Insights and Training Tips from Tactical Arts


Insights from the Tactical Arts Academy

The Right Skills - Classifying your Filipino Kali and Indonesian Silat Skills for Optimal Training


While training, we are not only developing our physical skills. We are developing an intelligence that allows us to learn faster and accomplish more than others can do. To do this, we must always seek better methods of training and understanding that will maximize our time devoted. Understanding the nature and intent of our training methods and drills will help us do just that.

Sometimes tradition gives us drills or exercises that are not fully explained to us. In some cases, the value or intent of those drills have been eroded by time. In other cases, our training is simply not complete, so the significance is not yet clear. Regardless of the situation, understanding the type of skills being developed will lead you to clarification and purpose when approaching your training sessions.

Skill Classification

Skills are not all the same. Some skills require strict adherence to form, whereas others may be stifled by maintaining a strict standard. Some skills are performed differently based on what happens in the moment, whereas others should be performed exactly the same, every time, for success. In fact, different parts of your brain are involved when learning and using different types of skills.

When forging a new skill, it is important that you use the right methods. Because skills are not the same, there are differences in the optimal training methods that are used to develop each. For each skill, you need to know which approach is best for your training to be both efficient and effective.

Learning to classify the skills that you are training will help you choose the right approach to skill development. Having the right approach to skill development will accelerate your learning pace, increase your potential and may even be the difference between winning or losing.

When classifying your skills, there are two primary types of skills that you should understand. These are closed skills and open skills.

Closed Skills

Closed skills typically include set patterns where accuracy, precision, and proper form are the most important elements required for success. In this type of skill, the person performing the skills knows exactly what to do and when to do it. This includes skills like shooting the A-zone of a target, hitting a pad perfectly, and sinking a basketball free-throw.

Closed skills are those that are performed in a stable and predictable environment. All changes, if any, are expected. In the examples above, this would be true if the target, pad and basket did not move, nobody was attempting to shoot back, hit back or even block the shot. There is difficulty, but it is all solved by using skills based on accuracy and precision that are not subject to changes in the environment.

Closed skills are usually self-paced. They are not affected by the environment, so the performer can regulate the time it takes to complete the objective. Back to our basketball reference: When taking the shot, there is no time restriction or other environmental pressure that forces the performer to take the shot quickly, change his position or avoid being blocked. He can take his time to get mentally ready, set up his feet, get the best grip on the ball and perform whatever setup is needed to tap into the pattern and form he has practiced over and over again.

Closed skills have a clear beginning and end. The shot is made. The target is hit. The ball went through the basket. When it is done, it is done.

Closed skills in Kali and Silat are used when performing a single strike or a striking combination in the air or at a stationary target. Closed skills are also involved in fundamental training drills such as deflecting a strike that is delivered at a predictable rate, at a predesignated target, with a planned, practiced technique.

Open Skills

Open skills are mostly perceptual skills wherein the ability to interact with the environment and adapt to change are the most important elements required for success. In open skills, the performer must sense what is happening around him and take action that is calculated in response to those perceptions. This includes skills like shooting at a target that is evading and shooting back, trying to hit an opponent that is defending, and trying to make a basket when members of the opposing team are trying to block your shot and steal the ball.

With open skills, the person performing the skill must pay attention to external events in order to direct his movements. He must match his rate of movement, his positioning, his angle, etc. with that of an opponent and other environmental factors. When the environment is more unpredictable, the demand on the open skill is greater.

Open skills are not performed the same way every time. In fact, one must constantly adjust to change in the environment. Because of this, the movement performed may be different. For example, things like the angle, speed, direction, location and timing of a strike or combination may change as the opponent moves to evade it. Moving around a defender in a basketball game, may depend on where on the court the action is taking place, where other defenders and teammates are located as well as how much time is left on the clock. Because of this, the movements associated with an offensive drive will be different every time. There also may be more than one movement that could lead to success in the same given scenario.

Open skills are mostly externally paced because the movements must be performed in accordance to the changes of the environment. If a target is not available, an opponent is out of reach, or there is no opportunity to take a shot, you have to wait until the right opportunity is there. You may be able to create that opportunity, but that opportunity is still based on the actions of your opponent and the overall situation.

