Many fighters do not make good teachers … and vice versa. Some can do neither.
Sonny was, in my opinion, someone that could do both, and not only that, considered them the same thing in a sense - Making a stranger do what you want them to do - Physically, emotionally, and mentally.
His famous line : 'If I know what you are going to do next I can beat you,' plays right into this - Remembering that one does not need to wait to find out what they are going to do, just make them an offer they can't refuse.
In a fighting context, it's a case of manipulating circumstances to one's benefit, making the opponent predictable and in the dark about one's true motivations.
In a teaching context, it's a case of manipulating the circumstances to lead the student to making the correct choices at each challenge.
The process is the same - The motivation and outcome are different: Fighting, the opponent needs to lose; Teaching, the student needs to learn how not to lose …. by understanding what losing looks and feels like
Fighting, you do not advertise the impending loss; Teaching, you show them what it looks like, and have them avoid it.
The only difference is the coaching you give to the student, so they can learn to see what they need to avoid ….. At first you have to make the experience of impending loss visible, and this will have to be done bigger - longer strikes, bigger angles, more telegraphing. Later, it becomes as subtle as it needs to be to replicate an opponent trying not to be seen.
What makes this good practice for the teacher is that to improve the student's fighting skill, one gets to know what the student can see and what they cannot comprehend, and learning this will facilitate the teacher's ability to work inside, or outside, visible parameters …. whatever is necessary at the time.
This ability to read an opponent, and calibrate one's actions to fit the situation is a hugely important skill set. The reason why, is that you need to be able to work both sides of the 'event horizon'. Most people understand the necessity to be able to act without telegraphing intent - This is hard enough to perfect, yet many perhaps many do not understand the equally important skill of setting an opponent up. This skill REQUIRES that one is seen, and is vital to the ability to fake and bait.
If you do not know what your opponent can and cannot see, this line is arbitrary and subject to error. This is a big problem.
In hand to hand arts, the visual signals are replaced by the tactile, and the sells, the tells, the fakes and the baits, are all communicated through touch. Striking arts use visual clues, Bagua has a host of tactical stratagems used before contact, boxing does it too. It is most important in the weapon arts however, where tactile clues have their value, but where the most dangerous distance to close through is (at least partly) in visual range.
If one can lead a student to start understanding what is going on, how they are undefended, why they get hit etc, one can also learn how to make others a.k.a opponents 'do things' without words.
As a simple example, I say to myself - 'I will make my training partner block high right', and I see what it takes to make them do this. For them to succeed in the block (and remember I want them to see the strike and be able to block it) I need to express a strike to the right side of their head in an arc, and at a speed that they are certain that this is the problem they need to solve. I strike too fast and they cannot block. I sell a weak strike angle, and they cannot see it and so ignore it ….. From this I learn to understand what they can see, and what they cannot, i.e. which action results in which reaction. If they counter attack by striking to my arm I learn that the timing was not correct and that the target was not open, and thus pointless to aim for.
I don't know what will work, so I need to experiment, and Random Flow Training is the format in which to work on this. I cannot keep throwing the same strike over and over …. then there is no natural reaction possible, just a preset one … so we must move, and engage, pendulum in and out, and I must throw the strike to get the react I am looking for, within this random interaction. When I have a good idea what will work, I mix it up in between other things and see if I can get it again.
As the student gets more wily, I will have to try harder and harder to get the reaction I am trying to create, therefore both of us are improving our skills.
This then means that over time, the teacher can train the student to see faster and less obvious strikes .. and once they have those down, one can start to fake them with more and more subtle movement that they have to deal with. The teacher, in turn, learn what they can see, how to fake them, and how to fake them better and better.
We both have a question to answer - Their question is - How do I block a strike coming in? My question is - What makes them see the angle that I am striking?
But this is the key - Name the thing you want to happen, and make it happen:
I want them to back up. I want them to cut to my sword hand. I want them to block low left. Whatever you want, but keep it simple. This is why sticking to even 4 basic strikes invokes such a wide field of play. Especially when the student gets better … certain things become harder and harder to get. This is the goal. Quite naturally this becomes closer and closer to a meaningful interaction bearing resemblance to one on one combat …. remembering that the student does not need to wait, or stay defensive ….. they can attack and evade, counter and press, as is their want. This more active role in itself then leads to the problems inbuilt into any movement, and the problems to solve can be thrown back at the student.
"If I know what they are going to do next I can beat them" ….. This is how you practice knowing. You MAKE things happen, and understand what you need to do to create that reaction in your opponent. I decide to create a reaction, then I do what needs to be done to have it come to pass.
It's a simple and elegant solution that engages all the aspects of sword play, the most important parts of which I consider to be not being seen, and being seen, and all the parts that go into achieving both.