Teaching martial arts

Quite recently, while exchanging all sorts of points of view with everyone’s good friend Roger Norling of GHFS, and upon stating that Jogo do Pau’s footwork does not entail any deliberate positioning of one’s feet, but simply managing one’s body in order to manage distance with proper balance, Roger presented me with his different view on this topic:

“… you move in a sometimes rather particular way that I don’t think is just a matter of stepping back/forth or to the sides to be able to hit at a specific distance, but also to hit/parry in a special way that requires certain footwork. The most typical examples would be the tornado …”

Roger’s assessment of this situation uncovers one of the most important issues pertaining the effective teaching of martial arts.

For reasons that I will not analyse or comment in this article, martial arts’ teaching have bought into a philosophy that values first and foremost the teaching of movements. Practitioners are routinely taught to manage their body in space in a certain way with no connection being usually made between the movement being taught and the combat context that solicited the development of that technique, and under which it is most effective.

The sequence of parry and counter attack Roger referred to, known in English as tornado (and in Portuguese as “vira-costas”), can been seen being demonstrated by the following photos. I do apologise to the readers for my bad form in the photos provided, but it was the best I knew how to perform in the distant year of 2003.

Tornado

Surely enough that, occasionally, one may face opponents of lower skill level and, against such foes, fighters can be imaginative and execute whatever they are in the mood to perform. Nevertheless, this type of fighting mindset should be looked upon as an exception to the rule and not the rule, since it will not work when facing opponents of similar skill level.

In the present example, and contrary to the idea portrayed by the photos presented above, the tornado and, more importantly, the defensive footwork performed when parrying, isn’t meant to be performed when one wishes to perform the tornado. Instead, the combat context that brought about this particular “footwork” was the finishing of a strike as shown in the last photo from the previous sequence.

Performing a strike from left to right while holding the weapon with the right hand at the back and having the left leg forward, entails that the performer’s body is also rotating from left to right. This means that, should the opponent counter attack swiftly, the quickest way to exit is to follow through with the body’s rotational movement towards the right side. Depending on the distance one senses that he needs to exit, the exiting with the lead leg will result in positioning his lead foot either next to the back foot or behind it. Consequently, as the distancing motion is performed by following through the body’s rotational movement towards the right side, this movement will accelerate even more and, therefore, entail that following it through again will allow for the quickest possible counter attack under these specific circumstances, from which the tornado is born.

Unfortunately, failing to see things this way and limiting one’s teaching to “uncontextualized” movements, will lead to trainees being unskilled at reading their body and their opponent (combat context) and, thus, failing to make fruitful tactical decisions when sparring, as they are focused on forcing the execution of what they have already decided to perform.

For further information on this and other subjects, as well as seminars and books on training concepts, look me up at www.pretomartialarts.com

Best wishes to you all,

Luís Franco Preto
MSc in Coaching Sciences
mail@pretomartialarts.com

 

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