Saturday, January 14, 2012

Size Matters

I probably shouldn't have to say this, but in martial arts, one size does not fit all. What a man who is six-foot-four and two hundred and twenty pounds can make happen is different than what a five-foot-tall hundred pound woman can do.

Whatever techniques you use have to be adjusted to your physiology. The origin story for Silat Sera has it that the founder was gimpy–one good arm and a clubfoot–and that meant he had to devise ways that allowed him to get past his handicaps.

The one-armed martial artist who learns how to do circular blocks, or stop-punches, or other techniques that don't need the second arm or hand is a staple in origin stories. I've studied half a dozen arts over the years, and two of them feature a one-armed creator.

If you can take care of business with one arm, then having a spare is lagniappe. So the next teacher to come along can add that in, and give you more choices of tools to use.

Most recent class, I found myself working out with another student who was fifty pounds lighter and six or seven inches shorter. My reach was much longer than his. I could tag him outside his range, so in order to tag me, he had to get in. A fighter who is smaller has to make that adjustment. An in-fighting art can allow a shorter player to negate a bigger fighter's long-range tools, but you have to know how to get there.

The first serious arts I fooled with were out-fighting ones. If I could stand back and use long kicks, why wouldn't I do that? I liked the staff over the knife, the spear over the sword. Farther away was safer.

At least that's what I thought back then. Sometimes, closer is safer. It depends on what you know. And when I ran into in-fighters who could get past my long-range stuff, I was in trouble.

Um. Anyway, working with the shorter student, we had to keep adjusting his tools. If you can't reach me with that elbow or knee, then you need to use a different weapon. The punch is longer than the elbow, the kick reaches farther than the knee. Don't try to force a short technique to stretch past its limit.

A good teacher will tell you to adjust the techniques to yourself. If you can't safely reach the attacker's nose with your punch because he's too tall, then hit him someplace you can reach. But if the teacher is a big guy and you are small, you need to be responsible for making those changes. You have to learn your own range, and if it's not the teacher's range, use yours and not his.

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