Should You Only Learn One System, a.k.a. To Know Your Own Art, You Must Know All Others
We’ve all heard of that unbeatable master, that only ever learned one art. They are few and far between, not to mention long gone from this world. All through history the greatest fighters have all learned more then one system. If anyone does their research, I believe it will bare this out.
I certainly think you need a primary system which you focus on, but need training in other systems to augment it. Back in the 70’s when I started my training, the approach many of us took, was to learn a grappling art, striking art, and a weapons art at a minimum to consider yourself complete. Different folks might add in a locking art, a kicking centric, and a hand centric system as well, or do them as subsets of each section. Weapons system of choice could be traditional martial arts weapons, as well as modern firearms. I think you need both. After all men/warriors fight with weapons, and only fight without when they don’t have one, can’t get away with using one, or just find them inconvenient for the circumstances.
The approach I was told, and believe to be best was to get to at least Black Belt level in an art, before adding another system. Many people don’t have the patience to do this, and are convinced to try systems that claim to have taken the best parts of many systems and combined them in a synergistic manor. Many arts have been created using this concept. In some cases it could be true, or at least true for the founder of the system.
Then again if your a student of this system, how could you ever have the depth of understanding the founder supposedly did, without the complete training he did? Then again what if the founder of the system, didn’t really have the depth of knowledge in each/or any of the systems he claimed to be incorporating into his new system? You could end up going down a misguided path, and never really learn what you thought you did.
Of course from an instructors view point, you want a student to empty his cup and only train what you teach. My experience with that has been that students that are trying to train in multiple schools/systems at once tend not to make progress as quickly, if at all. At least without getting to a Black Belt level in one, before beginning the other. In any case the instructor will always feel that they have so much more to teach the student, and if they would only focus on learning what they are trying to teach, they’d make much more progress. I would certainly not try to learn more then two new systems at any time.
I took over an existing Kempo school as owner/instructor in 91. The previous owners never taught sparring, because they didn’t know how, and couldn’t do it themselves. I felt that sparring was a necessary part of training. Many of the students wanted to go compete in open tournaments. They lacked the tools when I took over, and had limited skills. My first approach to teaching them how to spar was to one step, two step sparring drills, etc.. Most of their previous training was all hand technique, though during basics in each class they threw as many kicks as they did punches. While trying to teach them sparring techniques, I found that none of them really could kick. So I tried to teach them strategies/techniques they could use against an accomplished kicker with their existing skill sets.
After months of training folks this way, they just never seemed to get it. So I changed my approach. I started teaching them to kick like a Tae Kwon Do practitioner. Once they developed better kicking basics, I then moved them on to” Bill Wallace “style kicking routines, and strategies. Later I taught them kicking methods ” Bennie the Jet” taught. I found that once they actually became proficient at kicking and truly understood, they could now learn to counter it. When they could kick better, they not only made a better/more realistic Uke (attacker) during practice, but when we went back to the techniques and drills I had originally taught, they could understand and do them.
After that I took the same approach to everything else. If I was teaching knife defense, I would teach them some knife fighting first. I would go through some fundamental Philippine, Indonesian, and/or Japanese knife techniques/drills with them for a some time, before teaching empty hand defense against a knife. At least with this approach they had a realistic idea of what they were up against. I’m sure we’re all seen many a McDojo teaching techniques of question. Some teach techniques building false self-confidence that will get their students killed, should they ever try to use them against a trained attacker. When teaching to defend against grapplers, I taught some basic Judo, etc..
Today MMA could be considered an evolution of the same approach. I say throw in a weapon system at some point to be complete. There is one other thing to consider, and that would be internal styles and external styles.
I personally believe you need to start with external systems first. There will be a time when transitioning, or at least learning an internal system will need to happen. This is for many reasons. One is continued learning to deeper levels of understanding of how the body can be used, once you have attained the level of knowledge/proficiency you can with your external systems of choice. Another reason is that we all age. As we age our bodies deteriorate. The internal styles rely far less on strength, quickness, and size. You can continue to get better in an internal system into old age. Not only that but while training external styles you see a tendency for injuries over time that accumulate. People tend to modify their technique around their old injuries. The internal systems tend to help you heal your old injuries, and improve you health.
I train several systems religiously today, and still go play with others from time to time, because I like them, and they are fun. Each of us have to make our own decisions on what and how to train. Keep the things I’ve mentioned in mind when making your own decisions. After all it is a life long journey, and there are many paths to the top of the mountain.