You cannot learn body mechanics from a book

Discussion in 'General Martial Arts Talk' started by Bill Mattocks, Aug 6, 2014.

  1. Kung Fu Wang

    Kung Fu Wang Grandmaster

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    First, let's define what a "proper and effective body mechanics - body method" should be. To me, it means "body unification" that

    - All body parts move and stop at the same time.
    - Body push/pull limbs.
    - Shoulder coordinates with hip.
    - Elbow coordinates with knee.
    - Hand coordinates with foot.

    Let's take blocking as example, if you can move your body to be outside of your opponent's striking path, even if you don't block that punch, that punch won't be able to hurt you. So the 1st step is to train how to block a punch without using your arm. How can you do that? You use your spinning footwork to rotate your body. After you get used to do this, you then let your body to pull/push your arm. Your whole body then function as a "whip". That will be the "proper and effective body mechanics" for your blocking.

    The roundhouse kick can be another good example. You first train how to spin your body. After you feel comfortable with it, you just let your body to pull your leg. Your whole body then function as a "whip". That will be the "proper and effective body mechanics" for your roundhouse kick.

    Can you learn this all by yourself? Just

    - relax,
    - spin your body, and
    - let your body to pull/push your arm/leg.

    The day that you train how to use a sword without holding a sword, the day that you will understand what a "proper and effective body mechanics - body method" should be.
     
    Last edited: Aug 8, 2014
  2. Bill Mattocks

    Bill Mattocks Sr. Grandmaster

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    No.

    You can perform a simple upper body block dozens or hundreds or even thousands of times in ways that 'look' right but utterly do not work. Period. Pressure test it and the arm collapses. Do it right and you know it. The arm is locked, the power of the attack passes down the body and is absorbed, the arm may flex but does not give way. The difference can be a fraction of an inch, and it's not going to be the same place for each person.

    Property body mechanics doesn't mean you know how to do a block. It means you know how to take an attack and neutralize it.

    Likewise, with a punch or a kick. You can do hundreds or thousands of them - wrong. They may look right, but there's no power, or they're sloppy, or they're slow, etc. With proper in-person instruction, the punch is devastating, the kick devours the opponent. Once done right, the martial artist literally feels the power, there's no mistaking it when you 'hit it right'. Again, fractions of inches make the difference and those are going to be different for each person. Requires a trained, live, human to demonstrate, and correct, the person learning it.

    I've been doing this long enough now (not long compared to most, so I'm not claiming any expertise) to have worked with some self-taught experts. So far, without exception, they were worthless as martial artists. Nothing they had in their bag of tricks worked the way they thought it did. Nothing they wanted to show me could be made to actually work.

    In honesty, the same goes for a lot of people who trained with in-person instruction, where the instructor apparently was either incompetent as a martial artist themselves or incompetent to pass it along to their students; or maybe the person was just a bad student. In any case, the difference between right and wrong is subtle, but immediately obvious, and my argument is you cannot teach that with a book or a video. The basic form, yes. But not that last fraction of an inch that makes the difference between doing it right and everything else.
     
  3. Argus

    Argus Black Belt

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    I almost agree with you, Bill. But, I have some beef for you to sink your teeth into!

    I think not enough Martial Artists actually give written or video material the credit it deserves. Now, I will agree that generally, you won't learn much from these mediums unless you already have a solid foundation in the martial art, or are, at very least, experienced enough in martial arts to know just how much you're potentially missing. But there's more to it than that.

    I'll give an example regarding video first.

    One thing that martial artists must realize, and admit, is that the art changes from person to person; different instructors neglect, cultivate, disregard, or innovate with each generation. Some elements of the art are lost, others merely changed, and some are improved upon. And while we can (and should, especially in the beginning) just do as we are shown, we should nonetheless be aware of what is being passed down to us, and also what we might be neglecting.

