Tactics over Techniques

I see lots of examples of martial arts and what I see is just a repetition of what everyone else is doing, which is acquiring more techniques. More techniques means more complication, more to memorise, more to practice and this leads to a diffusion of ones skill and you risk becoming a jack of all trades and master of none. The more different things we practice, the less good we can be at any one of those things.

Today’s martial arts masters don’t understand the difference between tactics and technique and seem only to encourage their students to acquire more techniques rather than how to apply them in more situations. There’s an old proverb in the martial arts which says ‘one technique mastered is worth a thousand sampled’ and this means we can be great if we master a few techniques providing we have good strategies to apply them.

The law of predictability says ‘if you keep on doing what you’ve always done, you’ll keep on getting what you’ve always got’. This works fine if the result you get is a good result, but even then, we must progress, evolve and adapt if we are to be effective in what we do. Science is evolving, sport is evolving, technology is evolving yet the martial arts are acting as if nothing has changed.

The law of leverage says ‘create more with less’ and this means being efficient. Efficiency should be the goal of every martial artist, to get the best result possible in any given situation. Basically, to avoid conflict and if it can’t be avoided, to emerge safely from it. This is not easy as every situation brings its own challenges to overcome but it is predictable in that most situations bring up the same types of challenge. This is where tactics come in.

A tactic is like a hammer and a technique is like a nail. The technique is the fix for a situation which in carpentry is to fix two pieces of wood together. The nail only works in a small number of situations. It is only fit for one purpose which is to be knocked into wood and it only needs to be fit for that purpose, such as being long enough and strong enough to keep two pieces of wood together. The hammer though is more adaptable, it can be used with other types of nail and in other ways, such as heavily, lightly, quickly, angled and even to remove the nail if it goes in wrong.

The nail is useless without the hammer and once it’s used it’s pretty much useless as a nail anymore but the hammer can be used with 1000’s of other nails. It’s important therefore, to know the difference between using hammers and nails (techniques and tactics). The hammer is how we use the nail and, the tactic is how we use the technique. Tactics are more important than techniques because if you have only one technique but many tactics you can win but if you have many techniques and no tactics you will more than likely lose.

The key then, is in the balance of tactics and techniques, combining them together, to get the best result. For example, the right cross is a technique and our hammer, the tactic, is how we use that right cross. The right cross has the power to knock someone out but only if it can be landed well. It needs a good tactic to set it up. The tactic could be a left jab which is fast and hard to defend. If the jab lands well the cross is more likely to, whereas the right cross alone has more distance to travel which means more can go wrong on the way, like it being seen and defended against. Here then, the tactic is to prepare the way for the cross using a reaction strategy (the jab) to create an opening for it.

Any technique is only useful when it is backed by the right tactics and those tactics are a combination of distance, leverage, timing, speed and the balance of these 5 factors in cooperation. These tactics apply in carpentry as in combat but unlike carpentry, combat has added complications. The wood that we hammer the nail into will not try to resist our efforts except to the degree of the hardness of the wood but in combat our opponent will actively, try to defend against the right cross being hammered home. Combat tactics must be broadened to meet this extra challenge using feints, fakes, draws and duplicities because our opponent, unlike wood, has, in most cases a desire not to be hit.

This reinforces the fact that tactics are more important than techniques and this can be summed up in the phrase ‘it ain’t what you do it’s the way that you do it’. However, too many martial artists forget that combat is not so much an exchange of techniques, as an exchange of tactics. It is strategy that wins, techniques are just part of the strategy.

In summary, if you want to become a better martial artist, you need techniques but more importantly, you need the tactics of how to apply those techniques in more situations. The best martial artists, sportspeople, actors and scientists don’t look for more techniques, they look for a few techniques and use superb tactics to adapt those techniques to many situations. This is the secret to martial arts greatness.