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Technique Based Martial Arts vs. Principle Based Martial Arts

Posted: June 13, 2010

When I tell people that I teach a principle based martial art, they are often confused. They wonder what that means. Aren’t all martial arts principle based? Well, that all depends on how you teach it. Many martial arts schools aren’t even familiar with this terminology, as most are what we call “technique based”.

A technique based martial art is one in which the student is taught technique 1, technique 2, technique 3, and so on up the line. The teacher allows the students to collect techniques, but it is debatable as to whether or not the student will make those techniques his/her own.

The main difficulty with this type of instruction is that it is not very customizable. For instance, if I have been taught to always think in terms of techniques, and I teach my students in the same manner, the end result would be to make the student into a copy of myself.

While this may seem like a good idea, in reality it only turns the student into a poor replica of the instructor. Why? Because the body type and physical attributes of the student are different from those of the instructor.

For example, if a technique relies on force to work, and the instructor is very strong, he can make it look easy. But the technique will not work for a 90 pound woman fighting a larger and stronger man. The same applies for flexibility. If a technique requires great flexibility to work, and the student isn’t very flexible, then they will have difficulty applying it in an actual confrontation. Furthermore, as the student ages and flexibility diminishes, they will not be able to use the technique at all.

So, what do I mean when I say I teach a principle based martial art? First, let me tell you what it doesn’t mean. It doesn’t mean that your form or technique should be sloppy. We pride ourselves on having good form and good technique. What it means is that we don’t just collect techniques. We look behind the techniques to understand the principles of what makes the technique work. This not only leads to a better educated martial artist, but it also gives the student the ability to modify the technique to fit their body type and stage of life. For instance the 90 pound women mentioned above would learn to use concepts such as leverage, efficiency, and economy of motion to subdue her attacker instead of brute force.

Most importantly, principle based instruction frees the student to be their best instead of being a poor copy of their instructor.

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