3 Simple Ways to Make All Martial Arts Techniques Work

Share this with your friends
Structure is destroyed
Performing a technique in training

You may have either read or heard through research that techniques are useless in actual action. There is also the belief that techniques are for practice only. The reason for this position is that the “opponent” is always cooperating while you perform your chosen technique.

If you hold to either or both positions, you are both correct and suffer from looking at the situation completely incorrectly. In this article, I am going to discuss 3 simple ways to make all martial arts techniques work when you want them to.

Why Techniques Fail in Real Situations

You get attacked in some way. You begin performing a chosen technique and you only get so far before the opponent does something that doesn’t fit within the constraints of the technique. In your mind – and in the eyes of many others – the techniques failed. It didn’t work against a resisting opponent, right?

The reason it doesn’t work is that you are stuck on continuing a technique that no longer applies to the moment. If you maintain this mentality, then ALL techniques are doomed to failure in EVERY situation unless you are practicing. When you are practicing, your “opponent” is following the technique and allowing you to perform it. If he/she does something to counter or neutralize the technique, the technique fails.

Follow the road

Oops!! Should have zigged when I zagged!!

Picture yourself driving a car. The road is straight and you are doing fine. Now, the road starts to curve. I’m sure that we will agree that not turning the steering wheel would end badly. So, you turn the steering wheel and the car turns to follow the road. But, you find out this is no normal curve. It is an “S” curve. Once again, not adjusting the position of the steering wheel is a really bad idea.

Martial arts is much the same way. You are moving along just fine and then something changes. You might get grabbed, struck at, kicked, pushed or pulled. This requires you to do something; usually some type of technique. But, the opponent – recognizing where you are going with this – changes their tactics and does something else that doesn’t quite sync with the technique you are performing.

This is where many people – possibly yourself included – say that the technique failed. In truth, the technique was very successful until it was no longer valid for the situation. The technique failed no more than turning the steering wheel to the left when the road curves left.

If the road changes its nature by curving right, does that mean that the left turn failed or that turning left no longer applied to the moment? So, when the opponent moves in a way not covered by the currently used technique, you have to either change techniques or suffer from what the opponent does.

Move Yourself, Not the Opponent

Try this experiment. Take a piece of paper in your hands in such a way that your palms are pointed upward and the paper is essentially laying on your palms. Now, turn both palms toward each other and bring them together in a fluid clapping motion.

Did you fold the paper or did you just clap you hands? The truth is, the paper folded because of its relationship to you at the time your hands came together. You did not fold the paper. The paper essentially folded itself. You just moved your hands. You could perform the exact same whether the paper was there or not.

Martial sports
Fighting an opponent in a superior position is not going to help here.

The same thing goes for martial techniques and the importance of practicing with and without a partner. We practice without a partner to get the feeling of moving without contact to an external object. We learn to move ourselves. Then we introduce another person into the equation to get the feel of our relationship with that person and connect with them in a way that they become part of us.

To fight against the other person almost becomes an isometric exercise. To prevent this, we learn to feel the other person as if they are a part of ourselves and then we can move them freely without much effort. Then our techniques work because we are not manipulating an outside force. We are moving ourselves.


Turn Technique into Principle

A common wrist grab technique is a combination of two principles; if you take the time to analyze it. The technique involves pressure and torque. In that perspective, all wrist grabs are the same. Pressure in a give direction on the wrist and torque at a 90 angle to the pressure will eventually wind up locking the wrist into place and enable you to control the elbow.

There are basic principles used in EVERY technique. Some only require two (2) – like the wrist lock – and some require more; such as the hip throw. It is much easier to make a technique work under pressure if you are more focused on the principles behind the technique than the technique itself. Plus, many techniques share the same principles. This means that transitioning from a technique that is not working to one that will is easier because of the shared principles.

How do you turn a technique into principles? That’s the easy part. Just practice the technique continually until you start seeing the principles that make it work. It’s a bit challenging at first, but as you gather more techniques, you will start to understand the underlying principles a lot faster.

Turn Yourself into a Better Martial Artist

The irony of the whole process is that a technique works if you don’t rely on it and don’t get stuck on using it even though there is a lot of resistance. Performing any technique should be effortless and easy to perform. If the opponent catches onto what you are doing, you will be able to feel it and the new direction they are taking.

Self Defense Example
Self Defense Situation

That is when you transition to a different technique. The one you were using isn’t applicable to the current situation and it would be sheer folly to continue trying to use it. The idea is to help the opponent progress to their own demise; not fight them and make them do what you want them to do.

Martial arts is a practice in reverse thinking and requires a person to view things differently than the average person. That’s what takes it so long to learn. You literally have to train yourself to think differently. When you do, however, the results are profound and impact the entirety of you life; not just when you are in combat.

If you have any questions, comments or additions you would like to make, feel free to add your perspective; just please keep it polite and clean. I will keep all posts – positive or negative – as long as 1) It is worded politely and professionally, 2) There are no disparaging or profane remarks and 3)If you disagree with any portion, you have empirical evidence to back up your position. Thank you for your viewpoints in advance.





Author: Brent Duncan

2 thoughts on “3 Simple Ways to Make All Martial Arts Techniques Work

  1. I learned a lot from this post and especially appreciate your analogies. When you mentioned ‘reverse thinking’ it reminded me when my husband was trying to teach me “Qigong” breathing. Also, I was wondering which school of martial arts do you recommend for the beginner?

    1. You have to understand that the body – moving effectively – works on structure. Without structure, there is no balance and too much effort expended to achieve goals. Think of a baby learning how to walk. When the child starts, there is a lot of wobbling and the child eventually goes back down to his/knees because he/she is tired. As we gain proficiency with standing and walking, we learn to do so more efficiently so we can last longer on our feet. It’s the same with martial arts except you can decide what you want to learn. Do you want to learn kicking? Then systems with an emphasis in kicking is what you are looking for. Tae Kwon Do is relatively popular and focuses on leg work with a little bit of hands mixed in.
      Are you looking for flow and efficiency? The Kali, Silat Suffian Bella Diri or similar Malaysian or Filipino arts are good for that. The rest of the systems are good for teaching the basics of structure and body mechanics, but – and this might sound weird – the Yang Style of Tai Chi Chuan teaches structure, relaxed power and grace under pressure.
      The biggest question – for any person starting in martial arts – is “what do you want to accomplish?” Are you looking for combat sports, traditional observance and health, personal protection or combat systems? Once you decide on that, it’s not so much a decision as to which system to start with, but which ones to avoid.
      If you are looking for personal protection, I would avoid any school that has trophies in the windows or association patches on the uniforms. Self protection schools are usually less formal and do not stand on traditional garb, shoeless practice and repetitive forms. Traditional schools usually focus on health benefits and demonstration competitions. There is a lot of formality and a hierarchical structure. A combat sports school looks more like a boxing gym with all the trimmings than a martial arts school. they usually have some form of ring in the school somewhere, weights and a lot of heavy bags. They usually have tournament trophies in the window or on a shelf somewhere. Combat systems are all about survival battle. They are the ones who focus on attacking as a defense, weapons disarms and “controlling the situation.
      Though the desire for self defense training is definitely there. Not many people actually train for reality. You will find many schools that claim to teach self defense, but they really don’t.
      My best advice is to be picky. Watch a class or two. Does it look like the proficient people are not expending much effort, but the “opponents” are bouncing off them or go flying when they twitch? That’s something to pay attention to, but if they mention “chi” as a source of power, it’s a sign of narrow and uninformed thinking. Find a teacher who can explain what is happening in a scientific manner. There is no room for mystical beliefs in reality-based practices. I hope this helps.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *