This is a subject of great importance in regards to training in the martial arts. Many martial artists unknowingly spend too much time on one and not enough on the other. Most people simply don’t recognize the difference between the two, or the importance of them both.
Bruce Lee said this in an interview… “You have natural instinct and you have control. You are to combine the two in harmony. If you have one to the extreme you will be very unscientific. If you have the other to the extreme you will become all of the sudden a mechanical man.” Bruce was simply speaking of the importance of harmonizing both self perfection along with self preservation.
To give you a better understanding of this article I must define both methods of training. Self perfection is the time you spend perfecting your technique. You might practice kata, hit focus mitts, or do drills with a partner in a cooperative manner. It can also include hitting a bag or working with a Wing Chun dummy. Any drills that involve a pattern of any sort can also be considered self perfection.
Self preservation on the other hand is focused more on application. It is not even as simple as training to strike an uncooperative opponent because you must also learn to get hit and keep your composure. Self preservation includes sparring, that’s it! However we are not talking about the type of training we see in Tae Kwon Do schools. I’m sure you’ve seen it, two Tae Kwon Do students sparring according to Tae Kwon Do rules. I’m talking about sparring at ATLEAST 60% contact, anything goes! Head shots, groin shots, take downs, submissions, and body slams are all fair game. Things like head butting, eye gouging, and biting should be simulated, and multiple opponents and weapons must also become a variable at some point. You simply have to simulate street fights so that you learn to preserve yourself in reality, not just in the dojo.
I consider both types of training to be of equal importance, but we must train them equally. Considering something important doesn’t mean your doing it! Too much time perfecting technique will lead you to becoming the “mechanical man” with no application skills. If all you do is spar you will become very “unscientific” and you will lack finesse, precision, and economy of motion.
Trying to compartmentalize your training and separate both elements all the time can be tedious, although it produces great results! In fact it has to be done to an extent because you must learn the difference between the two. We must spend 50% of our time doing one, and 50% percent doing the other.
However, both elements can be weaved together to produce a synergistic effect. For instance, you can be working a particular drill or technique with a partner (chi sao, lop sao, Hubad, or anything with a pattern for the sake of learning). To make it more combative, either of you can break the pattern by striking outside of the limitations of the drill or pattern, and switching to sparring mode. When ready you simply find your way back into the drill. Simply alternate between drilling and sparring. Get creative and blend both elements together.
This type of training is very beneficial. It makes your self perfection element more combative, and it makes self preservation more conducive to learning rather than competing. When you equally work both elements they tend to help each other out along the way. A synergistic effect takes place, instead of how your going to one extreme would make you either “unscientific” or “mechanical.”