Tag Archives: martial arts training

Q&A: Tenth Degree Black Belt Takes Awhile

not sure if this is the right blog to ask this question but its the closest one that i know of, i have a character who started doing Karate at the minimum age (Age 6 from what i see) and so i want to know what is the minimum realistic age for him to become a first degree all the way through tenth degree black belt?

Assuming we work from the commercial martial arts school metric (which is the quickest), it’ll be around 45 years. A black belt past a certain rank (anywhere between two and five) will need to start journeying Japan on a semi-regular basis in order to be tested for their next belt ranks. And if they’re not, their master is the one who is making the pilgrimage. That also assumes the belt testing for the higher echelons is handed by one master, which it may not be. It something like eight official karate strands recognized by the World Karate Federation, and more unofficial. So, your character doesn’t just know karate.

That assumes the school goes to ten.

That assumes this is the belt system used by the school. (The classic martial arts legend is that in the old days, you trained so long that your belt turned black and that was when you achieved mastery.)

Assuming they allow any underage student to test for black belt. (Some schools don’t. If not, minimum age for a tenth degree is 63.)

Assuming they don’t have specific time constraints on your belt progression that has nothing to do with curriculum and everything to do with X amount of time spent in the school before they’ll consider it.

Your martial arts master is the one who decides when you get to test. If they say you’re not ready then you’re not testing. It is possible to fail the belt rank test, at any level. Commercial martial arts schools hold rank tests at specific intervals, usually spaced two to four months apart depending on belt rank level. You’ve got to be ready when the time comes, or you’ll have to wait until the next round. The Ernie Reyes school held black belt tests twice per year, but they were a large organization with over a hundred testing participants. In smaller organizations, it may happen less often. Usually, there’s a pretest before they allow you to test for your black belt. You can fail the pretest, and they reserve the right to fail you out of training prior to the test at any time.

Forty-five years training is a generous estimate. You’re not likely to hit tenth degree until you are eighty years old. Achieving mastery is a lifelong process. This is better than the traditional Chinese method for establishing a new martial art, which was go around and beat all the other masters in duels.

Trust me, having your ass handed to you by a sixty year old man is not a fun experience. It.. will also happen. Tradition in martial arts is you get tested in combat, to go up in rank you defeat those at rank, to become a master you defeat yours. “Now, I am the Master” is not just a trope, it’s tradition. (Not today, obviously. It used to be, in some cases.)

You’d reach the point around second or third degree in the higher ranks (and depending on style proliferation) where you’d be making the trip to Japan in order to be trained and tested by the school’s Grandmaster. A high ranking black belt would need to be at least partially fluent or speak passable Japanese, even if they could not read it. This is true for most Japanese martial arts, and for other martial arts too.

In the Ernie Reyes Organization, there is a monetary cost to testing. That metric rises by around a hundred dollars per black belt stripe. Fourth degree test costs around 400-500 dollars. Again, this is assuming a commercial martial arts school, not a school that is specifically training for active combat. If the school is training you for active combat, it’ll all take a lot longer.

In modern era combat, karate does not work unless it is modified. I got that from a Shotokan master who was also a Police Officer, and tested for his last black belt rank in Japan. (Third or Fourth degree.) He knew what he was talking about, and he was in his late thirties.

I was a third degree in Taekwondo by the time I was eighteen, but that’s out of a commercial system and that’s actually unusual. When looking at third degree tests, usually, they’re in their early to mid twenties.

In a traditional school, you can usually age your black belt rank per decade. First degree in the tens, second in the twenties, third in thirties, fourth in the forties, etc. 35-40 is the lowest age for a martial arts master, younger than that they’re usually technically good but not spiritually good and the spiritual component is what’s necessary.

Realistically, your character will never see tenth degree. When we talk tenth degree black belt in a martial arts system, that’s a number you can count on one hand and they may not exist at all. I’ve trained with seventh degree black belts and order grand masters in hosted seminars, but I’ve never seen a tenth degree.

The upper echelons past around rank five are spiritual journeys rather than technical or acquired skills, and this is especially true of tenth degree. You’ll get there when you get there, if you get there at all. That also assumes commercial approach rather than traditional, because traditional means you’re lucky if you see black belt at all. Ever. My shotokan master, one of his adult brown belts had been in training for about seven years, and his green belt training for five. Under this system, it could easily take ten years to reach black belt and you wouldn’t see a black belt testing under eighteen. (Not just danger, also maturity.)

The more sacred the belt ranks are in the system, the longer time it will take to reach and the harder it will be to reach them. However, those are the systems where the rank means something.

I’ll tell you right now, most martial artists at twelve who hold the rank of black belt aren’t actually worth anything on a technical level. (I say that having been a thirteen year old black belt.) The belt rank means something else in the commercial system. A child who got their black belt at twelve will be great by the time they’re twenty if they keep training, but they aren’t right now.

The amount of time necessary with traditional martial arts for rank progression is pretty much the reason why martial artists have the reputation for being godlike. The problem martial arts have in the modern era is they still have their place but combat moves too quickly for that kind of specialization. The counters are being developed while your character is training, so a hard counter will exist when they’re ready to put their skills into practice. However, many professionals train in martial arts because of the health and mental benefits and the flexibility the additions or alternative skill sets provide.

Traditional martial arts is not fair, it is not quick, and it takes decades of work. Commercial martial arts is/can be quick, but it’s balancing the pursuit of spiritual enlightenment with money. That is survival, and martial arts schools cannot or will have great difficulty surviving in the US without the commercial/business side. Usually, the first two black belt ranks get sacrificed to the commercial because kids are where most commercial martial arts schools make their money. That first black belt test is all important to the school, to the kid, and their parents. It’s an achievement, it’s a journey, and it looks great on a college application. It is real, but it means something else than what it would mean in a traditional system to someone who trained for ten years. Five years is much more reasonable/palatable to a parent and a child than ten. (That’s a long time, you’ll still have something like a 60% drop off between the kids who come for a few months to those who stay.) I know, that information kills the mystique some.

Understand, that every black belt earned their rank by the metric set for them. The question is do others agree, and the answer is usually no when we’re discussing more stringent systems. A lot of really popular martial arts will have that accusation leveled against them by others, and a lot of popular schools will as well. That their business model produces inferior students. Whether that is true or not is a matter of opinion and the opinions are diverse. I suggest carrying that knowledge with you into your fiction.

