Cacoy Doce Pares / CTS / Empty Hands / Martial Arts / Pekiti Tirsia / Self Defense / Taiji / Team Kali / Wu Style

Skill Development

Ryan is learning the first stand up grappling lock flow series in Counterpoint Tactical System (CTS). As part of teaching him, I’ve been researching whatever lock flows I can find on YouTube. The CTS locks are similar to those in a number of other systems; so, I watch those videos in addition to the CTS videos for alternate explanations. It has been an interesting experiment because watching the videos reinforces that the CTS method of instruction is the optimum one for how I learn. The other ways aren’t wrong; the CTS method is just the most efficient method for the way my brain works. While watching, I made the mistake of reading the comments. Is there any more vile place on the internet than YouTube comments? Probably but I don’t want to know where. Anyway, one of the complaints was that standing locks are not realistic. Another, lock flows don’t work in realistic self defense. It seems as if there’s a belief that if something doesn’t work in mixed martial arts (MMA) fights, that it won’t work in so-called ‘true’ self defense. While I have numerous problems with this philosophy, I won’t discuss it today. Today, I want to talk about skill development.

Alejandro disarming Evan

Alejandro disarming Evan

The simplistic view of martial arts is that it is learning how to fight. It’s much more than that. An effective self defense system teaches multiple skill sets that vary from instant, short, medium, and long term availability. An example of instant availability sills would be how to grip a stick or make a fist. Short term availability would be striking skills, combinations, footwork, and ground escapes; medium term would be disarming, locking, throwing, and ground offense. Finally, long term availability would be longevity, relaxation, and the benefits of internal martial arts. To expect that all skills develop at the same pace ignores the motor complexity involved. Part of development is training physical motor control. We are directing our muscles to move in new and unnatural ways. To take a simplistic view of our musculature, there are two basic functions: gross and fine motor control. Gross musculature covers movements like lifting, walking, swinging a stick, etc. Fine motor control directs movements like typing, writing, tying our shoes, etc. It makes sense that gross movement skills, such as punching, can be grasped and used much faster than fine motor examples like locking and disarming.

Friday - Qigong 04

Master Zach Whitson demonstrating internal martial arts practice.

Fine motor skills also use more time to complete than gross motor skills. There are more steps involved requiring more time and energy. Here is an experiment for you. Have one student apply a simple wrist, arm, or shoulder lock to a complying opponent while at the same time, have another student jab a focus mitt. See how many times the student can jab the mitt before the lock is fully applied. My guess is that with the fastest student doing the locks, the jab count will be, at the least, two. The amount of moving parts necessary to complete a lock are greater than necessary to jab someone in the face. Thus, it makes sense that locking is a skill that takes longer to develop.

09-13-14 Seminar 32a

Ground striking drills.

Watching sparring, one could conclude that locks don’t actually work. So, why study them? If we ignore the need to be a well rounded martial artist, there is still a reason to study locks. Not all skills are equal; this is why tactics exist. The jab and the uppercut are not interchangeable techniques; so, why on earth would anyone assume that striking and locking are? Master Zach Whitson, founder of Counterpoint Tactical System, has a saying, “Never disarm someone in their right mind.” In other words, you have to strike before looking for a disarm. You could easily replace the word disarm with lock or throw in that phrase without losing the meaning. If you’re training safely, you’re not knocking each other silly in sparring, which means that openings for locks are sparse. An opponent that can counter with striking increases the difficulty of locking. If you’re sparring safely, you have to find another way to fool your opponent into giving you the time to apply the lock or get punched in the face.

09-13-14 Seminar 12a

Based on mixed martial arts events, it would seem that standing locks don’t actually work either. I mean, the MMA world hasn’t seen a top level champion like Jon Jones using a standing overhook cradle lock to wrench, say, Glover Teixeira’s shoulder during an actual fight. Have they?

From the Fightland article “Jon Jones versus Glover Teixeira: Defanging the Snake” by Jack Slack. This is a must read article.

The real question is are you practicing all of your skills during sparring? Or are you trying to win? Medium and long term skills can be applied during sparring if we are willing to ‘lose’ at sparring. We should cultivate sparring partners that believe sparring is where we experiment. It’s important to have sparring sessions where we can try new skills against resisting opponents who won’t destroy us when we fail. And we will fail. Failure is a part of any development. We have to be able to step outside our comfort zone to grow. We may just learn that different skills require different tactics.


I used locks as an example through this article, but it could apply to any medium or long term skill. Master Whitson in the course of my training has put me in locks when I was resisting. Why? Because he has taken the time to develop that skill. So, have patience. Talk to your instructor about skill development. What in your art fits into the immediate, short, medium, and long term categories? Next, how do your medium and long term skill sets interact with the immediate and short term ones? Not all skills are equal, and some require more practice than others.


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