Tag Archive: Martial Arts

Seeking the angle

I’ve noticed that the vast majority of single techniques practiced with a partner are done with excessive overcommitment on the part of the uki.  The problem with “here’s all the shit I’m gonna to when I get to the side of you” is that “all the shit I’m gonna do” is the easy part.  Getting the angle is the tough part.

If I manage to get the angle on someone, I’m gonna fuck them up.  Kick, punch, knee, elbow, whatever…  When your opponent is not facing you, and you are facing them, you have a distinct and clear advantage.  How many options do you really need once you get there.

In Wing Chun we call this angle the outside gate, if you put your arms straight out, anything on the outside of that is considered the outside gate.  Figuring out what to do once you get this advantage is never a problem.  It’s ever so painful to get there.  Trying to get the angle on your opponent is challenging, to say the least.  And in my opinion not practiced enough.

Sparing (standing or ground), and Chi Sao are two great ways to practice seeking the angle.  The key is a non compliant opponent.  I’m not saying that the techniques and drills that focus on the “ass kicking” after getting the angle shouldn’t be done.  Having the muscle memory is important, you wouldn’t what to find yourself in the situation and not know instinctively how to follow through.

What I am saying is there’s a danger in feeling overconfident that your techniques will win the day, and when faced with an opponent be unable to execute.


During a recent UFC match I saw one of the guys get poked in the eye.  The whole fight stopped.  Now, I’m not sure, there may have been a little acting involved, but a hard, well trained fighter got stopped in his tracks with a move a 12 year old girl could have pulled off.

The whole sport vs. martial art thing came into focus.  I think the difficulty has been that the MMA guys are dangerous people, they train hard, they are (usually) in amazing physical condition.  They also contunually test their techniques, to a level that martial arts cannot.  This is not a group of individuals that I’d want to get angry.

Now imagine a world where those same guys train just as hard, are just as disciplined, but train in a martial art that includes the intent to mame or kill.  Although the techniques cannot be tested, it’s good to have an awareness of them, and thay can be practiced in a controlled and safe setting.

As with every great debate, there is truth on all sides.  And I believe that the majority of the Martial/Fight community respects and learns from each other.  Unfortunately it’s those that are the loudest that have the most visibility.

There are two basic options for footwork in the martial arts.  Weather you subscribe to linear, circular, triangular, etc…, you always need to move the lead foot first or the back foot first (OK, you could hop, leap, jump.  But for the sake of argument we’ll assume your staying on the ground)

balancepart2slide3_copyYou can take a full step, thus switching leads, or maintain your lead.

As taking large steps in WC is rare, unless you’re bridging to engage, we’ll focus on maintaining the lead.  When moving the front foot first it creates a step and slide motion, your back foot sliding into a new position based on the position of the lead.  The other option is a skip step, where your rear foot moves first, taking the desired position, then your lead foot is placed, based on the rear foot placement.

In Wing Chun the step and slide is the only footwork used (when not switching leads), it’s believed that the skip step contains inherent risks and loss of speed.  I agree that there are risks to the motion, but this should not be enough reason to eliminate it from your training.

I’ve been doing some Silat training and have found the skip step to be very useful in Chi Sao.  Using it allows you to hook the lead foot, and shift the angle of your stance.  An interesting result that’s worth playing with.

Switching Arts

I’ve found it takes about 2 years for me to get board with a martial art style.  I’m not sure what that’s all about.  Maybe it’s after about 2 years I’ve learned all the basics and now I’ve got to perfect those movements, which doesn’t hold my interest.

At some point I need to decide if I’m going to be OK with switching all the time.  I feel like I should take one art to “completion”, meaning learn all the techniques and forms (not necessarily perfect them).  Not really sure why I feel this way, it just seems to me as well rounded martial artists, I should have at least one “core” art.

The first 1-2 years is all the cool stuff, learning new techniques, and concepts.  Meeting new people and masters.  In all honesty, the first 1-2 years is also all the “easy” stuff.  At the same time dedication and commitment are part of the martial arts.  And if I ever want to teach again, I need to be much more dedicated to a single art.

I realize that retention rates at higher ranks is lower, but I think many people simply stop their training all together.

