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Becoming a Complete Martial Artist
Error Detection in Self-Defense and the Martial Arts

Tristan Sutrisno, Marc MacYoung
with Dianna Gordon


Many errors and misunderstandings have crept into what is currently being taught as martial arts. Students learn sports-based moves and modern interpretations, all the while being told they are learning traditional martial arts systems or modernized techniques that can be used for self-defense.

Neither is true.

When of these techniques fail, leaving the student many times to feel that he or she has not done the move "correctly."

The fact is that often the technique -- as it was taught -- is missing vital components that could make it not only truly traditional, but would also make it effective. The fault is not with the student. Nor is it possibly with the instructor. The instructor may not even be aware that the technique that he or she is teaching has lost these vital principles.

The fact is 'traditional martial arts' can be used for effective self-defense -- if the person teaching them knows how to correct the lost or decayed aspects. But before you can fix something, you have to know what is missing. Becoming a Complete Martial Artist introduces the reader to the concepts necessary to restore lost aspects, repair corrupted information and analyze errors in whatever martial arts system he or she studies.

The explanations of fundamental principles that apply to all martial art systems assists both the student and instructor. With a strong grasp of the mechanics of error detection, the martial artist can step up to a new awareness and vastly enhanced ability to use an existing arsenal of skills to greater advantage.

Like Secrets of Effective Offense this book, Becoming a Complete Martial Artist has special value to martial arts instructors and self-defense teachers. And it explains important concepts in  clear and simple terms that will aid the student in learning his or her martial art.

Autographed by MacYoung

Becoming a Complete Martial Artist: Error Detection in Self-Defense and the Martial Arts (Lyon Press) 2005, 219 pages, ISBN 1-59228-370-5

This book is currently out of print

Readers comment:

The description of this outstanding book states that it is a graduate level course in the strategic principles of self defense but don't look for fancy applications or whiz-bang techniques. It is really about the basic fundamentals that make any martial art work properly when you take your dojo skills on the street. This is good solid stuff, not particularly exciting, but absolutely essential, cerebral, and right on. The authors are highly skilled and their experience really resonates within these pages.

As most long-term martial artists know, earning a black belt is really just the beginning of a practitioner's martial journey. Since obtaining mine I discovered that the more I know, the more I realize that the fundamentals are paramount. That's the focus of this book. The SWOT analysis is an important tool described herein. It stands for Strength, Weakness, Opportunity, and Threat, an invaluable tool for error detection as you place your techniques under a microscope. Essential nuances of structure, posture, body mechanics, and positioning are critical for success and well described herein. The writing is clear, articulate, and easy to follow. The highlighted practice hints are a nice addition, too.

My only complaint, which frankly is pretty minor, is that the pictures do not have very good contrast and there are harsh vertical lines on the wall in the background of many of them that make them a little challenging to view. Furthermore, there really are not enough photos to illuminate everything properly unless you've been practicing martial arts for a while and understand what the authors are talking about.

There is a very short section on the purpose of weapons and weapons training and a brief overview of what happens when you utilize this knowledge in the real world, but the vast majority of the materials are focused on getting the basics right. Topics covered include range, weight transfer, positioning, posture, placement, blocking, punching, stances, kicking, elbows, takedowns, and throws.

Overall this is an excellent and highly recommended book.

Lawrence Kane
Author of Surviving Armed Assaults, The Way of Kata and Martial Arts Instruction

This book essentially lives up to its title, and does nothing more or less. It does a very good job of defining martial arts in analytical terms, breaking everything down into a few categories (range, weight transfer, positioning, posture, and placement), offering general rules for proper movement within each category. Despite the fact that there are countless different systems that move in countless different ways, many of which disagree with each other in seemingly fundamental ways, proper movement is determined largely by human physiology. Different systems prove different, systematic ways of using human physiology to the practitioner's advantage. Becoming A Better Martial Artist wisely sticks to these physiological properties, successfully pointing out "alternate" ways of moving that do not constitute stylistic difference, but instead constitute improper movement. The authors provide guidance to the reader in examining his (or her) own system and training to look for things that may have been lost in transmission from teacher to student. These issues may be the result of the reader not fully understanding his teacher's instruction, or it may be the result of someone in the reader's lineage not fully understanding their training and propagating their mistakes to successive generations.

The other thing that this book does is provide an excellent explanation of the differences between self-defense and combat, and why combative techniques sometimes have no place in self-defense training (and, by extension, why many martial arts systems are not self-defense systems).

I have only one minor complaint about this book. In an effort to "appeal to the masses," the examples given are clearly based on Shotokan Karate. Mr. Sutrisno teaches Shotokan, though it's arguably not his primary system. Mr. MacYoung is kind of "nomadic" in his training and probably would not (and could not) claim any one art as his primary art. Given that Karate systems and styles that are based on / similar to it are generally the most widely practiced, this makes sense. Unfortunately, there are a few times where the explanations of the principles being demonstrated by the examples begin to enter into the realm of style-specific, and are not universally true. This is not often the case, though, and the majority of principles described within these pages are more or less universally true.

I also feel that the book has one "fatal flaw" in terms of the audience. This is not a complaint about the book; it's more an observation about human nature. This book is excellent for two groups of people - beginners who want a greater intellectual understanding of the martial arts (thus helping them learn their art more efficiently), and practitioners who have been taught improperly. The beginners, assuming they have a good teacher, will understand all of these principles within their first five years or so of training, so for them, this book will help them along on a path they're already walking down, as opposed to providing something they can't get from their teachers. In the case of the "improperly-experienced" practitioner, gaining anything from this book requires a great deal of critical, objective self-evaluation. People who have dedicated years to something are often reluctant to look at it critically (perhaps due to a subconscious fear that their years may have been "wasted" - it's easier not to know than to come to such a realization), and are reluctant to look outside their schools to better themselves. In short, the people who need this book most are the least likely to read it.

Finally, this book is not without its benefits for advanced practitioners, who are almost invariably teaching others (even if under the roof of their teachers). While I can say that I found the principles in this book to be obvious, it reinforced what I already knew, and helped give me some ideas to focus my teaching in a manner that will help illustrate the concepts more effectively, helping me recall ways my teacher teaches that I haven't thought about (and therefore used) in many years. --
Erik Harris, Alexandria, Va.


I'd recommend this book for- people wondering if something is missing from their art, beginners, and teachers.

The information in highly useful to all 3. Of course, it goes without saying the first 2 groups will learn a great deal, so why recommend it for instructors? Easy. Even if you have a been taught a solid system, sometimes learning to discuss a topic in a different way will turn the light on for an individual that's struggling. I've borrowed some of the phraseology and terminology from the book and seen it give people a better understanding.

In addition, if you have students read this at the correct point in their training, it will save hours of explanation. This will give your students more time practicing what they're learning.

The vast majority of the information is not style specific, but based on sound physiological principles that are useful regardless of your background. As such, nearly everyone will be able to glean something useful from this book.

Although Marc MacYoung has irritated many with his older writings, he set his opinions aside and worked with a traditional martial artist to write this book. Mr. Sutrisno is a wealth of information and and I understand was a major source of information for this book. Having met him and seen him move, I can attest that Mr. Sutrisno knows his stuff and can perform everything he talks about. So this book is not about untested theories, but sound principles that work. It's well worth the read. --
S. Walker, Colorado

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