A specialist martial artist, at their most focused, tunes their training toward a single discipline and a single context. This type of specialization is something that perhaps came first to us in the Western Martial Arts with duels. For these one-on-one conflicts individuals would train to fight within a fixed set of rules and conventions, sometimes imposed by the state (in the case of judicial dueling) or by societal norms (in the case of honour duels).
A single purpose
Today the main driver of specialization is competition. By specializing, a combatant can focus every hour of their training on a single end whether that be victory in a tournament, or survival in a duel. Many who engage in tournaments even specialize their techniques down to a core set of two to four and practice only on one dominant side. If you and your potential opponents have only 10 hours a week to spend on training, intensely training a limited set of actions means that you are able to get to a much higher level than an opponent who spreads out their work.
Here you might think of the Bruce Lee quote “I am not afraid of the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once. I am afraid of the man who has practice one kick 10,000 times.” The greater the diversity of actions, weapons, and contexts, the more that training value is divided up, and thus the lower overall level you might achieve. Here you might think of the figure of speech “Jack of all trades, master of none.”
A single reward
So in a context like a tournament or a duel where the conditions are fixed and the best techniques are known, being a specialist has a payoff. If you and your opponent have the same number of hours to train and your opponent generalizes while you specialize, provided you picked the right techniques, you’ll be ahead of them in the game.
But generalization also has its benefits. Read more about them next week.
Until then, I would love to hear how specialization has either helped or hurt your own training goals. Please take a moment to leave us a few words of your experience in the comments. I look forward to reading them. Thanks!