Each martial art has a set of pre-defined techniques. These are typically defined by the founder as a collection of traditional moves. In progressive styles, these techniques evolve over time.
I like to refer to a fighter’s portfolio of movements as “degrees of freedom“. New degrees of freedom adds to a student’s portfolio. For example, a boxer has two basic striking tools: their fists. Although limited in this regard, their degrees of freedom is vast. I’ll explain this in a moment. A kickboxer, on the other hand, is restricted to four striking tools: both fists and both feet. In Muay Thai, there are eight attack vectors – since elbows and knees are added. Kickboxers have twice as many striking tools as boxers, and Muay Thai practitioners have double yet again. In street fighting there are no limits – strikes may come from headbutts, foot stomps, and other nasty attacks. But degrees of freedom extend beyond a style’s striking tools.
Every combat sport can be broken down to a granular level of attack vectors, defensive moves, and maneuvers. Let’s say that a kickboxer has 100 degrees of freedom, meaning that they have 100 ways of moving, defending, and attacking. A boxer, on the other hand, may have 500 degrees of freedom. How is this possible when they have only two attack vectors? It’s because boxers learn to “dance”. They are experts in slipping, bobbing, weaving – in and out of range. A kickboxer learns how to play with distance, but doesn’t learn the intricacies of phone-booth fighting at such a granular level, compared to a boxer. For example, a Karate Ka learns forward, backward, and side to side movement, but doesn’t learn the hook (punch), nor do they learn to slip. Where a Karateka learns to block, a boxer prefers to slip because they consider blocking a waste of motion and adds delay to their counter-strike. For this reason, many martial artists facing boxers are confronted with movements completely foreign to them. For every maneuver, a boxer may know five to ten more. This gives the boxer much more latitude in how they dance in and out of their opponent’s range.
to a fighter’s portfolio.
A boxer is well versed in “phone booth” fighting. In this close range, they are most powerful. But against a kickboxer, a boxer has challenges of their own, since they need to watch for foot attacks. In a confrontation, the kickboxer wants to maintain distance, while the boxer wants to slip into phone booth range. A boxer knows that in close range the kickboxer has few degrees of freedom, and this is a weakness they want to exploit. A good boxer can confuse their opponent to the extent they have no idea what to expect, and when or where the next attack will occur. They can “hypnotize” their opponent with movement. Understanding your opponent’s strengths and weaknesses is an essential part of combat sports.
A traditional martial art may significantly restrict a student’s degree of freedom, effectively creating a glass ceiling. They are only “allowed” to learn a set of moves, specific to that style. Traditional approach says, “in our club, we do techniques this way, so you need to learn our way”. In this sense, tradition overrules progressiveness. Modern martial arts, such as MMA don’t restrict learning, dispelling the notion that there is a right or wrong way to a given technique. MMA assesses a technique on the merits of its effectiveness as compared to techniques that preceded it. Each technique is challenged in real combat. Progressive martial arts works on the premise that, “currently this is the best techniques until someone comes up with a better one”.
About the Author
Gabriel Dusil has been a practitioner of Martial Arts for over twenty years. Originally he trained in the traditional style of Shotokan Karate. Gabriel has also trained under Sensei Martin “Sonic” Langley in the United Kingdom and currently trains with Karel Ferus in Prague at the Ferus Fitness Fight Club, fffc.cz. More recently he focuses on circuit training, strength & conditioning, and kickboxing.
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