Monday, September 13, 2010

Training Methods and Combat Effecitveness Pt 2

In the previous Training Methods and Combat Effectiveness Pt 1 blog, I referred to Karl Friday's reference to the '300-year old debate' concerning the best training method of preparing a person for combat.

Firstly a comment on Friday's Legacies of the Sword. I originally picked up a copy in a book store in Rotterdam when travelling with Jan de Jong one year teaching seminars throughout Western Europe. It was mostly text and seemed academic so I wasn't initially interested in purchasing it. De Jong's daughter convinced me to buy it as we hadn't seen it available in Australia, and she was used to her father buying martial arts books when ever possible. It wasn't until many years later I read it, and I was amazed. The theories I'd developed concerning the development of jujutsu - here was a professional academic providing support for my theories. Here was a professional academic who is also versed in the martial arts writing seriously about the martial arts. The analysis of various aspects of Kashima-Shinryu which is used as a case study to understand and study the Japanese martial arts can also be used to study and understand all martial arts. It is truly an amazing book and one which should be part of the foundation of any serious martial artists library.

Friday summarises the arguments associated with both sides of the 300-year old debate:

Proponents of sparring and competitions that developed concomitantly argued that pattern practice [(kata)] alone cannot develop the seriousness of purpose, the courage, decisiveness, aggressiveness, and forbearance vital to true mastery of combat. Such skills, they said, can be fostered only by contesting with an equally serious opponent, not by dancing through kata. Pattern practice, moreover, forces students to pull their blows and slow them down, so they neverdevelop their speed and striking power. Competition, it was argued, is also needed to teach students how to read and respond to an opponent who is actually trying to strike them.

Kata purists, on the other hand, retorted that competitive sparring does not produce the same state of mind as real combat and is not, therefore, any more realistic a method of training than pattern practice. Sparring also inevitably requires rules and modifications of equipment that move trainees even further away from the conditions of duels and/or the battlefield. Moreover, sparring distracts students from the mastery of kata and encourages them to develop their own moves and techniques before they have fully absorbed those of the ryuha [(marital arts discipline or school)].

This is a pretty good summary of the respective arguments and I cannot disagree with either side. One point though, Friday's comment regarding the pulling of blows is equally applicable to competition as the detractors of the non-contact or semi-contact karate and taekwondo competitions often raise.

Hunter B. Armstrong, Director of the International Hoplology Society, argues strongly in favour of kata as the better means of preparing a person for combat in 'The Koryu Bujutsu Experience' in Koryu Bujutsu: Classical Warrior Traditions of Japan (edited by Diane Skoss). He makes a couple of additional points which can be added to Friday's arguments. Firstly, while arguing in favour of kata he also argues against the solo katas of modern budo:
The aim of classical training was and is not simply the learning of movement techniques, but the development of combative behaviours that prepare one for implementing simple-but-learned-movement techniques in the face of the overwhelmingly traumatic stress of combat. No amount of solo training or single movement training will do that.
He also raises the issue of the effect of protective gear in training:

Training armour itself is a limiting factor and imposes changes upon the patterns of movement (angles and targeting), and more importantly, the psychological components of combat - the feeling of safety while training cannot prepare the individual for the psychological stress from the danger/threat inherent in mortal combat.

Again, all valid points . The comment regarding armour is particularly relevant today with improved technology resulting in increased usage of protective armour in training. Many train with full body armour today in order to engage in 'full power' training.

Gracie and Gracie's arguments in favour of sparring discussed in the previous blog is a 21st century extension of the 300-year old argument which Friday suggests has no resolution in sight for the foreseeable future. Gracie and Gracie's arguments concerning the reduction in combat effectiveness of Kano's judo due to the prohibition of 'too many' techniques in his randori is an argument from the kata advocates. My pointing out the Gracie and Gracie's argument concerning the combat effectiveness of Kano's judo is equally applicable to their Brazilian jiu-jitsu as they also prohibit certain 'dangerous' techniques in their randori is using the arguments of the kata side.

