Habits and Choices
As long-time readers of the blog know, I love to cross-train.
I have been to a number of seminars in martial arts that are NOT in my core style. Usually it'll be something related to Presas Arnis - a 'cousin' of our style (like Balintawak or Sinkoteros Arnis or Luzviminda Arnis or Arnis de Leon) or a more distant "relative" (like Pikiti Tirsia). Sometimes it'll be in a very different approach to a weapon (kobudo seminars from other traditions than the one I started in), or a weapon I don't own but am interested in being introduced to, or it'll even be in a completely different martial art (sparring, grappling, or other empty hand things).
Part of this is that I'm a raging martial-arts-a-holic (if that isn't already a thing, it is now!). Part of this is that I'm always trying to understand other points of view to make myself better. And part of this is to understand where I've developed habits, versus where I can choose to do something based on what I see.
The early part of martial arts training is almost always about developing basic habits as a foundation. You stand this way, you punch that way, if (x) happens, the safest thing to do is (y). This is what we really mean by "muscle memory" - there is no memory in our muscles, of course, it's that we've practiced something so many times that we can execute it without conscious thought.
That's important for early training, sure. For us, it's things like "weapon foot forward" and "angle off the line" and "hold the stick this way" and "don't let the live hand drop" and so forth. If you forget everything else, those things are the best habits to develop and are more likely to help you in a bad situation.
Over time, though, there are often better choices to make than what we teach as the default, habitual position. These choices often require that "break the rules" we ingrain in the newbies.
Take our "weapon foot forward" rule. If you have a weapon in your right hand, you have your right foot forward in your stance (generally what most of us would recognize as a front or bladed front stance). Or if you have it in your left hand, you should be left foot forward.
This is true not only in my Arnis style but also, generally, in the kobudo systems I've studied. The idea here is that you keep the weapon between you and the bad guy (or the bad guy's weapon). You can react faster and with a better chance to guess right, and you're less likely to leave a juicy target - like a leading hand - out for the bad guy to target. You have better reach for your weapon (a matter of several inches, important with a short weapon), and your stance tends to give you a narrower profile for the bad guy to aim for.
Fundamentally, this is sound advice. It's the safest thing to do, all things considered.
BUT, part of being an advanced player is to know how and when to break all of those rules to give yourself an advantage that you may not have otherwise. That the rule you've trained so hard in, and the habit you've developed, may not be the only - or even best - choice available in all circumstances.
I don't want to get too technical in how and why we'd choose to be weapons foot back - sometimes it's a result of a weapon takeaway or disarm, sometimes happens naturally in a block or stick exchange, and sometimes it's done on purpose to manage range, to name just a few of those reasons.
Thus, at the advanced level you make choices in what you do, either by design or by just going with where you are. You learn how, when, and why to override those ingrained habits and to make them work for you.
For example, I've had to work in an alternate hand position when doing "supported" blocking that I learned from Balintawak into my toolbox. I don't always use it, but I like to deploy it when I am in a position to change things up and make different choices than what's expected of me. I wouldn't claim I have this completely down yet, but I can choose it versus the original supported block hand position I learned as a newbie.
It's a choice for me now, versus a habit I learned long ago. I didn't abandon the habit, I just gave myself more options in the same situation.
This is why we have to be very careful when we see snippets of video or an image of someone doing something that violates basic "rules" in our styles. It might be that the person in the image is wrong... or they're just making a different choice than you think they're going to make.
What habits did you learn that are now just one of many choices you can make in your martial arts training? Let us know in the comments!