This week, I have been questioning whether I am suited to martial arts training. During the Wing Chun class, I was useless at Chi Sau. Me being rubbish during Chi Sau is not a surprise: it is a weak area of my Wing Chun. The question it raises is how I can be good at free fighting, when I am shockingly bad during a training drill.
I recently added Eskrima to my martial arts repertoire, and the class has been useful in a few ways. First and foremost, I get to test my three years' Wing Chun training against another art. It also gives me the chance to think about weapons, and how I will deal with weapons in a combat situation. Sometimes, though, it is useful in ways that could not have been predicted.
The Eskrima instructor was going through a flow drill with me, when he stopped and said that training with me was like coming up against a wall. In both Eskrima and Wing Chun, there is a relaxed flow to movements, so tension is counter productive during any training drill. In short, I need to relax during flow drills and during Chi Sau.
It's funny how your background in martial arts affects the way you fight. Like a lot of British children at the time, I started with Judo and, being small for my age, had to use a lot of strength to perform throws and overcome some opponents. When the school bullies took their chances, again it was strength that I used to avoid becoming a victim. To be fair, Judo had taught me nothing about how to punch, and I did not have much time to read the boxing manuals in my local library: I picked up what I could, but my modus operandi became hitting as hard as possible, punctuated by brief spells of the grappling I had learned. It was all about using what little strength I had. It didn't help that I was a particularly placid child, so fighting only really happened when I was already angry, meaning adrenaline played its part. Picture a young boy getting through a fight due to sheer determination, and you have the idea.
Years later, I came to Japanese Jujitsu. Once more, I found myself using my strength, only this time I had become something of a man-mountain (I weighed 230lbs/104kg at the time). Lifting my training partners off their feet, slamming them into the ground, putting on a powerful lock or choke hold all came too easily to me. My technique may not have been the best, but I could simply power my way through. It all became too clear to me during my white belt grading: my training partner was in a position where he could not tap out a submission, so he screamed at me that I was about to rip his arms out of their sockets. I felt strong, I felt powerful, but I didn't feel good about it. I realised that, rather than learning effective technique, I was using brute force as a substitute.
If you are not familiar with psychology, you may not have heard of a programmed conditioned response. In essence, a programmed conditioned response is a learned behaviour that is triggered by certain external stimuli. In my case, the response to a perceived physical threat, or anything that resembles a physical threat, is to keep it at bay using force. When training against people who know Wing Chun, or Eskrima, it is not good. It speaks well of my skill level that I can often recover, but the strength which served to keep me safe in my younger years can now be used against me.
Let's also consider self defence. If my conditioned response is to load my system with adrenaline and blast through an adversary, I will have a hard time claiming I used reasonable force. Worse, a reliance on strength quickly unravels when you are up against someone stronger, and there is always someone stronger.
So, maybe learning to relax will mean I actually get better with Chi Sau. Essentially, I must change my reaction to training drills. The irony is that I must undertake a course of strength training, because I am somewhat out of shape right now.