Even though it may have appeared I was advocating one method over another in the previous blog, or maybe even in this one, that is not the case. My issue is the explicit understanding and recognition of both the strengths and weaknesses of the training methods adopted. By understanding the issues of both sides of the arguments, the appropriate questions can be asked. There are different answers but the important thing is that the questions are asked. If only the strengths are focused on and the weaknesses ignored, Armstrong's reference to changes upon the patterns of movement, that is upon the tactics and techniques of a martial art, are at high risk of materialising. A couple of common instances of this will be presented in the next blog.



  1. I agree with your account of the pros and cons of teaching martial arts through kata or sparring but, as a student, I think there are positive things to be gained from both approaches - if only the student knows what it is they should be extracting and keep their eye on the right ball whilst training! This assumes that the 'right ball' means gaining combat effectiveness.

    We do non-contact 'sports karate' sparring which I realise does not aim to prepare me for real combat effectiveness. However, by keeping my eye on the ball I can extract some very useful things from it: it increases my reaction times, it teaches me good distance and timing, it teaches me to focus my attention 'in the moment' and helps me to control any adrenaline surge. Though the sparring techniques may not be 'realistic' the other things I extract are useful and applicable to real combat.

    Likewise, kata training has some drawbacks but as long as I keep my eye on the ball I can extract the things that are really useful such as learning the techniques that are taught threw the bunkai but then thinking about which ones really work for ME and discarding the ones that don't. Kata and bunkai training also teach you how to move your body effectively, understand angles of attack, simultaneous block/strike techniques, effective counterstriking and teach you an overall stragegy for fighting.

    I think that teaching and learning is a two way process. The instructor should help the student to understand exactly what it is they are learning from a particular teaching strategy but the student has a responsibility to extract that information for themselves as well by reflecting on their training, thinking about what they are doing and reading around the subject, but most of all the student needs to keep their eye on the right ball! Well, that's my humble opinion :-)

  2. Well put Sue. So much more can be extracted from training methods if the purpose is explicitly identified and understood and a type of SWOT analysis undertaken of the training method. The strengths can be reinforced and the weaknesses are given the opportunity of being addressed, or not as the case may be. You cannot address a weakness in anything if you don't first recognise it, and as future blogs will demonstrate, this is what has happened in certain cases.

  3. The kata approach leaves out one of the most important aspects of a physical altercation. A physical altercation is a physical, mental and emotional struggle. The ability to fight through pain, exhaustion and fear can never be trained through the use of the kata method, nor can it effectively be learned through light contact or point sparing. Only through full-contact sparring and crime scenario training can you bring to bear real fear, anxiety and of course the ever present “Murphy’s law”. Understanding how this affects (read diminishes) your ability to perform is the key to increasing your survivability in a conflict situation. Tunnel vision, the debilitating effect of massive amounts of adrenalin coupled with fatigue cause the body to stiffen; perhaps shaking as well, leading to a loss of coordination which will quickly diminish the ability to perform techniques that require fine motor skills.
    Granted, the kata approach, especially two person kata, is a good way to learn how to perfect techniques. Unfortunately learning techniques is the easy part of understanding and surviving a brutal physical attack. In my opinion the kata approach is where the beginner should start his/her training. This should then be complemented with pressure testing, scenario training and full-contact sparing. To conclude the argument of which way is better, it is simply a matter of understanding where a person is on the learning curve. Neither is better, both are necessary but should be applied at the right point in time to facilitate the learning process. Kind of like when you first learn how to drive a car. Fist you learn how the car works and you practice turning and shifting gears, maybe parking and normally you do this on some big parking lot. At some point you do have to go out into the street and actually drive where there is traffic and you usually do this when you know that there will be very little traffic, it is stressful enough as it is. At some point however you will have to convince yourself that it is time to drive into the big city during rush hour traffic. That is the only way that you can ever learn to cope with traffic, which to get back to my argument earlier, is the difficult part. Understanding how to shift gears and turn the steering wheel is the easy part as it is only a technical matter.


Your comments make my work all the more relevant as I use them to direct my research and theorising. Thank you.