Learning From A Book / The Value Of Experience

Bill Mattocks

Sr. Grandmaster
MTS Alumni
Joined
Feb 8, 2009
Messages
14,757
Reaction score
2,886
Location
Michigan
I saw this illustration from the Bubishi in a recent thread by @Dudi Nisan in this thread:

The General Tian Bubishi

bubishi-2-jpg.20285


It brought me to a thought I wanted to share, but didn't want to disrupt his thread. So I am highjacking his posted image and starting a new thread.

Many have argued that book learning martial arts is possible. Many have argued that it is not. I tend to be one in the latter camp. I have found that a drawing or a photograph (or even a video or a written account) of a particular technique is difficult to turn into a valid and effective technique without proper in-person instruction from an instructor and has to be refined with a resisting partner.

One may learn gross movements from a drawing or a photo, but the micro-adjustments, the timing, the balance, the breathing, the fine motor skills required to make it work are simply not transmitted well enough to be learned properly. It creates a false sense of security, one that is quickly and easily blown through on the first real test. And yes, I've tested 'I learned this on Youtube' techniques thrown against me, and yes, they fell apart in a half-second. Nice try, but no, complete garbage, don't do that unless you like being dead.

However...

When I looked at the drawing above, I realized that with the benefit of experience, I could see things that I would never have seen as a beginner.

I took note of every aspect of the two fighters. What are they doing, where are their hands, their feet, where are they looking, what posture do they have? Center of gravity? Balance? Breathing?

If we consider that the drawing is an accurate representation of what is actually happening and not an artist's interpretation, then every single aspect of the drawing is significant. Drawing on my experience (note that I said 'experience' and not 'expertise' for I am not an expert), I see little details.

For example:

1) The attacker (red color) is stepping forward. Notice his right foot in the air. That is probably not a kick, but a step. Why do I think that? Because his right hand is punching.

2) Right hand is punching or grabbing, in a palm-up configuration. I tend to think punching because the fingers are closed, but it could be grabbing because the outside grab the defender makes is difficult to do with as a defense to a punch. Grabbing a grab, so to speak, is relatively easy by comparison.

3) The defender has stepped in to the attack, but turned sideways to it.

4) Defender has lowered his stance to get his center of gravity below that of his attacker. This (interesting side-note) extends his reach as well, as it unlocks his hips.

5) Thumb position is important. The defender has used his hand configuration on his left hand to lock the opponent's wrist. Do you see it? That wrist cannot turn easily now, and will be hard to retract as it is held close to the defender's body, where he has leverage. As long as the defender's stance is strong (it is) and he does not let his left elbow come up (he has it in close), the attacker isn't going anywhere.

The right hand thumb is pressing on the lower lip and teeth of the attacker. It took me awhile to figure out what was going on here. I was able to confirm that the drawing is actually an exact representation of the technique by performing it on a willing opponent in my dojo, on the floor. I pressed, he howled. He did the same to me; yep, it hurts like fury. Takes very little pressure to produce eye-watering pain.

6) Incidentally, the opponent's right is blocked by the position of the defender's arm, and he is effectively incapacitated by the pain in his lower lip anyway. Look at his eyes. His head is tilted slightly up, he's looking over the top of the defender.

7) Speaking of eyes, look at the defender's eyes. He is not looking at the attacker, he is looking where the attacker is about to go. His head is down and level.

8) Now comes the meat and potatoes. The knee strike. The defender is performing three techniques at the exact same time. However, these are all possible because none of them take him out of his frame. He is inside his stance, he is rooted to the ground, and he has full control of everything his attacker could use on him. The defender's right knee strikes the attacker's inside left knee, hard. There is a nerve cluster there, and he's zapping it. I know (again, experience) that it does not take massive power to disable the leg by striking it there. A huge hit and you won't be walking on that for a bit. He is aided by the fact that the attacker's leg is still in the air, but only slightly; the attacker is in the process of transferring his weight to it. The defender's simultaneous hard press on the attacker's lip ensures the attacker does not see the knee strike coming. The wrist lock ensures the attacker cannot withdraw from the attack, he is committed to being were he is. He is going to get what's coming to him, like it or not.

Again, I tested this in the dojo with a willing, resisting, partner. We are both experienced enough to understand what we think is happening in the drawing, and as we tested it, we validated how it must have worked. We both believe we can incorporate this into our training. It's a valid technique.

