A Different Lesson

By Curt Pijanowski
Published on Oct 14th, 2013

In early August, my friend and colleague, Sifu Mark Brosten, asked if I wanted to participate in a training session with him at the nearby University of Montana. He assured me it would be a bit different from what I was used to doing, that I ought to wear shorts and a tee shirt, and that it would be fun. Of course, knowing him, neither of these assertions surprised me, so I readily agreed. I have had the privilege of getting to know Mark over the past few years. He is not just an accomplished martial artist. He is kindred spirit with my Kenpo instructor, and his friend, Sifu Dan Morlock, dedicated to understanding - and communicating to all who care to learn - principles of motion, which can be applied to any art (not just Kenpo). For me this is particularly interesting since Kenpo is not the only art in which I train.
In late August we were finally able to make it happen. I had anticipated doing "hammer/whip/thrust + increasingly intricate footwork - perhaps on a nearby mountain. Instead, we played three increasingly intense games of....racquetball? Yep, you read that right - Racquetball. And I gained valuable insights into principles of motion - which we analyzed after each point throughout the session.
The teaching started while we were taking our racquets out of their covers. "Curt, do not hold this like a baseball bat. Notice how you hold a knife or a stick - hold it like that. It is a potential weapon and the same principles apply here as they do it combat." OK, Sifu.... But he was right. I had not played racquetball in over 20 years, and this fact alone allowed me to place the racquet on that "little blue smurf" more often than I expected (and perhaps Mark as well - since I stole one game from him and nearly won the decisive third). However, the lesson had barely started. We have all heard how posture matters in our art(s). Turns out it matters in racquetball too. It helps you maintain proper balance and quickly, and effectively, react/act. Conversely, when he was able to move me out of position, and take my posture, he would almost invariably win the point. The correlation to combat is obvious. Neutrality to your opponent, which in this case was arguably the little blue ball, was also critical - and had a direct impact on balance, posture, and ultimately, my success. Regulating my speed, placement, and target were as important here as in a sparring session. Footwork was crucial, since as soon as my footwork became sloppy, Sifu was readily running up the score. Angles mattered. Reading your opponent's tendencies helped. Rotational energy and borrowing your opponent's force - if done with proper footwork and posture - often resulted in immediate success. I could deliver the proper weapon (backhand), and place it on target (low and in the corner) with greater velocity (power) and much better precision if the proper principles were applied. And turning my back on my opponent was as devastating, though not as painful, as turning my back on Sifu Mark while sparring with him.
To sum this up, the principles of motion we learn as we train are exactly that - principles. And because they are principles they can, and should, be applied to any physical activity to allow us the greatest opportunity for success. This holds true for a football player trying to make a tackle, and it can prevent injury if you are lifting weights, or lifting a box at your house. Bad posture can hurt your back while lifting that box, but good posture gives you better balance, and proper body alignment, so that more weight can be lifted, and safely. We've all known this for virtually our entire lives, and particularly since we've been training in the martial arts. Yet we rarely consider the invaluable opportunities we have to grow as martial artists, and authentically train, outside of the gym. Most of us tend to put that into a box: we are at the gym, in uniform, so now we are thinking about training. But when you have to dig a hole in your garden, or bring a box down from the attic, or lift a bag of dog food - we have an opportunity to learn and apply principles which are crucial to our success in our chosen art(s). Even as I write this, I have found myself consciously contouring my arms on my torso, as if I were striking an opponent, and I am sitting up a little straighter in my chair.
So thank you Sifu for a terrific lesson. If I might be so bold, perhaps in our next session you can demonstrate how to train these same principles...while drinking a beer. It will be my treat.
Curt Pijanowski
Missoula, MT

Filed under Philosophy and Opinion

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