me to thinking, and when I get to thinking, stuff like this blog post happens.

So imagine, for a moment, that you're making a multi-layered cake.  Kind of like this:

NOT a martial arts cake, as it will not put you in a painful armbar or punch you in the face.

To put the entire cake together like the one above, you have to start with a base layer, add a little icing, add another layer, add more icing, and so on, until you have the entire cake.

Thus it is in the martial arts.

Think of each cake layer as a technique.

Think of each icing layer as practice on that technique.

Then once you have all of the layers assembled, one on top of the other, well, there's your cake, which is the concept behind all those techniques.

So, let's take a concept in my style, alternating hands.

I first learned it in a sinawali pattern, Double Sinawali.  You guys probably know it as "Heaven" or "Heaven and Earth". It's this, as taught and demonstrated by Brian Johns at Bamboo Spirit Martial Arts:


If you do FMA of any kind, you probably know this pattern.

I did NOT learn it as "This is a demonstration of the alternating hands concept, where you chain together moves where you can do quick strikes in succession.".  I learned it as "Do this drill this way", just as Brian shows above.  And I practiced and practiced and practiced.

Next, I learned Block Check Counter, a pretty fundamental drill in what we do.

Here's Bruce Chiu of Arnis International demonstrating that drill:


Do you see the relationships between Double Sinawali and Block Check Counter already?  That's right - it's the alternating hands.  I didn't KNOW that at the time, mind you.  My attention was on the drill as it was taught to me, not the principle behind it.

So I learned it, and I practiced and practiced and practiced.

Over time, I learned a lot more drills and techniques that used the same idea - alternating hands, often in patterns of three.

You know some of them, too, if you play Arnis.  Do you play hubad-lubad?  Guess what - alternating hands.  Do you do Brush-Grab-Strike aka trapping hands? There it is again.

Sometimes each variant was taught with slightly different timing than what you see in the videos above (such as the first two strikes being quick, and the third a little longer behind the first two), but it was still alternating hands.

Over time - years, mind you - it dawned on me.

I was not learning a bunch of techniques.  I was learning a CONCEPT.

Looking back now, it's obvious, but I can assure you, it was NOT obvious to me at the time.

Heck, I only made the connection between Block Check Counter and trapping hands being the same thing after I saw the founder of Modern Arnis, Remy Presas, teach it in a old seminar video. But watching him teach the material, I finally got it, and all the pieces fell in place.

That is 100% a true story.

Hey, I'm not always the brightest bulb on the tree, soooooo...

Muh brain hurts.

Since I cross train in other arts, I also now see it pop up all over the place. The alternating hands concept is NOT unique to what we do. I bet, if you think about it, you'll find alternating hands in what YOU do, too.

One hint: I used the term "alternating hands" but it might be something OTHER than hands.

What concepts do YOU have in your style that you learned layer by layer, only to find out it was an idea or concept way bigger than what you thought it was?  Did you spot that concept in other martial arts activities, like drills, forms, even other styles?  Let us know in the comments!