There is a wonderful little book called Moving Zen written by C.W. Nichols. It tells the story of his training and living in Japan.
A few years ago, I met him and spent time talking about his book, his present activities and some of the challenges he faced in his training in another country.
One story in particular caught my eye and that is the challenge of studying two styles at the same time.
He tells a story about practising both Judo and Karate and finding great difficulty in doing so. He was constantly exhausted and was challenged by many minor injuries which he never could recover from.
He approached one of the Karate teachers about this problem. He was told “that a man that chases two rabbits at the same time will catch neither.”
Trying to do two at once can lead to confusion and very mixed results.
However if you have a good grounding in one, you can easily benefit from taking up another.
As your practice and years go by, you become aware that the foundation of many martial arts is poured with the same ingredients. The approach may be different, the techniques could be dissimilar, but the core essence of balance, distancing, movement from the centre of the body, utilizing the whole body in your movements and mental awareness are all the same.
This allows someone that may have a strong grounding in one style to be able to pick up another style quickly. Trying to do so without a foundation is a recipe for failure.
We could think of a house in analyzing this. A solid foundation can have many styles put on it. We see examples of this every day. It does not matter so much whether it is Cape Cod, bungalow, Victorian, colonial or arts and crafts. All can sit on a similar foundation done right. If the ground work and/or the concrete is poorly done, then the structure above will suffer no matter how well it is built.
When I watch other activities — be it dance or gymnastics — I am always impressed to see how well certain performers do and why that is so. It seems their grounding, how they move and their focus transcends those around them.
Obviously, natural ability is evident, but more often then not it is hard work and attention to the basic training that enables them to be that much better.
Martial artists realize after training for awhile that the basic teachings are all interconnected. Once the foundation in one style is solid, you can move on to studying other styles.
The transfer of the basic training will not be much different either in martial arts or even in sports such as baseball, hockey, basketball, etc.
So, the next time your instructor asks you to practise some basic movement or position, be it a sport or martial art, thank him, he is doing you a favour.
Todd Hardy has studied and taught a variety of martial arts over 38 years and trained with many people from around the world. Would you like to comment on what you read here? Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.