I’m at that point, where I feel like switching again, been feeling that way for several months, so I’ve been thinking about it for a while.  I guess time will tell.

For a long time I’ve poo-pooed the idea of distance learning martial arts.  Without an instructor in the room, correcting subtle movements and pushing you when you need it, you might be able to learn the gross motor movements, but not much more.

My school (http://www.chanskungfu.com) offers a distance learning program.  As does the school of my close friend Sterling, who is currently distance learning.  One of the things I’ve noticed in working out with Sterling is that he uses a very standard set of drills to train.  When he asks if I’d like to work with him on my Wing Chun, I have to stop and think for a while before coming up with a drill to practice.  At the school there’s always an instructor to tell me what to do, and if there’s not, it’s back to more chi-sao.

Don’t get me wrong, I prefer having a class to go to, and if there were a PSP school in Grand Rapids, I’m sure Sterling would be attending as often as possible.

Books and DVDs impose a rigid structure to an art and training.  This makes it harder to learn the art, but it’s a great way to learn how to teach the art.  Learning how to teach your art is the next step in learning it yourself.

When you’re finding yourself at a loss for excersizes and drills to work on, go to the books and dvds.  A lot of thought was put into what is in there.

I can clearly remember my first martial art class. The mirrors along the walls, the rack of exotic and seemingly deadly weapons, and most of all, the instructor. The crisp white uniform, the intricate design of the patches, and the jet black, black belt. Her moves were perfect, as though I’d stepped into one of the movies I additively watched on Saturday mornings. Even though she was 5’4″ and 110Lbs. soaking wet, everyone in the class gave her the respect she demanded. At age 13, I knew I wanted a black belt, I wanted people to look up to me the way I looked up to her. The black belt, became, for me, a symbol of respect and admiration.

Over the years (I am now 34) I’ve moved around a lot, and the “distraction” of college, and life in general continued to keep me from attaining my black belt. I always continued my training, but never stuck with one style long enough. In those 21 years, when I tell people I practice martial arts, the first question is usually “Do you have a black belt?”, my answer had always been no.

Recently I hear martial artists, and the community in general, talking about what it means to have a black belt, and it’s meaning being diluted by schools that are too willing to hand them out. Schools that are more worried about making money then teaching good martial arts. $2,000 and 2 years of your life get you a black belt, regardless of effort and ability. They go home proud of the accomplishment, others are embarrassed by their school.

This is not to say we need to train like Kurt Sloane, with bloody shins and mangled fists. But I’ve seen black belts that are unable to perform the basic techniques of their art. How many of your fellow students do you see simply going through the motions, or “phoning it in” as I heard it called recently. Don’t get me wrong, students should be able to chose their level of commitment and dedication, but if you’re teaching others, or even being looked up to as an example, you should have a solid foundation. Part of being a black belt, is that you are an example, for other students, or anyone else for that matter.

So what has happened to my childhood symbol of respect and admiration? Two weeks ago I tested for, and received, my Black Belt. It was the most physically demanding event of my life, three and a half hours of intense physical exertion. Since then, my I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to have a black belt, and what it’s dilution means to me.

While not a majority, there are people that, simply put, do not deserve the black belt they wear. But what criteria do I use to judge them? Do I compare their entire martial art career to mine? Do we, as a culture, form some sort of committee to over-see all the schools? Do we allow the government to regulate black belts? The obvious answer is no. So can I, or anyone, determine if someone deserves a black belt? Unless my signature is on their certificate who am I to say, one person is more deserving then another.

The general public still has a certain respect for anyone with a black belt, even though most have never witnessed a test, or been involved in the martial arts. Their knowledge is derived from mass media and popular culture and are, for the most part, unaware of any developments in the martial art community. Most martial artists become less and less concerned about how the general public views them as the years of training pass. Their ego is less effected by the perception of others, outside the martial arts community.

It’s the opinion of other martial artists which are most influenced by the “dilution effect”. Telling another martial artists that you have a black belt in Tae Kwon Do means little if anything (I believe this effect has most damaged Tae Kwon Do). This, of course, is not limited to Tae Kwon Do, but applies, to some degree, to all styles and schools. The people that truly know what your black belt is worth, is your fellow students, and your instructor. Finally, you are the only person in the entire world that understands what your black belt means.