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Three Stages of Developing Expertise

What if the point of martial arts training was to become invincible, as opposed to impressing others with visually entertaining technique? What if we trained to attune natural movements to a wide variety of possible assaults, rather than developing complex techniques for one-upping other competitors in a contest?

Accomplishing great things with the appearance of simplicity and ease is recognized as the sign of the true master in any area of endeavor. As years of study and experience accumulate, an aware student learns to let go of unneeded actions. The goal is true economy and naturalness in motion, and that means letting go of clunky methods held onto out of complacency or lack of vision.

New students tend to rely on crude forms of tension and speed to out-gun the adversary. This immaturity unfortunately characterizes many martial arts today. Indeed, the illusion that extremes of conventional speed and power represent the heights of martial prowess is the first blinder to be removed on the way towards masterful movement.

If raw speed and power are the “infancy” of the martial artist, tricks and complexity are the “adolescence”. Admittedly more advanced than crude speed and power is the concept of tricky strings of techniques to overcome the adversary through sheer out-performance. This approach to fighting also contains the roots of its own limitations though. The technical fighter must continuously start over to learn how to beat each new “flavor of the month” martial fad, which runs the risk of being defeated by younger fresher technicians.

By advancing to the “adulthood” of harmonized energy does the warrior begin to grasp the potential for invincibility. At this advanced stage of experience, strength is no longer matched with raw strength, speed is no longer matched with conventional speed, and technical expertise is no longer matched with complexity of technique. The mature fighter fits into the assailant’s movements and intentions and can thereby use an adversary’s very motions as the means for creating the adversary’s downfall. Navigating skillfully in the heart of danger, the master warrior is in command of his or her surroundings.

Applying these physical lessons in the intellectual, emotional, and spiritual confrontations of life is equally as important as the ability to handle physical assailants. From our exploration of the rarified levels of advanced training comes our realization of a grander form of effortlessness in accomplishment. Through the insights gained from years of consistent training, we learn to perceive danger as it begins to take form, rather than only responding once it is on its way against us. Subduing the kick before it flies out at us, avoiding the staff before it swings at us, and countering the choke before the assailant even comes to grips with us are the means to use our abilities to foresee the future and then act accordingly in the present.

Come see me at Festival. I’ll show you exactly what I mean.

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