During a Haidong Gumdo (Korean sword) seminar led by Senior Chief Master Marshall Parnell, he commented that his job isn’t to make students the best swordsman that he can but it is to help them learn to drive their car better.
My school has loved the hard physical training that develops the spirit in addition to the body. They train the basics to develop excellence and to become formidable. Yeah, we know that we won’t end up sword fighting to defend Minneapolis from St. Paul anytime soon. So, why do we do this? So, we can drive our car better.
This thought is one that fits all martial arts, truly. The physical training develops the body to be strong and handle stress. The spirit is developed as the body starts to complain about the physical work and the support of the teacher and other students is felt. The spirit steps up to let the student know that the training can be done.
Now, the mind starts training at this point. The mind wants to understand why techniques are being done and why in this manner. The beginning of applications show themselves in patterns (hyung or poomsae in Korean, kata in Japanese). The development of “stories” in patterns help students see the applications. This is very often seen in sport tournament patterns competitions and Hollywood fight scenes.
Once the mind and spirit understand that they are in the “fight”, the techniques and combinations from the pattern can be examined to find an underlying application. This is where the student can find out that a block isn’t always a block. This is harder to see in patterns and is often presented in “step defenses” done as patterns with big full technique.
The third version of understanding technique takes it out of the realm of patterns and puts them into actual use. These versions look very little like those in patterns. The movements are more basic and simple to focus on effectiveness. These are not the pretty technique from the patterns. Some of this is found through non-sport sparring. This is where the student becomes a martial artist.
Once the student develops the insights on how and when to apply technique, they are better able to protect themselves, their families and their community. This understanding includes how to apply the underlying strategy or theory in the technique. This is truly important because they can now drive their car better.
Driving a car is personal protection in daily practice. The driver coming down the entry ramp on the freeway doesn’t look until they are running out of room is protected because you already saw it happening and made space for them. There are many more examples from daily life. So, if you want to drive your car better, you should train in the martial arts!
Author: Master Robert Frankovich
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