If you can’t tell me or anyone in your book which version of Karate they are practicing, then that’s where you should start working. Karate also gets used in the US as a catchall term for martial arts, just FYI.


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So, this isn’t exactly a writing question, but I’m not sure where else to ask. Is it at all possible for someone with chronic wrist pain, such that they can’t take impacts on their hands for any significant length of time, to still learn a martial art? And if so, what martial arts would be best, like ones that focus more on kicks or grappling?

There are students with all sorts of disabilities who are training right now. So, don’t let that stop you.

I’ve worked with martial artists who had a variety of health issues, from those recovering from cancer to eighty year olds training for their black belts. I know of students in other programs ranging from blindness to deafness to only having one arm. Lots of kids with glasses train, and take their glasses off for sparring. One of my training partners for my third degree test was a woman who’d recently recovered from a stroke and had specific health concerns we worked around. There was a certain pace she needed to train at, which was fine. Master Reyes was upfront about it with me when he assigned me to work with her, and she was upfront about it with me. She passed her test by the way.

It is very common in martial arts schools to have students who have specific health concerns, chronic pain, and injuries. It is part of the job of the instructors at these schools to develop work arounds together with their students.  Whether the instructor needs to keep an eye on the time because one of the kids you’re training needs to take their meds during your class. These are all issues that can be worked out. (Consider the number of geriatric students who come in on the regular. There are quite a few.)

As martial arts instructors, we are legally obligated to care for our students when they’re on our floor. (And we care about them because they’re family.) You’ll find plenty of teachers who also have or have had injuries whether they’re permanent or not. One of my master’s had a blown out knee from a gymnastics injury, he was thirty years old and he limped around the floor.

People of all ages, all dispositions, and all backgrounds come through a martial arts studio’s door. Sometimes, they’re people with chronic pain, sometimes they have heart issues, sometimes they’re diabetics. 

A healthy body is not a necessary requirement for recreation the same way it is in the military or the police. In a healthy martial arts school, you will find instructors who are more than happy to work with you and find solutions that fit your needs. Unless you take a boxing-type martial art like Kickboxing or Muay Thai (and even then), you will be hitting air 90% of the time.

It’ll take time to work out your limits and to find alternative options. However, it will be up to you find those limits. Stay in touch with your doctor. Over time you will learn how to discern between good pain and bad pain, and you’ll be better able to moderate what you can do and how long your participate. It’ll also be up to you to keep your instructor updated.

As for which martial art would work best, I’d actually advise you to start with what you want to be learning (90% of success begins with interest) and work your way around to finding a studio in your area who’d be willing to make the accommodations you need. Those are the people you want to be entrusting your safety to. Those men and women are the good beans. Work with the people who want to work with you towards your success.

When you have a disability or chronic pain here’s what you do when looking for a school:

1) Start with a martial art that interests you.

There’s absolutely no reason why your disability or injury should stand in the way of you learning what you want. I guarantee there is a school out there full of martial arts masters who’ll become a second family to you. So, you should start with what you want. Want to fight like a ninja turtle? (I did when I was five, okay.) Run over to imdb.com or somewhere similar to figure out what the martial arts used in the movie were. Once you have that in hand, go to the internet and look up videos on the Tube. Want to study that? Great! To Google!

2) Do research over what is available in your area.

This is the tough part, your choices are going to be limited based on what’s available and feasible to reach. You may not find what you want available in your area. Google for the local martial arts schools in your area (this goes faster once you have a beat on martial arts you want), and see what comes up. Find one you like? Read the reviews, and make sure to look them up on other review sites like Yelp. Make a list of several (yes, several) you’d be interested in. Always have backups in case the first doesn’t work out. You’re probably going to want family schools, but go with what you want. You’re a customer, and if you sign up, you are going to paying them to provide you with a service. Keep that in mind.

3) Make the call

Once you have the schools and the numbers, give them a call. Most martial arts schools have someone working the desk and reception while the instructors teach. This is the person who makes the appointments and handles the gear.

Ask them if it’d be possible to visit the school, make an appointment, and look in on a class. (You don’t need to be upfront about your needs yet.) This is a common practice for students scouting out schools, so no need to be shy. I recommend looking in on an adult class as it’ll be easier to talk to those students after.

Remember, this is a business so they’re going to try to sell you. If you get easily flustered remember to write up and bring a list of questions to ask that you wrote up beforehand.

4) Look in on a class

Before you sign up for the first lesson, look in on a class first. Half the success of any martial arts program is going to be how well you sync with the people who are going to teach you. Watching a class lets you scout out an instructor’s teaching style and talk to the students without pressure. Come a little early so you can watch the students file in, how they interact with each other, and the warm ups.

Think about it like dating. You want a match who works for you.

The general feel and attitude of a good school is one that is relaxed. The teacher is in good spirits, humble, and explains easily. The students look happy when they’re on the floor, they’re in a good mood, social with each other both before and after class, and everyone is generally happy. They’re focused when they’re on the floor. Students who are happy with their school will try to sell you on it if you ask. They’re enthusiastic! You are looking for a warm, friendly, relaxed, and happy environment.

Trust me, you’ll know it when you see it.

You don’t want to be in a school that’s controlling, where the instructor is uptight, angry, or yells at their students. If they’re prideful or act like the source of all wisdom, then you don’t want to be there. You don’t want a place where the students seem unhappy. If you walk into a place like this, leave. You don’t have to bring up your health issues. Know it’s not for you. Look elsewhere.

5) Talk to the instructor

Whoever you talk with on the phone will probably have told the school’s owner or instructor that you’ll be there, so don’t be surprised if they seek out out either before or after the class. If they don’t and you like what you see, introduce yourself. Express your interest and ask if you can set up an appointment (either now if you like it) or at a later date where you can talk more. Let the instructor sell you on their school.

You can either bring up your health issues at this point, or later when you talk to them again. See what they say. It is important to be upfront about it because whoever you will be training with values your health and safety. That is part of their job. Do not forget it.

