Single Techniques or Combinations?
Is it better to practice single techniques or combinations? If a combination is simply a group of single techniques, does it really matter which we do?
I have found that, in general, those who are very good at single techniques are very good at combinations of techniques as well. However, those who are merely adequate at single techniques are not necessarily so good with combinations. The same holds true the other way around; those who are very good at combinations are usually very good at single techniques, but those who are are simply passable at combinations are often not so good with their single techniques.
For self-defense purposes, it is usually advised that one practice very few techniques as frequently and repetitively as possible. In an emergency situation, it is usually difficult to do anything complicated. And what you have trained repetitively to be instinctive is what should be the natural reaction in such a situation where we do not have time to think about complicated maneuvers or strategy. Fancy combinations that work in tournaments may not work in a more realistic encounter.
But what if one is not training for self-defense, but more for tournaments? For this student as well, practice of single techniques can be very valuable, for the reasons mentioned above as well as considering that, except for rare situations, only one point is scored in tournament kumite anyway.
So if single techniques are all we need, and even if we decide we want to perform combinations, it is merely a factor of adding single techniques together, what value does combination training hold for us? In my opinion, the main advantages of practicing combinations is to work on strategy and transitions.
As for strategy, practicing a kick for long range followed by a punch then an elbow strike for progressively shorter distances can be valuable training. To be able to then modify such a combination to gain a familiarity with moving forward, back or to the side with such a set of techniques, then changing the order of the techniques, then the techniques themselves, gives us strategic ideas and experience. These can be helpful for self-defense, tournaments, physical dexterity or the study of body mechanics, depending on what the individual wants to get out of such training.
As for transition between movements, this can be quite important as well and is one way that this idea works in reverse; that someone very good at combinations is often very good at single techniques as well. If we practice only a single move for each count all the time, regardless of the number or variation of techniques involved, whether by the count or no-count with the feeling of pausing between each technique, this has its limitations. If we practice minimizing the time to transition between techniques/movements, it can not only improve our combination skills, but can improve our single technique execution as well.
This last point was made more clear in my mind while training with Ubl (Steve) Sensei recently. He had us performing a kizamizuki-oizuki (jab off front arm followed by stepping-punch off back arm) combination, reminding us that the step forward should begin no later than the initial punch is executed and perhaps at times even before the first punch has completed. We were practicing this while moving slightly back with the front foot on the first technique, which made this particularly challenging and enlightening. To move the back foot forward before the front foot is planted following its backward movement is quite difficult, especially if one want to maintain stability and strength in the first technique and not simply as a setup for the second technique.
It all comes back to setting goals and keeping them in mind while we train. If we train only combinations or only single techniques, we can still improve the other skill. In the same way that our kumite training can help our kata, and vice-versa. As with everything, just keep in mind what you are trying to accomplish and work toward those goals.
Copyright © 2022, Jon Keeling (originally published November 2002)