Finding the Opportunity in Each Crisis in the Martial Arts

Finding the Opportunity in Each Crisis in the Martial ArtsA couple of weeks ago I had my students working on quick wrist escapes in class. The goal is to slip out of wrist grips by engaging their bodies from the hips then directing their trapped wrist through the weakest part of the grip. The action I was teaching is used against a wrist grab from the front in which the thumb is at the top of the grip.

While the students were training, Chris, the other instructor assisting on the mats came over and asked me to grab his wrist so he could practice it a few times himself. After he got to do it a few times, he went and grabbed my left wrist, but grabbed with the thumb down rather than up. As I initiate the action of the technique, I realized the grip was different mid-movement as I met the force of the strong part of the grip rather than the thumb and forefingers that would usually result in a quick escape. As I sensed the resistance, I reached under his wrist, clasped my hands together, then reversed my hip turning into him, putting him in a type of wrist lock using his fingers to apply the pressure.

Surprised by the unexpected reaction, Chris quickly and urgently tapped, then asked me what I did.

“I don’t know,” I replied honestly. “Let’s see if we can break it down.”

They say the Chinese character used for “crisis” is a combination of the characters for “danger” and “opportunity.” I’ve always thought this was both interesting and appropriate. The way we communicate with words defines the way we look at the world. So if the word you use for crisis always has an association with opportunity, you’re more likely to look for some way in which you can learn or take advantage from the problematic situation. This is a great way to approach both life and martial arts/self-defense training.

Sometimes you’re working on a technique and it just doesn’t seem to work. There are a variety of ways to find the opportunity in the crisis, depending on the situation.

1. Improving your technique. In most training scenarios, the most obvious approach is the correct one. The less experience you have, the more likely it is to be the case that you simply need to spend more time improving your technique. Sometimes, the technique is a bit more difficult for you to apply due to your unique body type, and it will just take more practice for you to make it work. This means you have the opportunity to really learn and understand the fine details of the technique in depth, much more so than for someone for whom the technique comes easily. Oftentimes, the deeper level of understand you achieve when you do finally “get” the technique, makes it easier for you to apply it in varied circumstances, whether it’s a odd sized/shaped training partner, higher pressure training scenarios, etc. It also helps make it easier to teach the technique to others when the time comes.

2. Making appropriate adjustments. Sometimes, due to your unique body type (or that of your training partner), a particular technique won’t work the way your instructor demonstrated it. This means you might have to make minor adjustments to make it work in a way that makes sense for you. If you’re relatively inexperienced, ask for help from your instructor. They will be more qualified to determine whether you need such adjustments or whether you simply need to work on your form more. As you become more experienced, you’ll become more aware of how your body works and you’ll start to become more in tune with what its capable of, so you’ll start to realize this distinction for yourself, and eventually, you’ll be able to explore making your own adjustments.

3. Improvisation and innovation. Not every technique works in every situation. Sometimes you’ll find yourself trying to do one technique and failing, which then requires you to completely change your approach. This may be in a live training scenario, like grappling, sparring or self-defense circles, in which your opponent/attacker may react differently to an attempted technique. Or it could be that your training partner grabs you in a different way mistakenly or just to see what will happen. Whatever the reason, the square peg you originally chose is no longer the right choice for the round hole you’re now facing. Sometimes, you’ll have learned other techniques that would be appropriate in this new situation, and it’s simply a matter of smoothly transitioning into one of them before your partner/opponent can counter it. This becomes easier to do as you gain more experience in your martial art as it becomes more intuitive and you don’t have to “think” about your techniques as much in order to do them. And sometimes, as in my case in the story at the start, your intuition will surprise you and allow you to apply principles you’ve learned in your training to come up with a technique that is completely new to you. This can be quite cool when it happens, because it’s fun when you manage to surprise yourself with what you can do. I don’t imagine that the technique I came up with that day is completely new in the martial arts as a whole. There are only so many ways the body can be manipulated, but it was new to me, and it was surprisingly effective for something I had never done it before.

At first, the crises martial artists face in training are often sources of frustration, and when not quickly overcome, they sometimes make people question whether the chosen art is right for them. As they gain more experience and confidence, they start to trust that the solutions are there and will be discovered through training and good instruction. Eventually, when you’ve been doing it long enough, you look forward to the crises as they become your greatest teachers, presenting new, interesting challenges whenever they arise. Of course, this concept isn’t unique to the martial arts and very much translates to any skill and to life in general, so look closer. Any crisis or difficulty you face has an opportunity if you’re open to finding it.

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