Albert Einstein

If I had to pick one scientist from any point in history to become my sensei, I would have to choose Albert Einstein.

In fact, his understanding of martial arts far exceeds that of many present day black belts!

I know, I know...it's a random thought. Before you fact-check this Black Belt article against wikipedia to see if the white-haired genius really did karate, let me stop you though. He didn't. That doesn't mean he didn't know the "secret" that many martial artists tend to forget however.

Wanna know the secret? Here's what Einstein knew, "It can scarcely be denied that the supreme goal of all theory is to make the irreducible basic elements as simple and as few as possible without having to surrender the adequate representation of a single datum of experience."

In other words, everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.


Mind you, don't accidentally carve out important knowledge while trimming with Occam's theoretical razor. The goal of any professional, be they a scientist guided by their brain or an artist moving by their heart, is to refine what they can present to a point of absolute simplicity.

We all know that basics are the foundation for martial arts, right? Unfortunately, martial arts often get diluted due to a misunderstanding of the purpose and application of core skills and concepts. The essential elements either get overly simplified and glossed over or they get covered up and complicated with unnecessary baggage.

Let's delve into what often gets missed about the most important parts of our martial art and how to truly upgrade them in a meaningful way!

Defining The Essentials

Japanese Kihon

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If you study a Japanese martial art, you call them "kihon". If you study a Chinese martial art and speak Mandarin instead, you may call them "jibengong". No matter the style you train and what you call them, the basics of your martial art are considered the foundation for everything advanced and effective.

If you are demonstrating a creative or XMA form, strong basics will only provide cleaner lines of movement and allow for an improved expression of energy. If you are a fighter, skillful basics will always be your best friend when sparring or fighting in the ring. If you study koryū or another traditional martial art, the most fundamental elements of your system will be the pieces that likely carry on the founders' ideas and messages best.

These basics may at first seem to be simple blocks, strikes, or kicks.

Upon closer examination, these become powerful lessons on transitioning postures, controlling weight distribution, projecting intention, gaining muscular coordination, improving breath control, and much more.

Dope, right?!

Effective Expression 

You can only consciously improve that which you are aware of. That's kind of how "consciousness" works. If you want to improve how you fight, you must understand how you execute the elements of fighting.

How do you move?

How do you kick and strike?

How do you receive and defend?

Understand, and then you can truly improve. How a fighter stands often aides and alludes to their preferred tactics. If you are confused about your specialties, the unfortunate truth is that your movements might be inhibiting themselves.

Stand so that you have access to your best tools and tactics. Set yourself up for success whenever possible.

Just as a writer should strive to remove the unnecessary word count, just as a sculpture removes the excess undue to the authentic image, our goal should be movements and speech that can express without excess or confusion.

We start off with a grossly unrefined motor movement or general idea of a concept. Then, as an artist, we carve away the unessential to uncover the beauty layered deeply underneath.

What Is The Key To Improving? 

Ehem, can you say "Ichi! Ni! San!"?

An endless number of repetitions is the commonly touted answer for improvement.

Well, that answer isn't wrong...but it isn't fully right either.

Practice makes for permanence. Thing is, you want to ensure your newly engraved habit is one that can actually be applied to a multitude of stressful and changing situations. If you want to perform near perfectly, you have to practice in a way that mimics that ideal in as many ways possible. This, ironically, means letting go of perfection at times and pressure testing our basics in new ways. Spar with a focus on effectively inserting a specific movement in as many moments as possible. Introduce unique mental or physical variables during solo training, such as changing the intention or the environment.

The goal is to refine your basics so that they become like supernatural skills.

Your basics are the easiest to learn and hardest to master. That in and of itself represents much of the typical martial art journey quite well. The Way isn't complex, stick to it and you will know what your next step needs to be. It is simply a matter of staying disciplined, receptive, and willing to keep walking.

Your basics are your system encapsulated. Learn it and refine it. As you progress, make it as simple as possible, yet no simpler.

Follow the wisdom of Einstein-sensei.

That a director of my city's opera company would call me seemed a little odd. There are probably some monkeys who know more about opera than I do. But the director was inviting me to lunch, so of course I went.

It turned out the company was producing a performance of Madame Butterfly, the Puccini opera that tells the story of a doomed love between a French military officer and a geisha in early 19th-century Japan. The opera has come under fire for its stereotyped, utterly fanciful depictions of Japanese culture. The local company was trying to anticipate such criticism, and the director asked me, since I serve on the board of some organizations related to Japanese culture, what I thought.
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