Teaching basic cuts the other day I fell into one of the teaching traps I try so hard to avoid - I taught a fixed step set of strike angles. It's part of Sonny's older system from before he transitioned into flow teaching and he had left it far behind by the time I started. I learned it from other students mostly because it was an interesting part of his history, and we ended up doing it the other day because we were talking about solo practice and striking ideas. It's an engaging little set with many parts to it, and indeed is a great way to put sword, body and feet together .... Well, sort of ....
As a rule, I don't like teaching 'perfection' or taking actions out of flow. In fact, I much prefer having the skills come from giving people problems to solve than doing them as stand alone, repetitive, exercises. It means that there is nothing 'intellectual' being added, just the simple process of seeing a target and reaching out to touch it. Something even babies know how to do.
Of course, strikes need to cut, not just touch, so you need good targeting, accuracy
of cut angle and blade angle, along with correct range. Of these, I would say that range is probably the most important, because if you miss, nothing else matters.
But how do you teach the dynamic quality of range from standing still?
Well, generally what happens is because you understand the range issues and thus footwork that the student can't, you start talking and fixing things for them. And before you know it, you have a student trying to keep their hands, their foot placement, their grip, their blade angle, their hip turn, all coordinated in their brains. And if that's too hard, you break it down even more to help students 'remember' all the parts that need to fit together.
How much easier would it be to invite the student to dance, and just say "Can you cut me from there? OK let's move around and only cut when you can reach me". "Oh, you just scratched me - too far away'. "Where were you aiming?" "Try the belly cut". "Ah, you plowed the blade into the target instead of cut it. Feel that"?
Doing the cuts in context makes all the parts that need 'remembering' unnecessary to remember! If you can do a good, clean, cut (blade angle and cut angle the same) from the right place (reach the target and use as much of the cutting edge as possible) and recover the blade easily. You are doing all the bits of blade manipulation, grip, hip movement, stepping, foot placement, and weight shift you need to!
Flowing DOES feel more hectic though, more difficult than the piece by piece version, and it's hard to feel so clumsy and uncertain, or deal with a the high failure rate that is inevitable when learning in real time trial and error.
But we know that it's far more productive to physically 'DO' than loop through 'THINK and DO' when actually in the fight, so if you can leave out the 'think' part in training, surely it can only be a good thing?
I think Sonny thought so, and this is why he changed how he taught. All the same cuts are still there, he just cut out the meaningless step of doing them without connection to purpose.
Flow training may cut out the certainty and the feeling of achievement that doing fixed step or patterns gives you, but that's a bonus too. There are no downsides to becoming familiar with uncertainty, or learning to keep a calm mind in the midst of the chaos of swordplay.