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When moving from rapier to Hapkido, there was a lot that transferred and very little that interfered. Range, positioning, and most of the footwork transferred along with the mental aspects, and the muscle movement was different enough that I didn't end up tripping over my own feet any more than usual. There were some challenges and some interference, but for the most part it wasn't a huge problem.

Later, however, when I studied Aikido I encountered a problem: The movements were very similar, but not the same. I see the same thing in students who move into Hapkido who have studied a related martial art: The movements are just different enough to cause problems, because the muscles have been trained to go a very particular way.

When working with a student who is transitioning between arts that have similar elements but which either think about or execute them just differently enough, what are some ways to help the process along and reduce interference?

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First (and I infer from the question that you've done this), identify these problem differences and recognize that they're not "wrong"; they're just out of context.

Then find the place where they differ and provide multiple opportunities to make the choice (could be raw drill, could be sparring, could be some structured form of semi-sparring).

My aikido training teaches me to keep one distance (ma-ai); my tai chi teacher prefers a closer distance; he provides multiple opportunities for me to learn this. We do a lot of hand passes to give me the chance to expand on my prior habits.

My tai chi teacher teaches me to rely on shoulder strikes; my aikido teacher feels that they're too slow. (Truth is that I'm probably either misapplying them, or they're too slow when I do them, but the aikido teacher isn't interested in remedying that). My aikido teacher has pulled me aside to give me opportunities to either use the shoulder strike, or to use a different class of techniques that he prefers (somewhat more difficult to summarize in a short sound bite - at least until I learn it better and have an epiphany).

In both cases the answer is "drill". It is possible that there is a follow-on question "How does one drill?"; I think that is one of those questions that looks trivial but is actually way above my knowledge level.

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Since I train judo as well as Brazilian jiu-jitsu and the occasional wrestling class, this comes up a lot in my own training.

Minor differences

Judo's morote gari (two handed reap), wrestling's double-leg takedown, and BJJ's double leg takedown are all the same technique. Except not. Just like the similar-but-not-the-same techniques you found shared between Hapkido and Aikido, each one has just enough individual detail to distinguish itself from the others.

In judo, one wants to avoid initiating groundwork, so wrestling's knee-slide footwork must be kept to a minimum. In BJJ, one must protect against the guillotine choke, so head position is changed and the chin must be kept down. In wrestling, the head is used for an extra few percent of power and control, so the chin is kept up and the head is pushing hard. These are zero-sum differences. One cannot do the wrestling version optimally if held to the judo standard, and thrice-versa.


These changes do not exist in a void. They have a purpose. Judo's version avoids wrestling-style footwork due to a rule in judo competition: a throw does not count for points if the thrower first goes into groundwork. BJJ's version sacrifices power and control in order to avoid being choked. So I have a clear choice before me: am I worried about getting choked? Do I care about judo's rules? I can determine which version I should practice based on my own priorities.

This is the missing step in your question. Maybe we don't want to excise our old habits. To take an example from my old karate school: teaching a student the Isshinryu method of a spinning back kick will make them needlessly worse if they already have an awesome Soryu spinning back kick. It's better to leave the kick alone.

We should be careful of the traditional approach that says "whatever we teach here is the best". We should be open to different approaches, to new approaches, to foreign ways of doing the technique. (Whoever runs the class obviously has the final say over what gets taught, what gets practiced, and what is safe for sparring in their class. But we shouldn't do what we do just for inertia's sake.)

How to work around interference

If one does make the decision to break their old method and imprint the new one, they should understand that it will require them getting worse before they get better. One must pass through the valley to get to the summit.

Such a student should be taken on careful and slower road to learning the technique. More drilling, more break-downs of individual steps of the technique, and more explanation is called for than with a brand-new student.

At first, they should be given fewer high-stakes opportunities to apply the technique quickly and naturally. If most of the training is in full-on sparring, the wrestler will keep rolling the dice with their wrestling double-leg instead of practicing their (worse) BJJ version. A higher volume of lower-intensity sparring is called for in this instance.

