One often hears about the advantages of cross training in the martial arts, but what exactly is cross-training, and how should it best be done?First off, by cross training, I do not mean moving from style to style every few months or even every year or two. If one is just starting one’s martial arts journey, once one finds a style and a dojo that one likes, it is best to focus on that style for a significant length of time - perhaps until one reaches green or brown belt level. It takes that long to get a solid understanding of a martial art, so investing the time to get that base of knowledge in one’s first style is the best approach. Just training for a few months here, a few months there is not likely to lead to the development of solid skills in any style.What I mean by cross training is, ideally, beginning to learn a second martial art once one is solidly grounded in one’s first style, and training in both arts. It can also refer to leaving a style one has practiced for years, perhaps because one has moved or one’s dojo has closed, and starting to learn another style. Either way, the goal is to have solid knowledge of one art and then to become a more well-rounded martial artist by studying a different, complementary art.
My jujitsu instructor, Shihan Felix Berrios, strongly encouraged us to cross train once we reached brown belt level in Eizan Ryu Jujitsu. If we had not achieved substantial rank in another style previous to starting Eizan Ryu, he felt that it was important that we start working on doing so at that point. And with that as our standard advice, the great majority of Eizan Ryu black belts have black belts in other martial arts – judo, iaido, boxing, aikido, various styles of karate – as well, either from before they joined our dojo or as their second art.
Cross training presents several difficulties. First of all, obviously, is the problem of finding the time to get to more than just the bare minimum of a couple of classes a week, and if that is not possible for someone at a particular point in their life, then they should just focus on doing as much training as they can in their first or main style. But for others, especially in a city like NYC, where there are many martial arts schools, some of which have very extensive schedules, it can be done.Another hurdle is that once one has gotten some solid skills in a particular style, it can feel very uncomfortable to “start from scratch” in a new style. One gets used to feeling competent in class, and then one finds oneself a beginner again, struggling to do things. But the fact is, a beginner with significant prior experience in one style is always going to be ahead of the game in their new style. They will be less intimidated by the dojo atmosphere, they will have better coordination and (often) fitness than most people, and, if they have been training right, they will have learned how to learn. Then too, being a beginner again helps one keep things in perspective, reminds one that no one martial art is “the best” and that no matter how long one has trained, one can always learn things one does not already know.
If one is considering cross training, one needs to determine which art to choose. Should it be something similar to what one is already doing, or something very different? Often, a style very different from one’s original style is actually easier to learn, as there is less of a tendency to just do things the way one is already doing them. If one knows how to do a shoulder throw from one’s judo training, it can be difficult to learn to do the same throw but with different intent and different details, as we would in Eizan Ryu Jujitsu, as one will be tempted to just do the version that makes one feel competent. However, the old saying “Empty your cup” is wise, and if one can empty the cup of knowledge – and as I like to see it, not pour that knowledge out, but, rather, drink it down – there will be room to add more.
Not everyone wants to or can cross train, but for those who do, there are many benefits. A karate practitioner who learns how to do foot sweeps and throws will have resources in situations where punches and kicks are not as effective, such as clinches. An aikido practitioner who trains in a striking style will have a new perspective on what they need to be aware of when training in their aikido dojo. Understanding the holes in one’s first martial art, the vulnerabilities, is always useful, as is having a skill set that gives one many options.
At Eizan Ryu, we feel so strongly that cross training is a good thing that we have a special payment plan, a ten class card with no expiration date, which is available only to folks who are already training regularly at another dojo. As an instructor, I can only benefit from having students with skills from other arts, with different ways of doing things. By teaching them Eizan Ryu Jujitsu, I can help them become more well-rounded martial artists while at the same time widening my own perspective.