Basics vs. Fundamentals – Marc MacYoung


Something I encourage both instructors and students to do is know the difference between a basic and a fundamental. It is a concept that — to quote Professor Randall from Danzan Ryu — is “simple, but profound.”

Using my old Random House Unabridged the definitions of basic and fundamental were the same until Number 3.

The third definition of ‘basic’ was: An introduction to a subject.

The third definition of ‘fundamental’ was: A foundation or basis upon which a system is predicated.

Kinda important distinction, that.  It’s also why most people have a problem with being told to ‘go back to the basics.’ In essence, they think you’re telling them to go back to kindergarten.

A simple way to understand this is the alphabet is a fundamental to the written language. The ABC song U.S. children leaned in kindergarten is a basic. When, as an instructor, you say ‘go back to the basics,’ you mean return to the fundamentals. But when you say ‘go back to the basics,’ they hear ‘start singing the ABC song again.’

I hate to say this, but a whole lot of instructors need to practice what they preach and return to the fundamentals themselves. When was the last time you really sat down and reexamined your own fundamentals? Especially the mechanics of the moves you do? Not the so-called application, but the nuts and bolts of the movements themselves?

Conversely, here’s something cool about returning to a fundamental.

Years ago, I saw someone stump a physicist I know by asking ‘if a circle has 360 degrees, how many degrees does a globe have? ‘(The answer it turns out is both a formula and ‘it depends on the size of the globe.’)

But we’ll stick with the circle — to begin with. Starting from the center. You can go out in any of 360 directions to get to the edge of the circle.

Imagine that branch of the radial line as ‘one emphasis.’ You may get to the point where you know that line really, really well. But that doesn’t mean you know those other 359.

So when someone says ‘go back to the basics,’ they are not saying ‘go back and do this exact line over again.’ But that’s what people hear.

‘Return to the fundamental’ has no such preconception. Basically, it can be used to mean, go back to the circle’s center and take off in a different direction. See where that new line takes you.

Take for example, return to the mechanics of the move (very much a fundamental). Then ask, what else can these mechanics be used for? If I first change my definition of what the move  is and then tweak a detail, what do I get?

For example, the mechanics of a forward stepping from the hip karate punch — which many people consider too slow to be a ‘good punch’ — are amazing if you change the angle to about 50 degrees and (instead of trying to punch his centerline) drive through one side of his rib cage. You are basically trying to ‘punch’ past his armpit. But you don’t hit with your fist, you use the forearm to deliver the majority of the force.

I have knocked some really big guys ass over tea kettle using the exact same movement that I dismissed as a ‘karate punch.’

I also used to laugh about the back step and punch I learned in karate … until a dude I was rushing stepped back and I ran into it. While it wasn’t a ‘Three Stooges Knock Out’ (running into an extended pipe), I was done for the day. Exact same mechanics, but  different direction, different timing.

This is the cool thing about going back to the fundamentals, you suddenly realize, all the other ways you can go.

It ain’t a circle. It is a globe. A globe you can return to the center and find different ways to apply the exact same mechanics. Now granted, some of the lines won’t go as far as others, but some … man, I still haven’t found the extent of the depths.

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