The first principle guiding the Western way of martial arts is that of objective. All activity must be goal oriented and that goal must be clearly defined by the coach or the athlete. The goal will depend on several factors (ex. training vs. competition or drilling vs. sparring) but it is pointless to operate without a goal in mind.
Let’s take the example of competition. The goal is, simply, to win. This means that all activity performed by the athlete, and all instructions given by the coach, must lead toward this goal. As the competition begins there will be a plan to employ the best strategy, tactics, and techniques toward the goal of winning. Anything within the rules should be used to achieve victory.
The training environment is the same. Each drill should serve a specific purpose and be performed in a way that achieves that goal. No activity should be performed simply because it is traditional. There is much wisdom in tradition and most traditional methods persist because they work. However coaches and athletes must evaluate everything critically. Drills designed to train particular aspects of fitness must match up with those goals. Situational drills in grappling must be reset if they athletes are no longer training from that particular situation.
Much of this may not sound particularly Western. After all those with an Eastern philosophy use drills and try to win. The difference in my personal Western philosophy is that nothing which is peripheral to the objective matters at all. Obviously one must be honorable and exhibit good sportsmanship but considerations of aesthetics and stylistic conventions are irrelevant the goal at hand. Use any legal technique regardless of its origin, play the rules of any competition to your advantage, and never lose sight of the win.
Eastern arts often emphasize a Platonic notion that there is one perfect form of a particular technique. It must be practiced repeatedly for a lifetime in an ultimately fruitless search for perfection. Moreover, it seems that more attention is paid to performing beautifully than effectively. Consider how many traditionalist judoka denigrate the “bent over, wrestling, unorthodox gripping styles” of Western players even after losing to double legs or pick up throws. It will be said that that isn’t good judo. As a Western grappling practitioner I find that the best takedown is the one that lands my opponent on the ground with me on top, regardless of how ‘beautiful’ it is.
Philosophically this is a form of grappling pragmatism (after the epistemology of such men as William James). The truth of a technique is proven by its success in the arena. There is a long tradition of such thought in the West. Among the ancient Germanic cultures battle was a form of trial. Two men or two tribes fought and God was on the side of the victor. This is why among these tribes the god Tyr was simultaneously a god of justice, duty, and war. As the northern Europeans became Christianized in the middle ages this tradition was maintained. God was on the side of the victor. Those accused of a crime had recourse to a duel with the accuser and victory exonerated him. God is truth and truth is effective outcomes.
Define your objective, plan for that objective, move toward that objective with all available resources, and never forget that objective in the heat of battle.
PS – I highly recommend two books for those more interested in this Western viewpoint:
- The Duel and the Oath by Henry Charles Lea
- Knightly Dueling by Jeffrey Hull
Brian Jones, PhD
Battle of Teutoberg Forest