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I disagree about keeping the chin down to avoid the guillotine, it actually makes you more susceptible to it, rather than less. The worst thing for getting guillotined is having the other guy sprawl on you first, and chin down makes you susceptible to the sprawl. If they just grab onto it without first sprawling, the chance of them finishing it is close to zero. – Robin Ashe Oct 6 '12 at 21:39
@RobinAshe I'm not a wrestler, but the wrestlers I've trained with have mentioned needing to specifically turn off their "chin up, use the head to push sideways" habit during doubles (and singles?) because their hugely exposed neck was getting them guillotined left and right. To solve this, 3 of my BJJ coaches have told me to tuck the chin, position the head lower and closer to one's shoulder, and avoid the use of the head to push. I'm not qualified to say anything at all about what those factors do vis-a-vis the sprawl or what happens after the sprawl. – Dave Liepmann Oct 7 '12 at 0:15
I just reread your comment, and I can say this: I finish a lot of guillotines on pure wrestlers (i.e., no BJJ experience) by grabbing their neck without sprawling. Not great wrestlers, and not yet in competition, but I question your assertion that the guillotine without a sprawl doesn't work. It's harder, sure, but it happens all the time. – Dave Liepmann Oct 7 '12 at 0:46
There's two types of wrestlers when it comes to chokes. There's the type that doesn't think too highly of their own skillset and thinks that martial arts are in some way superior, and will tap because they're caught in a choke and don't know how to get out. Then there's the guys who say, 'I'm a wrassler, I ain't tappin to no durned headlock', they ignore the choke, get stuck in it until the guy doing the choke tires his arm out, and then continue forward. I've never been caught in a guillotine without a sprawl that I couldn't just ignore and wait out. – Robin Ashe Oct 7 '12 at 3:31
That said, a high crotch is a lot more efficient than a traditional double because it lets you pass to side control a lot easier. I've seen a few wrestlers pull that off very consistently, high crotch -> get guillotined -> ignore it -> pass to side while guillotined -> mount while guillotined -> wait. Never once did they pass out. – Robin Ashe Oct 7 '12 at 3:33

I'd concern myself more about the outcome of the technique than how it looks. It'll never look perfect if you're applying it in a real situation anyway. If you're the instructor, you've got the liberty to make that call. If not, then the instructor should be tolerant of the differences as long as there's no practical interference.

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I'm not sure this answer would apply to a lot of aikidoka :D – Dave Liepmann Oct 6 '12 at 14:15
@DaveLiepmann that was only one of the examples, you'd expect Hapkido practitioners to be concerned about results, and almost any other stylist. – Robin Ashe Oct 6 '12 at 21:34
I agree, they should. Traditional stylists such as aikidoka (and even extending to some traditional BJJ and judo instructors I've seen) are unfortunately often still more concerned with how it looks. – Dave Liepmann Oct 7 '12 at 0:17
I'm not sure that is a useful/productive characterization of aikido. I am perhaps biased in that my instructor is adamant that effective technique is more important than adherence to doctrine, but I'm not sure it is useful to call out Aikido as preferring form over function. – Mark C. Wallace Oct 9 '12 at 11:09
Re-reading the question, I now understand why Aikido was called out, but I don't seem to be able to edit my prior comment. – Mark C. Wallace Oct 9 '12 at 13:51

Unfortunately, most of the weight for this one is going to be on the student. It is a student's responsibility to enter the school like a tabula rasa.

If the student's movements are stuck in a particular pattern, then the only thing that will help them is time. They will, over time, unlearn, and then relearn (unless they can overwrite the previous learning, which would save a bit of time).

How to help them depends on the student. They might appreciate being talked through the difference. They might prefer having the technique done to them many times. They might prefer doing the technique. They might prefer nothing at all, and just working through it.

If the student becomes frustrated, then it is the instructor's responsibility to remind them of patience, and tell them that the skills they have acquired did not come overnight -- and so the skills taught in the school will not come overnight.

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