Letters: About Fundamentals

9 January 2007 

In your various posts you have said that your method is just that and not a system as such but I wondered how you felt about the fact that certain moves or fighting bits(??!!) keep coming to the surface more than others during the training. On the course you mentioned there were maybe 20 or so fundamentals. Could that be translated as basics of a kind. Is the Morris method evolving from a method into something more tangible and if so would you be able to define your fundamental moves in simple terms so that i can commit more time to them in my own training.

–Dave Hands

The method is more about learning ‘how to move’ than about learning ‘moves’, or moving in a specific way.  By learning ‘how to move’ I mean moving in accordance with the laws and principles of force and motion and within the tactical implications of what you need to do, and most importantly, in accordance to the way the body has evolved to move.  Understanding that is the first step.  And then you’re able to adapt that process of understanding to situations.

That’s why I’ve created situational drilling, conditional fighting, and playfighting.  You have to understand the fundamental principles and concepts that I’m constantly talking about, and apply them to what is current.  The only way you know what is current is by observing that which is representative of what you need to do: MMA.  By analyzing that, you’ll come up with what you could term ‘key moves’ or high percentage moves: those which are relatively successful.  Those are the moves you learn.  But you can’t just learn the move.  You have to understand what underlies it and how it developed into that move through the situation.  And because the situation’s always going to be different, so is the move.

Understanding this concept keeps you sane.  The other way drives you crazy, because you’re always looking for a solution.  You’ll think it’s the next video, the next book, the next course.  But the answers are in the fight.  If you believe you have it in a system, that’s a delusion.  Because there’s no such thing as permanence in this game.

The answer’s in the fight.  You get it by watching and analyzing the fight.  And for the first time in the history of martial arts, you don’t have to rely on anecdotal evidence of what a fight is, or on what a system prescribes that it is.  You can buy your DVDs and watch it.  And the more you watch, the more you learn to see.

There are fundamental movement patterns and it’s those that I was referring to on the course.  Out of those patterns come solutions as a response to a specific situation.  Either the solutions come from an individual pattern, or from patterns in combination.

There’s lots of ways we can move.  The combinations through the number of joint articulations makes for a lot of movements.  But there are only so many successful ways we have moved over the course of time.  Standing, running, climbing, pushing, pulling, swinging, catching, throwing…you know.  All those things kids do!  Those are the fundamentals.  And beneath these, in order to facilitate a dynamic equilibrium of change, are the reflex patterns which allow you to work at an instinctive level.  We’ve inherited them from our animal ancestors.  You don’t have to think about how to maintain this equilibrium of change; the body is reflexively designed to do that for you.  Indeed, any attempt to interfere with this process by motor oriented response, negates it.  That’s why you end up with robotic movement patterns.

Sure the robotic movement patterns are identifiable–you can say ‘this is a stance, this is a punch, this is a kick’ but they’re useless in a situation calling for dynamic changes.

The way you train this thing is, you work at both ends.  Naturally, trying to understand this process of movement and enhancing the neuromusculoskeletal structure and the patterns that are associated with it takes some insight.  And some creative processes to actually address the patterns specifically to what you need to do.  That’s the internal part of the process.  The more obvious approach is to look at the key moves, the tactics and strategies of fighters: that’s the external thing.

So within your training you’re trying to carry out these two processes at the same time.  You will always have to deal with the dilemma of either being too internal, or too external.  That’s been a dilemma for martial artists for centuries.  But one thing’s for sure, you don’t want to get stuck in either process.  There’s got to be a dialogue between them.  If you can get the internal understanding of the natural biomechanics right, you can now learn to apply that in a tactical way to what you need to do.  And you’ve determined ‘what you need to do’ by watching the fight.  That’s how the whole process works.  You break the parts down again and again and again, because there’s also the physiological side of training, amongst other things.

But coming back to the idea of fundamentals.  It’s nothing like the idea of ‘basics.’  No.  Absolutely not.  My method is based on understandind a concept and translating that into an action.  If you’re thinking about learning moves you’re thinking about it the wrong way.  That’s too motor-oriented.

Now let me just say a word about natural athletes, which many professional fighters are.  A natural athlete has usually been strengthening and modifying these fundamental movement patterns since early childhood.  You’ll see children who are naturally predisposed toward a sport.  They’re attracted to it.  They’re motivated.  And so these processes develop in a natural way in the context of what they have to do in their sport.  For example, David Beckham.

Now the problem with the martial arts is that a lot of people coming into it haven’t gone through this process.  Thai kids have; that’s why they’re great fighters as adults.  But many people attracted to martial arts are essentially non-athletes in other areas, and so they haven’t strenthened those natural patterns with respect to anything.  It would be like asking a 25 year old guy who’s never played soccer in his life to move like Pele.  On the other side of it, in martial arts, you have people who started training as kids but learned the robotics, the motor-oriented stuff.  They weren’t allowed to process movement in a natural way.  They’ve been told what to do and when to do it and how.

That’s why, if you are coming in to the martial arts, it’s important to try to understand the way this movement process takes place.  You’d really be better off cross-training in other sports–play squash or something–to break the pattern of thinking about what you have to do.  A fast game like squash will break that motor-oriented attitude and force you to fall back on your reflexes adn hopefully, natural patterns of movement.

Understanding these patterns allows you a way in.  Not only for the professional athlete, but for the non-athlete.  It’s pretty clear what we have to do in our sports.  But it’s not always clear how we should go about doing it better, other than the coach’s advice (often misdirected).  If you can internalize this understanding of how the body works, then you have that facility not only to extend the conscious mind outside into your environment and see what, for example, a fighter on a DVD is doing, but also to internalize and monitor what’s taking place in your own body.  Or what should be–to nudge yourself to do what you need to do.  To be a reflex dynamic whole.  That’s what you’re aiming for.  You have a kinesthetic perception.  Use it!  Extend it!

Don’t try to fit yourself into a mold.  Don’t go looking for a prescription.  It’s not the way.

That’s why I can do what I do at my age.  I’m always aware of that process taking place, and I’m always encouraging it to take place.  And I’m always observing it other, in animals.  And translating that into my own body.  Continuously.

There’s a creative process within us.  You’ve got to tap into it.  Part of that creative process is movement.  We’ve evolved to move, and the reflex/behavioural patterns have evolved with us.  They’re there.

Even in MMA, they’re still learning moves.  Everybody wants to learn the move.  Nobody ever wants to understand what underlies it, or why, situationally, it needs to take place.  I see a lot of guys who have got a great repertoire of moves, but they themselves can’t move.  Or when a new situation occurs, they don’t know what to do, because they haven’t learnt the move.  They haven’t learned how to creatively adapt these inherent patterns.

That’s what I call fundamentals.