When to Start Your Own System: Your Physique

The late Sifu Larry Hartsell

Yesterday I explained how many people start their own martial arts for the wrong reasons:

They are impatient, and haven’t done the necessary work.

They simple put a bunch of stuff together, without thinking about how the parts fit into the whole, or what are the unifying principles of the system.

They want to be the big man, and being under someone else’s authority chafes them.

Yet there are valid reasons to start your own system. Everybody has a set of techniques and a style that will suit his own particular physique, his experiences, and his lifestyle.

Imagine a baseball training camp that tries to make shortstops out of every player –that doesn’t make sense. If you’re short and squat, you are a good candidate for catcher. If you’re tall and left-handed, you might train for first baseman. If you’re very fast, shortstop is a good match for you. Just your physique determines the type of position you are more likely to excel at.

When I wrestled in high school, the coach told me I’d be good as a “leg man,” that is, a wrestler who uses leg techniques like the grapevine, the figure 4, and so on. Why did the coach tell me that? Because I was very thin and had relatively long legs, so just by looking at my particular build he could tell the type of techniques and the type of “style” that would best suit me.

Wrestling Leg Technique

The heavyweight wrestlers, the very largest wrestlers, use different techniques suited to their heavier body type. Speed techniques like shooting for a double leg takedown just aren’t as effective for the heavier,, slower wrestlers.

So when you train in the martial arts, certain techniques will match your physique. Look at the late Larry Hartsell, a student of Bruce Lee. There was no way that Larry could do Bruce Lee’s style, with the speed, the cat-like agility, and the fluid kicks. Larry was built like a bouncer, with intimidating size and strength.

(Larry Hartsell reminds of one of my teachers, Guro Ed Planas, who is large and with forearms the size of your calves. His techniques do not feature blinding speed, but once he gets a hold of you, you’re toast. And nobody is better at counter-for-counter.))

Physically, Larry Hartsell was not suited to fight like Bruce Lee, so he had to adapt his style, not to be the big man, or because he thought he knew better than his teacher. Larry had to adapt techniques that were a better fit for his physical attributes.

Regardless of the arts you train in, certain techniques will fit your unique physique. Sometimes you have to be honest enough to admit your limitations as well as your strengths, and these may very well differ from your teacher.


2 Responses to “When to Start Your Own System: Your Physique”

  1. […] have written how Sifu Hartsell adapted Jeet Kune Do to both his physique and his skill set. I used to have Sifu Hartsell’s excellent book, “Jeet Kune Do: […]

  2. Thank you for the comments on adapting to style and the arts. Larry said, ” Modification is the Key”. You take what you learn and make it work for you.

    Debra Hartsell

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