Triangulation for Martial Arts

Keith Farrell cutting a cardboard mailing tube with an Oberhaw.

Keith Farrell cutting a cardboard mailing tube with an Oberhaw.

When studying any martial art, there tends to be a preferred or traditional manner of practising the techniques and sequences. Sometimes it is an issue of convenience, sometimes of tradition (“we have always done it that way, so why change?”), and sometimes a matter of stagnation or lack of learning (“what is this ‘sport science’ of which you speak?”).

Whatever the preferred method for communicating and training the system, the chosen method tends to lead to an emphasis on one style of practice over another. Without addressing this imbalance, the overall practice of the martial art can become one-sided, and perspective can be skewed.

This article suggests that “triangulating” your approach to training any martial art can only be beneficial.

“Triangulating” is a term that often means using three (or more) points of information on a map to be able to find another position on the map more accurately. If you can draw a triangle to connect all three dots on the map, then any dot on the map within that triangle can be expressed in terms of distance from each of the corners; therefore if you know the distance of a point from all three corners, you can “triangulate” to find the exact location of the point in question.

In a similar fashion, triangulation for martial arts involves approaching the training from different angles.

In the study of historical fencing, we can triangulate by drilling with a somewhat cooperative partner (to ensure that what we are training matches the sources we study), by sparring with an uncooperative partner (to ensure that we can actually make the techniques work without cooperation), and by test cutting (to ensure that we aren’t deluding ourselves with our techniques, and that our strikes can actually do what we expect them to do).

We could also perhaps add more points to aid the triangulation, such as participation in tournaments or other high-stress activities (to ensure that we can still maintain correct form and technique under pressure), cross-training in another similar art (to see how other systems solve similar problems), or using different types of training simulators (to ensure that we are learning to fight with proper body mechanics, so that we can fight effectively and correctly with any sword of the appropriate type, rather than learning to fight with only one particular sword).

Every new angle we bring to the table gives us an opportunity to refine our skills and knowledge in a new fashion, to test ourselves and to validate our theories and skills.

Choosing to avoid a particular activity because “it corrupts the art” sounds very much like an excuse to avoid testing one’s self in that particular fashion. Of course, there certainly are things that can corrupt an art: taking a very traditional karate system, for example, and adding the striking mechanics of Chinese dao, the footwork from French rapier, and some kicks from muay thai, is certainly going to have a detrimental effect on the purity of what has been until this point a relatively undiluted lineage. However, taking the same very traditional karate system and teaching it using modern teaching methods and sports science might increase the effectiveness of instruction and the speed of learning, without changing the art itself. Not every change is a corruption with detrimental effects; some changes are actually improvements and developments!

“Corruption” is a very emotive word and it means different things to different people. However, making a blanket statement along the lines of “competing in tournaments corrupts the art” or “test cutting corrupts the art” or “training with a partner instead of training solo is a corruption of the art” is probably a lot of nonsense, deriving from an incomplete skill set of the person making the blanket statements.

If your practice of a martial art is only one- or two-dimensional, then perhaps you are not exploring the whole art, and perhaps broadening your approach to training will both open your eyes to depths of your system and to what you still have to learn.

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