If you study a traditional art you’ve inevitably heard a speech regarding control. Control (as most responsible Sensei will tell you) is absolutely vital to safe and effective practice. But that begs the question, what exactly is control?
Let’s lay down a baseline definition of what control is in the context of martial training:
Control Rule #1: Execute techniques accurately to the intended target with proper form.
Control Rule #2: Execute techniques while preserving the safety of your partner via force temperance.
Rule #1 explains that your technique must express the intended concept as being taught. As such you must be able to strike to the correct anatomical parts of the opponent or execute joint locks and throws while using proper fundamentals (like kuzushi).
Rule #2 suggests that in order to preserve the safety of your partner you must be able to strike, joint lock, or throw with appropriate distance and power. That means if you can do nothing but full power or wild techniques you lack the needed control to train at a high level. You can’t be trusted with effective techniques.
That’s it! Well…that’s it if you want to understand the basic, foundational aspects of control. Of course, as training and experience piles up practitioners can begin to explore deeper implications of how to use their body to maximum effect. To demonstrate these more advanced ideas, I think showing as well as telling would be appropriate.
Watch the following video for a higher level discussion of control in martial arts training:
(If desired, click the small gear in the lower right corner to select 720p, high quality video. If choppy, let it load all the way)
As the video explains, sharp techniques that are fast and well placed do not automatically qualify as “well controlled”. Once a practitioner gets passed the basics they need to learn how to execute techniques that are completely capable of doing damage, but by the choice of the practitioner, are withheld.
“The choice of the practitioner” – that’s a key thought. As you might imagine, certain training wheels and precautions have been put on classical styles of martial arts over the years so as to avoid placing extremely effective techniques in the wrong hands. When a practitioner learns to be more deadly it is only their character and mental control that stays their hand and guides them.
To understand control fully, the methods of the body cannot be separated from that of the mind and heart. Mental control allows a person to maintain perspective even in times of high stress, choosing the right level of force for the occasion. Emotional control prevents anger, resentment, and fear from overtaking better judgment.
A good classical art will build all of these things over time.
GUEST AUTHOR: Johnny Nguyen is a boxing aficionado and owner of ExpertBoxing.com. He has been training with high level fighters for over 8 years. Throughout his training Johnny has developed an introspective and technical method of boxing training, learning and analyzing as much technique and concept as possible.
3 Reasons to Learn Boxing:
Boxing at its purest forms is functional and brutal. By partaking in boxing, you very quickly learn what works and what doesn’t work. Fighting goes so far beyond throwing and defending attacks. It’s about learning how to fight without getting tired, how to minimize damage of landed punches, how to follow up after a missed punch, how to counter a counter, how to apply offensive pressure without striking, how to use defense as offense. Beyond on all that is how to let a fight unfold as it should.
While form and technique are important, destroying your opponent is even more so. This distinction is often lost when fighting arts take the route of being “less brutal”. All fight training by nature will become brutal if they dare to be functional. There are few things as brutal as learning how to trade blows at high speed with an opponent only an arm’s reach away. The use of boxing gloves prolongs the beatings making it possible to exchange more blows without fight stoppage due to cuts.
While every fighting technique should emphasize the use of technique over physicality, athleticism is still of utter importance. Being athletic is what allows you to train at higher intensity, train for longer periods, and develop higher level efficiency. In reality, athleticism and skill go hand in hand. As you become more athletic, your skill and ability will rise, furthering the upward spiraling cycle of athleticism and skills.
Boxers are in incredible shape, there is no denying that. Boxers are however made of a different kind of athleticism. They are stronger, faster, have more endurance, and can take far more punishment. YET, they can do all this without really trying. They remain strong throughout an entire fight yet rarely fight above the 50-70% pace. This is a result of boxers learning how to fight while relaxing. In fact, it’s the only way to fight.
At some level, there is no excuse for not having superior athleticism. There is no excuse for being slower or weaker than your opponent. If you are athletically superior to other fighters, boxing will allow you to exercise that advantage. Moreso, boxing will help you develop that advantage to new levels. An extra inch of arm reach can help you win unscathed. A split second difference in speed will help you knock out opponents before they can respond.
3. Rhythm of Attack
I dare say that boxing is fought at the highest speed of attack. Why? Because the combatants are almost always in range of each other, in a style that is fought in combinations. When you have an art like kicking, it’s common to see distance used as defense. (Using distance as defense in boxing is unpractical because you spend more energy running than you do blocking.) With an art like grappling, smothering can be used as a defense. (Using smothering as a defense in boxing can be dangerous because you run into more punches.) The main difference is that grappling & kicking attacks are more easily thwarted with a single evasion.
With boxing, evading one strike still allows the attacker to threaten with many more. Not only will you learn how to fight at a higher pace, you learn how to defend at a higher pace.
For the best examples of boxing’s functionality, athleticism, and rhythm of attack, I suggest watching videos of:
- Pernell Whitaker
- James Toney
- Floyd Mayweather
- Prince Naseem Hamed
- Roy Jones Jr
- Mike Tyson
- Manny Pacquiao
- Sugar Ray Leonard
- Roberto Duran
I would suggest for you to watch their training videos and sparring videos. There are few other arts where you can see regular demonstrations of theory and principle being applied successfully on a regular basis.
Most people don’t know how to watch a boxing fight. Most people watching a pro see an even chess match. I would beg some to try watching a video of a pro fighting an amateur…two come to mind:
Our first question revolves around a very classic problem in traditional arts – do people actually use kata during sparring?
Part of the inefficient, ritualized stereotype that goes along with traditional arts stems directly from this issue. Furthermore, when watching sparring at any tournament or even online you are likely to see a grand total of zero exchanges that look like kata.
Check out my perspective on the matter:
The cut-to video utilized in the video above is from a previous post entitled Exploring the Value of Nai Hanchi. Check out the full post if you are interested in a more specific study of this kata/application/combat type question.
Hope you enjoyed it, and check out question 2 – What Kind of Grappling Is In Karate?