You will, probably, find plenty of instructors who’ve worked with students that had health issues before. They’re either going to say thanks but no thanks, (if that’s the case, look elsewhere, you want the masters who want you) or they’re going to ask you some questions about your specific needs.

If you decide you like this person and their school, make an appointment to take the first beginner’s lesson. (This is usually free! Sometimes, you get a free gi too! Heyo!)

6) Take the First Lesson

What it says on the tin. They may ask you about your needs again, if they don’t remember or don’t bring it up then remind them. Anyway, take the lesson, see how you feel.

Like it? Like the price package? Yay! Sign up.

Don’t like it? Repeat steps 2-6 with another school.

7) Double Check With Your Doctor (Bonus, Important Step)

I’d double check your needs and discuss this course with your doctor in step 2, but do it again anyway. The school may ask for your medical documentation anyway, and you will, of course, need to sign a waiver. Have a list of everything that might possibly go wrong and what the signs are when your wrists have had too much. Give it to your new instructors, they will put it in your file and reference back to it over your time spent training with them.

8) Start Taking Classes

You’ve made it to Step 8. The last step. The big kahuna. Enjoy your new martial arts life. Remember to keep working to build the bond of trust between you and your teacher. Don’t be afraid to bring up your needs and remind them if they forget.

When I was a little bean, I broke my leg. During the latter half of my recovery after I finally got off the crutches, I still had specific activities I couldn’t engage in. I went back to my martial arts school, and started training again. I went from not being able to run (so I had to do other exercises when everyone else did) to not being able to jump (No jumping till June) until I was finally free. (”You can’t jump yet, right?” “No, busabumnim! I can jump today! I can jump!”) My instructors were with me every step of the way, easing me (twelve year old bean) back into it so I could test for my black belt the next year. It was a slow process, but it happened.

In the right school where you feel comfortable and trust your teachers, it’ll be the same for you. There’ll be things you can do, and things you can only do a little, and maybe things you can’t do at all. That’s not a mark against you.

The most important thing here is honesty. Your limitations are not insurmountable. A good school with good teachers will figure out how to work around them, and if you sign on that is what you will be paying them to do.


To my martial arts followers, please leave enthusiastic recommendations of your school and your master in the reblogs or comments so our Anon friend here gets an example of what to look for in their search.

Thank you!


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Nine Steps for Training Techniques

So, we get a lot of training questions on this blog and, personally, they’re almost always hard to answer. Not only is training a very involved process, it’s also fairly difficult to break down even when you’ve been on both sides of the teacher/student relationship before. There is no set way to do it, and every technique varies in complexity. However, let me lay down the steps of learning a new technique.

Step One: Explanation

After warm ups, your instructor calls you over and gathers you together. They tell you what you’re going to be learning and, often, why you’ll be learning it. The “why” trends towards programs that focus on practical application (military or self-defense) or a simple basic explanation of what the technique is. Explanation is often coupled with demonstration.

The point is to get the intent behind the concept down.

Step Two: Demonstration

After they’ve finished, they’ll usually call on the assistant instructor or (depending on safety) a favored student from the audience. This student is usually one of the ones who have excelled in their training. The teacher is comfortable with them experiencing the technique firsthand without seeing it, and trusts them to follow instructions without questioning or putting up a fight.

Teacher then proceeds to demonstrate the technique. First, they show it fast and at full speed for effect. The student will rarely be able to follow fully, because they don’t know what they’re looking at. Then, they break the demonstration down step by step and run through it slowly so the students can follow while explaining each step in technical detail.

Then the teacher will perform the move again, so the student will get a better understanding and better conceptual idea.

You will always see the teacher demonstrate first before practicing yourself, even for very basic techniques like stances or footwork. Step by step demonstration, or call on a student who knows the technique to demonstrate before the class while they explain.

All combinations will be broken down step by step first before they’re brought together. A student will not learn the cross-step axe kick or slide front kick for example until they’ve learned the cross-step and the axe kick separately, and never will they begin with a partner unless the situation calls for it. (Exemptions being: grappling, chokeholds, joint locks, and others that require hands on for practice.)

Step Three: Step-By-Step Practice

Unless the technique (like some grappling or throws) specifically requires practice with a partner, this practice will be done without a partner. The student will begin performing the technique in its broken down form, step by step as their teacher calls out the number or name associated with each part.

For example, when you’re first learning to kick it’s often broken down like this: (from the beginning fighting stance) chamber, kick, recoil, plant. Each step pauses and holds, this serves a double purpose of not only teaching the student how the kick works but also building strength in their legs and allows them to work on their balance. Some kicks like the sidekick require a full foot rotation of 180 degrees on the stability leg that is simultaneous to the kick itself in order to remain balanced and to turn over their hips. Slow reduces strain on the muscles and limits chance of injury.

While the student might prefer to rush, the step by step practice is where they gain the fullest understanding of the technique and where they will come back to when they want to tweak or correct mistakes they’ve been making at full speed. It does a better job of building up their strength and flexibility due to forced full second holds, ensuring they are less likely to injure themselves when moving on to the next stage.

Step-by-step comes before you get to hit anything or swing in the direction of your partner. Sometimes, step-by-step can be the entire half hour practice.

Step Four: Put It Together, Slowly

What was practiced in pieces is now put together, and still usually performed in lines and on a count. The student practices the technique, sussing out the new problems that come from acting in a single smooth motion. The beginning stages are practiced slowly, and how fast a student grasps the technique will define how quickly they get to move on to the next stage.

Again, slow reduces the risk of injury and allows the student to get in tune with their body, finding out where in the technique they’re having trouble putting thought into action. They may understand the concept, but whether they’re body can follow is another question entirely.

Step Five: Put It Together, Quickly

Now that the student has gained understanding and can move with relatively less chance of hurting themselves, they get to go at full speed. Whee! Practice over, and over, and over again.

Step Six: Practice With A Partner, No Touching

Then, the students pair off and practice their new techniques together. This helps the student get a better grasp of distance between themselves and an opponent. The other student gets practice watching the techniques, memorizes the pattern, and grows more comfortable with fast moving objects coming near their face.

Step Seven: Hit the Pads

Hitting pads can come before partner practice. (And there are many different kinds. Big shields, handhelds, etc.) The point of pads is to allow the student to go full out without risking injury to themselves or someone else, they get a sense for what physical resistance and impact feels like so they can suss out the other problems they have with their technique or inside their own minds.

