Eliminate the Non-essentials in Martial Arts Practice (and in other things, too)

The older I get, the less I train.

What I mean by that is this: The older I get the less I train in terms of the sheer number of techniques I practice. Throughout my life, I’ve trained in a host of useless techniques. I’m not upset or angry about it. In fact, I’m grateful for it. The process of discovering what works always involves the discarding of what doesn’t.

Thirty years ago, I trained in probably two hundred or more different martial arts techniques. These days, I limit my training to just a few, simple movements: Techniques that can be thrown from many different angles and implemented in a wide variety of intensely stressful conditions. Paradoxically, growth in the practice of martial arts (and, perhaps, in the practice of most things) requires a concerted stripping away of the superfluous. This stripping away allows the practitioner to zero in on the essence of his (or her) art.

As a corollary to the above, I want to address the issue of over-specialization that invariably arises any time we talk about eliminating non-essentials.

The martial arts typically encompass three arenas:

1/Life-preservation/Self-protection (which includes situational awareness, firearms training, defensive driving, profiling, etc.).

2/Traditional Martial Arts (forms practice, self-defense training, breaking, traditional weapons practice, etc.).


3/Combat Sports (which includes sparring, cage-fighting, etc.).

Often, seasoned practitioners of the fighting arts will, over time, gravitate toward a focus in one arena (to the near total exclusion of the others). They may also focus on only one or two elements within their chosen arena (like, say, forms practice and breaking), while excluding the other elements (like sparring or grappling). An example of the above might be an MMA/cage fighter who thinks forms practice is useless, or the forms performer who avoids grappling or learning how to deal with an armed assailant. At its essence, each art encompasses some combination of the three arenas identified above. If, in pursuing the essence of your art, you opt out of forms practice, or sparring, or self-defense training, or anything else your art includes, I think you’re missing the boat (at least a little). The essence of any art, molded to you (the practitioner), will be a synergistic blending of all three arenas, because all three are essential. Yes, you may still have a focus (as you probably should), and you may throw out a host of specific techniques that don’t work for you (again, as you probably should), but you should avoid one-dimensional specialization like the plague. The best way to do this is to become a generalist. Specialists have limited effectiveness in elements or arenas outside their expertise; generalists, on the other hand, usually fair far better in multiple elements and arenas simply because they’re generalists.