Strength vs. Technique

A Closer Look at a Common Martial Arts Training Dilemma

"Size and strength doesn't matter when you've got good technique."

Many martial arts students have been told this when they fail to throw someone properly or can’t get their training partner to tap out from a joint lock. Meanwhile, a fellow student who’s bigger and stronger manages the manoeuvre just fine.

To those of you who’ve experienced this frustration, let me put your mind at ease. You’re not crazy; Size does matter. But differences in size and strength can be overcome. A student can compensate for lack of technique by using size and strength to their advantage against a smaller partner. This, however, puts them at a disadvantage for learning proper technique. If they train with a partner who matches their strength, they’ll quickly realize how empty their application is.

On the flip side, though they may face more training challenges earlier in their training, students who are smaller or weaker are forced to sharpen technique quicker to compensate for their lack of size or strength. In the long run, these students learn the subtleties of the art faster. But in that early period when a student is struggling to make a technique work, it’s important not to reject a technique, claiming that it simply doesn’t work for you. It may just mean that you’ll have master every subtle nuance of it in order to make it click. But when it does click, you may surprise yourself how easy it can be.

Do try to learn the technique earnestly though; I’ve faced a number of students over the years that claim they’re trying, but what they’re really doing is trying to provide proof that a technique can’t and won’t work. They reject the technique prematurely, mentally shutting out all attempts to correct the problem.

On the other hand, some techniques won’t work on everyone. Someone may have an unusually flexible elbow, making an elbow lock impossible. Another student may not be sensitive to a strike to a particular pressure point. It should be obvious to an instructor whether or not this is the case, so ask him or her to have a look at your application. She may help you adjust your technique to make it work, or he’ll confirm that the technique isn’t suitable against your training partner and will offer a variation.

Don’t make this judgment call for yourself. This limits your learning to what you think you’re capable of when in actuality, you’re capable of more than you can imagine.