Practicing fighting techniques without practicing body methods will leave you with nothing in the end.
While some people might disagree with this saying, it’s the heart of traditional Chinese martial arts practice.
If you only learn fighting techniques, you may collect a number of movements that can be applied to various specific self defense scenarios (if my opponent attacks me with that technique, I’ll answer with this one). But there are two problems with this approach.
The first problem is that we cannot realistically train a specific answer to every possible occurrence in a physical altercation. If you take the equational approach to learning self defense, then when a new variable will throw off your calculations. Let’s say the angle of a strike comes in just a little irregularly, such that your prescribed responses aren’t really suited to blocking, evading, or destroying the attack. You might run the risk of becoming frozen – and that gets you hit. But if you train movement principles based on the fundamental DNA of your chosen system, then you have adaptable answers that will still conform to the mechanics and strategy of your training (and what’s the use of training if you can’t or don’t deploy it when needed). In other words, if you train hard to drill the specific movement principles of your system into your body, and only afterwards engage in first scripted and then unscripted attack scenarios, you will be able to really use and express your system of martial arts.
Mind you, these movement principles don’t always have to be expressed in a fight (so don’t think my mind’s only on violence here). My little brother was learning Aikido at one point. During the period of his training he was hiking in the mountains. On his way down he was picking up speed and the path became gravelly. He suddenly realized that he had completely lost control of his momentum and was about to eat dirt (or stones). As he fell, his movement training kicked in and he managed to execute a forward roll, controlling the fall. He was completely uninjured, and in fact rolled up into a walk. He never trained with the idea that “When falling down a steep mountain path, tuck your right shoulder and execute a forward roll.” There was no “if A then B” training. But the hours spent rolling and learning his center kicked in and saved him from damage.
The second problem with training a collection of techniques without training the underlying body mechanics that feed them has to do with the limits of the human body. My silat teacher, Jim Ingram, puts it very simply. He’s currently 82 years old and can still drop down in a full squat and into the low kneeling stances of the style. He can move quickly and throw much bigger people than himself (like me). He admits that he’s not as fast, nor as strong, nor has as much endurance as he did when he was young. But he can still practice his art and use it if need be. In contrast, some other teachers and practitioners in his generation can no longer do the movements, even though they have knowledge of the techniques. What’s the great secret to Oom Jim’s continued abilities? He says that if you don’t practice daily, you get rusty. If you don’t keep moving, corrosion sets in. So Oom Jim practices basic body movements (not just fighting techniques) every morning to this day.
Martial arts is a way of life, which is why it’s not just about collecting techniques. It’s about daily training to realize your physical potential. Training the fundamental movement principles of your system turns your body into a refined delivery system, lends itself to adaptability, increases your capacity to move, and keeps you capable into old age.