Learning How to Fight
Afraid of fighting? Last thing in the world you would ever want to do is be in a fight?
Fighting is against your spiritual beliefs and everything your parents ever told you about being a good human, isn’t it?
Isn’t fighting something bad people do, and good people avoid?
Why in the world would anyone want to fight, or imagine that learning how to fight would be either fun or a spiritual growth process?
Real fights for survival, for your life, or the lives of your family, require normal morality to be suspended. Fighting for dominance is less severe and requires your opponent to submit. Fighting for either survival or dominance is serious business. Yet, most of us can easily avoid these situations by using a tiny bit of awareness and a large dose of politeness and courtesy.
As terrifying as these encounters can be, my experience has been, that learning how to fight can be loads of fun and extremely playful. Learning real self defense skills can be an absolutely transforming experience for many people. Starting from a place of constant fear and worry people learning how to fight can become self-confident and fearless based on having tested and honed their skills.
In our imaginations we conjure training scenes from movies and nightmares and imagine terrible things will happen to us while we learn to fight. We are sure we will be severely beaten and injured in the process. We imagine that our teachers and classmates might laugh at, or mock, our feeble beginner flailing’s. It is reasonable to assume you will lose when you are beginner. It is also reasonable to assume you will not look cool or heroic for a while. It is easy to imagine yourself getting hit in the head or body or kicked and it hurts. And if someone does hit you in the head or kick you, it usually does hurt, some. Maybe a little, maybe a lot. Usually, it is only a little. It almost always hurts less in reality than it does in your imagination. It is also true that in your imagination all of these drills and sparring exercises are far more brutal or scary than they are.
Yet you are not in a martial arts movie, or comic book, you are in reality. In reality everyone has to go work tomorrow. And, if you show up with a black eye and bruises, eyebrows will be raised, and questions will be asked. None of us need this. None of us are training for Pro MMA, or to defend the village from bandits.
All of us can benefit from having the confidence to defend ourselves based on actual skills we have thoroughly tested. Then we learn how to avoid conflict altogether with a combination of a powerful, fearless presence, great situational awareness, courtesy, and humility.
The good news in any good school no one is going to do any of these things. If they did, how could they pay their bills after everyone was thoroughly and soundly beat up? If you just beat the heck out of people from their first day, few people learn anything, and most drop out too soon, or are lost recovering from needless injuries. Accumulating injuries is often a by-product of lots of hard sparring and intense fighting drills. Instead, in good schools, everyone works together as a team to improve and grow.
The even better news, the great news is that when you have good people to train with, people who you can trust to respect your health, all of these exercises can become super fun! I have made some of the best friendships of my entire life from the training partners I practiced with regularly. In addition, many of these partners where from completely different professions and walks of life. This diversity of friendships is truly enriching. Starting out, everything can be closer to playful tag and light pressure. There is really little need to progress into heavier levels of pressure or power for most people. Just get fantastic at the light pressure and power drills and build up your speed and technical precision. Work with lots of people of different types and get them to help you figure out how to succeed. Get all these diverse partners to all contribute to the special secret sauce you are cooking. Then when it is time to dish up a big plate of “Whup Ass” at a friendly, local tournament, you are ready to be the head chef!
All the classic combat arts are systems that progressively build skills. Each of these has a different method preparing its “secret sauce”.
Good schools start progressively with simpler easier drills and skills, and lower levels of power, speed, and intensity, and then increase power, speed, and intensity as they practice more. Then step by step everyone develops the right skills and then puts them together. If both partners are concerned with each other’s safety, and going at an appropriate pace, then it is easy to avoid injuries and learn. The right attitude is to think about training your partner. If you think I am going to serve my partner to the best of my ability by doing my side of the drill as perfectly as I can, with the most focus and control I am capable of then I have the right attitude.
When learning how to fight in a kung fu school, or class, or training group invest in training your partners. Invest in creating the best training partners you can. If your partners are always beginners, it is going to be hard for you to achieve a high level of skill while only training with them. The partners you want are those with enough skill to challenge you a little. You want partners about your own level, maybe a little better or a little worse, but not much. Although it is possible to learn a lot with a much more advanced partner, getting constantly beat or dominated is discouraging, and inhibits developing courage and fearlessness. When you and your partners work together to build each other’s skills then everyone levels up together and improves as a group. When everyone has this attitude then your “Kung Fu Family” becomes a tightly knit team. That is fun!
The idea is to create the circumstances where everyone successfully builds the skills to defend themselves well and feels confident in their ability as it improves. To properly train your partner you go only as fast, or as hard, as they can handle and succeed in the drill. If you go too fast, or too hard, and your training partner can never succeed in the move they are trying, then they never experience success with the technique, they never learn how to execute the technique correctly, and they do not develop confidence in their ability to use the technique.
To be able to use a technique you need to learn how to do it correctly and then you need to practice on people of different body types, personalities, and skill levels until you can do it successfully with all of them. Then you will be much more likely to successfully use it with uncooperative partners or hostile opponents.
The point here is certainly not to make it too easy for your partner or let them think they are doing the technique correctly, when in fact they are not. If you allow someone to think they are dodging your punch by intentionally missing them, to avoid accidentally hitting them when they didn’t dodge, you are cheating them. By cheating them, I mean you are training them to think their dodge will work when in fact it will not. Then, if they get in a real fight, and they need to dodge, their fake skills will fail them, and they will get hit hard. People need to know honestly if they are doing their moves correctly or not. This requires courtesy and respect during training, and cooperation between partners. It also means doing your best to train your partner by not intentionally missing them. Just don’t blast them with full power, just a light tap or gentle touch will do!
In learning how to fight, if your attitude is your partner is a piñata for your target practice and you try to hit them as many times as possible, when they are not yet ready, you are a terribly immature training partner. Instead train your partner up until they can dodge the best punches and kicks you can throw. Then when you spar, they can challenge you to be your best, and help you level up your game. When you both challenge each other week in, week out, and then go to a tournament, you will both be ready to compete and represent your teacher, school, and style well.
When you are used to playful, skillful sparring with expert partners, you will play with anyone who is not an expert even though they are trying to fight with you. It is really embarrassing for them and even more fun for you…
And yes, soon we will all get to spar, push hands, and practice partner forms together again as soon as we all get vaccinated!!!
Learn more about Northern Shaolin at the 10,000 Victories webpage here!
Read another article about learning how to fight here!
Listen to the Ancient Wisdom, Modern Health Podcast here!
Visit our Facebook page here!
Sign up for our weekly newsletter with more great articles, photos and videos here!