When we learn new techniques (waza) in martial arts we often say that it’s learning more tools to put in your tool bag. The concept of many styles is “the more tools you have the better you are”. Coming from a traditional background I found the opposite to be true. In Shorinji Kempo I learnt the complete syllabus of around 300 techniques up to 6th Dan, and god knows how many variations. They were often situation dependent too…i.e. if a person attacks or grabs you this way from a particular stance, then do this defence.
When I lived in Japan I was referred to a few times as “Mr Shorinji Kempo” because my knowledge and ability to remember the techniques exceeded the majority of my Japanese peers. However, in reality I found this knowledge lowered my ability in sparring and was probably a hindrance in the street situations I’ve been in. It was a case of information overload…you know too much and hesitate because you have too many options instead of doing something simple. In real life your brain just can’t compute that quick. It’s like learning all the grammar to a language and being expected to conjugate a verb, order it and put it in a sentence in a matter of seconds. For this reason, many schools switched from learning grammar to learning stock phrases which quickly improve your conversational skills (read: reaction time).
In Bushin, I developed a system of “less is more” or better still “less tools in a bigger bag”. Learn a handful of techniques and try to apply them in as many situations as possible until you’ve mastered it. For example if you learn a simple arm bar (waki gatame or gatame) then look to apply it off a grab, a punch, a trap, a pick up, in groundwork and in your attached sensitivity work such as hubud, chi sao or pushing hands. Plus off the stick or knife. When you’ve done all that a million times then learn a new technique. Then start again. The techniques should work whatever the grab or attack, in whichever stance otherwise they are useless in real life.
Bushin’s basic syllabus comprises hard techniques based on angles (i.e. the type of attack and stance becomes irrelevant) and grappling based on 7 or 8 techniques (releases, wrist, elbow, head or leg). About 30 techniques in total all told. Enough for your brain and body to cope with, and enough to cover most streetfighting situations. I think it’s far better to be a martial artist that has one unstoppable special technique than someone that knows all the techniques but can’t apply them well when pressure tested. If you look at a lot of the really good fighters they often had a technique speciality: e.g. Judo champ Neil Adams’ tai otoshi, Mike Tyson’s left hook or MMA Overeem’s guillotine.
So my streetfighting advice would be pick up a tool and put it in the tool bag. Learn, practise, apply and master. Then the bag gets bigger and the tool more versatile. Keep your tools sharp and your bag wide open.