This is also where practicing with wood or other dummies comes in. You want to get around to punching or blocking hard objects, you’ve got to learn how to punch first.

Step Eight: Spar

A free spar is different from only being allowed to spar with specific techniques. There are many different kinds of sparring, all with different rules. The point of sparring is not just to simulate a real fight, but also to get the student used to the feel of physical resistance in a less tightly controlled environment. The point of sparring is practice.

Step Nine: Conditioning

I’m kidding, this isn’t a step. This is built in at every step. We’re taking a break. Time to… RUN WIND SPRINTS. Pushups. Situps! Burpees! Perform front stances around the track. Go jog it out. Come back, now when you’re body’s nearing exhaustion, to practice all over again.

Trust me, it’s harder when you’re tired.

Rinse lather repeat for every single technique in the character’s arsenal, and rinse, lather, repeat for when they practice them together as combinations.

Some Myths and Misunderstandings:

“Best In Class”: this is what that status earns you, by the way. You get more responsibility and taking a turn at being the test dummy getting thrown around the room. This is who the most popular kids in the dojo are, what their popularity gives them, and why they’re looked up to. If you just paused and imagined a couple characters squabbling over who sensei’s going to throw this week, congrats. That’s it.

I’ve been on both sides; the one who looked up at the school’s shining stars, and eventually became a star others younger than myself looked up to. A person whose skill they envied and who they wanted to be like. Status in a martial arts school isn’t like high school. Popularity is based on respect, and that’s decided by time, effort, and investment. Usually because you’re the “last man standing” i.e. still here after everyone else quit.

Often times, the most popular members of the school will be those out of reach. These are the older students who work as assistants for the instructor on the floor, or are seen practicing while waiting for their class to start. What draws attention to them is their enviable skill, and how easy they make advanced techniques look. I suppose we’ve all dreamed about beating up the seniors as freshman, and eventually came to realize how silly that was. If you want a rival for your character, this is the wrong place to look. You want a contemporary who is good but still at the same level they are.

Talented? Let’s Work You Harder: It doesn’t matter how talented a character is, they still have to go through the same steps as everyone else. They might move through them a little faster and get more frustrated with the process when their instructor takes them back to basics, but it’s worth knowing that the more talent one has then the more responsibility they will given both for their own training and that of others. There will also be higher expectations. Status is earned on the floor through the acquisition of skill, dedication, and effort. The one who persists and keeps at it will come out on top in the end. Talent offers a leg up on the competition, but it doesn’t secure victory.

My Master is Sadist: It is not uncommon to feel this way, though it’s usually only true in the same way as your well-intentioned gym teacher or coach. Physical exercise sucks all around. It’s messy, it’s sweaty, and at some point (no matter how good you are), you’re always going to feel like your arms are giving out. Huffing and puffing up and down the hill, freaking out about missing a step when climbing bleachers, etc. There are masters who are sadists, but this is not what they look like. We don’t attain skill or endurance through osmosis. The truth is our biggest barriers are in our minds and we often don’t know ourselves or our capabilities as well as we think we do.

Understanding Violence Makes One More Violent: Not in those who gain a real understanding of it, when you’ve proven your ability to yourself then you don’t need to with others. Demystifying violence is on the same level as demystifying sex, once you understand how it works it’s a lot less magical. The idea of punching out the high school bully is a lot less appealing when you know the consequences (and the bully is a lot less terrifying), just like waking up to an electronic baby squalling at one in the morning reminds us that safe sex might just be the best way to go.


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So how does one go about training elite, loyal fighters in a non-abusive environment?

By… not abusing them?

I know that the whole “training for martial combat is inherently abusive” is a popular concept, but it doesn’t work that way. Normal training is a slow process, and elites are the culmination of a process every single martial artist goes through. They are the ones who worked the hardest, who went the furthest, and continued long after everyone else stopped. An elite is the one who devotes their life to their art. From a martial combat perspective, you want the trainees who want to be training. You get your trainees to engage and commit to their training without forcing them because they already want to be there, and it not only works… it work better. I know. It’s an amazing concept, you get better results without abuse.

There are no elite warriors who were not once willing participants, wholeheartedly devoted and dedicated. Who ate, and breathed, and slept, and dreamed their training, who made it a foundational aspect of their whole life. A core aspect of their identity.

They became an elite because they wanted to be and because they worked hard for it. They passed all their tests, ground their way out through the muck and the dirt. Through the sweat, the tears, and the frustrations. Who celebrated their successes and mourned their failures.

Every training program will have a different metric for what makes someone capable of entering the ranks deemed elite. However, there are very specific general metrics for requirement which most follow. They will be people considered at or near the top by their instructors, who are experienced, and who have already completed the basic requirements. They will be martial artists who are in the highest belt rankings before this training or soldiers who made it through Basic with distinction and, perhaps, have field experience where they have shown a solid track record. They will be volunteers. They will be the ones previously identified as the best of the best by other trainers and commanding officers. They will either be chosen from the field or asked to apply. Offered, not ordered. Then, they will be “trained” as in they will undergo a stress test of their physical and mental limits that serves as their training.

When I say phrases like “considered near the top”, “shown exemplary skill”, and “served with distinction”, I don’t mean raw talent in someone untested. Raw talent is nothing but potential, and potential is worthless in someone who will not or is uninterested in making the most of it. These are the people who have already proven themselves, often above and beyond the call. They are chosen now because they have the potential and the drive to reach an echelon (often highly specialized) beyond that of the average trainee.

If you learn nothing else, learn this: any elite candidate is a classic overachiever.

One of the major purposes of normal training is to push a trainee beyond what they believe is physically and mentally possible for them to achieve. The extreme version of this is, well, it’s extreme. The point isn’t toughness, though. That’s far too simplistic and silly in concept. The point is to create a situation for the trainee to realize their true potential, that breaks all the boundaries of what they believed to possible. This is why high end of martial arts often feel like magic. Whether it’s staying awake, active, and functional for a full seven days, breaking nine bricks in a single strike, or bending a steel rod with nothing but their throat, you’re seeing someone who has a far better grasp of the true human limits than the average person.

