Saturday, March 23, 2013

Fighting and Relational Skill

Chris Hein
Long Beach, CA
Hello Mr. Ralston,
My name is Chris Hein, I have been a long time admirer of your writing, and think that your approach to the martial arts is in a fresh and more complete manner. I have many friends who have
studied with you and all have many comments about your ability.
My question is about relationship. Can someone's relationship skills in general get so good that they are better than someone else's specific relationship skills? For example: Guy "A" is a magnificent boxer, has good techniques and good relationship skills in the art of boxing. Guy "B" is a great ground grappler with significant ability on the ground. If guy A (the boxer) has made greater leaps in his understanding of relationship as a whole, will he be more than a match for the ground grappler, or will this lack of understanding on ground fighting outweigh his superior relationship ability? This is a strange question I know, but I am really curious as to the limits of superior relationship ability.
Thanks for your time.
Chris Hein

In general someone with greater relational skill will win regardless of the art he does. This has all sorts of qualifications to it, however. Being skillful in a certain kind of relationship doesn't always mean the person can transfer his understanding to other relationships. If he is grounded in more "universal" distinctions then he will be able to relate more effectively to unknown methods. If his skill is based on very specific techniques, rules, and methods, however, he will not. For example in the arena of fighting, if he is skilled in such things as force, distance, perception, use of power, percieving the opponent's mind activity, and such, these things will apply regardless of method. This doesn't mean he won't have challenges, but that he should be able to meet them. Having greater relational skill than an opponent often translates to an advantage regardless of inexperience in the opponent's method.

 Shissai quote: When one has mastered a weapon, even a cudgel becomes a sword in his hands.

Roughly, fighting is fighting, the more skilled fighter usually wins. But I make a distinction between fighting and martial arts. Most martial artists aren't very skilled in fighting, primarily because they don't train it. Instead they play games and do exercises related to fighting arts, but frequently they don't learn the relational skills necessary for actual fighting. Boxers, Judoka, Muay Thai, fencers--these people do  fighting arts; but Karate, Aikido, T'ai Chi, various Kung Fus, etc. generally don't practice any real fighting.
In a match, the fighter will always beat the non-fighter. You can't learn fighting without doing it. But don't  get me wrong, I'm not saying one needs to be in street brawls to learn to fight. They simply must enter an art that has real fighting activities taking place. Most Karateka and Kung Fu practictioners would think they have this, but kumite and its Kung Fu equivalents are games of sparring, not matches in fighting. A judoka may be restricted to throws and pins and such, but in a match he really throws (against his partner's will) or pins, he doesn't fake it or pretend he could as in Karate kumite. When a boxer hits or a Muay Thai kicks, they really hit and kick, and so when they dodge they really dodge. Learning relationship in this domain is different than in the "pretend" domain. It is true that in T'ai Chi push hands, for example, one really pushes, and this does develop certain skills, but the arena is so restricted that it can't properly be called fighting. There are too many unnecessary rules and limitations, therefore it should be called a game or exercise.

Someone playing a race car video game will learn to make many visual distinctions regarding racing, and he'll be able to move his virtual car around the track quite effectively, but he will not learn many of the distinctions necessary for being effective in a real race. For instance, he'll be unprepared for the forces that will act upon his body and his car when hitting a turn at great speed. Obviously someone with experience driving an actual race car would beat him hands down.

Certainly many skills are learned in arts that don't work on real fighting (and by real I don't mean one has to be knocked out or some such, but that the play or match is relating to the skill of fighting, not the idea of fighting). Aikidoists do learn to throw, they simply don't learn to fight. Obviously this is a long story-perhaps we could go into it more thoroughly in a workshop. From what I've already said, I think many misunderstandings can occur. So I say again, in general the more truly skillful fighter will win regardless of art or methods employed.

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