No, I don’t mean UFC, or cage fighting, or the Gracies. I also don’t mean mixing in techniques from other styles to fill the perceived holes in what you do. What I mean is finding training partners from other styles to work out with. Those of us who train alone are not alone in what we do and putting together a mixed group of martial artists is not a new idea. Like-minded individuals, sharing ideas; sounds great. So why doesn’t it ever work?
A few years ago I came across such a group on Meetups.com and I joined in a heartbeat. I have now attended a whopping TWO meetups since joining and I only know of three or four that have even taken place. Despite this fact, membership in the group grows. People like this idea but it is harder to put in place than one would think.
To begin with, everyone has a personal agenda when they join. Some want to share (even promote) what they know and are less interested in an exchange of ideas. Some are brand new to martial arts and want to learn, from the ground up, from anyone who will teach them. Some are simply not open-minded enough to listen to another idea without quickly telling everyone how “they would do it.” Inevitably, the most dominant voice, or the person with the most experience, begins to assert a leadership role. This is not necessarily a bad thing but it sometimes does not encourage sharing. Part of the problem is that any idea that is suggested by that person is part of a whole logic and strategy of their style. It becomes hard to contrast and compare alternatives if other ideas don’t fit that style as well.
The best event I attended was well managed but gave each participant 15 minutes to demonstrate and teach an idea. The sharing was good but the depth of learning was very limited. And, the truth is, I don’t want to be taught a little something new. I want to challenge my own ideas and see how they stand up in the face of alternatives; and see how those alternatives can make me look at my techniques differently.
So, if you plan to put together such a group, here are my suggestions. First, there does need to be a “manager” who organizes the group, decides on the time and place, and sets out the framework. Once the group has gathered, one person should suggest a fairly universal defense, based off of a fairly universal attack. Beginners can follow the guidelines demonstrated by that person, but everyone else is free to practice the technique in any manner they wish. Partners are regularly changed so that everyone gets to try their technique out and feel everyone else’s. There is no teaching. Beginners can be given suggestions but, if they need that much help, they need to find a class. You share, not by talking about what you do, but by doing it. You gain knowledge by watching and, if needed, tweaking your own movements based on what you see working.
You can follow this drill with a second exercise where the same defensive concepts are applied but to a very unexpected type of attack. Multiple attackers, uneven terrain, sitting or kneeling versus standing; these are all ideas that come quickly to mind. This is a way to challenge everyone. Most techniques can be “forced” to work in a controlled situation but, when that scenario changes, only fundamentally sound techniques function well. These exercises will point out the underlying fundamentals in everyone’s techniques so that, instead of focusing on everyone’s stylistic differences, the participants can start honing those core ideas which they all share.