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Monday, March 7, 2016

Generics vs. Brand Name

This is something that seems to keep coming up lately, and I've been trying to sort it out.  I stumbled across this podcast ( ), which helped clarify some of it. At least, it gave me insight into the way a certain segment of the population might process things.

Note: some of this is going to sound like I’m dragging morality into this. I’m not, but when I’m drawing distinctions between modes of thinking, I’m going to identify more closely with one mode than I do with another. So, apologies if I sound judgmental when I’m not trying to.

In certain parts of the martial arts community, you'll often hear people talking about the martial arts as a "toolbox". Someone will show a new technique (where "technique" means X-Y-Z sequential movement training), and say "it's just something to add to your toolbox", or "it's good to have more tools for the toolbox."

The toolbox is an interesting analogy, if you think about it: a toolbox is, well, a box. It's filled with a bunch of tools, but there is not by necessity any rhyme or reason to the contents of a toolbox. There are no restrictions on what you put in, unless you impose them from the outside. My own home toolbox is a pretty good example of this: there's a couple of hammers, some screwdrivers, a small handsaw, a bunch of screws, nails, and other fasteners, and none of them particularly well thought out choices. I honestly don't know why I have two hammers, for example. I assume one went missing at some point, or something.

I think there is a segment of the population that thinks of the martial arts like this: as a collection of disconnected techniques that can be lumped together in the "box" that is a person's martial arts practice without any particular concern for how those techniques fit together or not. These people think in very generic terms: there is striking, grappling, self-defense, knife fighting...but it's all kind of the same stuff. Sure, there's a distinction between Muay Thai and Savate, but hey, it's more tools for the toolbox. Do a little of both, take what you like, and go for it. You want two hammers in your toolbox? Throw 'em in.

A person with this mindset might practice a jab from boxing, a wing chun punch, and a backfist from sport karate all at the same time, without worrying about how the different parts fit together. The result is that people who think in these terms will be perfectly comfortable practicing “striking” or “grappling” as a generic practice, because to them, the practices are all interchangeable.
I don't have a good tool-related analogy for the contrasting viewpoint, mostly because I'm not experienced enough in fields that require using tools to come up with a good analogy. At one point, I though a toolbelt might make sense (since the belt forces you to be more circumspect about your tool choices, I would assume), but I don't really know if that works. I'm just going to lay it out.

The contrasting viewpoint is to look at each martial art or training system as a seperate, well SYSTEM, that has it's own rules and processes. Interchange between these systems might be possible, and they might not. Certain files transfer between Mac and PC. Other's don't.

People who think in terms of systems are generally more interested with or concerned with the specific principles, guidelines, or concepts laid out by their chosen art or arts. They might look at a particular technique or drill and say “that’s cool, and it works, but it is not compatible with what I do.”

Story time: many years ago, I split my time between Sityodtong and the Somerville Boxing Club (my boxing coach split his time between both places). At one point, I noticed that there were details and drills that my coach would only share at SBC…so I asked him about it. “A lot of the guys at Sityodtong,” he said “they don’t want to learn how to box. They tell me they want to ‘work on their hands’. I don’t know what that means. I’m a boxing coach. I teach boxing.” To my coach, boxing was a specific system, with its own inherent rules, guidelines, and principles. It wasn’t just a generic way to “throw hands”.

At this point, I’m far more in the second camp than the first. I think in terms of systems, and tend to evaluate new material through the eyes of those systems. I’m not denying the potential effectiveness of other systems. What I am doing is giving myself a filter to decide what things are valuable, and what things are not.

For example--I see a lot of self-defense videos. I run most of them through the PDR/SPEAR filter. Is what's being shown compatible with the principles of the PDR/SPEAR? If the answer is "yes", cool, I might be able to use this. If the answer is "no", then I don't want to use it. It might be a cool drill, or whatever, but it doesn't fit into my larger practice.

I try to do something similar with my Muay Thai coaching: it's a little tricker because Muay Thai, at least as I have learned it, does not have a set of principles articulated anywhere.

I'm not entirely sure if this divide is true, but I think it is. If I'm right, it explains some of the confusion I find myself in when talking to certain people. I don't think like a "toolbox" guy.

Food for thought.

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