    For me, Video is an amazing tool to provide prospective and insight on my training. As a Wing Chun practitioner, I can go back and watch Yip Man perform Siu Nim Tao, Chum Kiu, and the Muk Yan Jong. I can go and watch other first-generation students of Yip Man such as Wong Shun Leung and Chu Shong Tin practice their forms and teach or lecture. I can even watch my teacher, and my teacher's teacher practice their forms. This is truly amazing when you think about it; it's like having a concrete record of the art. Being that these are forms that I practice daily and spend a lot of time refining and meditating on, having video like this to reference is extremely useful. I can pick up on even very subtle differences, gain insight, and ask questions. And I can regularly refresh my memory and keep myself on track by studying my Sifu, and his Sifu's form.

    Watching video of other highly skilled martial artists can be insightful too. You'll see them put concepts and ideas into practice in ways that open your mind, or solidify what you've already learned. But even more useful is to record yourself. I always record my lessons with my teacher so that I can go back and study them. As I watch us practicing, I can not just see how he does chisao, for example, I can remember vividly how it felt. And I can observe myself and see what I was doing right or wrong. Video, like a mirror, can make you aware of things that you do that you might otherwise remain oblivious to. It can refresh your memory, and broaden your understanding.

    I also read and watch video to get a broader understanding of the art, and develop the right take on it. Many practitioners come to understand the art mechanically, but misinterpret it's application. I've learned a lot about the art by listening to old lectures or reading articles by Wong Shun Leung and his students regarding their fighting experience and the application of Wing Chun. And strangely enough, I have learned equally much by reading medieval fencing treatises, such as texts in Lichtenauer's lineage, which describe a method of fencing based on exactly the same principles - though different weapons and body mechanics, as Wing Chun.

    I'll even point out that there are some very skilled Historic European Martial Artists who are rediscovering old arts that were thoroughly recorded, explained, and illustrated in fencing manuals of the era. These are being reconstructed by contemporary linguists, historians, and martial artists with a excruciating attention to detail and a wide pool of knowledge from practitioners of modern fencing to traditional martial arts, and their work is very impressive.

    Even written material, with an extraordinary amount of work, can pass the test of time and be rediscovered. Martial Arts are, after all, a functional pursuit, and a pragmatic skill based on principles and biomechanics. Learning a martial art is all about self discovery and self-awareness. You can't just rely on a teacher. A teacher can help to guide you, and makes things a hell of a lot easier, but ultimately, it is up to you to use your knowledge, intellect, intuition, experience, and practice to improve yourself and seek out understanding the art. You must be sufficiently critical and self-aware that you can recognize and guide your own habits, or you will never internalize the art with or without a teacher.

    But then, perhaps making us more self aware is the role of a good teacher!

    All that said, I think traditional martial artists can benefit from a more open mind, and active research.
     
    Last edited: Aug 11, 2014
  4. Bill Mattocks

    Bill Mattocks Sr. Grandmaster

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    I believe you have made two basic points, with which I agree.

    The first is that books and video can be useful to an already-trained martial artist. I agree. But one will have (hopefully) learned how to tell good body mechanics from bad by that time. Yes, as adjunct training, books and video can be quite useful.

    The second point (I believe) you made was that there are a lot of bad instructors out there. Sadly, I have also come to that conclusion. Many instructors suck and cannot teach good body mechanics because they don't have it themselves. However, that is just saying that books and video are not much worse than terrible instruction. True, but a sad indictment of both.

    I would therefore have to amend my original statement to say that one cannot learn good body mechanics from a book and video if one does not already have a solid grounding in the arts, as taught by a competent instructor, already in their arsenal.
     
  5. Xue Sheng

    Xue Sheng All weight is underside

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    Said it many times on and off MT.... a DVD is at best a supplement to working with a good instructor.... I will now also add a book to that as well.
     
