Archive for February, 2010


Thoughts from GM Cook -Basics

Hello. Once again, it has been awhile…life seems to get in the way not allowing me windows of opportunity to write here. That said…here is this turns topic. Basics. We all learn them ( hopefully correctly !!! ) very early in our martial arts training. But many come to a point in time when the basics are left behind…many choose to believe that once learned and drilled ad nauseum that basics can be substituted and maintained through the running of forms alone.  As someone with decades of study behind me and as a practitioner who also has taught for decades, I believe that this attitude is mistaken. Quite simply, I believe that basics win fights. The fighter with the better basics has a distinctive advantage as his natural reactions/actions honed from years of developing muscle memory will result in superior execution of movement. This is especially true in regards to footwork as properly executed footwork puts us in the most advantageous position in relation to our opponent…if the footwork is correct, the rest of the technique will have to succeed as our position relative to the opponent is perfect – we have him right where we want him to be and he won’t know that until it is too late for him to do anything about it. Basics are often taught as not much more than a series of exercises to teach new students with the aim of moving them along to the point of being ready to learn their first form. It is believed that once somebody knows how to properly execute a front punch or a side-kick that those movements are akin to riding a bicycle, that is never forgotten. True…these movements may never be forgotten, but without constant honing to a high level of proficiency, consistency, and improvment of execution, true expertise and effortless fluidity will never be achieved. Think on this – stripped to their absolute essence, all technique, no matter the degree of complexity, are nothing more than extrapolation of basic movements. The most straightforward blocking motion – say something like a closed fist  ” inside ” block ( rising from across the waist, circling up to stop with the fist facing knuckles in at the face ) can be extrapolated out to many varieties of blocks or strikes with nothing more that a change in the hand position – Open? Closed? Open with palm facing in? Open with palm facing out? Used as a block or as a strike either open or closed hand? Essentially, the ” basic ” movement is all the same. Whether I utilize a hard closed fist block to smash the opponents arm attack or I utilize a ” soft ” open hand ” jou shou ” type block leading to a grab /wrap, the movement of my arm is essentially the same. Only the hand position is different. With my new students, even ones with years of study in other styles, the ” basics” are always visited. I run a ” basics drill ”  in every class stressing as this exercise is being run the importance of these movements and the importance of perfecting them as best we can. I demonstrate to the students how the first 10 movements they learn are the most important they will ever learn. These movements are ” the foundation of the foundation ” that will be layed down when they learn the first 3 forms I teach ( three forms that stress/instruct the student in basic movement, footwork, timing, breathing, rhythm – they are repetitive drill forms that hammer the basics of martial movement into the student ). Forms are a collection of technique in a choreographed arrangement, but technique is a collection of basic movements also arranged, but in a specific order designed to result in a specific outcome. The most complex technique can be broken down to seeing each individual movement at it’s most basic level. This allows us to see how it is possible to ” mix and match ” that which we call ” basics ” in seemingly infinite combinations to create techniques. The key is to first understand  and be able to execute a technique as it is presented in a form, then be able to comprehend the concept being expressed through that technique which will then allow us to extrapolate that concept which lets us perceive the variations of expression in that technique. This allows us to be much more flexible, fluid, and adaptive during an actual fight. There is an old expression in Chinese philosophy first expressed in the Tao Te Ching of Lao Tzu, the most ancient text of original Taoism. It is stated in that work as an expression of extreme importance and variations of the theme are presented across the work – ” know the root “. This applies to many things and even quite a number of things in the Martial Arts, but most important in relation to the Martial Arts it applies to ” the basics “. Know the root and all else will reveal itself to you with clarity – forsake the root and all else will remain hidden behind a gauzy veil, forever almost seen, almost understood, almost ” I breath it, it breathes me “.

February 2010