“Be Like Water” or Get Soaked by KJN Ronald W. Stone
Early in my studies, and like most new martial artists, I used to believe that the difference between the higher belt ranks surely must be that each new level would be taught additional newer and/or different and difficult techniques. Over the years, however I was surprised to learn this is not necessarily true. Once I had achieved black belt rank, I began to be educated more in the applications and philosophy of the techniques I had already learned years earlier. In retrospect this should not have been as big a surprise to me. In my youth I had played baseball, starting with junior league, and progressing through little league, high school, and eventually American legion ball.
I was never a great hitter, but I was an award-winning pitcher. (I even threw two No- hitters in one season!) Looking back, however, I can now see that by the time I was in Little League I had already learned how to catch a ball, how to throw one, and how to hit. Furthermore, what separated me from the major leaguer pitchers was not their greater knowledge of ways to throw a baseball but the ability to “read” the batters and a major leaguers greater understanding of the strategies behind each pitch. If you think about it there are only so many ways to throw a ball. Slow, fast, curving, dropping, sliding, and the knuckleball pitch. What made me a better pitcher in later years was not that I was constantly learning new pitches but rather my knowledge of the “why and when” of the sport. (By that point I already had learned how.) Admittedly I was not the slenderest pitcher (and neither was Babe Ruth for that matter) but I had later gained the experience to know if a batter was a sucker for a certain type of pitch (high, low, inside etc.) or when I should run off
the mound to cover a bunt.
Not so surprisingly this has also been my experience in the martial arts. Recently I was discussing this with my grandmaster, and he confessed to a certain sadness that many instructors don’t truly understand the concepts, technical philosophy, or historical perspective behind the techniques being used in their arts and therefore in spite of the best intentions the student will always learn in a “monkey see monkey do manner, “which as everyone knows is a substandard way to learn. This goes back to my previous articles regarding legitimate certification. Without having achieved the proper credentials for rank there is no assurance that the instructor truly understands the applications of the higher belt levels. For those who argue that they aren’t interested in learning concepts, that they just wish to apply practical techniques, I would remind you again that even though little leaguers know all the ways to throw a ball or how to swing a bat, they are still not able to compete in the majors.
Furthermore, this is not simply due to body size or agility. I started studying martial arts when I was 18. At that time, I was much more agile and probably had greater physical strength than I do now. If for some reason in a parallel universe I now had to fight my 18-year-old self-there is no doubt who would win. And trust me I would not be doing any fancy flying reverse spin kicks, even though by the time I was twenty-two I could jump over several students and execute a flying side kick though six inches of pine board. Over the past thirty-some odd years I really haven’t learned a new way to do that kick or how to do it any better. (As a matter of fact, my knees will no longer allow me the distance). What I have learned is how to read body language and how to avoid, counter, or close before the technique is initiated. In other words, I have gained experience and have learned the pros and cons of that move. Likely my counter would also be a polished version of something I learned at that younger age. Without an understanding of the rules and subtleties of baseball one would not know which direction to run the bases or understand the implications of the infield fly rule.
Certainly, the pitcher could throw the ball and the batter hit it, but the umpire might not know that a pitcher’s forward momentum with his foot off the mound constituted a balk, or the significance of that foul. In a similar manner the lack of understanding of redirecting Ki energy or the concept of circling might mean the difference between winning a fight and coming away an injured loser. Bruce Lee once quoted the water philosophy but imagine studying his Jeet Kune Do with a lack of understanding of his philosophy and its application. This would be tantamount to be to converting the martial art into a “fight club.”
Ronald W. Stone, D.V.M.
8th Dan, Hae Mu Kwan Hapkido
American Dragon Martial Arts Academies
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