Martial arts in every day life

On an email list I’m on, we were discussing the long term changes and evolutions you go through in the body mechanics you learn. A lot of  ideas went forward and backwards and here’s something I ended up writing.

I think he’s right. My teacher once said we’re all just doing a Western interpretation of how you should train Chinese arts. When he lived in Hong Kong, he’d spend all his time with his teacher. Train for hours on end, go into the hills with him and train there, talk history, techniques and strategy, etc. If you have such a training regimen and can keep it up your entire life, it’s a far cry from us, Western schmucks, who can only manage a few hours a day at best. So I don’t think it’s realistic to want to move like the Chinese teachers who’ve been training 4, 5, 6h a day for decades on end. You gotta pay your dues first.

I sincerely believe this is true. You can’t take shortcuts if you want to be as good as some of the most impressive martial artists out there. For the most of us, that’s just not in the cards: we have to work, have families and friends, etc. Being a full time martial artist is not really a common career here in the West.

Somebody else replied that you should apply your martial arts training in every day life, seek out every opportunity to practice: As you reach for a glass of water, work on your structure, your breathing, etc.  I understand the concept well enough and to a large degree do this myself. But I feel there is a lot of misunderstanding about the very idea of applying martial arts in daily life. Here’s what I replied:

This is one of the things I only agree with up to a certain point. I believe this type of training has a lot of value. Hell, I flipped the light switch on and off with my feet for a long time when I was younger, much to the annoyance of my family. But it sure did benefit my kicking techniques.

However, I think there’s a limit to how far you can take this before it becomes a waste of time. Time better spent training the style you’re learning. E.G.: If I spend fifteen minutes getting every movement right as I walk to the kitchen and drink a glass of water, I won’t get nothing done. Which means everything takes more time, which means I won’t have time to train.

In contrast, if you spend an extra fifteen minutes training your art, do it right and have a good teacher (and some more qualifiers), after a while you won’t be able to pick up that glass of water in the wrong way.

I’m simplifying, I know, but only to make a point: MA systems didn’t come into existence to find a more efficient way to do every day things like pick up a glass and drink water from it. I know this is the theory that is gaining ground the last few years but I don’t buy it. I firmly believe MAs have fighting/combat as the main goal and focus.

There is obviously overlap into daily/other activities but then again, these can be arts in and of themselves, not necessarily compatible ones: I have nothing of respect for somebody who masters origami or ikebana. But I really doubt they use the exact same body mechanics as a karate sensei. Mental focus, sure. But the overlap is perhaps not as big as some might think.

Obviously, you are free to disagree with me but instead of getting better at picking up glasses, I’d rather go to my garage or to class and train a bit more. I think it’s more productive.

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Comments

  1. If the average teacher today went up into the mountains, they’d be back down in three weeks, having run out of material.

    The modern idea that our forefathers were retreating into the mountains, in order to perfect their street-fighting skills, amuses me greatly.

    Theoretically speaking, for the goal-oriented student, training should make difficult things easier. Maybe the process-oriented student will enjoy making easy things difficult, in which case picking up a glass of water is the ultimate test? But cups do not hit back.

    I am for training all day long, maybe, but not if that means walking funny and talking funny. And not if it leads to rationalizing one’s decision to spend their time on the phone, on the computer, or in front of the TV, instead of on the mat or in front of the heavy bag.

  2. If the average teacher today went up into the mountains, they’d be back down in three weeks, having run out of material.

    The modern idea that our forefathers were retreating into the mountains, in order to perfect their street-fighting skills, amuses me greatly.

    Theoretically speaking, for the goal-oriented student, training should make difficult things easier. Maybe the process-oriented student will enjoy making easy things difficult, in which case picking up a glass of water is the ultimate test? But cups do not hit back.

    I am for training all day long, maybe, but not if that means walking funny and talking funny. And not if it leads to rationalizing one’s decision to spend their time on the phone, on the computer, or in front of the TV, instead of on the mat or in front of the heavy bag.

  3. I’m 52 years old, don’t hang around in bars and don’t get into fights. I live and work around one of the statistically safest cities in the US. It’s not likely that I’m going to fight anyone.

    In a nutshell, I believe my own practice to taijiquan attempts to train my body to habitually move in a certain way.

    My old aikido sensei taught me that the mind and body reflect each other, so I’m led to believe that by habitually moving in a certain way, I internalize the principals of TJQ.

