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Zigzag Training

A while ago, I received an email from a reader who is in a common situation. Because of his job and life circumstances, it has not been possible for this person to train in one art consistently for many years. Instead, this reader has had to train in several places and styles over the years.

I sometimes call this "zigzag" training (no disrespect intended).

My father was in the Air Force. We lived in many places when I grew up. I had no choice in or control over the matter. Wherever my father was assigned, that was where we lived. Fortunately for me, two of his assignments were in Japan and Hawaii and I was able to practice martial arts there.

Hawaii is also a great place to practice martial arts. There are many schools, styles, and senior instructors. Hawaii may be the best place to learn martial arts in the world.

But I realize that there are many places in the United States where there are few, if any martial arts classes. The level of the instructors may also vary greatly.

As such, it might be very difficult for a student to learn a specific style of Karate. He will have to learn from whoever he can, whenever he can. He might also have to study other martial arts because Karate is not available.

After 30 years, a student who has trained hard and consistently in one style of Karate under one Sensei or dojo, will likely be a 5th dan (or so). But a person who has trained in a zigzag manner may be a shodan in this, an ikyu in that, etc.

Unless a student trains in one style consistently, it will be very difficult for him to attain a higher rank, and this will make it difficult for him to teach (because he will appear to lack authority and credibility). This is a real problem and I realize that many sincere students must deal with it.

I myself trained in many martial arts. From one perspective, every minute I trained another art was one less minute I practiced Karate. I guess that I could be higher ranking in Karate if I only practiced Karate.

But from another perspective, every other art I practiced made me a better Karate student. Every technique I learned in other arts gave me a better appreciation of the similar techniques in Karate. It made me a more well rounded martial artist.

But I also consistently practiced Karate while learning other arts. Karate was always there. I did not leave it or quit.

As a result, I gradually rose in rank in Karate. This, I must admit, has made it easier for me to teach. I must admit that rank does mean something in this regard. An attacker will not care about your rank, but the person who runs the facility where you want to teach might care about your credentials.

Zigzag training does make it hard to establish credibility for teaching.

I am afraid that I do not have a solution for this. In the past, when a student joined my dojo and had a lot of experience in another style, I would take this into consideration when awarding the initial rank. Now I do not do this. The style I teach is so different that experience in other arts is not too helpful. Learning our basics is difficult for a new student and more difficult for a student with experience in other styles generally and particularly if the other style is rigid and stiff. It is actually easier for students who have learned arts such as Tai Chi.

For readers who have to "zigzag" train, I would say that any martial arts training can be useful. The structure of a martial arts system where students rise to high rank and become the teachers is not the only one. It is useful to learn many arts.

I'm sorry that I do not have a good answer to this.


Charles C. Goodin