Outside the real world, most authors are attracted to “abusive training” due to the angst factor. They often make the mistake of assuming that regular training is abuse (and taken to the wrong extremes, it can be), and mistake the purpose behind the extremes. They also think one can skip the boring, technical aspect and jump straight to those extremes. Again, mostly for the angst factor and to create a sub category of the trope Cursed with Awesome, which i like to call: Victimized Into Herohood.

In the real world, the theory behind abusive training isn’t that abuse makes you stronger (though many abusers and some abuse survivors have this outlook), it’s that the threat of death and desire to survive will make the subject work harder. That the desire to live is universal, and that it’s as good as the desire to learn. You’ll find this method used in cults, because its purpose is to ensure a specific kind of loyalty.

In the real world, that doesn’t get you past the bare minimum. So, all that abuse is just to get past the first mental hurdle for basic training. Do not mistake basic training for elite training. Never do this. You’ll find far more abuse (if it happens at all) happening at the beginning of training rather than at the end. You’ve got to learn to flap before you fly and expecting someone to achieve FTL by chucking them off a cliff is pretty damn silly. No one would expect a prospective student to be a black belt on day one.

The confusion, I think, most people have is with the intensity of the physical training. You will ask them to push beyond their physical limits, but that’s not abusive. They also consented to it first. Your working with someone who wants to be training, who has committed. You don’t put a gun to their head to say, “do this or die.” The point of pushing in this environment is not to break them, but rather to show them that they can do more than they realize.

Extreme training works best when the other person wants to be there. You will never be able apply more pressure or drive to someone via outside sources than they can apply to themselves.

Dragging some random schmuck off the street and beating the shit out of them misses the point. When we’re talking abusive training, it’s purpose isn’t to make you tougher, it’s purpose is to convince the trainee to commit. If they aren’t inclined toward it anyway, then they’re a bad candidate. The end point of the abusive outlook is to get your trainee to the point where they’re a willing candidate. That doesn’t produce elites though. Elites come from trainees who want to excel, not the ones who just want to live.

You cannot make an elite from a trainee who isn’t willing.

You can’t do it. 90% of an instructors job is to provide structure and opportunity for students to excel. That’s it. They teach, yes, but the student has to choose to learn. Being the best or competing for the opportunity to be the best, requires a step even beyond the choice or desire to learn. It takes real, honest to god commitment, devotion, sacrifice, not to mention time and energy. After all, you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it think.

Like with anything else, an elite is born from the trainees who worked the hardest in basic training. The ones who pushed themselves, the ones who maybe struggled in the beginning but kept at it, the ones who were up late practicing their techniques after everyone else had gone to bed, and the ones who proved themselves in the field or to whatever criteria qualified them for this next step. You don’t get elites through abuse. You get elites through willing candidates, and then just train them the normal way. Elites aren’t training or talent, so much as they are personality. These are the people who want to be there, they’re willing to commit and do whatever they have to do to win. You put them in competition so they build each other up, then you cull. By culling, I mean removing the weak and sending them back to where they came from. Usually, these will be returning them to the positions they already occupied. You know, how it normally works?

The mistakes the inexperienced make when writing training is that they often believe:

1) That all martial combat training is what you get from training Special Forces.

2) That the Special Forces training is what makes them elite.

No, Special Forces training itself is the culling process. The point isn’t to instruct, so much as it is to test the limits of the trainee and how far they can (and are willing) to push themselves. These are people who have already proven they excel in regular combat environments, they exceed beyond the expected limits. They have been trained, they are now taking the next step.

Martial Training is a process involving multiple stages, it takes time, investment, and a great deal of energy. The creation of an elite or an elite unit doesn’t happen overnight, or over a few weeks, or even months. It starts with molding the raw materials through the basics. Then, if they prove themselves worth the time/show their mettle, they get to try passing the tests where you’re kept awake and active for a week straight.

The true point of extreme training is to push the student far beyond the point they believe to be their upper limits. Our minds instill false expectations and false limits based on our beliefs, our understanding, and our desire for self-preservation. The point is never to break and remold, but rather to introduce the trainee to their true capabilities.

However, the trainee needs to be willing to push themselves. They are the ones who do the heavy lifting, they are the ones who are taking control over themselves, and they are the ones who are breaking down those mental and physical limits within themselves in order to reach new heights. It cannot be done to them, they must do it themselves.

Everyone has the potential to be an elite warrior, they all receive the same training. The question is: will the individual choose to put in the effort and make the necessary sacrifices?

Understand these are active choices, made by people who want what’s being offered to them and are chasing it because this is what they want to be. This is not a choice made for them. They are not the victims of it. It is not a burden thrust upon them. They chose to take it up, then they turned around and pursued excellence with a vengeance so intense it makes the rest of us cry.

The highest echelons of any martial art or martial combat is almost entirely an internal battle. You are your own worst enemy, and you need to break past your own beliefs about yourself. It is a battle for self-actualization, fire forged in blood, sweat, tears, and competition. This is the aspect of high level training that is most often disregarded because it sounds hokey. It’s true though.

Elite training is there to teach us that the false limits we set for ourselves are our greatest barrier, and these beliefs keep us from reaching our true potential.

Regardless of anything else, the end goal of both abusive scenarios and non-abusive scenarios are the same. The only difference is their methods and the initial willingness of their participants. This is also why the holdouts are the ones who die in the abusive scenario. No amount of forcing will ever compete with the willing.


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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.


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I have a female character in her early twenties. How realistic would it be for her to be skilled (enough to hold her own against larger opponents) in hand to hand combat in under two years? If not, what would be realistic for her to master?

It’s realistic, sort of. There’s a few minor issues that don’t
really fit together here, making it (at least seem) unrealistic as written.

Practical martial arts training intended to put someone into
combat lasts far less than two years. You can learn effective hand to hand
techniques that you can then apply in combat in an eight week course. If you’re
coming out of the military or from a police background, your hand to hand
training took, at most, a couple months. Then you go back every six months to a
year, and update it, meaning you learn what others have developed to counter
your training, and how to deal with their counters.

Practical training isn’t so much about spending years
learning how to fight, as checking in often enough to see what’s changed. When
you’re dealing with untrained opponents, it really doesn’t matter. Most people
haven’t been in a fight since high school, and even basic police adapted Judo
from the 70s will take them down.

