Saturday, June 02, 2007

Finding Your Style


Think back to the first time you geared up to spar in your school. What was your first reaction - did you even know what to do or what to expect? Learning set techniques is one thing. Combining them into an arsenal that you can call your own requires time and self-examination as to what works best for you. In the martial arts, a style refers to a system of fighting that was developed by someone else. Ultimately, we become our own stylists. Of course, how we engage an opponent largely depends on what they're doing. It's all a matter of chemistry.

Developing your own "style" is a reflection of several factors that includes physical assets and liabilities (some so-called liabilities actually have the potential to enhance us), the quality of our instruction, and even our personality. How would you describe your way of fighting? It doesn't matter what art you practice, everyone subscribes to a certain persona when they do battle; the way we fight is not only a personal endeavor, but an artistic expression. Below is a list of some of the more popular approaches to fighting in the martial arts:

1. Brawler
We all know who this guy is. Always comes to fight. Takes a shot to give one. Usually has little patience for forms practice and some of the other nuances of training. Many beginners fall into this category, and either develop some real skills, or just pack it in.
2. Runner
Doesn't like mixing it up at all. Will motor around the deck like her/his feet are on fire. Hard to hit cleanly - strictly a defensive fighter (an oxymoron?).
3. Counterstriker
Never makes the first attack. In fact, will hardly move at all. This type will stand impassively waiting to see what comes their way, and then capitalizes on that.
4. Adaptician
The multi-faceted fighter. Can hit, move, and counter whenever she/he has to. Well grounded. yet fleet of foot. A master of both defense and offense. Has developed a perfect sense of ma'ai (fighting range) and timing. A sharpshooter - picks a target and then strikes effectively. Always relaxed, sparring economically and efficiently, doing only what is necessary to win a match.
I'm sure most of you recognize yourselves or people you train with in at least one of these groups. You don't have to be a genius to figure out which category I think you should all be striving for. In truth, many practitioners can't be pigeonholed into a single class, or defy categorization altogether. Don't worry if you haven't found your fighting niche yet, that will come eventually. What's important is understanding how your opponent fights. Of course there are other factors at play here, such as spirit, determination, and the ability to learn from your mistakes. In the end, how we develop as fighters comes from a combination of hard-earned acquired skill and our natural gifts.

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15 Comments:

Anonymous Bob Patterson said...

I've always leaned towards brawler. I have a bad habit of going at it until I can't go.

Did for 17 years of running; pretty much anything physical.

However, age is slowing me down and I'm actually trying to think about this stuff. So, I'm starting to mix in "runner" (I call it dancer) and "counter-striker".

Adaptation? I got a ways to go for that one.

:-)

~BCP

6:05 PM  
Blogger Tyler said...

Check out www.wikihow.com/spar and let me know what you think. I like your insight.

Tyler Brown

sensationtb@gmail.com

8:00 PM  
Blogger Windsornot said...

Oh, I KNOW I'm #3 right now. Maybe it's just because girls are usually taught to fight until they start martial arts! LOL I admit I don't have a good eye at determining things or strategies. Mine usually ends up with me waiting to see what gets thrown at me, and THEN trying a combination. But then again, I usually just act instinctively, and try to use things that I know I'm good at, which is my kicking and seeing if I can fake someone out by getting them to think that I'm going to kick them with one leg but then do it with the other. Over time, I've learned to be more aggressive with offense than defense, but sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn't. I've been told it takes time to get into the swing and flow of knowing how to really block and attack effectively. But for me, it's far from instinctive. And yes, while you do learn from someone else's "style" initially, if you watch enough martial arts bouts, if they don't involve any grappling to the ground (just sticking to sparring matches), the techniques are really, at the root, the same. (Remember "Final Fu" on MTV/MTV2?)

10:13 PM  
Blogger PerpetualBeginner said...

I'm a counterstriker - always have been, and I'm quite good at it. I think I tend that way because I don't have a lot of natural quick and my primary attacks tend to get countered. My biggest goal for this next year is to increase my speed and add a few different strategies to my repetoire. Counterstriking serves me well in the dojo, where my fellow students are almost all either brawlers or runners, but not so well at tournaments.

10:30 PM  
Blogger John Vesia said...

Bob:

We're all getting older. And as we age we "adapt" to that fact. Like they say, we're not getting older, we're just getting better.
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Welcome to my site, Tyler.

Thanks for the link - very informative. I wrote a short article a while back on sparring tips that you can check out right here if you're interested.
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Windsornot:

...try to use things that I know I'm good at...I've learned to be more aggressive with offense than defense...

It all has to be a reflection of what you're natural with when it comes to sparring. Sometimes it can be taking the initiative.

...if you watch enough martial arts bouts...the techniques are really, at the root, the same.(Remember "Final Fu" on MTV/MTV2?)

True. But the combinations and how they're used are endless. (Unfortunately, I never did get to check out Final Fu, but I heard all about it from my co-workers.)
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Perpetual Beginner:

My biggest goal for this next year is to increase my speed and add a few different strategies to my repertoire.

That sounds like a good idea. What I like about tournaments is that we get to compete against total strangers. You also get to check out other styles and competitors. Win or lose, everytime you spar with someone you don't know, you get better.

10:30 PM  
Blogger Gordon White said...

Cool Post, thanks John.

There is a common sparring style explanation in (Olympic) Taekwondo that breaks styles into 3 categories, Offensive, Defensive, and Trap.

