eli5 how do martial arts work

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How do you do know when to do the moves? Is it once the opponent does the move too or something

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in group displays, everybody does moves at the same time, following voice commands of the leader.

In a fight, you time your moves to win, or respond to opponent’s moves.

if a fight is just for show or a movie, then you agree on sequence of moves, and practice a lot. It is basically a dance.

You know how you can be driving but not paying attention and get to work or school or whatever on “autopilot”? Martial arts work the same way, you practice certain moves in certain situations over and over and over until you can do it without thinking.

In movies they have choreographed the fights and practiced it well beforehand. So you know which move to do because you remember what move the opponent is supposed to do and you know what move the fight choreographer told you to do to counter their move. So movie fights are not realistic

In real fights you need to see what the opponent is doing and then counter his moves as you see them. It takes a bit of time to build up the momentum and cover the distance for a strike so an experienced fighter will have enough time to recognize what the opponent is doing and then block their move. You will also tend to stand such that you block some of the potential moves without having to react to them. And experienced fighters will be able to tell from their opponents stance how they might best strike and therefore what to prepare for. This might include changing your own stance which might prompt them to change their stance again. If you look at professional martial artists fight there is a lot of this dancing where the opponents just changes stances in response to each other before they actually go for an attack.

Ideally, you train these things enough that they become muscle memory, because adrenaline makes people panic and forget things that they think they know. Think of how clumsy even professional fighters can sometimes look in the ring – even though they train all the time, it’s easy to forget your plan as soon as things get crazy.

The idea of any martial art is to internalize their techniques, so that if someone runs at you from the front, your body knows how to respond. If someone aims a punch at your face, you can protect yourself even while your brain is still going “Whoa, what’s happening?” Remember, most self-defense situations only last a few seconds. Unless you’re training for sport fighting like boxing or MMA, what most people need to protect themselves, react, and get away safely, is just a few key fundamentals.

Your brain creates a folder specifically to the memorization of certain skills one masters and when to initiate the individual files. It’s like muscle memory meets timing.

When you practice something over and over and over again, and this applies to pretty much anything else you do, it becomes muscle memory and you react with what you know.

Since you’re in Karate, then you practice forms. Those forms have been created for combat (or at least they used to many many many years ago. Nowadays, some forms are more for show than functional).

So for example, let’s say in a form, there are moves that are meant to deflect a punch to the face, and then do a counter strike to the mid body. Lets say you practice this move 5 hours every day, for years. Well, the theory is that now if someone ever throws a face punch at you, you’re going to just react to it and counter.

I say “in theory”, because that’s the premise behind Martial Arts. But you also need a lot of practice in actual combat to truly apply the moves you learned. Sparring will only go so far, but is better than nothing if that’s all someone has access to.

As stated earlier its all about muscle memory. Practicing day in and day out puts your mind and body into an auto mode when faced. Someone stated adreliene makes you forget which is what typically happens when you get into a confromtation. This is also why most black belts you see or meet have been doing it for several years if not longer (my Instructer has been at it for 20 years)

To me the main discipline in any martial arts is the connection of mind and body. Me personally I have a black belt in hapkido (2nd dan) and i have noticed over the years the almost immediate reaction to situations (a punch/kick/ someone grabbing you from behind)

When i teach my newer students and what i think part of your question was in the gym while learning is the movenents are slower and generally much weaker than you would find on the street. I dont know about karate myself but using what i know. Going full strength against someone WILL lead to injuries depending on the movement. My saying is often “10-20% in the gym cause we like our training partners”

That being said the movements you are practicing may look impractical in the gym but also because your training partner knows whats coming and what you are gonna do. Someone trying to fight you on the street typically inst going to know what your doing or why.

I also know it was stated here but i will echo it. Chances of you actually street fighting someone who has any kind of martial arts training is very slim as the core of any martial art is self control and the ability to walk away from the situation and that training is typically reserved for self defense(though most forms will have an arsenal of offensive based movements)