“It has to be done this way!”
Of all the things that I’ve heard said over the years in the martial arts and elsewhere that bugs me is when someone says “It has to be done this way” or “we’ve always done it this way.” In martial arts, this is usually uttered in the context of a prescribed self defense technique or sequence.
Again it depends on the context in which this is said. If this statement relates to proper body positioning, or structure in executing a technique, then I can understand the reason for uttering this statement. However, as pointed out above, this is usually said in the context of a self defense technique or sequence. Often this statement can be applied to weird body mechanics. One may recall a series of videos that went viral on Facebook showing a number of black belts from the New York City area “sparring” with each other. Other videos of this group were posted as well. One of these videos is below. I offer you the video for the purpose of delving into why “it has to be done this way!” can be deleterious to one’s martial outlook.
I’ve said on Facebook and elsewhere that if they enjoy doing what they are doing, all the more power to them. It’s quite interesting that 95% of the comments on FB and on YouTube were quite negative and focused mostly on their stiff, herky, jerky movements.
I’m willing to bet that the phrase “it has to be done this way!” has been uttered in this group to justify their version of “power generation.” Form, function, and structure all seem to be sacrificed in the name of this stiff version of power. The likely result is to rule out other ways of generating power. Chinese martial arts, particularly the neijia (internal) arts are well known for their tremendous power generation. Generally, they are polar opposites than that demonstrated in the video above. The body is relaxed until explosive power is discharged at the point of impact. Despite the knowledge of best practices when it comes to power generation, it is likely that the students, somehow being inside this information bubble, have convinced themselves that “it has to be done this way” not realizing that there are other options (such as the experience offered by internal Chinese martial arts, to use one example) as far as power generation is concerned. In their universe, all options have been closed off. When it comes to power generation, “it has to be done this way!”
Do you see why this phrase is so problematic for me?
The Chinese internal martial art principle of relaxation can be seen in Filipino Martial Arts. “You must relax” was something that the late Professor Remy Presas often said to his students. For him that was key to optimizing the flow and enabling the ability to counter the counter. In addition to this, whenever he taught a technique he often said “you could do dis, you could do dat or you could do dis.” Guaranteed, if he felt a split second of stiffness in an opponent, he would brutally exploit that and finish him off.
In a certain context “it has to be done this way” or “it always has been done this way” is essentially asking you to abandon critical thinking and to drink the Kool Aid. I’m usually wary whenever I hear this kind of phrase, especially when it is contrary to common sense. This should serve as a “red flag” to any martial arts student. This phrase is asking you not to consider other options and has the effect of restricting your outlook. It doesn’t even approach “binary thinking” where there is at least two options. Here, there is really only one option. “It has always been done this way” means that there is ONLY one way and it must be followed to the letter.
On the other hand, a good instructor should give solid reasons for his lessons. He should be able to articulate why a certain drill is being done in the manner prescribed. “This move constitutes one of the basics of this martial art and introduces the concept of the checking hand.” Starting with that basic move, the instructor may move on to variations of that basic move, showing how it can be applied to different scenarios. All the while, the instructor should articulate the hows, the whys and the whats, instead of saying “this technique has always been done this way.” That would not be satisfactory would it? That’s a sign of laziness and an absence of critical thinking on the instructor’s part.
Bottom line: “This technique has always been done this way” or “we’ve always done it this way” or “it has to be done this way” without any corresponding explanation in a martial context should be treated as a possible red flag. You wouldn’t want to end up looking like the black belts in the above video!
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