Carry one sharp knife

“Better to carry one sharp knife than one hundred dull ones.”

To put this training philosophy into different words,

“Jack of all trades, master of none.”

To understand the statement on a practical level, think of any professional athletic endeavor.

Take boxing, to stick with a fighting art. Boxers evolve in their understanding of ring strategy over decades, but throughout their practice, they strive to master only a handful of physical techniques: uppercut, jab, cross, and hook; 4 basic punches; add to that basic stance, posture, head movement, how to clinch and cover up, in terms of body positioning, and you have the basics of the entire art. The rest is a matter of individual talent for timing, conditioning, and learning to take a punch. The best fighters emerge from the set of boxers who dedicate years to honing these few techniques.

Take baseball. Hitters learn one basic swing, with variations on that one theme to account for pitch and location. Pitchers learn one basic throwing motion with different grips for different pitches and some minor adjustments in footwork that can affect location and speed. Fielders learn one basic fielding strategy, for infielders (butt down, keep the ball in front, play the ball, don’t let the ball play you), and another for outfielders (first step is back, run under the ball and then raise your glove, know where your back up is when you decide whether or not to dive for a catch . . .); experience teaches the players how to handle variations in what the ball is doing, but the fundamental set of techniques remains very small. Players spend years perfecting these skills. At the college and professional level, pitchers often put the bat down and never pick it up again, so difficult is it to master their skill set and perform consistently.

Basketball players, one basic shooting motion. Some players are offensive specialists, some defensive specialists, and they all play specialized roles depending on their relative physical talents and assigned positions on the floor.

Traditional martial art systems like Taekwon-do, by contrast, actually require students to master a relatively large set of techniques (the Chang-Hon system we practice requires the practice of five basic ground kicks alone; our basic workout includes 10 basic fundamental techniques as well).

My point is this: the demands of a system like Taekwon-do require more fundamental practice, not less. Schools who offer a different workout every night of the week are caught in a desperate attempt to entertain, rather than train, their students.

That said, it is certainly possible, and even necessary to introduce occasional variations in workout format, but to be effective it must be done with the same fundamental training goals in mind.

In our school, this can take the form of a longer or shorter kicking practice, the inclusion of combination techniques that build on the fundamental skills, longer or shorter sparring practice, and occasional tournament competition practice, to name a few.

For the peewees and juniors, constructive games can be included.

One staple that never changes: every student practices all of his basic hyungs (the Korean counterpart to the Japanese kata) in one continuous set as part of every workout. This ensures consistent conditioning on the part of advanced students, and it can be argued that doing so also encompasses all the combination practice a student will ever need.

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