There's an old samurai maxim, which says 'a man who has attained mastery of an art reveals it in his every action'. While I do not consider myself a master, I am obssessed with martial arts and so I am always looking for parallels I can draw from training to pretty much everything else. While my experience in art revolves around music and martial arts, I believe that these principles apply to every other art, as well as to business, life, the universe and everything. Recently someone on Facebook shared this post about being a professional session musician. I was instantly amazed at how relevant this was to being a proficient martial artist, especially one who is interested in multiple disciplines and styles. I'd like to share my thoughts on this with you in the hope it helps you with your art, whatever it may be!
A little bit of background; I worked as a professional musician for a really long time. I studies music in university, and my mum has been teaching music (she also has a degree in classical music) since I can remember. I haven’t been working as a musician for several years now, but many of my friends still do. My cousin, the phenomenal Jazz pianist Tal Cohen is a massive MMA fan and so we often talk about both martial arts and music. Often he would ask me questions about technique or things that happen in fights and I find it very easy to answer him using examples from music.
The article highlights 5 important principles for being a successful and professional session musician. A session musician is a freelance musician who is hired to play on recording sessions or live performances.
I would just like to share some of my thoughts on each of the points raised in this article:
1. Have total control over your feel of time:
Good musicians, especially rhythm section players, must be able to play right on top of the beat, behind or ahead of it and do so consistently and accurately. This is perhaps one of the most important skills in music, and gives music a distinct feel and groove. Often in boxing or other combat sports there is a huge emphasis on distance and timing. The space between strikes, their speed, the patterns of movement one uses are all ways to set up attacks. The more one can fight with a broken rhythm, the less predictable one is. Furthermore, being able to detect your opponent’s rhythm, and then break it and dictate your own is often a key to winning.
2. Have the right gear for the job:
As a session musician, you must be able to use the right tool for the right job. You must be able to create the sound that is right for what you are playing. In layman’s terms, a distorted, heavy metal guitar sound for a session where you are asked to play soft pop is probably not right. As a diverse
In much the same way, some fighters adopt one way of fighting and use the same way of fighting against every opponent, the most common result of which is they sometimes win and sometimes lose, but often can’t explain why.
A key element of martial arts is to be able to detect the tools your opponent is using, or attempting to use, and utilise your own toolbox to counteract those. If your opponent likes to fight in close, don’t let them in. If they are patient and defensive, make them fight in a hurried pace. If they like to stand up and strike, make them grapple; If they like to grapple, force them to stand and trade.
By using the right tool for the job, you can dictate how the fight takes place.
Most importantly, you must have the right gear for the job – your toolbox must allow you to implement your strategy.
3. Develop different attacks:
In musical terms, ‘attack’ refers to how one strikes the chords and notes, which in terms dictates the tone of the note. For example, the way a guitarist strums. Attacking the same note in different ways creates a totally different sound and feel.
In much the same way, one should be able to vary the ‘attack’ of their techniques. Let’s look at the most important punch in boxing – the jab. One should develop a variety of ways of throw the jab, to set up different things or to use in difference situations. The jab one uses to create space after a combination can be different to a jab used to set up an entry, or a jab used to feel out the distance or measure your opponent’s defence, or the jab used to keep an aggressive opponent at bay. The angles, speed and timing and power should be explored, understood and utilised appropriately to implement a fight plan.
4. Be able to emulate genre standards:
As a session musician, you are often called upon to emulate a certain sound or musical feel. This means one has to have studied a variety of musical styles and players in order to be able to play any type of gig. This doesn’t mean you have to love everything, but have an understanding of everything.
In much the same way, the finest martial artists are usually those who, while having a base in a particular style or discipline, have studied multiple styles and have experimented with the ‘standards’ of each style. This is particularly relevant today, with the rise of MMA. Most gyms now teach a combination of styles that allow for stand up fighting and striking (such as boxing or Muay Thai), takedowns and throws (such as wrestling, Jujutsu or Judo) and ground fighting (such as wrestling or BJJ). An athlete who wishes to compete in MMA must have a rounded skill set, and while they might specilaise in one area, they are required to have some understanding of multiple martial arts. Self-defence is another example of this. In order to truly understand self-defence, one must have the ability to fight in all ranges (including weapons) and in all directions.
Much like a session musician, it’s ok, even advisable, to have your own favorite style and base, however in order to truly become great you must step outside of your comfort zone and experiment with as much as possible, and to a certain degree of depth, as much like in music it’s easy to tell when someone fakes it.
5. Get your takes done quickly and correctly every time:
As a freelance, you are often paid for your time but also your professionalism. You should be able to nail a recording session within the first or second take, otherwise you are costing the client money and are likely to not get another call or be replaced quickly. This is especially true in the competitive world of music.
In martial arts, much like music, you often don’t get second chances. Self-defence situations and real-world violence don’t allow for ‘second takes’, nor do high-level competitions in combat sports. Being able to perform what you must effectively and quickly can make the difference between winning or losing, or even life and death.
This is also true in a world where we are limited with the amount of training most of us are able to do. Between work, family and life commitments, you may only make it to a few training sessions per week, or have limited time to practice on your own. That being the case, you want to make sure that you pay particular attention to how you train, remain focused on good technique even you are tired and practice based on quality, rather than quantity. Personally, I find that practising techniques slowly and with a critical mind at home, even if only for a few minutes at a time, yields much better results than doing an hour of high-intensity training where I am not focused, paying attention or thinking about what I am doing.
Try and see if these are things that can be applied to your own training, whether that training is in martial arts, music, painting, futures trading, or anything else you put effort into!
Stay tuned, stay safe.
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