Tuesday, April 05, 2016

The Three T's

The "three t's" are a basic progression of learning, which can apply to a broad range of physical skills, which I'll reference here to the pursuit of skill in martial arts. They are tools, targets and timing.

The first T is tools, and these are primary. Can you imagine going to a carpentry class to learn to build things, and not be taught the safe and proper use of the various implements before starting to use them, or driving a car without first knowing basic controls? In karate, for example, among the first things taught will likely be a horse stance and how to throw a basic punch. From there one branches out into other stances, blocks, parries and strikes, and how to combine them. In styles that feature footwork, one may start with a on-guard position and a simple step or two, combined with related hand movements. Eventually both methods ought to achieve similar goals.

The second T is targets. Without these, we're simply dancing. Targeting brings specificity to our action. Tools teach "how"; targeting teaches where and why. For instance, the various applications of finger jabs, claws, chops and punches. This engages the imagination by creating external focus and takes us through the various stages of mechanical development of skill.

The third T is timing, which is knowing "when" to do what is needed. Initially it is a mechanical process as our conscious mind struggles to control all the details. When we learn techniques, it is an internal dialog about coordinating information. As we progress, it becomes relational to external circumstances. Just like learning to drive a car, what feels awkward at first eventually becomes unconscious and automatic. Without timing, we have a pile of pieces from which to assemble a puzzle. It is the difference between "dead" (self-involved, unresponsive) and "live" (fully responsive and aware) martial arts. No longer do we try to figure out which technique corresponds to whatever confronts us; our action is innate and appropriate. Bruce Lee described this using water as a metaphor; it has no shape but simply fills whatever vessel into which it is poured. Circumstances are our container through which our actions now flow accordingly.

In application, these three elements tend to come into play in reverse. For example, when someone throws a punch, we need to move inside or outside of the opponent's body structure to avoid the blow and set up counters. Our entry is timing. Once we have position, targets become accessible, to which we apply various tools (strikes, grapples, takedowns, etc). Our goal is to become un-self-consciously proficient in the mechanics involved, freeing our conscious awareness to monitor and evaluate what is appropriate and necessary.