How would a instructor determine students in hand to hand combat ‘adequate enough’ to move on from the basics? Come to think of it… what would be the basics? Assuming your students have never been in a fight before, what would be the first thing you teach beginners to hand to hand combat?

Usually, there are tests. What those tests are depends on the martial art, and the teacher’s personal teaching style. The teacher has the student, or group of students perform the techniques they were taught then evaluates their performance to determine whether or not they pass or fail. If they pass, they move on to the next set of techniques and if they don’t then they continue to practice until they either eventually pass on the next go round or they give up. However, there may not be tests. The teacher may simply decide the student is adequate and move on, sometimes without ever telling them. The criteria becomes more complicated as they go up in rank.

It may be as simple as: can you do a front kick without falling over? (No, seriously, learning to balance all your weight on one leg is a challenge in and of itself before we get to moving it.) Can you survive me shoving you without falling over? Have you learned how to set your weight? Have you learned to slap the ground when you fall?

‘Basics’ mean the base of the martial arts style. What those basics are
and how they’re taught are dependent on the martial art in question.
There will be similarities, but you’ll do well by researching specific
schools rather than asking broad questions.

You’ll get more applicable answers that way.

As for the basics?

You start with the feet.

A good teacher will spend the first lesson on teaching you how to stand. You’re not going to do anything else. When you begin at the beginning, you retrain everything about the student’s physicality. You’re building their base, how they set their weight, their sense of balance, and how to breathe.

After all, if there are cracks in the foundation then the whole house will inevitably fall. It doesn’t matter how many flashy techniques you can perform if a stiff breeze will still blow you over, and your basics are your foundation. They are the difference between a skilled warrior and one that will inevitably die. Beginning at the beginning requires the “boring” stuff.

So, when you have a master in a martial arts action flick shoving their student around in ways that usually look rather abusive to an outside observer that’s what they’re doing. They’re testing their student’s base, which directly relates to their ability to adjust to and receive impact without losing their balance.

After all, if a simple one handed shove to the chest sends a trainee sprawling then they’re doomed against any actual techniques. It doesn’t matter how well you take it in your arms if you can’t in your legs, if you can’t keep your balance. Balance begins with your core (your stomach, your abdomen, your diaphragm), then your feet, then the lower body, and then we get to the upper.

The secondary test that comes with learning the basics is a mental one. Martial combat is a discipline, it requires patience, persistence, determination, humility, and a willingness to learn. There’s no place on the floor for fragile egos. The training styles of most Eastern martial arts traditions like Karate, Taekwondo, and many of the Chinese martial arts are intentionally designed to be frustrating for beginners. It’s a personality test, meant to weed out those unsuitable to the training and those unworthy of the teacher’s time.

When you train in martial arts, you fall down a lot. You’re consistently meeting new skill thresholds, your understanding is often upended as you realize what you thought you knew isn’t what you needed to know. A trainee needs the determination to keep getting up, the confidence to continue and the willingness to listen. Your ego will get battered and bruised far worse at the upper end of training than it ever will in the beginning.

The test is a question of whether or not the trainee has the fortitude to continue. If they quit as most do, or if they keep coming back for more. If they can make the necessary adjustments, if they can listen, and if they get back up after they fall down then you’ve got someone who might just have a chance at surviving.

This isn’t the mentality of a military organization or military training because they have fewer options of who they can say no to, but martial arts masters choose their students.

The question of fortitude is there from the beginning because the troubles and frustrations you face in training are nothing compared to those these trainees will face in the real world and in live combat scenarios. Where their fortitude to continue through injury and their ability to adapt on the fly, to learn quickly as they are faced with the unknown are necessary survival skills.

When you’re writing any training sequence keep in mind that the instructor wants their students to live and trains them in the hopes they’ll develop the skills they need to have a better chance at it.

Never forget, this is fantasy.

You, the writer, needs to weld the notion your character could die into everything and, especially, into their training. The character may be too young, too naive, or too stupid to realize it but you must never forget that death is always on the table. They need to earn their survival. For all their teacher knows they may very well be looking at a walking corpse. Their student is a bright star full of potential, someone they may grow to care about and become invested in, and may just as easily be snuffed out not long after leaving their care.

This is more true for some teachers than others, but its worth keeping in mind. Everything your character learns is meant to help them for when they enter to sphere of live combat, and that starts at the beginning. If the beginning becomes screwed up, then everything else that follows will also fail.

You may also want to check out our #writing training, #training, #basics, and #martialarts tags on the site.

-Michi

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