The next game in our roughhousing series is, Torso Tag. This is were we begin to introduce striking dynamics in our movement practice.
I love this game because it shows how setting up the right constraints and letting people play with in that structure teaches principles organically.
Almost everyone who plays this game will end up adopting a stance and guard that are broadly appropriate for striking without having to drill stance, and guard repetitively and very often awkwardly, in the initial stages.
In addition, people playing this game will begin learning how to feint, mislead, hand fight, and otherwise clear lines of attack, all of which are fundamental to effective striking. And of course it’s building hand eye coordination, agility, coordination, and quickness as part of our overall movement development.
The rote repetitions of stance and guard development are absolutely important for exploring capacities in isolation and building the conditioning of the tissues so you can self organize better, but the games teach on many more levels at the same time. If there is no free play there is no application ability developed
Our learning system is built to respond best to open movement tasks that have clear intentions and outcomes, not drills.
Of course the game can also teach bad habits for self defense but because it is framed as a game and clearly is far from a full blown self defense encounter, it is easier prevent negative transfer.
A key principle to understand is all combative free play, has to have rules to be sustainable to practice. Those rules will always enforce some bad habits relative to actual combat. You have to be aware of the safety flaws you play under and what they are teaching you positive and negative that might transfer in a actually combat encounter. Next you need to build means to break that conditioning and reinforce what you want using a different game or drill. That is how we build the strongest overall capacity.
Freedom in Limitation
By starting with limited games we allow more freedom in play and more self organization of movement.
Often the most difficult aspect of hand to hand fighting to introduce safely is striking. Indeed small children wrestle regularly but punches being thrown is usually where things get overwhelming if they have not been built up through a strong play culture(see the slap game).
In many striking arts I have found a similar sequence used in classes, technique practice against the air, a bag or makiwara followed by pad work, then sparring. Once its times to interact the students are admonished to keep the sparring light at the school I learned most of my Muay thai our default was 30 percent force.
However, there is no system in place to define what 30 percent is and there is no system to control the tendency to escalate. So striking sparring often results in escalation of force to the point we move out of our optimal training zone and either get conditioned to hurting our partners or we freeze up become afraid and no longer want to train.
At every seminar I ask people if they have every been intimidated to start martial arts or gone to a class and ended up feeling overwhelmed. Usually over half the hands in the group go up.
By developing rapport between students first and then introducing them to competitive interaction through contact improve, then limited grappling games we create the ground work for a more effective and safe introduction to striking with torso tag which then leads on to more advanced games.
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