Often I hear it said that having correct basics is the key to a thousand martial arts related buzzwords and I do agree that having the ability to execute basics correctly is very important. The stories passed down over the years about great martial artists training in the glorious past are filled with tales of students who had to endure the drilling of this or that basic stance, punch, kick or whatever for countless months until at last that single basic was polished to the instructors standard of perfection. With so many old masters shaking their heads in disgust at the half-baked applications of various martial arts I thought I would go ahead and start a thread about the various approaches to BASICS.

It seems to me that many martial arts that are famous for having students that have highly polished basics tend to emphasize the learning of only a handful of basics to begin with. For example western boxing teaches a handful of basics compared to some other arts; the result is that they can use those basics very well. In Wing Chun again we see the focus on only a handful of basics and many creative means to ingrain them. Those martial arts are very popular even though they are basics focused, proving that you dont necessarily lose students or popularity just because you drill basics as long as you have a variety of ways in which to train them, speed bag, heavy bag, shadow boxing, focus mitts, with resistance, without resistance, partner drills, light contact, full contact, blindfolded etc It only gets boring if you run the exact same move over and over without variation. It gets more than boring; it becomes a hindrance to adaptability.

One approach of an Instructor I visited somewhere in Western Asia was to have his students stand in the Horse Stance in front of the wooden post and execute alternating corkscrew punches for the entire length of his class, just shy of an hour and always to the same spot roughly equivalent to their solar plexus level. Each class he picked a different basic and they repeated the same process. Frankly, I was surprised he managed to keep any students at all but he was one of only 3 instructors in that area and his students felt that this type of training would be sufficient to protect them in an actual self-defense situation. Who was I to judge?

Another instructor I visited used to have his students train basics in a method similar to Yoga, where they placed pressure on a part of the basic and maintained it for as long as they could, he had many students and all of them seemed very strong even the little kids. His school was full of all kinds of contraptions that his students used to train the handful of basics he instructed them in.

Over the years I have witnessed some cool approaches to basics but so few approaches produced students that had both good basics and also a vast versatility. In other words I would spar with the practitioners and often felt like I was sparring with robots. They did not have much continuity between one basic and the next. It was like whoever programmed this robot only gave him a handful of functions and while those functions would have been devastating had they landed the robot could not improvise well.

The complexity of basics is a fascinating subject of study. I feel like a popular misconception exists with regards to what a good basic IS A good basic is not an IS but rather it DOES, by that I mean that it is not about looking good with a particular movement but in understanding all the ways that move can influence your target and yourself. The training of a single basic should not be about doing a side kick with perfect form over and over (while good form is a part of basic training) rather it should be about how many ways you can use it, how many ways you can set it up, how many ways you can counter it, what can follow it, what can follow if its countered, how it feels internally, what speeds and angles of travel, how many targets, how can it be faked, feinted and so on.

It is OK if you disagree with me. I could be wrong but in terms of practicality what good is the perfect answer if I have to wait for the perfect question?

the art I study teaches many basics or fundamentals, and we work to develop them over time. we are given a number of basics at each belt level to study, and expected to improve in skill with each basic (as well as forms, sets, and self defense techniques) as we progress. we also work on combining basics.

I have been to some schools that don't teach any basics! just "punch him here" without any attention to how the punch is performed, what striking surface is used, and whether the punch should be snapping or thrusting, all the details, etc. and in that school we were taught to link them together and work on flow, I got pretty good at the art and left when I realized something was missing in that school and in my own martial art, where was the effectiveness? I had heard the phrase "natural weapons" and never felt like my body was a weapon.

I have also trained some shotokan when I was younger, which was definitely the 'stand in a horse and repeat this basic' but we at least went over 3 or 4 basics for the whole class. I feel that is a bit of a waste of class time. we should practice these things on our own time, sure go over the basics in class, but continue to work on other things in class too. you have the instructor at your disposal, why utilize them for only a small bit?

I think it comes down to this, all learning begins in the embryonic stage. you have to learn by the numbers, you have to break it down. otherwise you get people firing back kicks that are really side kicks. you get people doing handsword strikes with their fingers.

you develop the basic to be accurate, and then you progress to the next level, getting the flow of the movement, and you continue on to the next levels where you explore and move spontaneously and fit the situation, whichever that may be, without hesitation and with correct fundamentals.

I wouldn't rest a student's sparring flaws and hesitition on basics. I would be more inclined to look at their repetition/practice, what is the student doing with their time? I would look at the curriculum as well, and look at WHAT they are practicing.