Back in the early 70’s when I first became involved with the oriental martial arts I read as much as I could get my hands on that concerned the martial arts. I came across the phrase often ‘one technique mastered is worth a 1000 sampled’. Then I didn’t pay much attention because I searched for more and more techniques. To me that meant mastery but over the years I developed a fascination with what lay behind or beneath technique; that is, what makes a technique work? If you think of it like learning a language, language consists of two major components: the words or vocabulary and the grammar which is how the words connect to make meaning. The martial arts consist of its own vocabulary which is the techniques we use and strategy which is how we connect or make the techniques work. This analogy allows us to analyse how martial arts training works. If you think of language; the words are crucial but without grammar they make little sense. Like yin and yang they co-exist and cannot exist without each other. So if I accumulate more words my language skills won’t progress even though the words are essential. To make meaning sentences, to interact and communicate with others I must also understand grammar or how to connect the words.
So the acquisition of more words won’t do much for our communication skills just as the accumulation of more technique won’t do much for our martial arts skills. How to connect the techniques and build them into an attacking or defensive strategy is what is necessary which brings us back to the phrase ‘one technique mastered is worth 1000 sampled’. When we examine what is meant by ‘mastered’. Mastery implies that the technique is understood in both content and context. Content being what it is, for instance a roundhouse kick and the context which is how the technique is applied for instance; high or low, back foot or front foot, how it is set up and followed up, what it is combined with such as another kick or a punch. Content and context like grammar and vocabulary are both necessary to achieve mastery in the martial arts, vocabulary being the technique and grammar being the strategy or how the technique is applied.
Understanding these two concepts gives us a huge step forward in our skill acquisition but as I discovered in my own search they alone do not give full understanding and therefore mastery of our martial art. So what does? Well something that strategy and technique both rely on. I started to ask myself questions to find out what I understood of the martial arts after half a lifetime of study and what I discovered I came to call the ‘Laws of Combat’, those absolute elements upon which martial arts skill (or any skill for that matter) are based.
I started by asking the question ‘what are the minimum requirements for combat success?’ The answer that came up was made of what I term the elemental laws. We’ve probably all heard of the universal laws often quoted by self-improvement gurus such as Brian Tracy, Tony Robbins and the like, such as the law of attraction, the law of contrast and so on. All success is governed by certain unassailable laws that guide our actions and control our success.
I discovered 5 elements of success that are the absolute minimum which are: attitude, expectation, game plan, implementation and study what in our martial arts system we call the AEGIS laws, AEGIS being an acronym of the 5 elements and the name of our martial arts system.
Attitude is the beginning of all action in both martial arts and life. How we feel about anything is the beginning of everything we do or don’t do. Every great or small achievement began with an attitude that someone had toward something as in the saying ‘it’s your attitude, not your aptitude that determines your altitude’ which I chose as the definition of this law. So once we have an attitude strong enough to motivate us we must point that attitude toward a goal, outcome or expectation and expectation is the name I gave to the second law because it already existed as one of the universal laws with its own definition being ‘you don’t get what you want or wish for, you only get what you confidently expect’. Expectation is the direction in which we point our attitude which could as easily be martial arts or tiddly winks. The object of our desire is unimportant only what we desire and if we want something enough we can achieve it given time and strategy which is the next elemental law. I named it game plan to reflect the fact that anything we want is much easier to achieve if we make a game of it. Taking anything too seriously creates a fear which can often get in the way of our achievement. Game plan is the intellectual process by which we work out how we are going to get what we want. Any movement toward a goal is strategic but if that move is well thought out as in ‘proper planning prevents poor performance’ then the achievement of that expectation is more likely. Strategy is key to all success but is seldom taught in any educational environment and especially the martial arts. In our system we teach 25 strategies of combat based upon the elemental laws that I’m focusing on today and hope to cover in more detail in a later issue.
The next factor in success is implementation; that is, action, and the physical implementation of our game plan. We must take action toward any goal if we are to achieve it because as Shakespeare said ‘nothing comes from nothing’ and I based the definition of implementation on this by adopting the phrase ‘nothing happens until something moves’. We’ve all seen the ‘talkers’ who know how to achieve but never take action and so action cannot be dispensed with if we are to get what we want. This brings me back to the laws of combat. You may have noticed that I started out talking about martial arts skill and now I have started phasing my context into general life success. This reflects how my own journey played out. I started out looking for the absolute essentials, the building blocks of martial arts success and discovered that what makes us a master of the martial arts is what makes us a master of anything. Martial arts success has become my metaphor for life which is what I believe the ancient masters tried to tell us so many years ago. Sun Tzu, Musashi, Munenori, Uyeshiba and Funakoshi to name but a few all saw passed the acquisition of simple martial arts skill to the point where the type of skill is unimportant compared with what makes that skill in the first place. As I see it is the difference between training a soldier and a General. A General is a soldier but a soldier is at best a potential General. What separates them is the understanding and application of their skills. In order to win a war one must look beyond the purely combative to a goal (expectation) beyond the now into a visualised future outcome.
It is this point where we come to the 5th Law of combat which is the Law of Study. The law of study states that ‘the more you know, the easier it is to know more’. Study is the reflective process that accompanies every action we take and is crucial toward shaping the next action toward our next or current goal. Think about the saying ‘you learn more from a loss than a win’ why? Because when we lose we are apt to consider the reasons for our failure in more detail than when we win. When we win we are prone to let our ego get in the way and think that it’s because we are brilliant but when we lose we start to ask questions about what went wrong and what needs to change. Its good questions that form the beginning of our next strategy and test the strength of our attitudes and expectations before we plan our next move.
These therefore are the 5 Laws of Combat which make up the key ingredients of success in martial arts or any other endeavour. However they are only part of the picture as each of the five laws contains 4 sub laws which more closely identify the elemental nature of achievement. Laws such as emotion, guard, assessment, recognition which make up the 4 attitudinal sub laws. All these serve to help us discover what makes achievement work and what it takes to achieve anything in the martial arts and if you apply them properly how to achieve anything in life. Remember that properly utilised martial arts will not just fulfil short term goals like physical skill which is transitory in the long run as our bodies quit on before our minds do. But toward the greater picture of what we do after our bodies have started to fail on us, when we need to have achieved our life goals of wealth and security because our bodies are no longer strong enough to do the things that we once could. Working our life purely on the physical level has a limited life span like a private soldier when he is too old they retire him off on a pension too small to live on and at an age too young to retire. But the General on the other hand lasts longer because he needs his physical skill less and his mental skill more. He can continue for many more years with greater control of his life in terms of choice, income and influence.
By studying and implementing the laws of combat we can achieve a much fuller mastery of the martial arts, they give us vision beyond simple battle toward a greater more comprehensive goal which is probably why Sun Tzu called his book ‘The art of War’ and not ‘The Art of Battle’ he sought to teach us the true meaning and application of the martial arts based not on winning but on getting the outcome that we want which is the true outcome of martial arts Mastery.
For more information on Tony Higo’s Laws of Combat read ‘Warrior Wisdom – the 25 Elemental Laws that Govern all Success in Combat and Life’ by the same author available at, Amazon and