Originally published 01JUL2011 for Examiner.com

K&B, LLC co-owner and instructor Don Alley is a martial arts, personal protection, and emergency preparedness writer. Many of his articles originally appeared in Examiner.com. As these articles are able to be retrieved from old web caches, they will be posted here.

During martial practice of any type, an instructor gives a demonstration on the technique to be performed, and the students do their best to perfect this technique. Whether a percussionist doing a kick and punch routine, a grappler doing an elbow lock, or a weapon student doing an engagement or kata, the class structure is usually fairly consistent.

What is not necessarily consistent is how the students act and react to the maneuvers. The attacker may come at the defender with a slightly different punch, grab at a different angle, or cut their weapon with a different trajectory. The defender may block at the wrong time, step in too deeply or shallowly to effect a control, or even not be able to defend against a weapon swing in the prescribed way.

It is an understood part of the learning process to make mistakes and correct them as part of the learning process. Learning each technique thoroughly builds a technique library in a student’s mind, and is an important part of having the martial tools necessary for the practice of the art. For beginning and mid-level students, building this library is paramount, so that in any given situation the student will have applicable techniques to draw upon.

But we all make mistakes! We need a plan B, a plan C, and so on.

How a student reacts to those mistakes is a very important part of martial development. The “mistake” simply means the positioning or technique inadvertently being done is not the one that the instructor is currently teaching. It doesn’t mean it’s necessarily wrong, it simply means that a new “technique window” has opened up.

For higher ranking students, once the technique being taught is well understood, consider looking at the potential mistake points that could be made. A reaction to a punch where going to the attacker’s outside is prescribed, but the student accidentally goes to the inside. What new techniques are applicable? A grapple that started with the right hand was accidentally initiated with the attacker’s left hand. Of course the technique can be done in regards to opposite handedness, but are there techniques or openings that might allow the same type of control or take-down from this new position?

If you are a higher ranking student in your school, consider seeking your instructor’s permission to explore these new “technique windows”. This is akin to learning an algebra or calculus function in a chapter in the book, and then knowing where to apply it in the real world. Being able to practice grabbing a technique from your “martial toolbox” in the moment of an attack is a fundamental ability to practicing a martial art.

Practice on what techniques in your library are applicable at any given moment in an engagement.