    By quieting my mind through TJQ and zhan zhuang practice, I allow myself “extra space in time” to respond appropriately to whatever is going on around me.

    That, I think, is practicing my martial arts in daily life.

    • Rick,
      There’s nothing wrong with that approach. I have nothing but admiration for people who can stick with tai chi for a long time, simply because it’s such a difficult art. And if you have no need for self defense where you live, that’s even better. Who wants to fight anyway? :-)
      That said, the way I learned the art, some things only make sense when you practice it as a combative system. Not doing so hollows out what it is, IMHO. It may look and feel great but lacks the fullness of a complete system. Again, to each his own, I have no issues with how other people practice. We’re all on our own path and have to make our own choices. That’s just how it is for me.

  4. I’m 52 years old, don’t hang around in bars and don’t get into fights. I live and work around one of the statistically safest cities in the US. It’s not likely that I’m going to fight anyone.

    In a nutshell, I believe my own practice to taijiquan attempts to train my body to habitually move in a certain way.

    My old aikido sensei taught me that the mind and body reflect each other, so I’m led to believe that by habitually moving in a certain way, I internalize the principals of TJQ.

    By quieting my mind through TJQ and zhan zhuang practice, I allow myself “extra space in time” to respond appropriately to whatever is going on around me.

    That, I think, is practicing my martial arts in daily life.

    • Rick,
      There’s nothing wrong with that approach. I have nothing but admiration for people who can stick with tai chi for a long time, simply because it’s such a difficult art. And if you have no need for self defense where you live, that’s even better. Who wants to fight anyway? :-)
      That said, the way I learned the art, some things only make sense when you practice it as a combative system. Not doing so hollows out what it is, IMHO. It may look and feel great but lacks the fullness of a complete system. Again, to each his own, I have no issues with how other people practice. We’re all on our own path and have to make our own choices. That’s just how it is for me.

  5. Danny Young says

    I came to the conclusion a few years ago I could never be as good as I wanted to be due to many factors. First being time, I don’t have 12 hours a day to devote to training, there are bills to be paid, and family issues to attend to. Second, I have limited talent and ablity. No matter how hard I try, I won’t make it to the level I imagined. Third, I am a small man, and frankly, I am probably more frail than I want to admit.

    So, where am I going with this? Do the Best you can with what you have. Be satisfied with what you can accomplish, and reach goals that are attainable in reality for yourself, not someone else. There are many aspects of MA training I use on a daily basis, but some aren’t what you think. Use your time wisely, and don’t waste it on frivolous pursuits (like a thousand front kicks a day) that don’t matter. All of these things are up to you, and no one else. Your training is as much of your everyday life as you make it to be.

    Danny

    • Danny,

      I totally agree. In this Western world, there are many other things that need our attention. Whether we like it or not. Doing the bets we can is pretty much the only way to go IMO. Sometimes you train more, sometimes a bit less. but in the end, it’s your life and tempus fugit for all of us. So like you said, we better use it wisely.

  6. Danny Young says

    I came to the conclusion a few years ago I could never be as good as I wanted to be due to many factors. First being time, I don’t have 12 hours a day to devote to training, there are bills to be paid, and family issues to attend to. Second, I have limited talent and ablity. No matter how hard I try, I won’t make it to the level I imagined. Third, I am a small man, and frankly, I am probably more frail than I want to admit.

    So, where am I going with this? Do the Best you can with what you have. Be satisfied with what you can accomplish, and reach goals that are attainable in reality for yourself, not someone else. There are many aspects of MA training I use on a daily basis, but some aren’t what you think. Use your time wisely, and don’t waste it on frivolous pursuits (like a thousand front kicks a day) that don’t matter. All of these things are up to you, and no one else. Your training is as much of your everyday life as you make it to be.

    Danny

    • Danny,

      I totally agree. In this Western world, there are many other things that need our attention. Whether we like it or not. Doing the bets we can is pretty much the only way to go IMO. Sometimes you train more, sometimes a bit less. but in the end, it’s your life and tempus fugit for all of us. So like you said, we better use it wisely.

