Thursday, October 24, 2013

Teaching vs Fighting

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.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Sword is an Extension of the Feet

The sword is the primary weapon of my system.

My teacher thought that the sword required the greatest accuracy and finesse to use, that the margins of error were the slimmest, and that the price of failure the greatest. Hence to get the most efficient learning curve, it was taught first, not last as in many styles and systems.

His method was - Accuracy first, then power, then speed, believing that if you could learn to understand range to such a degree of accuracy that you could differentiate a graze from a hit you would be far ahead of the game when playing with impact weapons or empty hand. Same with identifying angles, and thus lines of threat and safety - much more immediately obvious with swords than any other weapon.
Lastly, he wanted us to understand the use of evasion in gaining superior position, and there is nothing like an edged weapon to give the incentive to move out of the way.

He was a small man, and skinny - not of the body type to be able to take damage, and this was honestly one of the reasons I wanted to train with him. He understood the importance of protecting himself from damage way more than perhaps some larger, heavier practitioners who are able to absorb more impact.

He had to be certain, accurate, and have a means of entering and exiting range safely, or risk taking potentially fight ending damage in the process, and unless he had the advantage of surprise, the first hit was rarely the finisher because he did not like to commit all his power without having options if 'Plan A' was not enough to end the fight or give him the opportunity to get away.

His way was - Gain advantage/time, then drop them .... whether with edged weapon, impact weapon, or empty hand. To be clear, if he had the advantage of surprise, the first strike was often all that was needed, but the dueling paradigm assumes they see you coming ... or are coming for you ... and thus that you are behind the curve from the get go.

Once the accuracy was there, he worked on combining movement with torque and other methods of power acceleration .. so that the first hit would produce an advantage through either destroying the opponent's balance/structure or getting behind them, so that the NEXT strike would be possible, and that would be the one to finish or incapacitate to the extent that an exit was possible ..... Because as he always pointed out - it is easier to get in than to get out, easier to hit than to avoid being hit.

Gaining advantage could come in the form of shocks to the nervous system, perhaps hand hits with their potential to disarm, hits/kicks to the knees and feet to unbalance, perhaps showing flashes of movement in the peripheral vision to unsettle, other threatening moves/jukes etc, or even something subtler like a sleight of hand or some other way to steal range without the opponent noticing. All the time looking for the opening to 'take out the computer' .... that would be the head and brain stem.

But it was always movement that was the key. Movement gave you position. Movement gave you evasion. Movement gave you power. Movement gave you cuts. Movement gave you an exit.

They say the sword is an extension of the arm and thus of the whole body, but it is the feet that really give the opportunity for the sword to do it's work .... or the stick, or the cane, or the hands.

Saturday, October 5, 2013


"Accuracy first" Sonny would say .... "I don't care how big your gun or how powerful your bullet, if you can't hit me it means nothing".

Same could be said for opinions, critiques and commentary.

We all have opinions about subjects we care about, and some about things we find less engaging, but they are only opinions ... they are not 'true' or 'false' or 'the one and true way' .... they are just opinions.

I personally think it is important to have a point of view about things as it gives me a place to speak from. It also gives me a place to move away from if convinced to do so, because right alongside my opinion should lie the space where the opinion can change. This can happen from internalizing new information, or from a change of viewpoint created by time/age/circumstance/whatever.

Most importantly, this open mindedness should in no way dilute my opinion. I like to be clear and reasoned, and if there is no reason, admit that it is a gut feeling, or simply a personal preference with no more reason than 'I just like it', or 'I find it beautiful/compelling/fascinating' whatever.

Also, I want my opinions to be as precise as possible. I like to know exactly what I have problems with, and what I do not, what I like about something, and where that 'like' ends, because it is far easier to debate a point when both parties know which particular element forms the disagreement.

I say all this as a plea to those who throw out blanket statements, ill thought out critiques or avoid having opinions at all.

Most will be familiar with the lowest form of critique - the point and laugh approach, or the erroneous extrapolation from "If A is no good, then everything that sounds like A is also bunk".

However, almost as bad (though perhaps one step up from the screaming monkey mob) is 'Politically Correct Land' where everything is valued and praised, and though this may encourage, 'An open and positive environment of acceptance' .... really it is almost as useless as the cheap laugh in moving understanding forward.

Please, instead of choosing 'being nice' over 'being an ass', how about pointing out, PRECISELY, what you find worthy and what is bunk .... in your opinion .... You really are allowed to have one, like I am, and just for the record, you are also allowed to be wrong, ignorant and naive - all totally acceptable, just don't be malicious, bigoted or close minded - These are not.

And remember, my personal opinions come from my personal experience and my skillset, so they only have worth as far as that reaches ... they need not effect anyone else unless they resonate or annoy enough to open a new point of view to look out of.

And lastly, please have a sense of humor and let your opinions have enough thought behind them to be robust. I can give you reasons why I believe as I do and how far I've thought things through (or not) .... and if you care to listen, feel free to agree, or point out to me why you disagree with me ....

It's called a conversation, perhaps a debate or an argument. It's all good. Perhaps we'll both even learn something ...