Conclusion:

My experience (not expertise) leads me to believe that I have indeed 'learned from a book' in this sense. However, I do not for a moment believe that my interpretation must be the correct or even the only one. I may be wrong. However, even in my wrongness, the technique I think is being shown does in fact work.

A few years ago, it would just be a drawing. I'd have been unable to properly understand what it was trying to say, and equally unable to decipher how to test my theory or put it to use effectively.

I strongly believe that if the person(s) responsible for the original drawing would somehow appear before me, they'd have quite a bit to say about how wrong I am regarding all of this, and show me what it was really all about. But since they are not, this is what I have managed to piece together.

So given that yes, I can understand it (I think) and put it to use (I think), I can say it is possible to learn from a drawing. But I cannot overstate the importance of experience. Without it, I would not be able to do any of the above. For a beginner, no matter how smart or motivated they might be, I still sincerely doubt that such is possible.
 

Kickboxer101

Master Black Belt
Joined
Mar 30, 2016
Messages
1,189
Reaction score
311
Personally I don't think you can learn properly from a book or video. Definetely not as a beginner. I mean if you have martial art experience its easier to be able to understand but still not truly possible. Some people can learn a form by reading a book (well can get through all the moves in a basic way) but personally I can't do that and I really don't have any reason to. I have instructors for that.

Some say its better than nothing but no I don't believe it is because its giving you a false sense of security thinking you know the stuff well but you really don't
 
OP
Bill Mattocks

Bill Mattocks

Sr. Grandmaster
MTS Alumni
Joined
Feb 8, 2009
Messages
14,757
Reaction score
2,886
Location
Michigan
Personally I don't think you can learn properly from a book or video. Definetely not as a beginner. I mean if you have martial art experience its easier to be able to understand but still not truly possible. Some people can learn a form by reading a book (well can get through all the moves in a basic way) but personally I can't do that and I really don't have any reason to. I have instructors for that.

Some say its better than nothing but no I don't believe it is because its giving you a false sense of security thinking you know the stuff well but you really don't

I believe that is what I said. The one disagreement I have is that in the above case, with experience, I was able to (I believe) pull the correct technique from the drawing and then apply it. However, I agree that it would be much better with an in-person instructor. However, the people who wrote the Bubishi are long dead, so they can't assist me in that regard.

I strongly believe in the value of in-person training from a competent instructor. I agree that learning purely from a book is a recipe for disaster.
 

JowGaWolf

Sr. Grandmaster
MT Mentor
Joined
Aug 3, 2015
Messages
10,354
Reaction score
3,405
Many have argued that book learning martial arts is possible. Many have argued that it is not. I tend to be one in the latter camp.
I agree. To me the books are references for someone who knows or has enough experience to understand what the picture represents. The book has the technique but it requires someone with experience to decode it. Books do what forms do, but it keeps a better record of things you don't want to forget.

If I were to take a picture of a technique that I use then it may show the beginning technique and an ending technique where it lands. So the picture may show me standing on one leg and ending with a sweep. Unless someone has trained with me, a person really wouldn't know what was going on in that picture. Even people from the same system would have some difficulty in understanding unless they have seen the technique or unless the technique was common for the system.

The funny part about the picture that you showed is that it looks like a technique I've done before (around 0:39), but the legs are different. At first I thought it was the same technique because I thought the blue pants were on the outside of the leg and not the inside. Even with a similar move I still have no clue what that picture is. I can make some good assumptions but it doesn't mean that they are correct or even close to the truth of what that photo is supposed to represent.
 
OP
Bill Mattocks

Bill Mattocks

Sr. Grandmaster
MTS Alumni
Joined
Feb 8, 2009
Messages
14,757
Reaction score
2,886
Location
Michigan
I agree. To me the books are references for someone who knows or has enough experience to understand what the picture represents. The book has the technique but it requires someone with experience to decode it. Books do what forms do, but it keeps a better record of things you don't want to forget.

If I were to take a picture of a technique that I use then it may show the beginning technique and an ending technique where it lands. So the picture may show me standing on one leg and ending with a sweep. Unless someone has trained with me, a person really wouldn't know what was going on in that picture. Even people from the same system would have some difficulty in understanding unless they have seen the technique or unless the technique was common for the system.

The funny part about the picture that you showed is that it looks like a technique I've done before (around 0:39), but the legs are different. At first I thought it was the same technique because I thought the blue pants were on the outside of the leg and not the inside. Even with a similar move I still have no clue what that picture is. I can make some good assumptions but it doesn't mean that they are correct or even close to the truth of what that photo is supposed to represent.

