Learning techniques and principles are two different things. Learning by technique produces clear instruction and is usually well developed. Moreover, while teaching by technique, it is easier to gauge a student’s progress. Indeed, technique is the preferred method of many martial artists. Whereas learning by technique means dedication to step-by-step instruction on particular blocks or strikes or movements, learning by principle means participating in attribute drills and games, as well as dedicating a lot of time to internal analysis.
While the methods vary, Systema focuses on learning by principle.
Principles produce spontaneity
Principles produce natural and “true” action
Principles open an unlimited reserve of techniques
Principles are necessary for honest self defense preparation
Earlier, we addressed the importance of spontaneity in terms of self-defense and the Tao, but it also plays a key role in success. Spontaneity suggests that a practitioner has internalized life-saving principles and that they are at his or her disposal at a second’s notice. Imagine you were on a road-trip, but only filled up the car with exactly what you needed to reach your destination. You would not be prepared for the unexpected; only for what you expected. Any detours, flats, traffic conditions, or vacant gas stations would cause you to fall short of your mark. Learning by principle is akin to keeping your gas tank full.
Natural and “True” Action
Natural and “true” action relate to spontaneity in that natural action is always spontaneous; it is not contrived, planned, or nervous. Natural action is non-threatening and unique because it comes from within. Some may wonder why a non-threatening appearance is important to self-defense, but besides keeping you out of trouble, it will relax an opponent, lull them into a sense of security, and hopefully, deescalate the situation. Otherwise, natural action will make your opponent’s demise even greater when they realize they are not in control at the last moment! Natural action is confusing, yet simple.
As for “true” action, consider the following quote:
“If you perceive the true form of heaven and earth, you will be enlightened to your own true form. If you are enlightened about a certain principle, you can put it into practice. After each practical application, reflect on your efforts. Progress continually like this.”
-Morihei Ueshiba (Trans. Stevens, 2010)
“True” action is a reflection of the true form of heaven and earth, or the Divine Form. So what is the Divine Form? We know from the same person, Morihei Ueshiba, that the Divine is within each one of us, and we need not look any further than our current position.
Unlimited Reserve of Techniques
You may have already guessed, but principles generate an unlimited reserve of techniques that are reflections of the divine form or natural, “true,” action. Therefore, there is no need to spend a lot of time on technique. Let’s look again to Morihei Ueshiba,
“The techniques of the Way of Peace change constantly; every encounter is unique, and the appropriate response should emerge naturally. Today’s techniques will be different tomorrow. Do not get caught up with the form and appearance of a challenge. The Art of Peace has no form–it is the study of the spirit.”
-Morihei Ueshiba (Trans. Stevens, 2010)
When it really comes down to putting principles into practice without taking time to learn techniques, it is hard to trust that techniques will emerge naturally. A lot of time will pass before you witness this process occurring in your own practice, but it is nonetheless true. You must have faith or all the time in the world won’t help.
Honest self-defense is always principle based. There are many examples. You must train your natural responses to attacks, you must learn to move, to relax, develop a combative body, learn timing, distance, and rhythm among other things. Many profess that one can increase personal safety in an attack by soft movement alone. Pressure points, strikes, and joint manipulation is only part of the story. In fact, most people do not need these things at all. For children, the best defense is kicking and screaming. . .not a karate chop. Right? It is more important that a child (or an adult for that matter) does not freeze and just does what comes naturally.
The best self-defense happens before contact even starts. Consider the children’s tale “The Story of Ferdinand” by Munro Leaf. We all know what happens to a bull in the ring. The banderilleros excite the bull with pins and spears, the bullfighter taunts the bull and finally finishes her with his sword. In the story of Ferdinand the Bull, no matter how much the banderilleros prodded, Ferdinand refused to participate because he preferred to smell the flowers. Ferdinand’s response (or lack of response) drove the bull fighters mad because they couldn’t show off for the crowd. Finally, they sent Ferdinand home and he lived to sit in his pasture another day. . .no self defense techniques required (Munro, 2011). The story shows that if you don’t add fuel to the fire, it will die.
There is another story by Taoist, Chuang Tzu: a man takes his fighting cock to a well-regarded trainer, but every time he comes back for his fighting cock, the trainer tells him that the bird is not ready because he fluffs his feathers and squawks in the presence of other cocks. Finally, the man returns and the trainer tells him that the bird is ready, because now the fighting cock pays no attention to the other birds, stands calm, unintimidated, and motionless. The trainer says, “the other cocks will take one look at him and run,” (Merton, 2010). This a great example as long as we also remember to show love, respect, with the best intention, to those around us.
Lastly, remember that there are some things that no one can prepare for, but your attitude about it will greatly improve the quality of your life.
Ueshiba, Morihei, and John Stevens. The Art of Peace. Boston & London: Shambhala, 2010. Print.
Leaf, Munro, and Robert Lawson. The Story of Ferdinand. New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 2011. Print.
Merton, Thomas. The Way of Chuang Tzu. Rev. Ev. ed. New York: New Directions, 2010. Print.