The idea is similar to "Rock, Paper, Scissor", where (all things considered equal) a certain style (off.def.trap) can be beat by one of the others.

For example, a defensive fighter, (someone who waits and only counters) would be best dealt with using Trapping techniques; fakes and checks to draw the counter and open up the opponent.

Gordon

8:13 AM  
Blogger Steve said...

Does sparring refer commonly to point sparring or to sparring with varying degrees of contact? In my experience, the degree of contact changes many people's approach.

10:55 AM  
Blogger supergroup7 said...

I chose to be 4) Adaptician.. Now I just need time, patience, more training and experience to GET to that goal. :-)

12:50 PM  
Blogger Miss Chris said...

I would have to say that part of me was a "runner". Who likes to get hit, right? But when I got tired, all I had to do was stick my leg up and they couldn't get near me. My legs are too long for the average fighter in my class. I had to use it to my advantage.

2:58 PM  
Blogger John Vesia said...

Gordon:

I've seen the "Rock, Paper, Scissor" idea in boxing as well. I won't go into detail, but history has some interesting examples of this in some famous title fights.

The hybrid fighters tend to fare the best.
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Steve:

...the degree of contact changes many people's approach.

Sure it does. Not only the realism of heavy contact, but the use of fighting gear (hand-guards, chest protectors, etc.). What's ironic about fighting gear - which were designed to reduce injuries - is that players tend to really load up on power shots when using them.

Does sparring refer commonly to point sparring or to sparring with varying degrees of contact?

It all depends where you're training. Some schools advocate playing tag, others go all out. In traditional karate tournaments, heavy contact is allowed to the body, but only "focus" (very light or no-contact) techniques are allowed to the head. But people still get knocked out at these things. What's weird is that more bad injuries occur in point-matches than in the full-contact variety.
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Mireille:

I chose to be 4) Adaptician.. Now I just need time, patience, more training and experience to GET to that goal.

There you go! I like your spirit. I have no doubt you'll get there. Anyone who does Shotokan, Kyokushin and practices shin-strikes in her spare time can accomplish anything!
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Miss Chris:

...all I had to do was stick my leg up and they couldn't get near me. My legs are too long for the average fighter in my class.

This brings up a good point: Fighters need a technique that will stop a swarming, aggressive opponent dead in their tracks. A forward-leg kick can work wonders on someone who's bent on invading your space in a sparring match.

11:20 PM  
Anonymous Amanda said...

My Kwanjangnim says I'm "Amanda Style!" In fact, at my test, he told me to go "Amanda Style." I was paired with a runner/counterstriker who was at least a head shorter than me and freaking out over the fact that she was going to be stuck sparring the big scary American woman.

Seriously, my American studio didn't do point-sparring. Our Master was very big on attack attack attack. I think he had the idea that you needed to kill or seriously injure before you got killed or injured yourself. So I'm more of a brawler.

However, my current studio does point sparring, so I'm starting to learn feints ("chance maker" as Master calls it).

10:23 AM  
Blogger [Mat] said...

I remember the brawler type we had. Man, I've never seen so many punches thrown around for nothing. Wait for 30 sec, he's puffing air like crazy and chase him. :)

He quit rather quickly, sadly.

We all want to be able to adapt to any fight. I think it's the thing to aim for, like you said. Musashi says : GO IN. And James Sensei would probably say : practice, practice, practice!

What's even weirder is the chemistry that settles between classmates. With some, I defend more. With other, I attack more.

Having new blood is always fun!

I often think there should be Cross-dojo training (friendly) to visit some other fighters. At least once a session.

Hey, I'll propose that.

And, that kickboxers should give at least one class on sparring. Their insight is invaluable!

:)

10:59 AM  
Blogger John Vesia said...

Amanda:

Amanda-style. That's got a nice ring to it. Who knows, maybe you'll become the founder of a new system!
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Mat:

Brawlers do tend to use up steam rather quickly. I can also relate to your comment about how we spar with various dojo-mates.

It's always beneficial to spar with "new blood", as it forces us to embrace a bit of uncertainty in a match.

11:03 PM  
Anonymous KFG said...

'...the way we fight is not only a personal endeavor, but an artistic expression.'

Hey, I really love that. What a beautiful way to put it. I think I'm aiming for 'adaptician' but, alas, cannot really describe myself as 'fleet of foot'! I tend to be on the slow side and have a really horrific habit of leaning INTO punches - not good at all. But I love sparring and once had an amazing experience - entered into what can only be described as a 'zone' . . . completely relaxed, completely 'in tune' and somehow, in the chaos that is combat, just managed to get a glimpse of a pattern. And suddenly it became more of a dance than a fight - I guess that's what you meant by chemistry. I've been hoping to experience that again ever since but leaning into punches doesn't help!

10:22 AM  
Blogger John Vesia said...

Thanks, KFG.

...I love sparring and once had an amazing experience - entered into what can only be described as a 'zone' . . . completely relaxed, completely 'in tune' and somehow, in the chaos that is combat, just managed to get a glimpse of a pattern.

This is the result of training. The idea is to fight on "automatic pilot" with as little cognitive thought as possible. Forms or kata teaches us the methods, but only sparring can show us how to be spontaneous in our own way.

And suddenly it became more of a dance than a fight...

That's a good analogy. Actually, most martial artists tend to be good dancers - literally. Bruce Lee won a cha cha dance competition in Hong Kong in 1958. And yours truly can cut a pretty good rug! ;)

3:28 PM  

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