  7. Garry Hodgins says

    I agree with what both you and Danny have to say on the matter. Your practice should fit in with the person you are and the person you are striving to become, simple as that really. Nevertheless, I think you should always work on developing your awareness of yourself and your surroundings and developing a calm state of awareness. This is something that I’ve been working on in recent months due in part to reading some excellent books like Askins, Grossman and Christensen’s ” Warrior Mindset ” and Grossman and Christensen’s ” On Combat ” and training with a L.E.O. friend. These new influences have triggered something of a personal revelation for me and have helped me to appreciate the massive benefits to be gotten in these skills from practice of our teacher’s style of t.c.c.. I find it good to vary the emphasis of my training, allowing for the almost daily practice of nei gung which I still use as a foundation for all my training, so my bag work/conditioning days train some resilience and intent ( I even enjoy it some days) while my gun work focuses on a more controlled state of being which creates a greater sense of being present in my surroundings. Both are elements of my MA practice and the bizarre thing is that probably for the first time ever in my personal practice I feel them blend together . It is my developing awareness that makes this so, kind of a personal growth thing, now, I’ve got to work my kwa and tuck my tailbone while I pour myself a glass of water!

  8. Garry Hodgins says

    I agree with what both you and Danny have to say on the matter. Your practice should fit in with the person you are and the person you are striving to become, simple as that really. Nevertheless, I think you should always work on developing your awareness of yourself and your surroundings and developing a calm state of awareness. This is something that I’ve been working on in recent months due in part to reading some excellent books like Askins, Grossman and Christensen’s ” Warrior Mindset ” and Grossman and Christensen’s ” On Combat ” and training with a L.E.O. friend. These new influences have triggered something of a personal revelation for me and have helped me to appreciate the massive benefits to be gotten in these skills from practice of our teacher’s style of t.c.c.. I find it good to vary the emphasis of my training, allowing for the almost daily practice of nei gung which I still use as a foundation for all my training, so my bag work/conditioning days train some resilience and intent ( I even enjoy it some days) while my gun work focuses on a more controlled state of being which creates a greater sense of being present in my surroundings. Both are elements of my MA practice and the bizarre thing is that probably for the first time ever in my personal practice I feel them blend together . It is my developing awareness that makes this so, kind of a personal growth thing, now, I’ve got to work my kwa and tuck my tailbone while I pour myself a glass of water!

  9. When I was a young man growing up in Detroit, I was more concerned with “combatives.” I studied Yoshinkan aikido (a “harder” style as opposed to a “softer” style), tae kwan do, and some kick boxing.

    Now in my fifties, I look I am more interested to study martial arts as a form of budo, to use the Japanese term, than a bujitsu.

    Having said that, I strongly feel that if you can’t apply what you’re learning, then you’re not doing it right.

    • Rick,

      It’s not really a matter of applying what you’re learning as it is training to learn more. You learn more and better by actually training, not by trying to imitate training in other settings.
      Like I said in the post, the overlap is certainly there. But there’s a point of diminishing returns where you start wasting time you could have better spent training in the dojo/kwoon/backyard.

  10. When I was a young man growing up in Detroit, I was more concerned with “combatives.” I studied Yoshinkan aikido (a “harder” style as opposed to a “softer” style), tae kwan do, and some kick boxing.

    Now in my fifties, I look I am more interested to study martial arts as a form of budo, to use the Japanese term, than a bujitsu.

    Having said that, I strongly feel that if you can’t apply what you’re learning, then you’re not doing it right.

    • Rick,

      It’s not really a matter of applying what you’re learning as it is training to learn more. You learn more and better by actually training, not by trying to imitate training in other settings.
      Like I said in the post, the overlap is certainly there. But there’s a point of diminishing returns where you start wasting time you could have better spent training in the dojo/kwoon/backyard.

  11. Wim – For the sake of discussion rather than argument, here are a couple of other ways of thinking about it.

    “You can’t take shortcuts if you want to be as good as some of the most impressive martial artists out there. For the most of us, that’s just not in the cards: we have to work, have families and friends, etc. Being a full time martial artist is not really a common career here in the West.”

    Yes, and… would the most impressive martial artists out there and/or full time marital artists turn their martial arts “training” on and off depending on whether they were suited up at in the gym: maybe not. Would some aspects, awareness for example, be “on” at almost all times? Maybe. If it’s body mechanics we’re talking about would they really bend, lift, move differently because they were not “in training”. That might depend on how you think about it (I’ll get to that in a minute).

