A lesson in principles

All the times and places I have traveled to around the world in my quest not only to further my knowledge of martial arts but also to meet many masters to see if I could learn their ways has brought me back to the Principles and just the Principles. Why do I say this; well so many people are obsessed with styles, techniques and systems that they have lost sight of the understanding of principles. Principles make every martial art work. Martial arts instructors these days just teach techniques and never really get down to the crux of their art. They make things work on their students because the student complies not wanting to upstage the master. I encourage my students not to comply and to try and escape when I apply a technique. Now I should say that we do do techniques but this is only a way to learn the principles contained within them. The techniques are not the arts the same as styles or systems are not the arts. If you do not understand this then you need to study your martial arts in more depth. Now before I list the main principles in which there are over three hundred and fifty I will say that a lot of them may not make sense to you at this time and maybe it is because you are still doing shapes and copy paste martial arts instead of really learning martial arts. Do not worry a lot of things have only just started to make sense after fifty years. When I first read The Book of Five Rings by the undefeated samurai Miyamoto Musashi who retreated to a cave in 1643 and wrote this manifesto on swordsmanship, strategy, and winning for his students and generations of samurai to come, he created one of the most perceptive and incisive texts on strategic thinking ever to come from Asia. To me on first reading it did not make sense and I thought why is everyone raving about this book I barely understood a word of it. I placed it on my book shelf and did not return to it for some years later, when I did a few more things started to make sense and so it went on as I trained things were making more sense, now I read that book and think what a real little gem he wrote. I don’t know if people will look at my writings that favourably but for what it is worth I really hope some people gain some benefit from them.

The principles that we have to implement are as follows; Number one is Posture when you have good posture you can then perform things effortlessly. It is not only your posture but you have to make sure that you take your opponents posture on every move you make, but it is not only physical posture you also have good mental posture this is making your sure your mind is not clouded with thoughts that would hamper you performing any techniques, if you have you just had an argument with your wife then your mind is not in good posture. You could also be ill at the time of defending yourself so your posture may be a little off. Then we have to consider environmental posture; is it wet outside or icy, what is the terrain like, where are the escape routes etc. So posture is so much more than just standing up straight.
Next is Footwork when you can move well, quickly forward and back, side to side, zig zag. Then your opponent can not hit you even if he wants to. Foot work can get you into the correct range, move you away from danger and it is no coincident that UFC athletes spend forty percent of their overall training on it, watch any good instructor, do they move their body as a unit moving their feet as they move their hands. We want to avoid at all costs what I call conducting (just waving your hands). This is where you plant your feet and work off a platform. Your platform must be moving all the time, yes you can form a base but it must be a moving base. Keep your elbows in , when you keep your elbows in, meaning tight and close to your sides, you then have your maximum strength available to you, when you use your foot work with elbows in you don’t have to reach and so you won’t loose posture when dealing with a larger opponent.

Absorption is next as when you absorb an attack you create space for you to move, you also do not conflict with the attack by meeting it head on, an example would be if someone grabbed you, you would not tense up but you absorb and go with the attack, now explaining this in text like all the principles is rather difficult, these principles need to be felt and transmitted using energy one on one. We can also use absorption internally by making space in your own body this is a higher level of absorption. Deflection is the next, after you have absorbed the energy you then deflect it. You deflect it so as to take the sting out of it if that makes sense. You can deflect it off to the sides or back into you. Projection is the next step after you have done the first two, you can project the energy any where you want, you can even mix it with yours and then give it back to your opponent or you can send it passed you or into other opponents if it is a multiple attack scenario. So it is Absorption, Deflection, Projection, here is the cool thing you can do these in any order, you could deflect, project and then absorb.You could also project, absorb then deflect. The great thing is when you really understand the principles you can play around with them as there are no limit to the combinations as we will see.

The Centreline principle means always staying on line, it means not giving up your centreline, if you are always on centre then your opponent can’t have it. You then can control the attacks coming at you. Now I will say that being on centreline alone is not enough you also have to control the space.

The last really important principle and may be the most crucial is Management of spaces, I cannot stress this principle enough, there is a good reason why it is on the last page of Miyamoto Musashi’s book. It has been translated as the book of void. The management of spaces means that if you are in the correct space at the right time you don’t need to block, you can hit your opponent with out being hit, you control the fight. Now this of course is easy to say but not so easy to do. So a recap of the main principles are; Posture, Footwork, Keep your elbows in, Absorption, Deflection, Projection, Centreline, Management of spaces.
Here I will list some more important principles that must be taken into account when practising your martial arts. I will not give a detailed explanation of each one as they need to be felt and experienced first hand and in doing so only then will they start to make sense.

Here is the list but I am sure you can find more to add and if you do please let me know as I would love to study them with you;
Three way action, subconscious non thinking, entering, hip to hip, never go back on the same path, no flat edges, energy transfer, focus to the smallest point, minimum effort for maximum effect, control the distance, create voids for your opponent to fall into, grounding your opponents energy, continuity of motion, no gaps, timing, awareness, hit with your hip, preemptive strike, occupy the space of your opponent, blending energy, don’t evoke flinch response, focus energy to the balance points, don’t build structure, leading, diaphragmatic breathing, don’t give up position for submission, avoid head on collision, mobility, sticking, control, internal balance, mental distraction, non looking, economy of motion, create a moving base, eliminating orientation, transitional flow, limit opponents options, non doing, blend with your opponent, slow and smooth and smooth is fast, absorb back into your centre, don’t engage muscle, bypass structure and barriers, offensive orientation, no arm movement without a corresponding foot movement and vice versa, stability, oneness, match your opponents energy first, sensitivity, defensive orientation, make your opponent do what he wanted to do before he wanted to do it, spirals, circles, dots, three dimensional movement, mental stability. hips lead legs follow, kinetic loading, don’t open a gap without filling it, drills build the skills. circle within a circle, first move dictates, link don’t bind, precision over power and timing over speed, through not to.

Sorry for just listing all of the above when some of them may not make sense or have much context at this time. Well I am not sorry really they are there in order to make you think about your art and the way you approach things. If you have a thirst for knowledge and really want to study then it will do you no harm at all in exploring all the principles listed above. Remember it is principles and not techniques that will further your understanding of the martial arts.

Thank you for reading the blogs and for all your support keep well

GM Angelo