“Tactics” and “strategy” are probably the most misunderstood words used by martial artists and armchair generals. I meet very few civilians (and very few low lower enlisted veterans) who have a solid grasp of these ideas.
We need a good understanding of these concepts in order to understand what we are seeing in a martial art and how we will choose what is best for us an individual.
A Tactic is a single, repeatable, intentional technique employed in order to advance a goal. A punch is a tactic. A kick is a tactic. A hip throw is a tactic. Running away is a tactic.
A Strategy is a collection of principles that underlie what is considered to be the best manner in which to employ tactics.
Its often easier to understand the differences between things when we look at big examples so I am going to describe here a couple of strategies that you’ll never have to think of again.
In the 1980’s, the US Army was preparing for a war in Europe with the Soviet Union. One aspect of their strategy was the idea of “recon push.”
Recon push was the idea that any advance into enemy territory should be initiated by smaller units whose purpose was to find out what obstacles (including enemy forces) lay along the proposed path of advance.
By keeping recon elements out front, the army commanders could prepare for the fights that awaited them.
The Soviets, on the other hand, were devoted to a strategy of “recon pull.”
Recon pull referred to the idea that any advance into enemy territory should be initiated by smaller units whose purpose was to find out what obstacles (including enemy forces) lay along the possible paths of advance.
By keeping recon elements out front, the army commanders could follow the routes that were discovered to be fastest and involve the least resistance in order to quickly penetrate into the enemy’s rear.
The recon elements would all be employing the same tactics: move fast, remain invisible, find the enemy, radio back what you see. But the two strategies could not have been more different.
One strategy discovered what was to be found as one proceeded. The other strategy waited to proceed based on what was discovered.
It was the strategic outlook that dictated the design of the vehicles, even. The US needed hard-hitting, armored scout vehicles that might be slower but could survive combat long enough to radio back.
The Soviets preferred lightly armored fast vehicles. If the vehicle were destroyed, that was evidence the route they had been on was imperfect and so served the purposes of their recon strategy.
In the martial arts, strategies usually differ along lines of “which body part makes the best weapon?” and “how much of my vulnerability will I embrace to make my opponent more vulnerable?”
The best example of the first difference is the strategic outlook developed by Tae Kwon Do that, since the leg is stronger and longer than the arm, kicks are preferable to punches. There are still punches, but the training and fighting focus is on kicking.
Okinawan Karate recognized difficulties with kicking and so, while kicking is still trained and used, the emphasis is on different closed and open hand techniques.
As a result, the Tae Kwon Do fighter will punch to make room to kick. The Karateka will kick in order to close to punching range.
Those kicks and punches will be identical. Their purpose, their intent, the strategy behind them means everything.
Now…a half dozen practitioners of these arts are shouting that I’m wrong: that their art does both equally well and even better than other arts. “This is the best martial art” should be a massive red flag along with “our art does it all.” This sort of statement reveals a massive lack of understanding of principles and attention to such things as strategy altogether.
Later, we are going to discover that there are even differences in training strategies. Some train to win, some train not to lose. Some train in the safest way possible and refuse to take any risk. Some train with the expectation of injury.
Also understand that some arts such as Chinese Wushu are entirely ornamental and not intended for any combat application. There is no strategy beyond putting on a fight that looks good to observers.
One more thing: after a few years of training, you’re going to learn about different ways of kicking and punching. Muay Thai fighters keep their leg bent until the moment of impact with their kicks. Savate fighters lock the knee before the foot leaves the ground.Its all fascinating stuff and you’re going to find which techniques serve you. That is an essential part of developing YOUR strategy.