    “This is one of the things I only agree with up to a certain point. I believe this type of training has a lot of value. Hell, I flipped the light switch on and off with my feet for a long time when I was younger, much to the annoyance of my family. But it sure did benefit my kicking techniques.

    Maybe the point where you would disagree depends on some assumptions that are at least relative: first who says you have to “seek out” the opportunity to practice – again with regard to body mechanics, doesn’t training become unconscious and automatic in terms of how you move transfer force, use leverage, etc.?

    “However, I think there’s a limit to how far you can take this before it becomes a waste of time. Time better spent training the style you’re learning. E.G.: If I spend fifteen minutes getting every movement right as I walk to the kitchen and drink a glass of water, I won’t get nothing done. Which means everything takes more time, which means I won’t have time to train.”

    You argument against the time efficiency pre-supposes that it’s faster for example to turn on/off the light with a hand: maybe. Maybe it wouldn’t matter much. My point above is that walking to the kitchen to drink a glass of water wouldn’t necessarily involve additional time. (And I thought that I was only one turning light switches on/off with my feet:-)

    “MA systems didn’t come into existence to find a more efficient way to do every day things like pick up a glass and drink water from it. I know this is the theory that is gaining ground the last few years but I don’t buy it. I firmly believe MAs have fighting/combat as the main goal and focus.”

    It’s subjective (maybe fanciful:-), I know, and based as much my own imagination as anything else, but – at least in the case of Tai Chi – it could be that as an integrative art (martial as well as therapeutic and philosophical) it was a matter of typical Asian elegance and efficiency that the hardness of Kung Fu could be blended with the softness of Taoist Yin-Yang theory and the practice of the two offering the therapeutic benefits of Chi Gung at the very same time. It could be a myth that the martial arts of old had nothing but free time to train; most perhaps also had families to tent to, “jobs” and other demands – horses to tend, wood to chop, water to carry. If they be warriors of some sort, wouldn’t it be handy to have a type of training that served the dual purposes of rehabilitation (I am assuming there were lots of injuries here in there in that line of work) as well as martial abilities. If they be priests, wouldn’t it be handy to have a type of meditative, contemplative, healing practice that also happened to offer transferable self-defense skills. Would it be any different for the regular Joe who had to chop wood and carry water or at least work in the field or the woods for sustinence?

    It also seems to me that the accomplished Tai Chi guys of old would have been aware that the hard style training systems too often tend to create the opposite of what they intend: rather than fit warriors they often produce injured victims.

    And lastly, then or now, what’s the most likely need for the average guy doing the work on a day to day, minute by minute basis? To be able to relax, be present and adapt, or to be able to deliver the decisive blow? It’s possible that martial arts training is as much about dealing with the forces encountered in daily life as it is dealing with a jab-cross-hook combination (or in the case of our current fascination with grappling, a favorite take-down move). Thanks for the topic, great thought generator!

  12. Wim – For the sake of discussion rather than argument, here are a couple of other ways of thinking about it.

    “You can’t take shortcuts if you want to be as good as some of the most impressive martial artists out there. For the most of us, that’s just not in the cards: we have to work, have families and friends, etc. Being a full time martial artist is not really a common career here in the West.”

    Yes, and… would the most impressive martial artists out there and/or full time marital artists turn their martial arts “training” on and off depending on whether they were suited up at in the gym: maybe not. Would some aspects, awareness for example, be “on” at almost all times? Maybe. If it’s body mechanics we’re talking about would they really bend, lift, move differently because they were not “in training”. That might depend on how you think about it (I’ll get to that in a minute).

    “This is one of the things I only agree with up to a certain point. I believe this type of training has a lot of value. Hell, I flipped the light switch on and off with my feet for a long time when I was younger, much to the annoyance of my family. But it sure did benefit my kicking techniques.

    Maybe the point where you would disagree depends on some assumptions that are at least relative: first who says you have to “seek out” the opportunity to practice – again with regard to body mechanics, doesn’t training become unconscious and automatic in terms of how you move transfer force, use leverage, etc.?

    “However, I think there’s a limit to how far you can take this before it becomes a waste of time. Time better spent training the style you’re learning. E.G.: If I spend fifteen minutes getting every movement right as I walk to the kitchen and drink a glass of water, I won’t get nothing done. Which means everything takes more time, which means I won’t have time to train.”

