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What is a Well-Rounded Martial Artist?

Posted: June 15, 2010

We often hear people speaking of being a “well-rounded martial artist”, but what does that really mean? The term means many different things to many different people. Of course, the person you are speaking to will always say that they are well-rounded. No-one ever says that they are one dimensional, even if they are.

So how do we determine what constitutes a well-rounded martial artist. First of all to be well rounded, we have to be able to deal with all the ranges of combat: kicking, punching, trapping, and grappling. (Some systems treat trapping as an element instead of a true range; but the important thing is that they address the trapping range/element.)

Any system that doesn’t spend time in all of these ranges is really missing the boat. I think it’s a pretty safe assumption that you not the best kicker, puncher, trapper, and grappler in your class. (Unless your class is extremely small, or you’re at a really bad school.) Each person has strengths and weaknesses and we must continually try to improve each element. If you think you’re a great puncher, and you come up against someone who is better than you in that range, what do you do? Do you crunch up into a little ball, lie down on the ground and cry, or do you switch to another range? The answer is pretty obvious, but if you have only practiced punching, then you don’t have a lot of options.

The same also holds true for those that favor each of the other ranges. (kicking, trapping, and grappling)

So it’s safe to conclude that you aren’t well rounded if you are not actively training in each of the ranges and practicing how to flow from range to range.

Additionally, to be well rounded; you must be able to deal with an attack from a person that is armed with a weapon. Most attacks are perpetrated with a weapon, and it is therefore extremely important that you know how to deal with each. Whether it’s a gun, knife, sword, baseball bat, crowbar, etc. Because the number of things you can be attacked with is virtually endless, it is important to have a system which can use roughly the same body mechanics to deal with each. This is why I favor the Filipino Martial Arts when dealing with weapons. Once you understand the principles of any given system, the movements can be easily modified for each weapon. (including gun disarms)

A good sparring drill is to have one partner conceal a training dagger. Begin sparring and allow the partners to change ranges, and work in each range. When the partner with the knife feels like it, he can pull the dagger, and the other partner’s job is to survive for 30 seconds. You will be amazed at how hard this is, especially if the teacher didn’t tell the student without the knife that there was a knife involved.

If you go to the ground and try to grapple a guy with a knife (and he knows how to use it) you will typically lose. This drill can also be done with lipstick which allows you to see where you would have been cut, so if you have a red mark on your jugular, you know you would not have survived.

It is a very sobering experience to realize how badly you can get cut up in 30 seconds. It’s even more sobering to realize how your life would change after that 30 seconds if the knife were real. What would you look like? How badly would you be scarred? Would your arms and legs still function properly, etc.?

So to be a well rounded martial artist, you must also have the ability to deal effectively with all kinds of weapons.

These are just the basics of what it takes to be a well rounded martial artist, as we have only dealt with the martial side of martial arts.

Some may say and I agree, that martial arts and life are synonymous. In our current culture, you are far more likely to die from complications related to obesity and cardiovascular disease than you are from an attack of some sort. To truly be a well rounded martial artist, you must realize this and also prepare for this threat.

The ancient samurai would also study caligraphy because they felt that to be a well-rounded person you had to balance the warrior in you and the scholar in you.

In reality, this question may never be fully answered.

As surely as time and pressure “rounds-out” a stone, time and pressure will turn you into a well-rounded martial artist, and a well-rounded person. No one is invincible, but constant training and improvement will greatly increase your odds of surviving a violent encounter, and enhance the quality of your life.


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