As we’ve said many
before, most martial arts apply to larger foes without missing a
beat. This is especially true of the adapted Judo/Jujitsu which forms the core
of most American police and self-defense forms. This may be a difficult concept
to wrap your head around, but it is far
easier to put an opponent on the ground when they’re a foot taller, and a
hundred pounds heavier, than the other way around.

Depending on how zealous they are about keeping their
training up to date, someone who underwent training two years ago will have
gone back four to six times, to update. They may have also elected to retake
their training just to, “brush up.” Either way, we’re not talking about someone
dedicating a lot of their life to this.

That said, if you’re talking about someone who signed up at
a Dojo, and has been taking weekly classes, there’s no way to know what they’re
trained to deal with. Some recreational schools will get into practical
applications for their martial art, and offer it as an optional advanced class
for their students. At that point, it’s entirely dependent on her instructor if
she gets in (as an adult, these would probably be open to her if she wanted).
It’s also, depressingly common for a martial arts school to offer, “self-defense,”
classes that are just their normal curriculum with a different advertising
hook. A class like this will not prepare your character for a self-defense

For reference: If you’re taking a self defense class, and
the discussion doesn’t include a serious discussion on situational awareness,
and/or your instructor puts a lot of faith in your ability to overcome via
superior force then you’re probably in the wrong place. Real self-defense
training focuses on creating an opening so you can retreat to safety (if
possible). It’s concerned with your ability to escape the situation and
survive, not your ability to win a fight. Sticking around and dealing with an
assailant is something you would only want to consider very situationally.

Also, in case it’s not clear, when I’m talking about Police
adapted Judo, it is not the same
martial art as Judo. It was derived from Judo after the Second World War, and
the modern martial art still shares some techniques, but there have been
substantial modifications to it, in order to produce something functional for
combat. Judo itself is intended to be a sport martial art, and not something you’d
take into combat.

There’s also no way to know exactly how fast the school
moves its students through, and how quickly your character would advance. These
are all dependant on human interactions and how quickly they learn and
internalize techniques. In a more traditional school, two years is not a lot of
time, but a modern Dojo may move a lot faster. It all comes down to the
instructor’s preferences.

That said, recreational martial artists are not (usually)
trained for combat. There’s a fundamental disconnect between how practical
martial artists approach techniques, and how recreational ones do. They’re
often studying the exact same techniques, but with different goals in mind. The
recreational martial artist is learning to perform it, the practical one is
learning to apply it. This might not sound important, or could come across as
irrelevant trivia, it’s not. This is a large part of why practical training is
so much faster. You’re learning how to do things to your opponent, not how to perform
the techniques correctly.

A character who’s spent two years taking a martial art in a
recreational capacity, may be able to handle an untrained opponent (it’s
actually, fairly likely, assuming they don’t make any critical mistakes, which
is also quite possible), but may face serious issues dealing with a trained
opponent (this will depend entirely on what each character’s training focused
on). Someone who has trained with a practical focus will be able to take on an
untrained opponent (assuming they don’t make any major mistakes or misjudge the
situation). Ironically, they’re also far more likely to attempt to avoid direct
confrontation, and try to defuse the situation non-violently, than a trained
recreational martial artist would.

So, your character’s been training for two years, and you want
to know what she can tackle. If she was simply going to a Dojo twice a week,
that’s not combat ready. That may not even be combat ready, if the Dojo’s “self-defense”
class was run by the same instructors who believe their decade training in a
sport martial art is good enough for “the streets.”

If your character’s been training with a cop, or ex-military,
relative/friend/rando, or been in police sponsored self-defense classes, then
two years is more than enough time to be able to deal with an opponent.

There’s an unrelated issue that Michi would be irked if I
didn’t bring up. (We both started typing up radically different responses to
this question.) Mastery a term that gets tossed around a lot in fiction. In
martial arts, two years isn’t long enough to master anything. It’s not enough time to master the basics, it’s certainly
not enough time to master advanced techniques. Mastery reflects a very high
baseline of skill, and can easily take decades of dedicated training. A
character can become proficient in elements of a martial art fairly quickly.
That is to say, they can perform them correctly, and present a solid (or
effective) technique. But, mastery, in this context, is a much higher bar to
hit, and not one a character will reach within the first few years of starting
a martial art.

There’s one last thing, “hold her own,” is a very difficult goal.
Unarmed combat doesn’t tend to equalize out like this. You either win, lose, or
wear each other out in fairly short order. Combat is extremely tiring, it’s
part of why real self-defense tends to focus on creating an opening and
escaping. Sticking around and trying to win a fight through attrition is a losing
proposition for nearly everyone. Getting a good clean shot in on someone is
usually enough to create the distance you need to escape. It’s not, “winning,”
but, if all you need to do is retreat, that’s all you need. If you’re going to
stick around, then the goal is to take your opponent down quickly and
decisively. Unarmed combat doesn’t allow for protracted dueling the way Wuxia
films present it.


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Do martial arts like Judo or Tae Kwan Do actually help you against a street attacker, or do they only work in controlled fights were the opponent is following the same rules as you?

Judo is actually the basis for modern police hand to hand training, and more
often than not when you have an officer offering a “self-defense” class in
the US, what you’re actually getting is an adapted form of Judo. It’s not the
exact same martial art, but they’re still close enough that a practitioner in
either can instantly recognize and understand the other.

Tae Kwon Do also has a very strong following as a practical martial art,
particularly in South Korea.

These aren’t bad examples. Almost all modern martial arts are like this.
There’s recreational forms, and practical forms. Which makes it sound like
there’s a hard line between the two, like you go out there and learn a
recreational version of Shotokan, and then come back and take a different class
to learn a version you could potentially use in a real situation. That doesn’t

If you’ve trained to be a practical martial artist, your focus has been on
applying what you’ve learned in real world situations. It doesn’t matter if it’s
Judo, Tae Kwon Do, or even Tai Chi (and, yes, there is a practical strand of
Tai Chi), if you trained to apply it in the real world, then you’re going to be
able to apply it outside of a controlled environment.

If you trained as a recreational martial artist, you might not be able to
transition over into a live situation. Again, this can go for nearly any
martial art, even ones like Krav Maga and Sytema, that ostensibly only exist
for practical application.

