“It's best to have your tools with you. If you don't, you're apt to find something you didn't expect and get discouraged.”

Why is it that the martial arts have so many techniques and skills? I guess the martial arts are no different to anything else. Just open your kitchen drawer and you will see a swag of different tools for different jobs. Some are very generic and can be used for a lot of different tasks. Take a knife, for example. It can cut meat & herbs, dice vegetables, open that annoying packet and even serve as a makeshift screwdriver. In contrast, other tools are very specific. For example, a garlic crusher is very useful but it only serves one purpose. The martial arts are no different in this sense. Some techniques can be applied right across the board of combat, others cannot.

So how does this concept relate to what we are doing on a day-to-day basis in training? I like to think about what we do the same way that a tradesman approaches a job. If a tradesman gets the call to come and fix or install something, what do they bring? Most, if not all, tradesmen bring their 4WD or van loaded with almost every tool they own. Why? It’s obvious right? They don’t know what they are going to need until they take a look at the job. If they just rock up with a screwdriver and they need a hammer and a drop saw, they won’t be able to complete the job. So it is in martial arts. You have to acquire a lot of techniques to be able to adapt to the situation at hand. Not only that, but you have to know each of these techniques inside and out and be able to perform them to a high level, if they are going to work. The martial artist is really no different from the average tradesmen – they have a vast array of reliable tools to achieve any level of success. They must also possess the ability to decide which tools are suitable for each scenario or ‘job’.

This process of problem solving and applying specific and appropriate tools has several layers. To help you understand this, we will use a self-defence situation to illustrate the point in detail:

Layer one: Broad View

Let’s assume for a moment that someone starts to give you a hard time at the pub. The usual obscene language, posturing and ill-intent are directed towards you. We all get the idea. Now the broad view here is “self defence”, so what does that mean for tool selection? Obviously spin kicks are out of the question, pulling half-guard is not logical and trying to send the person into the middle of next week may not be appropriate. So what is necessary and appropriate? In a nutshell: awareness, avoidance, negotiation, creating space, and pre-emptive action (if everything else fails). These largely non-physical tools will be required in any self-defence situation. They are to a martial artist (or indeed any safety conscious person) what a chopping knife is to a chef. In essence, the practical and reliable nature of these tools makes them essential.

Layer two - Situation Specific 

For ease of understanding, let’s use the same situation above but let’s assume that a knife comes into the picture. What now? Firstly, it’s still self-defence so everything we used in ‘layer one’ still applies. The broad and generic tools remain relevant. But now because we are talking about a more specific self-defence situation (knife attack), more specialised tools may be required. Controlling the knife-bearing limb, controlling distance and immediate action become our priority. These tools are employed to handle this specific situation.   

Layer three - Adaption

Now let’s imagine that as this situation unfolds, a third party comes into the picture. What now? Now adaption is the key. Adaption is your ability to go from range to range, tool to tool and technique to technique. Just like the tradesman who begins a job, and for one reason or another, requires another tool to finish it.   

There is an old saying that a good tradesman never blames his tools. And I think that’s very true. But you have to have the tools to start with. There is no sense in bringing a hacksaw to a job that requires a spirit level. In our game (martial arts), you have to bring a lot to the table if you are going to be able to able to spar, grapple and defend yourself. These tools are developed with exhaustive effort, continuous practice, refinement and assessment. You have to take charge of your mind and body to get the job done. The martial arts are not easy. You can’t whip into Bunnings and walk out with your ability to handle yourself. You have to discipline yourself to train when you’re tired, sick of it and not in the mood. You have to rock up and make those skills your own.


Perseverance is the hard work you do after you get tired of doing the hard work you already did.

Newt Gingrich