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  • Writer's pictureJackie Bradbury

Breaking the Law

Most martial arts styles have a set of basic rules they go by.

I'm not talking about the etiquette and cultural rules, I mean the style rules, the basic principles and strategy behind the way you are taught to move and to fight.

You guys know what I mean.  These are rules such as your stances look like such-and-such, you punch using a specific mechanic, your footwork and body positioning goes a certain way, etc. 

These are the habits that you are teaching with most of your basic drills.  The idea is that there comes a point where you are following those rules - call them laws by that point - without having to think about it, as you move on to add in higher level skill sets.

Here's a few of ours:

✔ The weapon hand that is forward is the same as the foot that's forward

✔ Always assume there's a weapon somewhere even if you can't see it

✔ Hands up, especially the empty hand (live hand)

✔ Chamber for your strikes

✔ Take the simplest and most direct shot you can (a less ideal fast shot is better than an ideal but late shot)

There's more, but those are some that we emphasize a LOT in our school.  

Thus, by the time a person reaches Black Belt level (or the equivalent in your style), these laws are well known and understood and are habits and you can not only execute them but you understand why you do.

And then... you start breaking the laws.

We want our guys to move and behave a specific way that we believe is best to deal with the most common scenarios. That's why we drill those basics so hard, so that they become so habitual we don't have to think, we just DO.  They're the "default" settings.

DEFAULT. But it doesn't make it the ONLY settings.

There's plenty of times I break the rules - the LAWS - I listed above in my style.

And then I get pulled over for improper footwork.

Let's take one, weapon hand/weapon foot forward.  The reasons we teach this is that we want to keep the weapon in between our meat and the bad guy's weapon, we want to have a better reach, and if we narrow our stance a bit, it makes us a smaller target.

We immediately break this rule when it comes to blocking... sorta.  See?

Weapon is back, not forward, on this block, which is versus a strike coming in on my right side (attacker's left).

I say "sorta" because in this block, my empty left hand becomes, for a moment, the "weapon" hand, to hinder the opponent so I can re-deploy the weapon in my right hand (or not, depending on what I choose to do next).

But there's other times where the demands of range or what I'm fighting with or against or my body positioning requires my weapon hand and foot to be back, not forward.  Here's another shot of me breaking the law:


That is... if I'm striking.  If I'm blocking (with the attack again coming in to my right side), I'm actually following a different rule, which is to get out of the way against an incoming strike (my right leg is back).  This creates clearance so my right leg doesn't get hit.  That law supersedes the basic one of weapon hand/weapon foot forward.

There's other examples where we break this specific "law", but those are just two.

This is why it's tricky as all get-out to judge what someone is doing based on a snippet of video or a photo or two.  They might have messed up in a fundamental law. Or... it just might be that the situation they're working on REQUIRES the law to be broken as a greater good, if you will. 

Our laws and rules exist for good reason, but it doesn't mean that they're universally applicable to every situation, especially given the chaotic nature of violence.  There's a time to follow the rules strictly, and a time to toss them by the wayside.

It reminds me of a quote from one of my favorite books ever.  It's pertaining to actual laws and customs, but it applies to the martial arts, too:

You learn when and where to keep or break your "laws" as you continue your studies.  That's another reason, kids, to keep practicing your fundamentals - your "laws" - but you also need to study long enough to realize that there's plenty of good reason to break them, and when and why.

So which "laws" do you have in YOUR style, and when do you start breaking them?  Let us know in the comments!

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