By Oerjan Nilsen
Words like strategy and tactics are frequently used in the martial arts, but many do not know the difference between them or even seem to have a clear idea to what the words mean. As a result the terms are often used interchangely and often their usage is rather vague. This in turn results in instructors not conveying their arts strategy into the perception of their students. Often when I used to teach students you would hear them ask the question “but what if he does this?” immediately after demonstrating a self defense technique. Sometimes this evolved into almost an argument between the instructor and the students because the instructor answer the students question with another technique whereas the students immediately conjures up another “but what if he does this” question. The reason for this exchange between the instructor and the students are a direct result of the failing to impart the styles self defense strategy to the students.
|Soldiers discussing strategy?|
To make a simple definition to each of the two words is not as simple as it first would seem. The terms strategy and tactics are closely linked; hence the confusion between the two terms. Also the terms are used a little different in the military as opposed to the civilian environments. In the martial arts on the other hand it is a little more clear cut. The simplest definition I can make is as follows:
Strategy: Strategy is the overall plan of action. The modern Taekwondo sport strategy applied to self defense (the effectiveness of this strategy is another matter) would perhaps be “using the longer range of the feet to overpower an opponent from a distance using heavy strikes before the opponent can get in close and threaten us with his strikes”.
Tactics: Tactics in the martial arts are the techniques that make up the art. Each kick, punch, block, foot work etc is a tactic. It is what makes the job done.
If we apply the strategy described above in a thought experiment, tactics would have to be formed to support the strategy employed. The tactics would materialize in techniques such as a great number of kicks. Some made for offensive usages (like dollyo chagi), some made for defensive usage (like different jamming kicks) and some for both defensive and offensive usages (like an chagi). Then you would have to have some kicks to open up your opponents guard or defense (like again an chagi or bakkat chagi). You would need kicks to maintain the kicking distance, or to increase the distance to kicking distance (think jamming kicks like a fast side kick to jam a closing of distance or a pushing kick. Even hand techniques to increase the range to kicking range if the alteration starts at punching range (like pushes or other means to increase the range).
Other tactics using the hands and arms would probably also be included in basic form but only as a last resort (if the strategy of keeping the adversary at kicking range fails you would need some back up skills, but at the first opportunity you would perform a push or other tactic to ensure that the strategy is properly employed).
As you can see from the thought experiment above concerning modern sport Taekwondo (but the same experiment applies to all martial arts) the tactics or techniques in a martial art depends on the strategy employed, and the whole training of the martial artist will be decided by which strategy the art is depending on.
|Power strikes has always |
been an important component
in Taekwondo`s arsenal
|Two Taek Kyon students training.|
There is nothing wrong with training for different goals at the same time (as most modern martial arts do), the problem arises when the instructor fails to make the distinction. Suddenly you have students thinking that sport tactics will work on the street just as good as they would work in the ring, while in reality the strategy that scores a win in the ring would probably get you maimed or perhaps even killed on the street. It is the instructor`s job to impart the strategy each tactic supports. I tell my students flat out that the high kicks of Taekwondo is for sport, show and for health benefits (more energy is used to kick high vs low, more range of motion is developed etc). I tell my students what each drill is supposed to teach or what strategy it is supposed to support. Kicking drills for competition, close range striking for self defense, etc.
Strategy is the overriding plan. A way to get to the goal whatever that may be. Tactics are what you use to get the job done. In martial arts the tactics are most often techniques like punches, kicks, blocks, locks, throws etc. In a training perspective it can also be specific drills as a means to an end.
To end the article I have found a quote by one of the most famous authorities on strategy: "Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat." - Sun Tzu
All the best.