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  6. Bill Mattocks

    Bill Mattocks Sr. Grandmaster

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    And that's pretty much been my point in this thread. I have met a few who 'taught themselves' from a book or video or both. They set a block and it looks more-or-less OK, but then I crash my arm down on it and they get hit in the face. Or they don't cover their center GETTING the block up in the first place and I punch from the other side and they don't pick it up. They don't understand the difference between a hard block and a soft block, they can't turn a block into a deflection, they have no followup to the block even if it's effective. All of those things are body mechanics, and they require a fundamental understanding through tactile feedback of how their body works when applying the techniques.

    I can use words to describe the moment of time when I set an upper body block and the body settles, hip moves slightly, which puts a roll on the upper forearm which takes the incoming blow on the back of the forearm and rotates; which combined with the movement of the settling of the body (or, as some call it, the tenseness of the body upon impact) not only avoids damaging the arm blocking the blow, but actually propels the attacker's arm away with a force one would not expect to see otherwise. Depending on how good my communication skills are, and how good a videographer I might hire, perhaps I could break that down slowly and carefully and actually give some indication of how it works. But first, we're now talking an entire chapter in a book or segment in a video dealing with one simple thing, and second, they're not going to get it anyway without having someone standing in front of them slamming an arm down on them to ensure that the technique not only works, but 'feels right' when applied.

    Being a good mimic is a valid way of learning martial arts - at first. I see, I do. Then one has to apply it to themselves, and that takes in-person training with a good instructor and a willing partner.
     
  7. Xue Sheng

    Xue Sheng All weight is underside

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    Interesting thing from learning CMA from a DVD. Some of these guys (Particularlry the ones that do a lot of seminars) making the DVD intentionally change things, little things but still a change so if they ever run into anyone who claims to be there student, or in the lineage, they can tell by watching the form if they learned directly from them, or a student of theirs of from their DVD
     
  8. Bill Mattocks

    Bill Mattocks Sr. Grandmaster

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    Sounds like the made-up cities that map-makers used to salt their road maps with, so that they would know if competitors were stealing their cartographic work when making their own maps. Funny!
     
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  9. Tony Dismukes

    Tony Dismukes MT Moderator Staff Member

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    Book: I totally agree. Even with my decades of martial arts experience, I can not pick up body mechanics from a book, even one with really good pictures and explanations.

    Video: I disagree. I can and have gotten a lot of good body mechanics from video instruction. As an example, I recently worked my way through Ryan Hall's Arm Triangle DVD series. My rate of finishing the arm triangle has probably tripled over the last few months based on the subtle details and body mechanics I learned from those videos.

    Some additional random thoughts:

    As others have noted, the more prior background you have in a martial art, the more you will be able to learn from a video.

    A good in-person instructor can make a huge difference, but the reality is that most students do not receive detailed on-target correction from their instructor on every technique they learn. The majority of learning occurs through imitation, following general instructions to the whole class, and working the techniques with a partner (either in drilling or sparring). Many instructors give only limited feedback and some of them give crappy feedback. Despite that, most students somehow manage to learn.

    Some sort of feedback/correction is necessary for learning. In BJJ the most important feedback comes from your training partners. In my first stages of learning from a video, I practice the movements with a training partner and listen to his feedback: "I don't think that's quite it." "That's better." "Wow, that's tight!" The next stage is testing what I've learned in sparring. One clue that I was learning good stuff from the Ryan Hall videos was when I tapped out a BJJ black belt with a move that he didn't see coming. He told me that he felt in no danger up until the point the choke set in. Then he wanted me to teach him the move.

    I do know a decent BJJ blue belt who got his rank through Gracie University and learned primarily through the online videos. That said, he improved a lot by attending my gym for a while. Not so much from the instruction necessarily, but from the available sparring partners.

    I'm not advocating that beginners skip attending a dojo in favor of sitting at home watching YouTube videos. Even if you have a video series that does a good job of working through a curriculum in an organized fashion with high-quality instruction, most students will not have the talent, self-discipline, and collection of good training partners available that they would need to get to any sort of high level or even build a strong foundation.
     
  10. Buka

    Buka Grandmaster

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    I think there's another point we should add.

