52 Blocks: MOVING BEYOND ROTE

Many 52 Blocks instructors introduce new techniques but fail to discuss the principles or concepts under which these techniques should be performed. This type of teaching results in mechanical learning (rote learning), and the techniques tend to work only when your partner is cooperating. Here are some examples of mechanical learning:

1. Always defending against a rear step-through punch and never against a quick lead punch.

2. Learning techniques on only one side of the body.

3. Too much partner cooperation.

4. Women always practicing with women, kids with kids, or students of the same size and build with each other.

To avoid mechanical learning, start by examining the stages of each technique and identifying matters of importance. For example:

1. Learn the mechanics of the front kick.

2. Expand on the technique by identifying the targets.

3. Examine how to adapt when your opponent approaches you from different angles.

4. Discuss the best time to throw the kick, and why.

5. Discuss and practice how your opponent can defend against the kick.

6. Identify the dangers associated with throwing the kick. Might it result in balance loss or target exposure?

7. Discuss how a specific part of the technique relates to the whole. For example, how does chambering the leg relate to balance, power, speed and deception?

8. Name different ways to apply the technique offensively and defensively.

All of these issues need not be learned in one lesson. Over time you will gain insight into 52 Blocks fighting and start associating specific techniques with specific scenarios. You will begin to see opportunities for using the techniques. Learning is now taking place.

Different techniques can be further related by discerning their similarities and differences. Stating the similarities helps you relate a new technique to a previously learned one. Stating the differences helps bring new details into focus. Whether your instructor focuses on the similarities or the differences depends to a degree on the purpose of the technique. For example, he might say:

The mechanics of the spinning back kick are exactly the same as those of the sidekick upon impact with the target. The purpose of the two kicks is the same: to knock your opponent back or down. The difference is that the spinning back kick employs a spin in the upper body prior to impact. The spin allows you to gain additional power by accelerating the kick * through a longer distance, without having to move your body forward for momentum.

If the purpose of the lesson is to learn about impact forces, you may want to focus on the similarities of the two kicks: Training in the sidekick helps you acquire proper impact mechanics for the spinning back kick. However, if the purpose of the lesson is to learn about strategy, you may want to focus on the differences: The spinning back kick is more time consuming to throw than the sidekick and needs a better set-up.

Your instructor should not overwhelm you with too much information. She should point out the basic concepts, let you practice and then take you to the next step. She can also offer you a challenge to think about at home. For example:

1. She might teach you one half of a form and tell you the second half is the mirror image of the first half. If you work on the form at home, you should be able to figure out the second half on your own. This exercise can be done with techniques as well.

2. She might teach a 52 Blocks technique from a left stance and ask that you do the identical technique from a right stance. Or she might ask you to reverse the moves. For example, if the original technique is comprised of a hammer fist strike, a back knuckle strike and a shuto, reverse the order to a shuto, a back knuckle strike, and a hammer fist strike.

3. She might teach a technique empty-handed and ask you to figure out on your own how to do the same technique with a stick or a knife in your hand.

4. She might teach a 52 Blocks stand-up technique, such as a sidekick, and ask you to figure out how to do the identical technique from a kneeling position on the ground.

Should your instructor give you the specific details of a technique at the same time she shows you the moves? I prefer to get a reasonable amount of detail from the start. Remember, we are trying to get past the mechanical stage and onto understanding, application and finally correlation. — INSTRUCTOR TIP —

If you are an assistant instructor, is it a good idea to teach a technique you have just learned yourself? Part of teaching involves demonstrating correct mechanics of technique. The other part involves analyzing and correcting errors, which requires a more extensive background than just teaching technique. My opinion is that you can generally teach a new technique soon after you have learned it, so long as you have also analyzed it and are prepared to answer questions the students may have. — STUDENT TIP —

It is not necessary to memorize every detail of every move in the first lesson. But if you make an effort to pay attention to detail early in your training, techniques will come to mean more. When you get home from a lesson, try writing down everything you remember about the technique.

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