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  • Writer's pictureJackie Bradbury

Context is Everything

Over on the old version of the Stick Chick Blog, a reader in the comments took exception with an image of a technique he saw there, saying that it would be a huge problem vs. a two handed long sword, and why that would be.

The thing is, he isn't wrong - yes, in the context he was discussing and in his training and experience, he was absolutely right.  But in the context of the image and the post, his commentary didn't make a lot of sense.

This was an awesome discussion, by the way, and I'm glad it happened. Never hold back from telling me what you think, ok?

So, anyway, it got me thinking about the age we live in, where we get snippets of video from here and there across the martial arts world.  Sometimes we see amazing forms and drills and fights and skills.

Sometimes we see things that make us... confused, to put it kindly. Sometimes yeah, it's something that's wrong or dangerous or useless, obviously, in any context.

But sometimes, it's because we don't have the context of what's being shown and we don't understand what's going on.

Lots of what we do in our individual martial arts styles, in a different context than our own, is silly or dangerous or wrong.

Let's take a typical block from the empty hand arts.  Here's one from taekwondo:

In the context of TKS or karate, this is perfectly acceptable.

In Arnis, this gets you hurt (or worse).


Because we assume the bad guy is armed, even if we can't see it (the knife, after all, is to be felt, not seen).  In the image here, he isn't controlling that incoming strike to a point where a weapon would be accounted for.  The guy attacking above hasn't actually been stopped, and it's not hard for him to continue the attack with a weapon to a vital point.  We don't like letting weapon hands go free to re-attack if we can avoid it.

Does this make the folks in the picture wrong?

Of course not!

My context is different than theirs.  A guy recovering his strike from being blocked and re-attacking isn't as fatal a proposition when there's no weapon there.  So they don't have to think about it and account for it.

I recently had to defend a very, very basic FMA drill called sinawali and its usefulness to people who don't know what it's for. In case you don't know what "sinawali" is, here's a snippet of it being done in the TV show "Arrow" (this is the "Heaven" version of double sinawali, which is all high strikes):

The main criticism was "people don't fight this way". And he's right - people don't.

So if people don't fight that way, why do we bother with sinawali drills? What is the point of training a scenario that literally will never happen in a million years?

Because sinawali is a crazy-efficient way to train a lot of different concepts and attributes that are useful in a fight. These include:

✔ Targeting

✔ Chambering

✔ Proper extension of the weapon

✔ Working both left and right hands (if you're doing the double stick version - if you're doing single hand, we get to practice switching hands in flow, for one)

✔ Footwork

✔ Range

✔ Timing

✔ Learning to think ahead a little bit

✔ Learning to see high and low angled strikes and some built-in ways to respond

✔ Spotting holes and places to interrupt (like you see in the gif up there)

✔ Developing the habit of not watching the weapon, but watching the person

✔ Combination striking

So people claiming that the drill is useless are wrong. The drill trains all those attributes, all of which contribute to being able to survive violence. Actually fighting at full speed and power and resistance all the time is not the only way to train, kids (although it certainly should be part of it).

Many martial arts styles have drills of this nature.  Drills to work "attributes" (like sinawali), or a drill to work on a specific attribute or concept or concepts, or to deal with a specific isolated situation, or to work on something repeatedly that is outside of the typical "drunk comes at you with a haymaker in a bar" scenario.

To outsiders - heck, even to the less creative minds in their own styles - it looks like a waste of time, or even totally ridiculous. But they don't have the context to know for sure.

When you lack the context, you can't understand what's really going on.

As an aside, this is yet another reason why copying stuff you see on YouTube and thinking you've "learned" a martial arts technique or concept doesn't really work. A two-minute snippet of a single drill typically lacks the context you need to really understand what's going on and apply it.

If people aren't just sharing that silly video snippet and pointing and laughing, they'll often look at the scenario being presented and say, "Yeah, but what if it's a completely different scenario?  WHAT THEN?" Kind of like my friend from the beginning of the post.

Well, gee, what if it's three guys and not just one? What if they have a gun instead of a knife, stick, or sword? What if he's actually a real-life ninja and he's got ninja throwing stars?  What if we're just living in the Matrix and he's downloaded Kung Fu in an instant? What if a meteor falls out of the sky and squishes me?  What if aliens invade?  WHAT IF THE SUN EXPLODES?!?!  What then?!?!?

Because, sure, we only have that single drill, and we couldn't possibly have a ton of other drills that include a variety of scenarios and situations.*

I'm guilty of doing this stuff myself. I'm not innocent here, and I need to do a better job of understanding the context before I giggle and share that latest "what the hell is going on here" video online.

I think you should give it a shot, too.

So what drills do you do that to outsiders look silly or useless? Did you ever change your mind about a drill that you thought was silly, but after you learned context, decided it was legit after all?  Do you have a good drill for that sun exploding thing?  Let me know in the comments!

*Regarding the meteor thing, I'd step off the line, OBVIOUSLY.

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