Nice video, thanks! Really fast and very cool. I see the move you are referring to - I would have naturally favored a similar move. A braced trip or throw. This (the drawing) is an unbraced throw - it is the action of the defender's knee that provides the motive power; the nerve strike on the attacker's inside knee while his foot is in the air causes a staggering motion. This will be turned into a throw by the action of pulling the locked wrist into the defender's continuing turn to his left, and the guiding motion of the defender's right hand controlling the attacker's head. It's a real beauty, but all must be in alignment and timing must be excellent. The knee strike must also hit the nerve cluster and with power as well as timing.
 

Tony Dismukes

MT Moderator
Staff member
Joined
Nov 11, 2005
Messages
6,031
Reaction score
4,662
Location
Lexington, KY
Nice analysis. I'd interpret some of the details a little differently and I would want to look to see what other illustrations or text in the original document indicated in order to help decide between different possible interpretations, but you've shown a way to start trying to understand the illustration.

Start is the key word there. It is possible to learn from books. Some excellent martial artists have done so. The key is that the reading the book is just the beginning. The next step is to do the sort of detailed breakdown you just wrote up, based not just on one picture but on the full information available in the document. Next practice the movements as you have interpreted them until you have at least the fundamental mechanics reasonably solid, including experiments with a cooperative partner (as you did) to see if your interpretation passes the basic sniff test. Then you have to start testing the moves under stress and against non-cooperative opponents - sparring and similar exercises. Next compare the results of your testing to those achieved through different interpretations of the same text. (This is where it helps to have a community of practitioners working on the project.) Also study different texts regarding the same or related arts as well as historical accounts of how these arts played out in real life. If you make discoveries during sparring and experimentation, go back and examine the texts with these discoveries in mind and see how your interpretation changes.

This is pretty much how the HEMA community has recreated various arts where the line of direct teaching has been broken. We have no way of knowing for sure if the experts in any particular HEMA system have perfectly replicated the methods taught by teachers from centuries ago, but we do know two things.
1) The systems as taught today do match the available documentation.
2) The experts in these systems can actually fight effectively with them and not fall apart under pressure.
 
OP
Bill Mattocks

Bill Mattocks

Sr. Grandmaster
MTS Alumni
Joined
Feb 8, 2009
Messages
14,757
Reaction score
2,886
Location
Michigan
Nice analysis. I'd interpret some of the details a little differently and I would want to look to see what other illustrations or text in the original document indicated in order to help decide between different possible interpretations, but you've shown a way to start trying to understand the illustration.

Thanks, Tony. I really like the point you made above - your interpretation might well be different - and just as valid if not more so - based on your experience, which is different than mine. We would each filter the image through the lens of our own experience and training, and perhaps come up with different applications.

The rest of what you said I also agree with, but I wanted to specifically mention this bit.
 

Kung Fu Wang

Sr. Grandmaster
MT Mentor
Joined
Sep 26, 2012
Messages
10,645
Reaction score
2,706
Location
Austin, Tx/Shell Beach, Ca
This is a "symmetric technique" that the technique can use used as a counter to itself. Here are 2 similar pictures. In both pictures, the opponent's spine is bending backward which is not shown in the OP's picture.

changdongsheng1a.jpg


244px-Nicolaes_Petter_19.jpg
 
Last edited:
OP
Bill Mattocks

Bill Mattocks

Sr. Grandmaster
MTS Alumni
Joined
Feb 8, 2009
Messages
14,757
Reaction score
2,886
Location
Michigan
This is a "symmetric technique" that the technique can use used as a counter to itself. Here are 2 similar pictures.

changdongsheng1a.jpg


244px-Nicolaes_Petter_19.jpg

They are both interesting, thank you for posting them. I can't quite see what's happening in the top one, but it does look as if it has some similarity to the Bubishi drawing. The bottom one I have a bit more of a problem with. It appears as if the person on the right is drawing the person on the left's knee directly into his own groin with that hook. I'm not sure which way he intends to go to finish that move.

In any case, the Bubishi drawing is demonstrating (I believe) a bump and unbraced throw as opposed to a braced throw. The latter is what many of us are much more familiar with of course. Very seldom does one get the opportunity to throw or trip without using our leg or hip or whatnot as leverage.
 
OP
Bill Mattocks

Bill Mattocks

Sr. Grandmaster
MTS Alumni
Joined
Feb 8, 2009
Messages
14,757
Reaction score
2,886
Location
Michigan
Some techniques are difficult to learn from drawing only. Here is an example.


leg_twist_pic.jpg

Interesting. I agree that some techniques are very hard to learn from a static drawing. And some drawings leave out important details. You never know if you are getting the full understanding of what is supposedly going on.

