Cross training. A word that has become more and more popular since the 1990s, but something that has been happening for centuries. Sometimes, instructors are alright with their students doing so, others, not so much. If one goes to a martial arts’ social media enclave, they will find that many practitioners are training in multiple arts: karate with Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, aikido with Muay Thai, judo with tai chi, and the list goes on. But why cross train? What benefits does it have and is it even worth doing?
For one, some cross training may allow martial artists to achieve a fuller and/or broader picture of how the human body works and in what situations it can and cannot perform in. No encounter or situation is all striking or all grappling – it becomes a mix of both. To almost forego such a conclusion seems a bit misinformed. In reality, most of the martial arts systems today are not complete systems – why do the majority of karate schools remain standing up and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu schools do not regularly drill punches or kicks? The originators or pioneers found what made their respective arts unique and ran with it, moving further and further away from the complete system that it originated from.
Secondly, cross training is reported to help put into context the two or multiple arts and see if they are compatible with each other. By this, I mean does one art works at mid-range distance and the other art works at a close range or is one striking and one grappling? If so, then a martial artist may achieve a fuller picture of what a complete system or martial art is supposed to resemble. If the two arts are compatible, then the martial artist can, as a form of experimentation, start interjecting techniques from one art into the other and vice versa. Not only will this make a martial artist to think critically on how to successfully execute the new technique, but it will improve their understanding between both arts as they place them in a whole new situation in and of itself.
Thirdly, cross training can assist in understanding the distance between two people. In my experience, I trained aikido for almost two decades and I was used to the mid-range distance that the art worked in. Though not a total shock, I was surprised how I did not know how to function as well as I thought I would when I first began training in judo, where everyone is much closer to each other than aikido. I will say, my aikido training that focused on the mid-range helped me become comfortable and partial towards the foot sweeps and props, as they are performed from the mid-range distance.
At a certain level of proficiency in one’s art, there should be some level of cross training, much like experimentation. In a sense, cross training is the ultimate experiment, forcing one to use all of what they know in a completely new environment – whether the martial artist performs a spectacular technique or executes a basic movement, they are still using their art in a new situation.
Cross training is not bad, but if done too early, then one may not have a solid base of foundations to work from. Without that, it is hard to incorporate both the different and similar aspects of two martial arts, neither of which one are familiar with. As a result, one may create some inefficient and ineffective technique that might be missing some basic principles.
But what if a martial artist does not like cross training and scoffs at the idea of it? Then, that is fine too. We all follow our own budo, our own Martial Way. Not partaking in cross training will not make one any less of a martial artist. However, one does not have to go all guns blazing in cross training. A martial artist could take one or two techniques from another martial art and include them into their own repertoire of techniques – some techniques for those “just in case” moments. But, again, that decision is up to the individual. The road to such adventures is always there; it is up to the individual to take that first step.