There seems to be an age-old debate in the martial arts world about the virtues of ground fighting versus standing techniques. Over the years of my involvement in martial arts, I’ve heard many instructors arguing for both sides – some throwing out statistics (over 80% of fights end up on the ground, or most fights turn into ground fights within 30 seconds etc.), others debunking the numbers and claiming that if you’re good on your feet, you’ll finish a fight before it ever gets to the ground. Do a simple search on Google (as I did) for “ground fighting versus standing” and you’ll return even more heated discussions over this topic. My guess is that the majority of martial artists fall on the side of the debate that most strongly supports their style of practice and therefore the debate itself is rather uninteresting to me. I won’t pretend that my own practice hasn’t made me generally more comfortable on my feet than I am on the ground and yet I’m really grateful that my instructor is well versed in both styles and insists on teaching and drilling his students in both as well for I believe that there is much to be learned even, or especially from that which feels awkward or makes us uncomfortable.
At our last Hagsaeng Naebu meeting we were schooled in a lot of ground techniques. It was fun and interesting and provided some food for thought. I tried to think about what we were learning from the perspective of 10,000 feet. In other words, I didn’t overthink the nitty gritty details of each of the techniques we practiced but rather focused on what we were practicing and why, how and when could I or should I use what I was being taught and what else could I learn from it, even if I never had the chance to use it in real life (which I hope turns out to the be the case…if I find myself in a fight that ends up on the ground, there better be some pretty good explanations for how I got myself into such a situation). I think that this “bird’s eye view” is a good way to look at martial arts education from time to time for it reveals things that aren’t necessarily explicitly expressed by the instructor.
Ground techniques are a good example of this approach, at least for us in Shin Ho Kwan, because it is just the right amount of “unusual.” In other words, to practice from the ground is different enough that it will cause you relate to your technique in a completely new way, but we practice it often enough that it is not so foreign as to be prohibitive. Let me be more clear about what I mean…
At that meeting we were being taught a variety of techniques from the ground – some of which was completely new, but much of which we had practiced at least a few times before (which I guess is why I’m surprised that I related to it so differently this time around). The day started off, for example, with simple joint locks. To be honest, those of us who were there have been practicing joint locks almost as long as we’ve been alive, and so it goes to show that you can never (should never) stop learning and striving to improve because there is always something to perfect. As we practiced the same techniques positioned on our knees on the floor, everything changed. My balance was different, the height between myself and my opponent was different, my agility and turning ratio were compromised, even my ability to apply the pressure necessary to make the lock most effective was a process that required thought rather than the muscle memory I’m accustomed to while standing. I had to work harder to make each technique work and I couldn’t take for granted what I can when I execute the technique from a more comfortable position.
So, in essence, I feel sorry for people who become so involved in debating what’s “better” that they fail to ever become “best” in their art. Sometimes we have to be uncomfortable in order to learn. I’m glad to have Hagsaeng Naebu to provide me with such discomfort!