I'd like to play around with the drawing above. It looks like a judo type technique. I see the hook, I see the body posture that took away the opponent's balance, not sure what else is happening here or what happens next.
 

kuniggety

2nd Black Belt
Joined
Jan 3, 2015
Messages
795
Reaction score
269
Location
Oahu, Hawaii
I concur with much of what has been written. Can a person learn the intricacies of a martial art through books? I don't think so but with a solid foundation in the martial art (or a similar one), one can supplement their training. I've learned techniques from BJJ books and watched videos and then hopped on the mat and tried them out. I do it a lot when I get tapped out. I watch a lot of escape videos on YouTube to get ideas of what to do different next time.
 

Kung Fu Wang

Sr. Grandmaster
MT Mentor
Joined
Sep 26, 2012
Messages
10,645
Reaction score
2,706
Location
Austin, Tx/Shell Beach, Ca
A clip like this has totally changed the way that I train "roundhouse kick". My "long fist" system will kick out, pull kick back. But I do believe the MT method is better with full body rotation.

Without learning from video, I will never be able to change.

 

KangTsai

2nd Black Belt
Joined
May 5, 2016
Messages
809
Reaction score
167
Location
Auckland, New Zealand
If book-learning works, YouTube-learning works better. My instructors never corrected my round house kicks when they watched me drill it in my early classes. I had mindlessly drilled it from several YouTube videos. I never got my spinning hook kick corrected by my instructors either, despite the volume I throw them at.
 

gpseymour

MT Moderator
Staff member
Supporting Member
Joined
Mar 27, 2012
Messages
26,635
Reaction score
8,084
Location
Hendersonville, NC
I think the only contentious issue in this would be how you define "learn" - where you draw the line on that. I have certainly worked out some techniques from books (notably, Aikido and the Dynamic Sphere, I think by Ratti and Westbrook). They were techniques using principles I already understood, and from an art with similar principles to my primary art. They were techniques I didn't know prior to reading the book, which I worked out from the pictures, alone, in most cases. I could not have done that as a beginner. I could not have done that (I think) if my primary art wasn't closely related. I may have done the techniques differently than someone from that art would, but I'd expect that, anyway. I used them, tried them against active attack simulations, and they worked.

Not an ideal way to learn, but it is one place we can learn from.
 
OP
Bill Mattocks

Bill Mattocks

Sr. Grandmaster
MTS Alumni
Joined
Feb 8, 2009
Messages
14,757
Reaction score
2,886
Location
Michigan
I think the only contentious issue in this would be how you define "learn" - where you draw the line on that. I have certainly worked out some techniques from books (notably, Aikido and the Dynamic Sphere, I think by Ratti and Westbrook). They were techniques using principles I already understood, and from an art with similar principles to my primary art. They were techniques I didn't know prior to reading the book, which I worked out from the pictures, alone, in most cases. I could not have done that as a beginner. I could not have done that (I think) if my primary art wasn't closely related. I may have done the techniques differently than someone from that art would, but I'd expect that, anyway. I used them, tried them against active attack simulations, and they worked.

Not an ideal way to learn, but it is one place we can learn from.

That's it, exactly. Once one has a fairly firm grasp on their art, they may be able to process new information presented in different ways, for example by description, photo, drawing, video, etc. Emphasis on 'may' and 'experienced martial artist'.

The problem is that many extend that to mean themselves when they haven't the experience, and believe their innate intelligence (which they may very well have) will suffice to make up for their lack of understanding. It won't, in my limited experience.
 

gpseymour

MT Moderator
Staff member
Supporting Member
Joined
Mar 27, 2012
Messages
26,635
Reaction score
8,084
Location
Hendersonville, NC
That's it, exactly. Once one has a fairly firm grasp on their art, they may be able to process new information presented in different ways, for example by description, photo, drawing, video, etc. Emphasis on 'may' and 'experienced martial artist'.

The problem is that many extend that to mean themselves when they haven't the experience, and believe their innate intelligence (which they may very well have) will suffice to make up for their lack of understanding. It won't, in my limited experience.
Agreed. I'm one of those who tell new (and new-ish) students that they can't expect to learn effectively from a book or video. Then I turn around and tell students later to use certain books and videos (I keep a YouTube playlist of recommendations) to enhance their learning.
 
Top