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Thursday, March 3, 2011

Minimalism II

Randy asks, rightly:

So this begs the question- how few moves are too few?

What about a boxer that threw only one punch?

The best wrestler in the toughest division of my HS wrestling perfected a double leg takedown. He would get the point, let his opponent get up, and do it again. Nobody could defend against his 'perfect' takedown technique.

Phil Nikero went to the baseball hall of fame with only 1 major league quality pitch.

what moves are you incorporating in your style that you would never actually use?

It’s a great question; in my online explorations about minimalism, I’ve noticed that there seem to be segments of the community that do take the philosophy to (what seem to me) to be ridiculous extremes. Something similar could easily happen with a martial art or combat sport.

As with all things, I think context is critical here. What you can safely/reasonably eliminate will be dictated by the event you’re trying to prepare for. At a baseline, I’d say that you have too few moves when you don’t actually have the tools to address the totality of the situation you’re preparing for.

The boxer with just one punch (a Jab, for example) would be hard pressed if he was suddenly forced into a corner or onto the ropes where he didn’t have space to jab. Worse, if he broke his hand (there’s a reason they call them “boxer’s fractures”), he would have no other tools available to him. You could certainly have a boxer that worked diligently to master the jab (or the hook, or whatever), but he’d likely want to have some back-up tools in case the jab failed (at the very least, he’d need to devote a lot of time to footwork and defense!).

Similarly, while the wrestler Randy mentions doubtless spent a lot of time working that double-leg takedown, I don’t doubt that he had some skill on the ground, and a second takedown or throw that he could use if his “perfect” double-leg failed.

I know I keep coming back to the Judo example, but it seems to work and be pretty understandable (it’s also one I’ve heard articulated most clearly). Most Judo players I’ve talked to say that the good competitors end up using one forward throw, one backward throw, a pin, and a choke or submission. Rick Hawn articulates the strategy like this: you try the forward throw; if that fails, you use the opponent’s resistance to try the backward throw; if the throw happens, but you don’t get the ippon, you go for the pin.

In other words, you need a large enough tool box to address the totality of your circumstances.

Where I think most martial artists fall down in this regard is that they feel the need to collect multiple tools that really do the same thing. How many different forward throws do you need to be good at? Do you really need ten different kicks? In Muay Thai, we basically practice two kicks: the Te (round kick/shin kick/Thai kick, etc.) and the Teep (foot jab/push kick). While I’ve seen guys use other things, I’ve found that, by and large, that’s about all I need. Two kicks, done from either leg, directed a various targets; seems to work well enough for me (and a lot of other Nak Muay).

Are there things I’m practicing right now that I don’t use? Quite possibly…that’s part of what I’m chewing on with all of this. That also gets back into the question of teacher vs. student curricula, which I’ll save for a separate post entirely.

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