Skill, like quality, can be
difficult to define, but most people intuitively recognize skill when
they see it. In the words of Barbara Knapp: “A skill is the learned
ability to bring about pre-determined results with maximum certainty;
often with the minimum outlay of time or energy or both.” For a martial
artist, that “pre-determined result” is a successful defense and
counter-attack against an aggressive adversary. In performing this task,
the martial artist often displays timing, agility, quickness and focused
power. Aside from the violence involved, a demonstration of martial
skill can be both elegant and graceful.
How does one develop such skill?
The steps are outlined in our tenets of training.
This is the foundation of all learning. In martial arts, knowledge can
be fundamental, as in learning how to perform individual techniques
such as blocks, kicks and punches. Or, it can be complex, as in learning
how to apply techniques in dynamic situations. Knowledge may apply purely
to the realm of physical movement, but it may extend into the realm
of mental skill, such as the ability to read an opponent or the development
of tactics and strategy.
The teacher may offer knowledge
to the student, but it is up to the student to transform that knowledge
into usable skill.
Every student will realize early on that there is a profound difference
between knowing a technique and being able to perform it well. Physical
adaptations are necessary for the beginner to be able to perform even
minimally effective techniques. These adaptations include muscular strength,
flexibility, endurance and coordination. All such adaptations are achieved
through repetitive practice and attention to detail. Such practice requires
Development of skill isn’t easy-and it isn’t always fun. Sometimes
it is necessary to make yourself practice on required movements. Everyone
tends to enjoy some aspects of training more than others. For example,
some people hate forms but enjoy sparring. To fully develop your skill,
however, you should give your best effort to all aspects of training,
even those you don’t especially like, in order to derive the benefits
such training offers. That requires a strong measure of self-discipline.
Knowledge is useless without the effort to learn, but even such effort
yields limited results unless you maintain your effort over time. It
may be tempting to skip practice when you’re tired or not in the mood,
but if you truly seek excellence, you will practice even when you don’t
feel like it. Even when progress is slow, even when you feel discouraged,
you keep trying. That is perseverance. You must persevere in order to
reach your fullest potential.
This is the ultimate outcome of serious training, the goal to which
you aspire. Remember the definition: “…the learned ability to bring
about pre-determined results with maximum certainty; often with the
minimum outlay of time or energy or both.”
For a clearer understanding,
let’s examine some finer points.
These are physical skills that may be divided into two categories:
- Simple motor skills
- Complex motor skills
Simple motor skills are basic
body movements that are common to many sports and everyday activities-such
as walking, running, jumping or throwing. In martial arts, many reflexive
movements are simple motor skills that can be employed effectively in
Complex motor skills are intricate
or sequential movements that require a superior control of many different
body parts. Advanced martial art skills require complex movements that
must be continually refined and polished.
Martial arts require a great deal of mental activity. As previously
noted, the development of tactics and strategy and the ability to read
an opponent are mental skills. On a more fundamental level, however,
the martial artist who strives for excellence must analyze his own performance
and correct his errors. This demands much mental effort.
Closed skills/open skills.
These might also be referred to as “mastery of self” and “mastery
of others.” Generally, the former must be achieved before the latter.
Closed skills are those not
affected by external factors, such as the unpredictable movements of
a live opponent. Basic techniques, forms and one-step sparring are examples.
Solo practice exercises, such as basics and forms, allow the martial
artist to develop complex skills without the added pressure of responding
to an attack. In one-steps, the opponent’s movements are predetermined,
which allows the development of timing and focus.
Open skills contain an element
of unpredictability, which can affect a martial artist’s effectiveness.
A bigger, stronger, faster, or even more skillful opponent can present
a seemingly insurmountable challenge, but a skillful martial artist
seeks, nonetheless, to determine his adversary’s weaknesses and exploit