    You argument against the time efficiency pre-supposes that it’s faster for example to turn on/off the light with a hand: maybe. Maybe it wouldn’t matter much. My point above is that walking to the kitchen to drink a glass of water wouldn’t necessarily involve additional time. (And I thought that I was only one turning light switches on/off with my feet:-)

    “MA systems didn’t come into existence to find a more efficient way to do every day things like pick up a glass and drink water from it. I know this is the theory that is gaining ground the last few years but I don’t buy it. I firmly believe MAs have fighting/combat as the main goal and focus.”

    It’s subjective (maybe fanciful:-), I know, and based as much my own imagination as anything else, but – at least in the case of Tai Chi – it could be that as an integrative art (martial as well as therapeutic and philosophical) it was a matter of typical Asian elegance and efficiency that the hardness of Kung Fu could be blended with the softness of Taoist Yin-Yang theory and the practice of the two offering the therapeutic benefits of Chi Gung at the very same time. It could be a myth that the martial arts of old had nothing but free time to train; most perhaps also had families to tent to, “jobs” and other demands – horses to tend, wood to chop, water to carry. If they be warriors of some sort, wouldn’t it be handy to have a type of training that served the dual purposes of rehabilitation (I am assuming there were lots of injuries here in there in that line of work) as well as martial abilities. If they be priests, wouldn’t it be handy to have a type of meditative, contemplative, healing practice that also happened to offer transferable self-defense skills. Would it be any different for the regular Joe who had to chop wood and carry water or at least work in the field or the woods for sustinence?

    It also seems to me that the accomplished Tai Chi guys of old would have been aware that the hard style training systems too often tend to create the opposite of what they intend: rather than fit warriors they often produce injured victims.

    And lastly, then or now, what’s the most likely need for the average guy doing the work on a day to day, minute by minute basis? To be able to relax, be present and adapt, or to be able to deliver the decisive blow? It’s possible that martial arts training is as much about dealing with the forces encountered in daily life as it is dealing with a jab-cross-hook combination (or in the case of our current fascination with grappling, a favorite take-down move). Thanks for the topic, great thought generator!

  13. Wim,

    I don’t disagree with you! To study a martial art is like peeling an onion; there is always another layer. There are certainly plateaus, but I constantly find myself discovering and working on some nuance.

    Best Regards,

    Rick

    • Same here Rick. After several decades of training, I still feel like I’ve only scratched the surface. Makes it fun to keep training though. :-)

  14. Wim,

    I don’t disagree with you! To study a martial art is like peeling an onion; there is always another layer. There are certainly plateaus, but I constantly find myself discovering and working on some nuance.

    Best Regards,

    Rick

    • Same here Rick. After several decades of training, I still feel like I’ve only scratched the surface. Makes it fun to keep training though. :-)

  15. theDefiantWon says

    i think i understand your points, but i disagree with the importance that you place on performing these routine tasks, specifically the idea that so much more time need be devoted to the getting of a glass of water that it would rob you of more ‘important’ time in the actual training of your combative skill. i’m no master — i never will be. i train shaolin kung fu, sanda and tai chi. i started late (34), but i started….and after a year and change i realize that i am not now, nor never shall be, the images i perceive in my head. before i began MA i was a nicotine fiend (12 years), inactive and fattening myself up for something malignant. i’ve always been a bit of a sinophile. i read the art of war and the tao te ching religiously (hence my arrogance [i.e., i have an opinion worth hearing] on the subject matter). the art of war can be translated into many aspects of life, most notably “life is war” …..so shouldn’t you always be ready? but who says that all this water-getting, dishwashing, bending down with perfect balance to lift a potted plant….hahaha…(yes, i do this)…..but who says i need to focus so much time on it? if i don’t do it perfectly today, i can lift that potted plant tomorrow. you don’t have to be perfect right now; just be conscious of it. that’s all. martial arts are, indeed, more than just fighting. the combat doesn’t even scratch the surface.

    • I guess it’s a qualitative difference we’re talking about. When I did this stuff, I wouldn’t flip on the light with my feet just once; I did it 20 times in a row because I wasn’t happy with my performance. That takes a lot of time. If you only do it once, then it doesn’t take up much time indeed but I don’t really think that’s good practice. It’s more than nothing but not all that much.
      Anyway, it’s not that important to me. I just wanted to mention some factors that are often overlooked when people say “apply your art in every day life.”

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