It is worth remember that martial artists are people; unique individuals,
just like everyone else. So it is entirely possible for a recreational martial
artist to rely on their training, buckle down, and work their way through real crises
without any problems. Or they can attempt that gun disarm they learned and get
shot. Unfortunately, it goes both ways, and being trained with either goal
doesn’t mean you’re going to win.

Two things affect if someone is a
practical or recreational martial artist. Their outlook, and (more importantly)
their instructor’s outlook. If the instructor and the students have conflicting
outlooks, it will cause problems. Not violence, but it will affect their
ability to communicate.

A recreational martial artist comes to learn a new way to relax, a way to
entertain or divert themselves, to learn something new, maybe just to exercise,
or any number of other reasons.

There’s nothing wrong with this approach. It’s fine. I’ll admit,
recreational Ninjitsu practitioners strike me as very odd. But, it’s a
legitimate choice. Also, the whole thing about using martial arts to find a
kind of spiritual enlightenment, or meditation isn’t bunk. You can actually use
it as a venue for that.

A practical martial artist comes to learn how to deal with immediate, human,
threats. In the process, they horrify most recreational martial artists.

As a practical martial artist, you’re learning to use your body as a weapon,
with the expectation that you may, some day, have to.

Either way, you still learn the same stances, you’re taught the same
techniques (mostly), you undergo (most) of the same physical conditioning.

The biggest difference is: For practical martial artists the priority is in
being able to execute the techniques, closely enough, to make them work. You
still drill for perfection, but the ultimate goal is to be able to apply it to
another human being, and that doesn’t require perfect form. You also learn more
about how opponents will respond and behave.

Really, that’s, basically, the difference. Were you taught to hone your
motions into mechanical perfection? Or did you learn how to skip steps in your
katas, because the real goal was to be able to flow between techniques, picking
the right one for this moment and, not perfectly execute a pre-scripted routine
in the dojo?

Practical martial artists also need to update their training periodically. This
is because, as their training is used in the real world, their opponents learn
and, develop ways to counter and exploit it. So the martial artist then needs
to keep their training up to date. The two biggest examples of this are
military and law enforcement who receive regular updates to their hand to hand

The differences also create a serious disconnect between the elements of the
community. I alluded to it above, but, the core here is recreational and
practical martial artists evaluate themselves on different metrics. I’m also
going to stress, this doesn’t make either group less, or more, legitimate as
martial artists. It’s very easy to look across the gulf and say, “those guys
don’t know what they’re doing,” but, it’s a lot like taking a sports car and a
pickup, sticking them next to each other, and then evaluating the car on its
towing capacity, or the truck on its top speed.

Recreational martial artists are, just that, artists. At the upper end of
the spectrum, they can be fantastic performers.

Practical martial artists are much less interested in looking good
(generally speaking), the purpose is to give the practitioner more options for
dealing with someone who is trying to do them harm. In comparison, they’ll look
sloppy. Hell, I can admit, I look like a terrible martial artist, most of the
time, but, I was always far more concerned with being able to use my training
to provide a degree of safety.

It’s also worth noting, both groups of martial artists can actually get
pretty omnivorous at times, when they’re looking at other martial arts. You
never completely lose your first style, but sometimes you just see something
neat and “borrow” it.

There’s a weird gray area here, which is really in the recreational side, the
competitive martial artist. These are people who participate in MMA,
professional boxers, or other prize fight circuits. They’re training to deal
with an opponent within a controlled environment. In a one-on-one situation,
they can potentially handle themselves, but they haven’t really been preparing
for combat. This frequently results in a few problems. They go way too hard,
and they don’t (usually) know how to handle multiple attackers.

We’ve said this before, many times, but multiple attackers are a serious
problem. They are exponentially more dangerous, even for trained combatants. The
problem is numbers. Fighting more than one person is a balancing act as it
substantially increases the openings an opponent has. It’s a situation where
the inverse of Hollywood is true. Multiple attackers are the most difficult to
deal with, which is why the media always has characters fighting multiple
attackers to the point where it has become commonplace. The truth is, no matter
what your skill level and background, two on one is a dangerous situation to be
in. Forget bigger numbers, an extra person can seriously mess with you. There’s
a real reason why the military works in units and cops, generally, travel in
pairs. Sport martial artists are (slightly) more likely to overestimate their
own abilities, and wade in when they’re outmatched.

For a lot of sport martial artists, when they do get into a fight, they tend
to apply their training, which is true for nearly everyone, but it’s a problem
because they’ve trained to go full throttle. Without moderating to the
situation they’re in, this results in some really messy beatings. Once the
police are called in, they view it as an egregious overreaction, and we end up
with another story about a punch drunk fighter unable to distinguish real-life
from the ring. And before the incoming ‘but’ arrives, I’ve heard the stories
about third degree black belts who did try a gun disarm in a real life
situation and got shot.

The way I’ve phrased it sounds like there’s some insurmountable gulf between
recreational and martial artists, but that’s not actually true. I’ve known a
lot of recreational martial artists over the years who were fantastic people,
and learned a lot from them, and vice versa.


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In my story, I have my main character learning how to defend himself (fist fighting) from his friend who is literally a body guard. How would someone teach their physically weaker friend how to fight? (While trying to not hurt them too much)

Okay, beating on a student isn’t training, it’s sadism. You see this out of popular media a lot. The idea is, that it somehow makes your characters more badass when they come out the other side. The reality is, you don’t learn anything except what getting hurt feels like.

You will see some physically demanding calisthenics in martial arts training, but that’s more about building physical fitness and conditioning. It’s not about beating on the student. That said, a lot of disciplines will also use it to push the student to learn to expand their limits, and try to teach them philosophical clarity through adversity. At the risk of offending some martial artists who follow this blog, it’s not critical for teaching self defense. Also, I’ll stress, I’m talking about exercise. Strenuous, exhausting, exercise. Not beating on the student.

