Yeahbuts and What ifs: A Student’s Excuse Not To Learn

Brown belt girl with arms crossedHow many times has an instructor had to hear, “Yeah but what if…?” If I had a dollar every time I heard that phrase, I’d be very wealthy. I understand the reasons for asking. The student wants to know how to address other similar situations. However, it’s interpreted as disrespectful to the instructor.

Why don’t some instructors address the “What ifs”? Each technique you learn defeats one (or more) attack. The “What ifs” are other similar attacks, variants of the one. Most students do not understand the process of learning martial arts. You must learn one step at a time. When you achieve enough of a repertoire, you can adapt your techniques to suit the situation.

The A-B-Cs
Several notable masters use letters of the alphabet to describe their techniques. This relates to their analogy of adaptability. If each technique is a letter and letters make words, you can make words of techniques. Once you can make words, you can fit them together to make crude sentences. After a few years of study, you can “converse” in this language of techniques, adapting your vocabulary to fit the conversation.

This is similar to children learning to speak. They must learn letters and words first. Then they put words together to form awkward sentences. Finally, they can communicate, using these words, in on an infinite number of situations or subjects. This is exactly how martial arts training develop “free flow”.

Language of Music
Grandmaster Parker, in his five volume work “Infinite Insights of Kenpo”, relates techniques to musical notes. This analogy works along the same lines as language, each note can be strung together to form melodies. These melodies can be linked into songs. Like random conversations, music can be improvised following basic rules. Kempo techniques can also be improvised this way, following a basic set of rules.

How to Eat an Elephant
The famous question, “How do you eat an elephant?”, is a perfect expression for this concept. Large projects are completed step by step, one piece at a time. Training is accomplished one-step at a time; there is no other way. Internalizing physical movements and mental tactics takes time. Though considering “What ifs” is an important stage of development, do not loose faith in the training when it doesn’t meet your expectations. There is a purpose for this method of instruction. It works best. “A journey of a 1000 miles begins with a single step.” You can’t take the last step first.

I’m still confused
Don’t “what if” a technique to death. Ask a question to understand, then do. You can’t have a technique for each of the infinite possible situations. You can practice and develop a repertoire that’ll adapt to unique situations. Practice the mechanics of the technique. Learn to intuitively know your opponent’s body. Relax, learn first things first, then move on.