There is this strange mind set in martial arts that somehow amassing a large amount of techniques equals knowledge of the art. Somehow gathering all this information makes you a master just by virtue of having it all, it’s like thinking owning all of Shakespeare’s works makes you a playwright. There are those that go from school to school and teacher to teacher to gather these techniques and they feel this somehow makes them skilled fighters. They have the twenty mor saos, eighteen beggar’s hands and thirty six gao siu’s and a plethora of other techniques and know the exact nuanced time each is to be employed. They think their specific knowledge of these things makes them superior to other martial artists. Well, real fighting doesn’t work this way. It is fast and dirty with little or no time for nuanced technique. In my own practice I have found that initially
you need to do something devastating before you can do anything refined. Lately in Philadelphia there has been a spate of muggings with groups of young thugs attacking people randomly. There is no time for a specific beggar’s hand or gwok siu. The reaction to the attack has to be immediate and devastating. There is no time for setting a mantis stance as someone comes in on you; they are all coming in on you at once. You have to be fluid and deadly to survive.
This is a situation that is personal to me and that and I take very seriously. I had a student years ago that was a fine young man and diligent practioner of martial arts. He knew every hand there was and had the classical name for them. He used to tell me if an opponent did this type of attack he would do a dragon fist crossing the cloud technique or some other flowery thing. I used to tell him that it never works that way and he needed to develop a simpler, more direct and ferocious style of fighting. He could continue in his art but needed to distill it to a few simple and effective motions. He never quite bought what I was trying to tell him but none the less practiced hard. One night on his way home he saw a fight break out in a park in his neighborhood. Three guys were beating up on one guy and he went to help. In seconds he was taken down and stabbed. Tragically he died later that night. It was a great loss to his family and all of us. He was doing a good deed and died for it.
I don’t know of the specifics of the fight but I fear that he tried, as he often did with me, to bring his bag of techniques to it. There is no way to know if there could have been a different outcome but I will always wonder about it. Mastering a few hands that will serve you in any situation is much more valuable and vital than a plethora of them. An army trainer recently said to me that he finds a few techniques that really work and drills them literally thousands of times with his recruits. It becomes the core of their motion and very effective. So beware of gathering information over developing knowledge; the difference can save your life.
Ideas, articles, lessons, and retrospective moments.