As you know, I do both karate and kobudo (with some jujitsu thrown in on a need to know basis). But should I be doing this so early in my martial arts career? The arguments against often ring in my ears: You need to focus on learning the basics in one martial art first (at least up to shodan); your time and attention will be diluted and you’ll end up doing both arts badly; or stances and techniques will be similar but different and you’ll get confused as to which to use.
These are all potential pitfalls but I genuinely don’t think cross training is creating any problems for me at the moment. In fact I think that cross training is actually enhancing my performance in both karate and kobudo. This is what I feel are the advantages and disadvantages of my cross training:
Core principles: When you have been training in a martial art for a few years and you are starting to understand its principles; and then you look at what other martial arts are offering you start to realise that there is a lot of overlap between them, it’s just the emphasis that is different. Most striking arts include some grappling and most grappling arts practice a bit of striking. Core principles such as ‘block/evade, counter, finish’ become much more apparent and enhanced when you witness them in use in more than one martial art.
Attention to detail: In karate there is a lot of attention to detail in teaching us how to punch and kick correctly. The bio-mechanics of striking is explored in detail and we spend a lot of time practicing our combinations to get this right. The exact position of hands, feet, shoulders, hips, stances etc is criticised and corrected to help us perfect these techniques. However, the attention to detail for learning grappling is much less. On the whole this makes most karateka better strikers than throwers. In my kobudo (jujitsu) club there is very little attention to detail on how to strike but a lot more detail on throwing and locking techniques. The result is that jujitsuka are better grapplers than strikers. Since I have been training with weapons in a jujitsu club I have become a better and more confident thrower (and learnt to be thrown). In the jujitsu club we do break fall practice every session and so I have become a more confident faller than many of my karate peers.
Different perspective: Karate is often labelled a ‘hard’ art and jujitsu a ‘soft’ art. Beginners in both arts can often misconstrue what is meant by this. Junior grade karateka often interpret ‘hard’ as ‘tense’ and assume muscular effort means more power. They are often told that they are too stiff and rigid in their movements. It is only with experience that you start to see that to achieve ‘hard’ one must relax in order to gain speed only tensing at the last moment. The beginner jujitsuka often interprets ‘soft’ as slow and without power. With experience he comes to realise that the ‘soft’ flowing movements of jujitsu come from being relaxed rather than slow/powerless and that this, together with an understanding of the dynamics of throwing creates strong, fast and powerful throws.
By cross training I have come to realise that both karateka and jujitsuka are trying to achieve the same thing: soft flowing movements (through relaxation), to achieve hard powerful techniques. They just approach it from a different perspective.
One of my weapons is the bokken . To use a bokken you have to develop soft flowing movements in order to ‘cut’ quickly and powerfully. By training with the bokken I am learning to relax. This is a skill I am transferring to my karate training. Utilising the principle of ‘soft’ my karate techniques are becoming more powerful. I am benefiting from the different perspective that jujitsu gives.
Enhanced understanding/transference of certain principles: Sometimes when you are training in a martial art it is easy to become a little complacent about your performance of a particular technique and think you are doing it well – take blocking for instance. You know all about twisting your wrist at the end of a block and assume that you are doing so correctly. Then you take up a weapons art and have to block a strike from a bo or jo with your tanbo or tonfa. If your forearm does not twist out correctly you do not block the bo with your weapon, you block it with your forearm – and it hurts! You soon learn to do your blocks correctly and snap out of your complacency.
When you are applying a wrist lock to your opponent using a tanbo (short stick) you do not get any feedback about how hard you have applied it unless your opponent tells you. Partners get good at giving each other feedback about technique (it’s self preservation really) in a way we sometimes don’t in karate. Weapon’s training can teach you to be a more careful and considerate partner because the damage you can do to each other is potentially more serious.
To block a downward strike from a bo or jo you need to block it whilst the bo/jo is at its slowest point i.e. whilst it is still fairly vertical and has not picked up a lot of momentum on its downward swing. Perhaps this is also the best time to block an otoshi (hammer fist) strike in karate? When you cross train you start to see parallels between similar techniques and can transfer this knowledge from one art to the other.
I have found a few disadvantages to cross training but these are relatively minor and do not outweigh the advantages. Some of the break falls are performed slightly differently in karate compared to jujitsu so I have to alter which way I do it depending on which club I am in, but that is not a major problem. Altering stances is a little more problematic. In karate the stances seem to be an integral part of the technique, often used to unbalance your partner and to shift your weight quickly and dramatically from one foot to the other or from front to back. In jujitsu the higher, lighter stances enable you to move around more quickly but most of the technique is performed using the arms, upper body and hips. There are exceptions to this such as body drops and inside hock (but then these techniques are not dissimilar to some take downs in karate). Sometimes I find that my stances are too deep and rooted for some of the jujitsu techniques to work well and occasionally in karate I have started to forget to bend my front leg enough when in zenkutsu dachi!
My overall experiences of cross training are very positive and I would recommend it to anyone. However, it is important to remember which your main art is. For me it is karate. Kobudo is an adjunct, an art which gives me new insights, a different perspective and helps me enhance skills which are relevant to karate. It’s also great fun.