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My Favorite Post – The Secrets of CTS

I was searching through my archives, and I’m proud of this blog. One post, though, stands head and shoulders above the rest as the favorite thing that I’ve written. I like it so much that I decided to re-post it. Is it perfect? Hahahaha – no. But it is my favorite, and so I want to put it up again. Because I’m a writer and a perfectionist, I did a few minor edits to make a few sentences sound better.

The post is from August 2013. Here is a link to the original entry for the The Secrets of CTS.


Every martial art seems to have their secrets. A quick Google search shows that martial arts and secrets go hand-in-hand. After last week’s Counterpoint Tactical System (CTS) class, Ryan and I were talking about what makes a martial artist successful. We talked about the cool stuff that the advanced practitioners can do. As we progress with our training and skills, we become exposed to new areas of training in the system. In CTS, things like Espada y Daga, knife vs. knife, and double stick tactics are reserved for the advanced students. Watching those practitioners work their skills is always enjoyable. Sometimes, they seem light years ahead of where we currently are. While watching them, it is easy to see that they understand the ‘bigger picture’ of the art. As we talked about this, I decided to let Ryan in on the secrets of CTS. Below, I share those secrets of understanding the ‘big picture.’ Are you ready?

The deepest, darkest secret of Counterpoint Tactical Systems is that you have to do the work. Plain and simple. At the advanced levels of CTS, the art – from my current viewpoint – becomes about timing, distance, and relaxation. These aspects only come with time and practice. There is no shortcut; there is no skipping ahead in line. (To be fair to Ryan, I want to note that he wasn’t asking for shortcuts.) This secret is so important that it’s hidden in plain sight; it’s so vital that it’s shared with every other martial art, even with other activities that have nothing to do with martial arts. When we are engaged in something we enjoy, we get impatient. We want the new stuff now, now, NOW! I am as guilty of this as anyone. I see the senior students working Espada y Daga and think, “How freaking cool? I can’t wait to do that.” The way they move the knife around the stick is fun to watch, and they make it look easy. What I’m not seeing, though, is the hours and hours of practice; I’m not watching the years of sharpening and polishing the basics that feed into the Espada y Daga movements. If I want to be achieve proficiency in something, I have to practice. I have to do the work. Do I want a black belt in CTS? Practice. Do I want a Cacoy Doce Pares black belt? Practice. Do I want to excel at writing? Practice. Do I want to be good at Balintawak? Practice. Do I want to be an expert gamer? Practice.

The second secret of CTS is that the basics need to be polished and maintained. Surprisingly, every other thing in life shares this secret as well. We have to stand before we can run, right? In order to lift weights, our postures must be correct. In order to write a novel, we must be able to string letters together into words and words into sentences. If we are not good at these basics, we cannot do the more advanced efforts. So, should we continue to practice the basics even though we have moved on to the advanced portion? Yes. We practice correct posture every time we lift weights (or should to avoid injury). Every time we talk or write, we practice creating sentences. We continually hone basics in many areas of life everyday.  This is another of the benefits of teaching. As I show my students the basics, I get to practice them as well.

The Storm

Before my seminar last May, I had been to three seminars with Master Whitson where he covered empty hands vs. knife level one. I had worked, at least, six months learning that material with Evan Ringle. I had worked with Mike Miller on knife tapping after passing that curriculum test. In other words, empty hands vs. knife level one is a piece of curriculum with which I am fairly familiar. Yet, at my seminar, I asked him to cover it again. Why? So that I could take it easy? No. Part of the reason that I asked for that material was to see what new thing I could learn. Each previous seminar, I picked up some new bit about the material that I had previously missed. This past May was no different.

I could see how it might get frustrating to go to a seminar and learn the same thing over and over and over again for some people. But, then, I think about how many years Master Whitson and his teachers have put into these techniques, drills, and concepts. The amount of time that I’ve been doing these techniques is very short compared to their efforts, and there’s no way that I’ve got it perfected. So, I try each time to approach the material with fresh eyes. I look for another piece of the puzzle. I try to watch  footwork, what strikes are preferred, pace of the drill, and the differences between various practitioners. After getting familiar with a curriculum block, I also like to pay attention to how it is being taught. If I look to those with more experience than me to teach me techniques, shouldn’t I look to those with more teaching experience to show me how to teach? I think so. Practicing the basics of anything is not as fun as doing the complicated, advanced techniques, but that practice, that polish is essential.

So, there it is. Those are the two secrets of CTS: Do the work and practice the basics. They’re nothing earth shattering. Maybe they’re not even really secret. But they are the keys to success in Counterpoint Tactical Systems and most other endeavors in life. If you want to see the big picture in CTS, you, first, have to polish and refine the portion of the picture you already have.

Graphic from MotiveWeight. Check out this blog for inspiring fitness graphics!


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