What is good technique? How is it measured and how can you make sure you are using it? And why should you care?
The way you do things create habits. These habits can have positive benefits, negative benefits or neither. A physical habit is just like any other type of habit, easy to make but hard to break. The trick is to develop correct technique from the start and make it a habit from day one.
What correct technique does for you:
One thing correct technique does for the practitioner is to insure correct and safe progressive learning. Every person starts at their own place. This is physical, as in flexibility and strength and mental, which can be willpower and discipline. Proper technique allows a person to start where they are at and build to more advance movements as they grow in a safe and progressive manner. On the other hand, bad technique may work for the person at the point they are but may not lead to higher and more progressive movements in a safe way.
Take the horse stance, in most classes you can see examples of very good technique but you can also see examples of bad technique. Why the difference? Did the people with good horse stances start that way? In all the time I have been teaching (over 20 years) I have only had a handful of beginners able to perform a proper horse stance in a low position. Everybody else had to start at their own level.
This means that it is not a natural talent. You’re not born with a low horse stance. Which means it has something to do with technique. And that means you can learn it. What I am getting at is that the people who have great horse stances pay attention to the proper technique while the others are training incorrect technique. It is interesting to note that they are all taught the same way and told the same thing but by not applying the same thing they don’t get the same results.
Why do students who have all been taught the same way continue to mess up the fundamentals of their technique? Students want to prove themselves to others as well as themselves. And in this pursuit of achievement taking short cuts is very enticing. For example, bending forward a couple of inches can allow you to get lower like that brown belt next to you. But it also takes the weight off your legs, so they don’t work as hard, puts it on the lower back, which can cause lower back problems and builds a bad habit. A habit of taking the short cut, the habit of bad technique.
Since this stance is fundamental and is used in many other techniques, if it is wrong then so is everything else you will be doing. For example, if you are learning a flying side heel from a horse and you are still bending over, then when you land with that bent back, well now all the stress you put on your lower back will be much more when your whole body weight lands in that improper position. If the body is not over the legs when you land your body is not in alignment for your landing but more importantly for your next movement. This means when you go to move your balance (upper body and lower) will be out of sync, taking more time and causing other problems in your next movement.
Try standing and bending over two or five inches. Now just walk around the house and do normal things while holding this posture. Make sure you bend at the hips not the head. I would guess that in a few minutes you will start to get lower back pain and everything you do will just be harder.
Not to beat a dead horse, but all this stems from technique. And what is the technique of the horse stance? Back Straight, Knees out. When you see a person doing a good horse stance this is what you are seeing. Thy might be low as well and this is what most people see and try to emulate but this is also wrong. If you were in the gym and saw a power lifter working out would you try to lift as much as him? Of course not. But you might want to learn his technique. So, what allows this student to do a low horse stance is the fact that they started at the beginning and did it right (knees out, back straight) and the rest was just practice.
I also would venture a guess that this is not the only thing you admire about them. I don’t think I have ever taught someone who had great stances but horrible everything else.
So what is good technique? It allows for safe continuous use of your body without injury. It is repeatable and learnable. It is progressive and so important that you do it right in the beginning. It allows you to safely advance while getting you in better physical shape.
How is it measured? It starts with where you are right now. You can’t measure your technique off of someone that is more advanced and has trained longer. Though you can use them as a model of where you’re going. Each technique has basic rules and these rules are what make up the technique. So you learn and you pay attention to these and once you have them and can repeat them you then start adding all the other physical attributes to the move. You learn these rules in your private lessons and you hear them over and over again in skill classes. You also do exercises in skill class that build these. For example, why is the back leg locked out in your bow stance?
You know these basics. You may not be able to tell me but when I tell you, you instantly know it. Besides practice, the one thing that differentiates a good martial artist from a great one is the attention to detail that we call technique.
Why should you care? You should care because without proper technique you are not training for your health. You will not be able to do this art for a life time. Life is movement and this art is all about movement. To move with purpose and grace until the day we are laid to rest is our goal.
Why should you care? If your health is not enough then consider your safety. If someone in class throws you and your posture is off you stand a chance of greater injury. If you are in a self-defense situation and it involves more than one person or more than one attack, then this is where the rubber meets the road. Any part of your technique that is wrong might not matter with one attacker but just might cost you your life with a determined attacker or multiple attackers.
In conclusion, start with where you are and don’t compare yourself to others. Start with learning the fundamentals correctly before you put power or speed on the technique. That means that if you are doing a side heel thrust correctly at knee high but can’t do it at waist level, then you can practice it with more force and speed at the lower level (as long as you do not sacrifice technique for speed or power) and that in itself will start to build the leg up for higher kicks. If you want to try a higher kick out go to the next level that allows you to do almost every kick slow and correct. Say 7 out of 10. Maybe that is thigh level. If you have to do the kick fast to get it to the target that is telling you that you do not have control of the kick. Slow down and stop taking short cuts. Ask the black belts, there is no short cut in mastering your body. But there are incorrect paths that will add injury and time to your training.
When you want to speed up then slow down and do it right.