Welcome to 2014 everybody.
One of those thoughts that's so core it is rarely conscious, and one of the ones that crosses over all aspects of life and survival. Beginners make things. Skilled beginners are skilled at making things. Lazy pros find things.
The most important principle of joint locks is the concept of 'gifts.' If you are strong enough and willing to get punched a lot, you can close on a threat, grab his hand, and try to force the one wristlock you've learned. If you're strong enough and don't get too concussed, it might even work.
To try to set up the lock-- "If I flick at his eye his hand will come up and I'll just turn my hand, catch his..." is more advanced, but on the same scale. It's dependent on both being more clever than the opponent (which is rarely true under assault-- surprise and adrenaline tend to do wonky things to the tactical side of your brain) and the opponent following the script perfectly. That's why I use opponent instead of threat, because it only tends to work if both people are playing nice and following the same protocols. In other words, combinations tend to work much better in martial arts studios than in the wild.
And someone who is really good just sees the lock (or strike or takedown) that is already set up in the threat's body and just finishes it.
Grappling is the easiest to see. Beginners try to get through on muscle and, sometimes, speed or flexibility-- but they gas out. And lose.
Good grapplers are playing chess, knowing that the natural resistance to move X will be defense Y which sets up finish Z.
But the best aren't doing this anymore. They know that there is no way the opponent can move that doesn't have a gift. Everything their opponent does is an opportunity. The mind and body are both more relaxed (one of the keys, by the way if you want to run a line).
In striking arts, amateurs try to set up their favorite combinations and moves. The best have a strike for whatever opening appears.
Everything. Obviously I'm thinking of the jointlock video, but in the post on independence, Michael said that firecraft was a more important consideration in certain climates than shelter. I've spent some time there, and occasionally needed a fire badly. From relatively bitter experience I know you have to get out of the rain and the wind to have any hope of getting a fire started. Do you make a shelter first? Nope, but you find shelter first. And it's reflexive enough to anyone who has actually done it, that we don't think about it.
Even driving. I know some crappy, dangerous, aggressive drivers. They go for any gap they can, push to get a few car lengths ahead. It does take some skill to shoot for the gaps that they do. Some skill, not much. These guys are literally relying on the reflexes and good graces of others to stay alive. But the best driver I know (a former rally driver) moves through traffic seamlessly. He makes better gains faster than the aggressive drivers...and no one notices. He doesn't tailgate to create gaps, he moves into available bubbles that are moving slightly faster that the aggressive drivers don't even see.
The more I get into this the more it seems that everything is about learning to see.
Tactical not Technical - I was asked a question about how to transfer good footwork to sparring. Most people have had the experience of learning stepping patterns in class, in solo...
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