I had the opportunity this past weekend to travel to Kansas City with my wife.  She is a quite accomplished artist and wanted to see the Spectrum Fantastic Art Live expo.  I tagged along as driver, gofor and enjoyed the relatively quiet time we were able to spend together away from the normal day-to-day.  Even as a purely right-brain accountant, I was mesmerized by the exceptional level of talent at this event, both in terms of the extent of their imaginations and the subsequent ability to translate it to paper or sculpture.

There were numerous workshops and panel discussions in which to participate as well.  Mostly, I used that time to occupy myself either by reading or for several hours on Saturday, taking a hike to the National World War I museum and spending several hours there.  I did, though, sit in on a couple of the discussions just because I knew of the speakers or their work or because there was something in the subject matter that I thought might be interesting.

In one of those panels, a couple of statements really stood out.  She told the audience that, when submitting their portfolios, they were hired based on their worst work.  That got my attention.  She explained that the portfolio can contain all the best work of an artist, but that work may or may not be what comes out once they’re hired.  The worst work, though, gives them a good idea of the minimum they could expect.  If their product was of that level, then they knew that had something they could work with.


Boy did that set off some synaptic fireworks!  It took about fifteen seconds for me to get out my trusty Moleskine notebook and pen and get those ideas onto paper.  This was something I didn’t want to forget (I’m getting old…) and knew I’d want to start getting those associations rolling around in my head onto these pages.

See, the concept works out for us exactly the same in the dojo, or even more importantly, on the street.  We succeed in the dojo and survive in combat based on our worst techniques. 

Makes sense, doesn’t it?  If I’m set upon by somebody intent on doing me harm will I truly have the luxury of choosing what technique will be the one used?  Will my trusty eye-gouge-throat-strike-takedown-into-an-arm-break combination be what comes out and saves the day?  Will I get to deliver one of the femur-shattering mawashi geri that I practice over and over, making the heavy bag in the basement cry for mercy?  Boy, would that ever be cool!

But here’s the rub.  Mr. Bad Guy isn’t going to strike a threatening pose and let me dictate the method and speed of his attack.  In all reality, its very unlikely that I’m even going to know he’s there until battle is already joined.  That’s the trick about assault.  The bad guy isn’t interested in a fight, he wants a complicit victim.  Our response has to be hard, fast, brutal and effective.  It has to be almost from instinct.  It has to be what’s given to us, be it exposed ribs, an arm or leg left within reach or an attacker that’s presented himself in such a way as to be vulnerable to a throw or takedown.  We don’t get to choose, we only get to respond. 

What happens if we aren’t prepared to make use of the bad guy’s exposed targets because we tend to over-practice what we like and shun the more mundane?  If I am in position to finish matters with a solidly placed hidari gyaku tsuki, but have treated the technique with disdain because that’s not my strong side, have I just lost this battle?  If I’ve decided I would rather practice kata than throwing because I’m not in the mood to be taking falls have I set myself up for failure when things get close-in?  Is the inverse true if I’d rather throw than kick? 

We place self-imposed limits on ourselves when we give in to what we “want” to work on vs. what we “need” to work on.  Everybody has their favorite techniques and those that work best for them, that’s natural.  They cannot, though, be the sole focus of our training simply because we may not get the chance to use them when it really matters.  When that happens, we better be ready with some worthwhile alternatives.

And to those of you that have visions of testing in the future, do you see how this applies as well?

Last weekend gave me the opportunity for some serious introspection as to what I should be working on and how much, as well as realizing that I cannot depend too much on my “patented” or otherwise favorite or strongest techniques.

I’ve been given an education from an unexpected source.  Now I have to take advantage of it.