Friday, 6 January 2012

Does reading about martial arts enhance your practice?

How important do you think it is to read about martial arts as well as practise it? Does reading about it enhance your ability to actually do it? Personally, I think that it does. Here are my reasons why I think reading is important:

#1.  It provides an historical and cultural context for your art. To truly understand something you need to know where it has come from, who developed it, what kind of people were they, what motivated them to develop such an art, what events were happening at the time, what kind of weapons were used and an understanding of the legal framework at the time of development.  By understanding such historical, cultural and legal references it becomes easier to work out what fighting techniques are still relevant in today’s society and which would now be illegal or historically defunct – preserved only for posterity.  Understanding kata is helped by learning about the historical background of the kata and its developer – what was he trying to achieve with the kata? What was he trying to hide?

#2.  Reading about the principles of strategy, tactics and techniques can help you to really pull things together and make sense of what you are learning in the dojo. Instructors tend to vary a lot in the amount of talking and explanation they give to students about the techniques they are learning but there’s no excuse for not educating yourself if you feel your instructor is too quiet on the theory side of martial arts.

#3. Reading about the psychological and spiritual side of martial arts can enhance your appreciation of the importance of the mind in the practice of martial arts. Being able to focus the mind, empty the mind, control thoughts and emotions, or just think about what you are doing is the key to moving your physical skills to the next level. Learning techniques, such as meditation, that enable us to master control of our minds are every bit as important as learning physical techniques that enable us to master our bodies.  Reading alone will not help you gain these mental skills but at least it helps you to understand their importance and set you on the path to gaining them.

#4. Understanding how conflicts arise between people and how they can be avoided, defused or managed using non-violent methods is just as important as learning how to deal with physical conflict. The really skilled martial artist is one who never gets into a fight because they know how to read people and situations and how to handle aggression or conflict in non-violent ways. Some martial arts clubs may cover this kind of learning but many don’t. Again, that’s no excuse for not educating yourself on this important area of training. Reading about conflict and conflict resolution can help you identify the gaps in your training and motivate you to seek out relevant courses, seminars etc to plug these gaps.

#5.  Reading about fitness, stretching and general exercise techniques along with improving your understanding of the human body and how it reacts to injury etc. helps to inform you the best ways to get physically fit for your martial art and how to avoid injury. There are many books that teach the principles of exercise and stretching as well as giving many exercises to try. There are also many books providing more martial arts specific exercises to provide a more coherent and relevant framework for developing your body to do the things you want it to do. Again, reading has to translate into doing.

These are just a few of the reasons why I think reading is important and how it can enhance your understanding of martial arts so that you become a well rounded, skilled and knowledgeable martial artist and not merely a performer.

Do you read?  What are your reasons for reading about martial arts?

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Ninja Techniques said...

I found learning any subject to require all-encompassing techniques from practice to learning from a teacher to book learning. I think what you talk about in this post certainly merits a good way to enhance once learning of martial arts.

Journeyman said...

Reading, books, blogs, magazines etc. have all increased my knowledge base. We all learn in different ways and at different rates. I've found that reading has lead to a few "Ah ha!" moments where an illusive concept or idea has suddenly come into focus for me. Often, it is the author's style which allows the break through. Just as some teachers, by their style, help impart knowledge that another may not be able to, even though the content is essentially the same.

I also enjoy conflicting (constructive or respectful) opinions or differing perspectives. These usually lead to a more in depth exploration of technique or thought.

In the end, you must take what you've read and put it into practice.

Sue C said...

I'm glad you both feel that reading is a valuable part of training too. I'm always amazed how many people don't see the need to do any reading to supplement their practical training - their poor knowledge base shows when asked even the simplest of questions.

Charles James said...

If the mind/brain has nothing to access in storage it is impossible to act accordingly.

The key, for me, is to program the mind/brain and then by action train it to access, evaluate and then implement the data properly.

You have hit many aspects of data-mining very well indeed .... kudo's to the posting effort!

Charles James said...

Oh, by the way - love the photo!

James Magwojo said...

Karate is a very conceptual form. A lot of what you are told is either directly or indirectly absorbed.

By reading i have found i am able to better process the things which i have indirectly received through training to the point where they cease to be abstract.

For instance, i have been told time and time again 'Breathe whilst you are doing your techniques' however it was only when i read about the ways in which breathing aided what i was trying to do that i learned that it is a very integral part of my karate.

So i think of reading as a follow through for my Karate once i have left the dojo.

The more I read the less abstract the things which i have learned in the dojo (which in itself is a form of abstraction) become.

Sue C said...

Charles and James, this is interesting, you seem to be using your martial arts reading in opposite ways. If I understand you correctly Charles you are saying that you acquire the theoretical knowledge first and then put it into practice through training whereas James learns things through practical training first and then follows up his understanding with reading. Both sound like valid approaches...

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Sue C said...

Hi Judith, thank you for your kind comment, I'm glad my blog is of some value to you and your niece.

John Coles said...

Hi SueC

Does reading about martial arts enhance your practice? Most people would say no. Why? (a) Martial arts generally is a bastion of anti-intellectualism, and (b) most of what is written is rubbish. It's full of opinion and myth perpetuating the orthodoxy and supporting egos.

Only recently has professional academics applied their efforts to the martial arts. Karl Friday, Cameron Hurst III, I'd also include William Farris with them. As to the application of biomechanics to inform and improve performance, learning, and teaching - it just hasn't happened to date.

Sue C said...

Hi John, I agree that you have to separate the wheat from the chaff with martial arts reading and perhaps the evidence base for a lot of the scientific side of it is lacking. However if you see martial arts as much more than a practical self-defence system - something that can teach you something about life and how to live it better then there is a lot to learn from reading about the thoughts, opinions and experiences of others.


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