Open skills are based on one’s ability to recognize a pattern, an opening, or an opportunity to exploit. Open skills are dependent on reaction, so the performer must be agile, perceptive, and ready. He must also have the ability to choose the best response over a number of possible options. Once the opportunity is recognized, the performer can act.

Open skills in Kali and Silat are used in sparring and in drills that involve a flow that has variables which force the participants to read the angle of attack, change positioning, or match the partner’s timing in order to successfully complete the drill.

Skill Training

Because open and closed skills are different, use a different approach to training each type of skill. In order to plan your training, you first need to determine which skills are open and which are closed. Once you have done that, then you can follow the methods below.  Start by asking yourself if precision and form are most important for success or are things like adaptability and reaction involved.  Consider the points discussed above.  This approach will help you classify the skills. 

How to train closed skills

When training closed skills, it is best to have well-planned practice sessions that are focused on gradual progression. Be sure to cover fundamental movements and build on them in a very controlled and objective manner. With an organized practice session, you can be sure to practice all the necessary drills and exercises sufficiently. The key to closed skill training is consistency and repetition.

Use a lot of repetition to improve your skills. Repeat the motion while refining your precision each time. Focus on fixing errors and improving your form with every iteration. The repetition of the patterns and focus on precision will ingrain the movement in your muscle memory. The more you repeat the motion, the deeper it will be ingrained. Because of this, it is important that you get the form right early in your practice. Any errors will also become deeply ingrained in your muscle memory and will be harder to correct in the future as more and more incorrect repetitions are layered on top of the first.

Use a gradual progression in your training. Practice one part of a skill, then add a little more until you can combine all the parts into the complete skill. If you are learning a combination of strikes, you would first start with only a small portion of the combination and gradually add more parts after you can consistently perform each successive part consistently with good form.

How to train open skills

When training open skills, it is best to have more open, playful sessions focused on discovery and exploration. Your sessions will vary in content and allow for experimentation and curiosity to take you into new ideas. Explore and play inside of an environment that is constantly changing. The more familiar you become with trying to adapt to a changing environment, the better your open skills will become.  Light sparring and open ended flow drills are good tools for this.

You must experiment in order to develop open skills. Try many variations in your actions in order to learn more about the environment and how you can adjust your responses to it. Try something new and see how it fits into your current understanding. The amount of time you spend on each experiment can vary. Allow your training sessions to be flexible in content and focus.

Be aggressive and do not be afraid of failure. Repeated failures when attempting a challenge will help you develop the ability to analyze and adapt. Take big risks when exploring so that you can push the boundaries of your skill. Evaluate what is working and what is not working. Use this as a basis to stimulate more variations and different attempts at conquering the changing environment.

Feedback is critical and you must analyze the results of each movement, so that you can make further adjustments. You should play and explore, but you must also observe an analyze. If you do not study the results of your experiments, then you will not learn from them. Feedback from your own observations, from training partners, and from instructors will help you get more out of your practice.

Training Order

Train closed skills first, then train open skills. When learning open skills, you will use the closed skills you have cultivated as a reference. They will serve as a standard from which you can deviate. These closed skills will also give you the precision needed to control any adjustments you must make in the performance of open skills.

Training open skills too soon is a waste of time. Imagine trying to spar without first having learned how to strike or how to counter. That is not effective training. You need tools to use during your experimentation. You will not be able to flow if you have not already trained the parts involved. Your closed skills do not need to be perfect, but they must be consistent and familiar before you start training related open skills.

Mixed Skills / Skill Continuum

In reality, many skills are actually a combination of both closed and open skills. These are a sort of compound skills that require both that you respond to the environment, but also that you use a precise movement. You may use your open skills to read the environment, then use closed skill in a portion of your response. Imagine responding to an attack by evading a strike, then using a trained pattern to deliver an accurate return hit or combination.

Skills are on a continuum where they vary between being completely open and being completely closed. Some may be more open, but have some characteristics of closed skills and others may be more closed, but have some characteristics of open skills. Still others may have an equal amount of both characteristics. Identify the parts of the skill that are open and those that are closed, then train those components appropriately.

Final Thoughts

Take the time to examine the skills you want to develop. Step back from the drills and think about their intent and primary benefits. Adjust your training plan to approach your drills in a manner that will be the most productive. Just knowing what type of skill you are practicing will make a great difference in your efforts to improve it.

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