    If you watch a video of yourself, especially if you didn't know it was being filmed, I think you can learn a lot. There's bound to be
    some little somethings that you didn't realize you did. Or didn't. Especially in sparring/rolling.
     
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  11. MattofSilat

    MattofSilat Orange Belt

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    This may or not be here due to my thread relating to learning from me trying to learn from books, but that doesn't really matter either way.

    I can understand that blocks would be very hard to learn without anybody to test against, as you can never tell if a block works until you put force against it. Would it be safe to say that this is less important when it comes to other techniques such as striking, as you can see striking power much more easily. I would think that a striking technique cannot be THAT bad if learnt from a book unless it is practiced an absolute ton, but there would probably still be issues. However, I would say that those issues are most likely minor issues, and can be fixed without too much trouble unless it has been practiced a lot.

    What about footwork? I cannot imagine there is too much that can go wrong when practicing footwork from another source. It doesn't seem technical enough to be crippled by not being taught it in person. I can imagine issues would arise where situations arise in which standard footwork is not appropriate, but surely you could get the basics down.

    I'm not practicing strikes by myself anymore, but I am still practicing footwork as I don't personally see what can go wrong. Please take whatever I say lightly, as I don't have a lot of basis other than logic and the extent to which my certain book describes techniques (Thoroughly, but there would be an issue if they left things out). What do you think?
     
  12. Tony Dismukes

    Tony Dismukes MT Moderator Staff Member

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    Strikes still need some sort of feedback. Punching the air doesn't tell you if you are generating real power. It doesn't tell you if your wrist is out of alignment in such a way that you will hurt yourself hitting a solid target. It doesn't tell you if you are telegraphing so that an opponent will see you swinging from a mile away.

    Basic footwork by itself isn't that hard to practice. The complications arise when putting it into context. Maintaining good footwork while avoiding a punch and getting ready to counter-strike is a lot trickier than simply stepping by yourself.
     
  13. WaterGal

    WaterGal Master of Arts

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    I think it's because people like the idea of there being some magical secret ancient knowledge out there - that if only they had that book, they could be the best martial artist in the world. Which is fantasy.

    As for the second, the difference is that on a video, you can only watch the instructor do the technique and listen to them explain it their way. In person, the instructor can also watch you do the technique and give you feedback, and they can answer your questions.

    Having someone else watch you and make sure you're doing it right is invaluable. And different people learn in different ways and have difficulty with different parts of a technique, so one single way of explaining a technique may not work for everyone.

    I do think it is possible to learn something from a video or book, to an extent, if you already have a foundation. Like, lets say you already know how to do back kick and some jump kicks, you could learn to do jump back kick from a video. Probably not perfectly, but adequately.
     
  14. Bill Mattocks

    Bill Mattocks Sr. Grandmaster

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    Sounds to me like you agree; you cannot 'learn' body mechanics from a book or a video UNLESS you have sufficient prior training. And I agree. If you have the necessary understanding to put new knowledge into practice, how you get it is less important; it's like handing a mechanic a new tool. He'll figure it out. Hand me the same tool and I'll end up using it to prop my door open in the summertime.
     
  15. Bill Mattocks

    Bill Mattocks Sr. Grandmaster

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    I would have to disagree again, with respect. Footwork can be as critical as a block; I was just using a block as an example that would be easy to follow. Same for punches.

    I know a young man who bends forward at the waist to punch and block. He doesn't think he is doing it; in fact he is sure he is not. But it's easy to see that he is. He needs to get down into his stance and keep his center, or as some call it, his one-point.

    Same for feet. Different arts use different stances, but in all of them, body mechanics are important for strong blocks and strikes; improper footwork steals power and makes you weak. I spend a lot of time encouraging youngsters to straighten their feet. They believe their feet ARE straight, but they're not. Same is true of me; I get corrected on that all the time by my instructors.

    You can see and think you are doing what you see. You're not, at least not if you're like most of the rest of the human race. It takes someone else who knows what to look for to see and correct your mistakes.