Good training involves showing the student what to do, explaining how to do it, walking them through the techniques. Correcting their form. Practicing. Correcting their form. Practicing. Repeating until they can do it right. Move to a new technique. Repeat. Teaching them to connect what they just learned to a previous technique. Correcting the transition. Practicing. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

You train techniques starting with the foundation of the style, and then branching out into more advanced techniques. Usually this means starting with simple strikes, before moving on to holds, ground fighting, kicks, throws, advanced strikes, and weapon forms. Though the exact order varies based on the master’s preferences.

Depending on the master, training may include a detailed explanation for how techniques function (not how to perform them, but when and why they are used). Complex discussions on combat psychology. Or it may simply involve cryptic comments designed to provoke the student into philosophical enlightenment. Generally speaking, practical martial artists are far more prone to talking about why, but this really is about who the master is, and what their perceptions of “proper training” are.

Second, martial arts are built around the idea that you’re going to be dealing with opponents who are physically more powerful than you are. You learn to fight so that you don’t need a raw strength advantage.

I don’t know what your character would emphasize in training. Self defense is about situational awareness and creating avenues of escape; not being the better fighter. That said, there there are strands of self defense that focus on using the minimum possible force, while others advocate using lethal force to protect your life. Your character could easily end up in either camp, based on their background and outlook.


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What would be the 1st things a teacher would teach to students who aren’t new to martial arts but have studied either a completely different set of techniques/style or a set of techniques/style that share some similarities but is still different?

They would still teach them how to stand and they would still start at the very beginning.

Transitioning from style to another doesn’t automatically allow you to skip over the basics. In fact, the basics become that much more important. All martial training is a re-training of the body’s natural responses and muscle memory is very confusing. Doing one will not necessarily allow you to jumpstart into another. You’re actually much more likely to fall prey to the minutiae. Getting caught between a technique in one style and the technical details of another will lead to confusion during a fight. It’s a costly mistake, a deadly one. In some ways, it’s faster to train someone who has already been trained in another style because they grasp the concepts faster. However, it’s also slower because you also have to retrain or find a way to harmonize their body’s now natural responses with this new style. Even for two styles that are very similar, the differences can be vast and the last thing anyone wants is to see their student die because they decided to skip necessary steps.

The early stages of training are the most important.

I said it in the other post, each style has their own unique way of going about training and everything is slightly different. Those differences can create drastic flaws in the techniques that they’ll be trained in if they’re not corrected. You can never completely rewrite their foundation, but they still have to learn the new rules in the same way that any student would.

If you’re going to write a student of two different martial arts styles, then you’re going to be beholden to both of them. Thorough research will be needed on one and then the other in order to understand the transition and the conflicts between the two styles when it comes to training in more than one. This is also why it’s best to do one and then the other rather than two at the same time, two will lead to conflicting signals and constantly force them to unlearn what their body recently learned which sets back their progress. Unless the student works very hard to assert the second style as primary, the first one they’ve learned will always make up their “base”. This will be true even if they don’t use the skills at all as the stylistic tendencies inform their body’s movements. These qualities become more apparent within an individual style due to the proclivities of different teachers. It extends beyond just martial arts too and into other physical activities, a character raised in ballet will still subconsciously carry themselves like a ballerina even after they’ve switched over.

And, sometimes, even in the same style when switching to an additional discipline such as a weapon discipline will also return to basics. The student will spend the first day learning how to stand with a sword, hold a sword, and balance a sword in their hands long before they start learning the techniques.

The basics of training work like this:

Learn to stand.

Learn single techniques while standing without stances.

Learn stances.

Learn to move in single line in stances with no techniques.

Learn single techniques in conjunction with stances.

Practice moving forward while doing technique in stance until student becomes comfortable with single technique.

Put techniques together into combination of different moves. Have students practice in a single line.

Teach students “form” comprised of techniques, which includes transitions into multiple different angles and turns.

A basic beginner form from Taekwondo would be:

Stand in beginning stance/ready position facing instructor. Turn left into basic fighting stance, slide front kick into double punch. Hold. Breathe. Turn right into basic fighting stance, slide front kick into double punch. Step back to turn toward instructor into fighting stance, front kick, front kick, front kick into double punch. The whole of the form takes place on a T shape rather than a single line.

As training progresses, include more complexity i.e. different stances and kicks. Always return to beginning when adding additional training or new concepts.

There are plenty of aspects of martial training which can (and often are) short changed in order to speed students through the process, especially when they’re on a condensed schedule with a limited amount of time. The basics are not one of those things. A broken base leads to a broken trainee.

Basics are what save your life.


What would be the very first thing a teacher would teach a group of students learning how to fight hand-to-hand?

They’d teach them how to stand.

It’s not that they’d teach them a variety of stances, no. They’d actually re-teach them how to stand, how to spread their weight, where their feet are supposed to go, and how best to balance themselves. They’ll usually spend the entire first lesson teaching that with a lot of modifying the body’s position to hold it. This is practiced on the first day and, sometimes, the second until it’s second nature.

The reason for this is: base.

All students need a solid foundation and it begins with your feet, your body, and how you hold yourself. Your base is the first and most important skill you’ll ever learn in any martial arts program, it informs every skill you are about to acquire. It’s important to remember that nothing about martial combat that is “native” or “natural”. It’s a learned skill.

Your foundation is necessary to be able to generate power and to take hits. It’s about being able to properly balance in order to do the techniques. To keep your back upright, your gut tight, your shoulders spread, to breathe from the diaphram, to bend the knees slightly, and lean forward onto the balls of your feet rather than leaving all your weight in your heels. Training in this is central to a student’s ability to perform well and to survive. Without an understanding of balance or of the body before strikes, without understanding the pieces which make up a greater action.

It’s actually up to the individual teacher as to whether or not they’ll explain why this is to their students. I suggest you do because most audiences genuinely don’t know.

Every style has a different way to stand and every school has a different way of teaching it. Some spend more time on it than others, some less so than others. Sometimes they build it in with learning to fall/roll, where one slaps the ground to spread the force of the fall.

It’s a very “hands on” experience for the students. The teacher will spend a fair amount of time readjusting their body. Prodding the spine so they open up the chest, nudging their feet wider apart, resetting the hips, and poking the stomach. Later in training, they may bring a tool like a light stick to test their ability with a few smacks but that won’t be on the first day or the second.

I cannot express how important this actually is and how often it gets skipped, because it’s either considered to be uninteresting or the author genuinely doesn’t know.