Monday, September 10, 2012

One Hit Wonder

This is a clip, from a movie called Ame Agaru (After the Rain) that I came upon randomly. I have not seen the whole movie, but it won all kinds of prizes so it seems like it might be worth a watch.

What follows is a seemingly pointless exercise - a critique of a movie duel, so to get a couple things out of the way first ....
Yes, I know it's a movie duel, thus choreographed to look cool to an audience, and not much more.
And, yes, I know movies are not real.

But ..... in the same way that movies create fantasy expectations that are damaging to skill building, they can also point out more interesting things, perhaps about dueling or human behavior, that lie underneath the overt message ......

In this clip for instance, we have the common Samurai hero architype - cool, calm, collected, focused, efficient and spare.
We also have his opponents - portraying their lesser skill by emoting strongly, trying to unsettle our hero by using their intent (which can work on the weak), yet ultimately not knowing how to create a successful entry.

We have come to understand this contrast as a perfect paradigm for; one who knows, versus one who does not. And it's not too far from truth, highly sanitized and stylized for sure, but still containing some grain of authenticity.

Overtly, the movie seems to indicate that at the highest level you can stand in front of an opponent undisturbed, wait for them to make their move, evade, and counter perfectly. But what it really shows is something completely different that looks the same from the outside, yet is totally different from the inside.

Our hero is not waiting for something to happen, and blithely countering. He gets to look cool, calm and collected, because he actually DOES know what's going to happen next. He set it up even before he draws his bokken.
He knows, for instance, that one of the highest valued skills in the context of Japanese sword play is the clean, single, finishing blow, and that this pervades all levels of training. He has also noticed, I'm sure, that his opponents are all fresh faced and probably never fought outside the training hall.

I have to say that I kept willing his opponents to fake, either in timing or in doubling the cut angle ... but no, these tactics are apparently not taught in their system .... something that our hero takes full advantage of.
A risky assumption you say? Sure .... but not an outlandish one, faking is a higher level skill, and even in systems that value it highly, hard to pull off well ......

So, is there anything of use to take away?

I'd say yes - If you are facing someone who is very good ... DO NOT play a game they can predict, and DO NOT mimic what they do without first understanding how it works.

Here's a quote about predictability from John Boyd:  
“Understanding the OODA loop enables a commander to compress time - that is, the time between observing a situation and taking an action. A commander can use the temporal discrepancy .. to select the least-expected action rather than what is predicted to be the most effective action. The enemy can also figure out what might be the most effective. To take the least-expected action disorients the enemy. It causes him to pause, wonder, to question.” Robert Coram, Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War

It is a good lesson indeed to remember that those tied to a way of thinking because of the system that they practice will be predictable to those who can see it, and thus doomed to lose.

So, again, what makes these guys so predictable?
Single entries with predictable timing.
Our hero knows he will be facing single entries, even if done in combination -
'One', 'One', 'One', 'One'. As opposed to
'Onenoit'snot'! or 
'O - ne', or even
'Onenoit'snot - yesitis'!
He also knows the cultural peer pressure to try to do well in front of an audience and impress the teacher and tribe. This means the opponent will want to enter, and be compelled to do so even if this means making a mistake ... and that when they do, they will be aiming for this simple, single, clean strike - because that is what will get the most 'points'.
Therefore all he has to do is - Seem open, invite them in, set them up for a particular strike by presenting a suitable target ... and there you have it. All he needs to know is when they are coming, and that should be easy to read because of the emotional tension caused by performance anxiety.

If you know all this stuff, it's easy to take advantage of it, you are already at 'A', whilst they are busy at O, O, and D.

So yeah, it's a movie duel, but still plenty to have fun with :-)


FSD said...

Great post Maija!

One of my favorite quotes from the Art of War is:

"All warfare is based on deception."

Or at least it should be!

Maija said...

Thanks FSD!
And yes, you'll have no argument from me regarding the importance of deception ... :-)