When my brother first came back from Thailand, he caught me with the same arm-bar for three months straight until I started to recognize the setup. Once I recognized the setup and learned to block it, he began arm-barring my other arm.
One skill we develop as we train in martial arts is the ability to recognize that certain cues from our training partners correlate to specific threats. Over time, our bodies become more intelligent in this regard and we begin to recognize, either physically or subconsciously, micro-movements or even shifts in intention and what were once slow, clunky reactions, become more agile and fluid, even shutting down the threat before it arises.
The reality is, however, that not only are our partners also learning, evolving, and adapting, but new, different training partners come along, with different skills and goals than what we are accustomed to. Now, we find that the cue we thought represented a specific threat was actually a trick to set up an entirely different attack. In this way, so-called ‘muscle memory’ can actually become a hindrance, leading us into traps instead of getting us out of them.
The best way to respond to a threat is not to anticipate it in order to react to it. Instead, we should position ourselves in such a way as to always have the initiative, even in defense. This requires us to understand fundamental principles of attack and defense that are universal instead of specific. With these principles as our foundation, the type of threat we face and the form it takes becomes less important and we can be less reactionary. The fundamentals may seem boring or unimpressive in the beginning. However, with enough focus and repetition, they actually offer us the freedom to explore higher, more sophisticated skills later, more safely and with more longevity.*
“As in life, so too it is in budo. As in budo, so too it is in life.”
*Note: This post was inspired by a recent series of seminars that I attended which were taught by Relson Gracie black belt Todd Tanaka who runs Relson Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Team HK in Hawaii