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 “.

2 Responses to “Thoughts from GM Cook -Basics”

  1. 1 Steve
    February 23, 2010 at 2:50 pm

    I wholeheartedly agree with Master Cook’s post. I too feel that an in depth understanding of the basics is what separates the men from the boys so to speak. I have gone back and revisited them numerous times throughout my study of the arts although as a minimalist at heart, they are always at the forefront of my training. I have stated before that the profoundness of basic movement is “…something that’s revealed through the evolution of training.” Furthermore, “…my study of some of the more complex forms has only deepened my appreciation of their base movements.” My zeal for base movement should not be mistaken for a lesser appreciation for complex movement. To put it simply, how could I favor the root more than the branch? It’s all part of the same tree. My study of Martial Arts takes me full circle until at the next revolution I find myself with a little bit more of an understanding than I previously had.

    I think Master Cooks assessment of how the basics are taught is unfortunately more the rule than the exception. Fortunately for most the people reading this post, the basics are something that are ingrained and revisited. To think that they are something to only be taught at the beginning of the path is a grave mistake. Consider the subtleties involved that take years to master. Tension, breathing, timing, position, coordination, spatial awareness, geometry etc. Perhaps some of these things are not consciously addressed but nonetheless they are all factors in the proper execution of movement. How can you execute a complex movement properly if you can’t even throw a front punch correctly? Throw footwork into the mix and then the basics aren’t as basic as their name would imply. Again, moving one’s feet from A to B while executing a strike may seem at face value like an intuitive and easy maneuver. Inandof itself it may be but to do it so you maximize position, inertia and force (thereby executing a devastating blow, I mean who wants to punch someone with little force and poor position?) there are a lot of factors to execute perfectly. The timing of using the inertia from the footwork combined with the fluidity of moving the arm through space right up until the settling and tension of the body as the strike makes contact is a concert of factors that can only be delivered with precision through extensive practice. Just look at the sloppy strikes thrown by some of the guys in the UFC. It’s no mystery why boxers throw such good punches. It’s the majority of what they practice! Footwork and punching. They spend a career on a few elements. Throw in a wider variety of footwork, kicks, blocks and grappling and you begin to realize how important it really is to keep the basics in mind at all times. Lot’s of room for error.

    • 2 VinCenZo
      February 24, 2010 at 7:35 am

      Yes gentlemen, I completely, 100% agree with every ounce of that which is stated above. It is interesting to analyze each component of our “complex movements” and it is enlightening, especially as a young martial artist, when you realize that even the most “complex” techniques are nothing more than the “basic” movements compounded or arranged in an intricate and elaborate manner.

      What Steve is talking about when he describes the “subtleties that take years to master”…regarding timing, positioning, breathing, muscle tension…etc. is the practice that is required to maximize the human body’s potential for energy production and absorption. What he is really describing is the concept of “Cultivating Chi”. Whether you believe in the idea of an intrinsic energy or not, the overall point is this: ONLY through practice and training can you fully develop Chi.

      Chi can be described as “the total or maximum energy potential that a particular human body is capable of generating or absorbing.” The term chi is most commonly used to describe the energy that surrounds us and runs through us…This is healing or nourishing chi. But Chi (or qi) can also be used to describe the maximum energy that a person can generate (They are really one in the same but separated for discussion purposes). When we practice our “basics” we are teaching ourselves how to maximize the energy potential within us and focusing it into the strike/block/redirection/throw. That energy can only be MAXIMIZED if everything is in place at the precise moments that it should be…or through fully cultivated Chi. That is not to say that someone could not generate a great force if they are not utilizing Chi, or if their basic mechanics are slightly off, but they are not MAXIMIZING their potential.

      Power, Force, or overall EFFECTIVENESS is only maximized when bone alignment, muscle tension, breathing, positioning…etc is PERFECTLY PRECISE or rather when chi is utilized to its fullest potential. This precision is only achieved through training, and discipline…or to put it frankly, it is only achieved when you truly master the Basics.

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February 2010

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