...and other secrets of the Martial Arts for only $199.99
While re-perusing last month's Black Belt Magazine (in the latrine trailer), I noticed again that you can't hardly conceive of someone marketing a martial arts product without declaring that you get a bundle full of wonderful secrets to go with your purchase. If you're not selling "secrets," you can't charge as much. On thinking about it (again, in the latrine trailer, so take it for what it's worth), I think that there are three categories of "secrets"--above and beyond absolute bunk, that is.
1. Tactics: In a lot of the old Japanese schools (ryu) of traditional jujutsu, and too in a lot of BJJ schools, their "secret" techniques are actually tactics. The school will teach its students a certain approach or method of arriving at the point that the student can apply a generally well-known technique. One reason these secrets were so closely guarded is that, once the tactic is known, counters are easily found and applied. This weakness is generated by schools that teach by-rote, pro forma approaches to fighting. I'm not disparaging the study or application of tactics, I'm just discriminating between tactics and techniques. Emphasizing the importance of tactical awareness keeps one's game growing and developing. I love learning three or four approaches of getting to the point I can apply a technique, and trying and adapting each in turn until it is a sound and reliable part of my game. One method I enjoy using to force tactical improvement is to "call the shot," and tell my training opponent the exact technique I'll use to submit him. His ensuing defensiveness will help me eliminate any weaknesses in my game. Refining one's tactics is as key as refining one's techniques.
2. Advanced concepts: Some "secrets" are refinements to application of a basic technique that the student can only be taught once he has mastered the fundamentals. The introduction of the refinement must wait until the student has a basic understanding of and proficiency with the technique so it can be added without becoming a distractor from gaining a baseline competency. Once, after spending about six months polishing a certain throw (Harai Goshi), my instructor gave me a modification of my pulling arm's elbow/wrist alignment that exponentially increased the efficacy of the throw. It was one of those pieces of advice that was so simple I kicked myself for not thinking of it on my own. When I asked my instructor why he hadn't given me this hot tip, say, three or four months previously, he said,"you weren't ready for it; it would have just screwed you up."
3. Actual secrets: Look, I'm a skeptic. Doubting Thomas was a piker; I'd've asked for blood samples and DNA tests on top of seeing the wounds. When someone boasts that Dim Mak or similar arts don't work because if they did, we'd have a Dim Mak UFC champion, I give that credence. Seeing is believing, winning with one's style in a hard-fought competition is irrefutable. Styles that refuse to compete do, to me, seem to be shirking a pretty objective means of establishing combat effectiveness.
About 10 years ago I was sent to Northern VA for some training that lasted about six weeks. Nights were, for the most part, free. In an effort to abstain from debauching myself at night, I looked up some of the local dojos. I found one that looked promising, and called the guy before I launched from Bragg to VA. He knew my instructor, and extended me the offer to train at his place for the duration of my stay in VA.
This guy (who I'll not name because I haven't asked his permission to use his name) was an awesome instructor. First, he took my Judo background and taught me subtle methods of turning traditional Judo "mutual benefit" throws into lethal throws designed to crush the skull, break the neck, or demolish the entrails. Who wouldn't have a good time studying that? It was like reverse engineering Jigaro Kano to get at the techniques that he had modified in order to make Randori possible.
Above and beyond that, one night the Sensei was going over grab arts, defences against someone laying unwanted hands on you, usually resulting in a broken finger, wrist, or forearm for the violator of your personal space. At one point in the evening, the instructor, with a broad wink, told me to grab his forearm, so I did. He didn't cover my hand, he didn't block with his elbow, he didn't touch me at all. He just...adjusted his own arm a little and all of a sudden I was holding on to an electric fence. I was up on my toes, arm extended unto breaking, trying to figure out how to tap while immobilized by the voltage. [This instructor was an avid practitioner of "perfect pain," transmitting the greatest possible amount of pain along the nervous system possible before the system shorts out] He then threw me across the room. Well, okay, he just moved his arm a little and I threw myself across the room to get away from the pain and the breakage of bones that are very dear to me. I jumped up with a "do it again!" So he did. Same results. He mopped the floor with me for about 40 minutes. No matter the angle, hand positioning, speed, or force of my attack, any time I grabbed him anywhere on his arm I ended up locked up with pain and subsequently airborne--and we never made any contact above or beyond my initial grab. Before going to the dojo, had someone described the technique to me, I would have invariably and knowingly replied that "that's just one of those martial arts myths." Shyuh.
After logging more time in the air than a FEDEX jet, he finally said,"Look, I know you're trying to figure out what I'm doing. It would take you about two years of coming here every night to see what I'm doing. It would take about ten years of coming here every night to be able to do it."
So, while I'm a skeptic, I'm more than willing to admit that I don't know what I don't know.