I chose today’s post title based on something my father once told me when I was a child. He was repairing or installing some damned thing in the apartment we were icing in, when he asked me to fetch him a certain screwdriver. Always quick to help (and since my dad had a a booming voice that brings out one’s pucker factor) I immediately ran to his toolbox in our storage closet and it took me all of five full minutes to dig through the absolute plethora of tools and gadgets, most of which I’d never seen him use, before I found the screw driver and brought it to him.
When he got it, I asked him why he had all these tools if he never had need of any of them and he said, “When I see a tool that I MIGHT use, I make a point of picking it up. After all, it’s better to have it and not need it than the opposite and an empty toolbox is basically useless. Those words stuck with me and although completely unrelated, I realized during a period of contemplation that it also applies to the martial arts.
This certainly isn’t rocket science and in fact, I’ve written about this before. Martial arts, like many things in life is a very subjective thing and needs to be chosen with care. I walked in to several dojos before finally landing on karate and specifically, Uechi Ryu karate. And as much as I’d like to claim the crown for practicing the BEST style of karate around, I know that even though it was suited for me, that isn’t the case for everyone.
As a student, it can difficult to recognize the shortcomings of one’s style. During one’s formative years, one usually toes the line and follows instructions; step here, stand this way and strike like are usually what’s on a student’s mind as opposed to asking why, which can actually be one of the most important questions in karate. It doesn’t help that some instructors aren’t necessarily amenable to being questioned during training. I was lucky enough that Sensei welcomed his students’ questions. I often just didn’t know to ask.
The thing is, although it may be important to commit yourself to one style, it can also be extremely difficult to identify what that style’s shortcomings may be, if you never venture outside of it. A happy medium of exposure to other training and fighting methods, other styles and schools, can be useful in ensuring that your toolbox will be a full as possible.
Now, it’s important to recognize the difference between dabbling and exposing yourself to other styles and actively training in multiple styles at once. The former will allow you to identify some of the shortcomings you may have in your style while the latter will dilute and confuse your overall training and prevent you from mastering any one style. But identifying one’s weaknesses and shortcomings can be extremely important, especially if/when one ever faces a real-life situation.
Let me frame it with an example that most people will understand, since everyone is obsessed with hockey for some unknown reason… Imagine a professional hockey player who has the very best slap shot and can outshoot the puck on any other player. Now, imagine how ridiculous it would be if, despite being such a proficient puck handler, that same player can’t skate to save their life. They would need to recognize that gap and take steps to bridge it. The same is true for karate.
I’ve recently come to recognize that my style has a significant gap in that most of my techniques are close in and small circle. This means that if I have an opponent who is out of my reach, I won’t attack. This is how I’ve always been taught. But in a real world scenario, closing the gap between yourself and an opponent can be extremely important. This is where my new dojo comes in. there, I’m learning to extend my stances and learn different means of performing certain key techniques, which will ultimately make me a better overall martial artists.
Don’t be afraid to branch out and explore. Even if you’ve found a style that works for you, it can be useful to examine what other methods of training may have to offer. If you’re primarily a grappling style, maybe look into something with some striking. If you only employ hand techniques, look into something that focuses on kicks or pressure points. A little variety can good. After all, an empty toolbox is useless… Food for thought… ☯️