Open it up


by Matt Barnes – originally posted at 


Motor skills – things like kicks or combinations – can be considered open or closed. A closed skill is like a basketball free throw, and an open skill is like a layup against a defender. In a free throw, the line is in the same place, the hoop is the same height and distance away, you choose when to throw the ball. In other words, nothing like combat. 

When an athlete learns an open skill, there are actually two things that need to be learned. First the athlete learns how to do the skill, and then, when. If the second part is not learned, the skill is essentially useless. To help teach the skill, sometimes the skill is taught as if it were closed. For example, consider the chest pass. To learn the right mechanics, the skill is taught standing still. However, if the only way you can perform it is standing still, it will do you no good in the game, especially if you don’t know when to use it. 

For best results, if you learn an open skill as a closed skill, you should practice it closed for the smallest time possible before practicing it in context. In the case of rank material – combinations, kempos, grabs, etc – most people learn them initially as a closed technique. The attacker starts in a half moon stance, left foot forward and performs a right step through lunge punch. Without context, the skill is essentially useless. 

How do we fix it? Open it up. Practice off the jab. Then the jab-cross. Then hooks. Then moving. And so on. You will need to adjust things, things may look ‘imperfect’, but you will have skills that work.