    My 2 cents.
     
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  16. swordway

    swordway White Belt

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    I totally agree. I train in South Korea where my masters have recreated all the skills of the Muyedobotongji, from the texts (drawings, hangeul and hanja). They are all killed martial artists and read hanja and hence are able to work with the primary text in the original language. The Muyedobotongji is a Military treatise published in 1795 which numerous Korean MA organisations have interpreted. So successful at doing this have they been that the Grandmaster of our organisation, GM Seok Jang-kyun, spent six months training the Namsan Park team as well as the team from Suwan Fortress. Both teams are professional martial artists performing 3 times a day for tourists. The Namsan team, based in Seoul, have now been performing for 8 years.


    The clip is only short but plenty other examples can be found. Incidentally, two of the performers in the clip I performed with in Ulsan, last year. My skills were rudimentary compared to theirs but one of them, despite his skill with moon-blade, sword, flail and traditional bow, didn't even have a dan grade. Despite this, he was one of the most impressive martial artists I have ever seen and wielded the moon blade with staggering power.

    My point it, the entire Muyedobotongji has been recreated from texts with far less information than a video could provide. Admittedly, all the masters are skilled in tkd or hkd and also masters of one form of gumdo (daehan or haedong.) And as you say, similar recreations are being brought to light with European medieval systems. While the most famous Korean organizations interpreting the MYDBTJ, 'ship pal gi' stick to the 18 'infantry weapons,' our Grandmaster and his team have also resurrected the 6 mounted skills; they use spear, woldo, sword (single and double) and flail on horseback. They also practice traditional Korean archery on horseback but this is not a MYDBTJ weapon.

    I totally understand the reticence of some martial artists to accept anything new or not seeped in an unbroken lineage but I have studied and taught martial arts long enough to recognize talent. Not only have they brought the MYBBTJ back life, but in doing so have created a new style. And all from an 18th century manuscript!


    GM Seok is in yellow.
     
  17. Argus

    Argus Black Belt

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    Indeed. That was one point that I intended to make, actually. Anyone who would claim that it's impossible learn a martial art save for first hand clearly hasn't seen the work of modern Historical Martial Artists.

    Just take a look at Roland Warzecha's sword and buckler fencing:

    Or any of these, for that matter:



    In any case, that's fascinating, swordway. I had no idea that Historical Korean Martial Arts were being recreated in the same manner.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 24, 2014
  18. swordway

    swordway White Belt

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    Thanks, sorry about the first video link, it didn't work or maybe I did something wrong. Anyway you can look both Namsan and Suwon teams up on Youtube. Much of the Korean stuff id only available if you have some knowledge of, and can type in Hangul.
     
  19. swordway

    swordway White Belt

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    I used to be quite dismissive of historical reconstruction because up until recently the bulk of it in the UK was sort of men dressing up and having a bit of schoolboy fun. However, a very real martial streak has emerged which is similar to that developing in Korea. Some very interesting videos, thanks!

    Here's the video that didn't 'upload' earlier.

     
    Last edited: Aug 12, 2014
  20. Bill Mattocks

    Bill Mattocks Sr. Grandmaster

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    You guys are simply proving my point. None of the revived weapons arts were learned in a vacuum. They were studied carefully by people WELL-VERSED in weapons arts, and practised carefully in REAL LIFE so that they could be sure they were doing it correctly.

    Furthermore, with extinct styles that no longer have any living practitioners, one is never absolutely certain that they are doing it exactly as it was done in the past; this is their interpretation and understanding. Which may well be accurate, but we will never know.

    Again, they are not learning in a vacuum. They did not 'learn' the ancient forgotten weapons arts from picking up a book and reading it. They were already practitioners of similar or related arts, they studied hard, and they recreated and tested in actual use, as opposed to thinking they had 'learned' the art from reading about it.

    I repeat; you cannot learn martial arts from a book or video. Emphasis on LEARN.
     

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