If you are playing someone bigger, better, faster, and more skilled, at their own game, odds are you will lose.
It makes way more tactical sense, if you are outmatched, to change the rules of the game, or better, play an entirely different game than what you opponent is expecting.
In fighting against enemies, this is called Strategy, use this thinking whilst playing with your friends however, and they'll call it something else .... cheating.
Most of us grow up playing games with our friends. Games have rules because we are ultimately all on the same side and groups work best if there is trust.
Rules generally limit the options of the players, either for safety, or, in the arena of sports at least, to create a spectacle entertaining enough to generate an audience (and, no doubt, a healthy gambling industry). Basically, it is in the interests of everyone concerned that the playing field be as even as possible, so the game is enjoyable (to the audience) and repeatable (by the participants). But rules condition you to behave like other people expect, and though there is certainly room for being tricky and deceptive to a point, both the expectation of a level playing field, and general rules of behavior, make invisible much of what is possible outside of a game.
Once the playing field is tilted against us, if we play the game as though it was even, we will probably lose.
I have friends who like to play push hands, but will complain bitterly when the game turns into a shoving match and 'brute strength' wins out.
Now I know there is stuff to be learned from using push hands as a training method to learn certain skills, but if you are playing with someone bigger, stronger and more skilled than you, who is unwilling to help you build skills ... strategically speaking, why are you standing in front of them letting them put their hands on you ?
Are you 'investing in loss' as they say, in the hopes of eventually gaining rooting and yielding skills? Perhaps. Might you also be conditioning yourself to lose because you would be crazy to try to fight someone with such disparity of size, strength and skill, face to face, and by their rules ...?
Jake talks about another dynamic, perhaps related to this, on his blog: http://honestphilosophy.blogspot.com/2012/05/sparring-control-and-balance.html
Could it be that the smaller fighter knows on some level that he is toast in this head to head, and through a deep seated fear keeps playing full contact? Surely he is not volunteering for a beat down ...? Who knows, perhaps he thinks the bigger fighter 'can take it' , and is taking advantage of the relative safety of the class sparring dynamic ..? In any case, as Jake points out, neither fighter is learning anything worthwhile here. But what should the lesson be?
Martial Arts have created many games to mimic pieces of a fight, that can be played in relative safety. Most wrestling and grappling arts come to mind as do many(most?) sports like fencing, judo, boxing. Also rugby, hurling and other contact team sports. All are safe(mostly), non lethal, and are governed by rules.
However, all of them assume trust between the parties, and lack, by their nature, the very core of Strategy - Deception, adaption, changing of the rules, of the game itself.
So how do you bring that piece back into the equation?
How do you learn to break the rules? Subvert them? See the hidden, unwritten ones? Perhaps transcend them altogether ....?
How do you get past (most 'good') peoples' natural inhibition to cheat?
Perhaps you choose to play completely without rules .... Can't cheat if there are no rules ....
But you still have to play with others, and what if they are your friends? ... And what then of safety ...? Friendship? Trust .....?
I have been pondering for quite a while now what separates sword play, and particularly unarmored dueling styles that are not governed by the rules of sports, from other martial games. (Thinking here of my style of Eskrima of course, though I'm sure there are others.)
And I think it's this ability to learn about strategic thinking aka cheating, with friends as opposed to enemies.
It's scope is not unlimited of course, but it may go further than other practices in allowing for playing outside the rules in relative safety, because of the particular nature of the blade compared with other weapons of combat.
The biggest key is that sword needs no power to do damage in real life. You can add power to it, but it is not necessary.
This is huge.
This means that power is not a factor in winning.
Contemplate that for a moment - Power is not a factor in winning.
Take power out of the equation and you have not only satisfied the safety requirement, you have done it without compromising how you would actually use a real blade. No need to pull punches, wear safety gear, or limit targets.
So what skills are you left with to use to your advantage?
Size and reach? OK, it will have a effect, but if the hand is a valid target, reach becomes less of a factor.
Agility - Physical and mental? Absolutely.
Environmental factors, and ability to use them to your benefit? Sure.
Psychology and ability to read your opponent? Indeed.
Cunning and deception? Oh yeah, definitely need those.
Ability to gauge when you need to not engage, or exit asap, i.e. know the limits of your ability? I think so.
If power can win out (and don't believe anyone that says size does not matter) none of this list is important. It rarely comes up.
As they say, necessity is the mother of invention, and it only when the necessity exists, i.e. the playing field is not level, and you are at the losing end, that strategy has it's place.
Unfortunately, many do not even contemplate it's existence. It may even be completely invisible to those conditioned from a very early age not to 'cheat'.
But if you are interested in exploring strategy, here are the pieces of the puzzle that seem to create the best venue to do so:
You will need
- Edged weapons with no hand guards, long enough to be considered a sword and not a knife (length gives you time, so more space to play). And training versions of same with which you can make contact safely.
- Respect for, and usage of training weapons as though they are the real thing.
- No armor.
- A limited practice area necessitating that you must engage your opponent before you can escape (too big a space and you never really NEED to engage, just run).
- No limitations on how you move - 360 degree field (in 3 dimensions).
- No limitations on using all the tools at your disposal to prevail - arms, legs, speech etc etc
- Freedom to add hidden weapons, use of environmental factors (walls, projectiles etc), others, if wanted.
- Living as a goal.
This is an evolving idea in my head, and this post has taken a long time to settle itself into something even resembling coherent thought. It is far from finished I feel ....so all feedback would be gladly accepted.