That’s the big question that I get asked. Do I prefer grappling (horizontal) or striking (vertical)? Another question, “Does one help the other?” They are both difficult to answer. I love martial arts period. It doesn’t matter if I’m standing or rolling around. But there are significant differences, that one might not expect.
The vertical perspective is stand up fighting which requires a lot of visual perception conditioning. The eyes are trained to judge distance and speed. Eye movement can tell your opponent what you are going to do, it’s called a “tell”. I was trained to look at one spot and use my peripheral vision when fighting, to prevent a “tell”. Response time is also very critical. There are many drills to develop a faster visual response time. Striking also doesn’t need a partner to drill. You drill a lot. I can remember doing kicking drills. One thousand kicks per leg. Seriously, one thousand kicks per leg. My feet would be swollen, bruised and bleeding. There were also the balance drills. After all, if you are a kicker, you will literally be fighting on one foot. Then there are speed drills and power drills. Katas, we can’t forget katas. Most people dislike katas. I like them, they are like moving meditation. They are very calming to me. They also create muscle memory.
The horizontal perspective is grappling which is more tactile. You feel more. You are constantly accessing your center of gravity and you opponent’s center of gravity. You’re feeling for their weight to shift, so that you can sweep them. You’re feeling for a release of tension on a grip so that you can break it and move. The inner ear is also more active when grappling, because of the diversity of positions. You develop a keen sense of proprioception. This is a sense of knowing where all your body parts are in relation to each other. Drilling is just as important in grappling, however you need a partner for most drills. It can be difficult to get two people together due to modern work / life schedules.
Most ancient martial arts included components of both striking and grappling. In modern times, curriculums have been developed for some martial arts. These curriculums have stream lined the different arts, and organized a specific learning sequence. Streamlining a curriculum can shorten learning times and increase the number of students that make it to black belt. However, the process of streamlining removes a lot of diverse elements and in my opinion, handicaps the practitioner. I’ve always been a die-hard striker. Until my sons talked me into joining a BJJ school. I quickly realized that at 112 lbs, to defeat me all an attacker had to do was pick me up, throw me down, and lay on top of me. My striking skills are useless under someone’s mount.
My karate instructor was more diverse than most. He always welcomed black belts from different styles. He learned from them and encouraged them to teach us. There I was exposed to joint locks and take downs. Years down the road I took Taekwondo. I love Taekwondo and respect the art. However, the school that I attended did not expose its students to the different arts. They had no idea how to defend against a take down or a joint lock. I knew that I was missing something. I thought that once I became a black belt I would learn more diverse techniques. That was not the case.
The monetizing of martial arts has deteriorated the quality of the black belts out there. Back in the day, everybody had to work long and hard to become a black belt. Today some schools are blinded by money. I’ve seen people “invest” in private lessons. The more lessons they took, the faster they would get their black belt. There is a mental process that develops character in a practitioner. This process is developed over time through hard work. If this mental process is not allowed to develop you do not have a true black belt. I witnessed this with a grown woman. She would frequently “fall out” on the floor and throw a tantrum. Yes like a two-year old. She showed no respect for her fellow students or black belts. I remember her yelling at visiting instructors. One of those instructors was a very honorable and kind black belt with many years of experience. This woman despite her attitude and reluctance to work with other students still received a black belt. She did so by “investing” in private lessons. I’m not knocking private lessons. I’m just saying that in some instances, it’s just a formality for buying a black belt instead of earning one. I’m told that even though she is a black belt, she still throws tantrums and disrespects other students and instructors.
Which do I prefer? I am not able to answer that question because I love martial arts as a whole. At this time I practice Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Why? The reasons are many. First, I have good instructors that care about each student’s training and want each of them to succeed. All of my team mates care about me and want me to succeed. The honor of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu has yet to be tarnished by greed. They don’t compromise the quality of the students to make more money. I don’t train to become a black belt. I train to learn and become a better me. The school I attend now enables me to do that. Another question people ask me is what style is best? I tell them, it’s not really about the style, it’s about the instructor. You don’t want the best style. You want the best instructor for you.