Strength vs Skill


No citizen has a right to be an amateur in the matter of physical training…what a disgrace it is for a man to grow old without ever seeing the beauty and strength of which his body is capable. – Socrates

Martial arts is the science & study that allows a smaller / weaker person to overcome a bigger / stronger opponent. What it isn’t, is an excuse to only work on one without paying attention to the other.

  • It will reduce my range of motion.
  • I don’t want to get too muscle-y.
  • You don’t need to be strong with my techniques!
  • It’ll slow me down too much.
  • I don’t fight force with force.

And on down the list of objections they go.

“I’ll get too stiff”

I get it; the cartoon absurdity of the muscle-bound meathead who is so swole that he can’t get anything off the second shelf isn’t an ideal worth working towards.

But if you’re worried about that happening to you, I can tell you you’ll never even get close. You lack the dedication to make it happen. The sheer amount of work it takes to get to that point would mean you’d have virtually no time for any sort of training but weights. So it’s an impossible fear.

“I don’t need strength for my techniques”

There’s a mental filter I like using when evaluating techniques: Could a little old Chinese lady pull this off?

If the answer is “no” it’s probably lacking something in timing, leverage, angles, etc.

But.

If you think the intent of training is to continue to allow yourself the excuse of weakness, you’re sorely mistaken. You absolutely need strength to effectively employ any technique. You need strength to simple stand up.

Your training should be teaching you to make the most of what you have and improve your efficiency with which you use it, but getting stronger will only increase your capacity for defending yourself.

“It’ll slow me down too much”

Olympic athletes and the fastest people who have ever lived all strength train; until you’ve earned your Olympic medal, I think you’re excuses fall flat.

“It doesn’t really do anything for your fighting skills”

I’d much rather get punched by a 6 year old than an Olympic power lifter. Skills PLUS strength is where it’s at!

Strength / Skills Matrix

Basically, our training should include techniques, skills, AND development of physical strength to help us deal with the challenges of a fight as well as the challenges of getting older. Your goal should be to move steadily farther into the upper right hand corner of this 2-axis mental model.

Demolition Example

Imagine you pulled a guy off the streets and asked him to knock down a building with a hammer. He has two options:

  1. A framing hammer
  2. A sledgehammer

Which would be more effective? Sledgehammer, of course. If his identical twin grabbed the framing hammer, brother #1 would certainly demolish the building first.

Skill

Now, imagine the twin brothers are using the same kind of sledgehammer, but one of the brothers knows the blueprints for the building inside-out. He knows where all the load-bearing walls are. He knows which columns support weight, and which are decorative.

Who would win? The brother with a better skills & understanding of structure, right?

Strength + Skills

The takeaway is to work on both at the same time. Each makes the other stronger while ignoring one for the other is a serious lack in your overall ability to navigate challenges in the world.