Thursday, 6 October 2011

Strategy and tactics. Whats the difference???

This is an article that I wrote a while back for Totally Taekwondo Magazine. I have included it here on my blog since I think that to have a clear understanding of what strategy and tactics really are can be helpfull for the Taekwondoin ("in" means people or person in Korean) This is especially true for teaching of Ho Shin Sul (Self defense). After reading this article try and ask yourself if you are an instructor: "Do I teach my martial arts strategy to my students or do I teach them a bunch of tactics?" And if you are a student: "Do I learn to master my martial arts strategy or do I learn a bunch of tactics??" A seperate post on what I think Taekwondo`s strategy is will be covered in the future:)


The difference between strategy and tactics in the martial arts
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
One issue with this is the modern confusion of what a martial art is or is for. Today it is not uncommon to see posters advertising a particular martial art as a sport, self defense, a way to get in shape, etc. The authors primary experience of martial arts comes from traditional Taekwondo but I have trained and regularly train with people from other arts. This way of advertising for the martial arts is very common in the author’s area, but it leads to sub optimal training in many instances. With sub optimal training I mean that the training lacks focus because of the Taekwondo/Karate/Juijutsu(insert martial art here) does not have a clear goal anymore. Without a clear goal, there can not be a clear strategy. This leads to a bunch of tactics which is defined as something that gets the job done, to be gathered without knowing what the job to do was in the first place. You end up with some techniques or tactics to practice that support sport, some for self defense and some for getting in better shape. All this in turn forms the training that the Dojang/dojo/school does in so that it is all mishmashed together. Going through training without an overriding plan (strategy) with only tactics at your disposal is like sailing a boat on the ocean without a compass, map and destination. To have a strategy but no tactics to support it would be the other way around; you have a map, compass and destination but you are stuck on the ocean without a boat to get you there (not a good idea).
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.

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