Opportunities and Liabilities

In everything we do, there are opportunities and liabilities. Recognizing them at the appropriate time can mean the difference between life in death in certain cases; in other cases, it can mean getting a good parking space.

Shukumine broke down some of the common chances and cautions with regards to fighting. As with everything else in Taido, we are well-served to extrapolate these concepts to other arenas. First, i’ll just give you the list.

8 Kyo – Chances to Attack

  • Just before an attack
  • Just after a move
  • Just after a missed attack
  • During a loss of balance
  • During a loss of attention
  • During a shortness of breath
  • By recognition of pattern
  • By recognition of fear

5 Suki – Weaknesses

  • Failure to maintain a calm focus
  • Failure to keep your mind and body prepared for action
  • Failure to breathe correctly and be aware of your body’s feedback
  • Failure to choose your actions carefully
  • Failure to move freely and adapt to your environment

These Suki and Kyo, opportunities and liabilities, bring up some interesting points regarding the nature of combat and communication. Below, I will go into a little greater depth and explain the application of these points in combat. I will also be discussing a few favorite examples of application in more peaceful situations.

Let’s begin with the opportunities:

Just Before an Attack

Anticipate attacks and strike just before they are initiated. For a brief period, your opponent will be concentrating on attacking and will during an attack and will be unable to respond to your movements. How do you know when your opponent is about to attack? Non-verbal communication.

Communications scientists tell us that as much as 80% of our in-person communication has little to do with the actual words we say (even in written communication, there are non-verbal considerations. To take the example of this website: why am I writing this? What do I hope to accomplish? How do I choose my subject matter? The answers to these questions can tell you a lot about how to read what I write here. Understanding my non-verbal cues will allow you to learn more from what I write than simply what I have written). Facial expressions, “body language”, and delivery method can tell us a lot about what other people are really saying (as opposed to what they want us to think). In a fight, non-verbal cues could include shifting weight to free a leg for kicking, repositioning to allow access for a favored attack, some kind of telegraphic tick or breath pattern, or the visual focus on a specific target.

However, one should be careful in attempting to interpret these cues, as experienced fighters are well aware of them and will sometimes exploit them to lead your awareness astray. For example, one may set up a visual feint by gratuitously looking in the direction of an opponent’s leg. When the opponent moves to protect against the perceived threat, his head will become more vulnerable. The wide use of this tactic is one of several factors that leads many fighters to advocate never looking into the opponent’s eyes (another major factor being that eye-to-eye contact significantly increases emotional response to that person and results in such physiological changes as increased heart rate and shallow breathing).

Outside the ring, we can still attempt to beat other “to the punch” so to speak. Talk of early birds and such may also have a place in this discussion, but explaining the obvious is not among my strengths, so I prefer to make the example of a meeting during which opposing arguments must be considered before making an important decision.

If we can attempt to understand the perspective of the opposing side, it will be easier for us to anticipate their arguments and deflect them. We can even begin to dissolve their objections to our arguments proactively by structuring our discussion in such a way as to “cover all the bases” and present our supporting evidence in the course of making our points. When we make certain statements, we can watch the facial expressions of those on the other side of the table. When we make a statement that they are prepared to attack, we can often find a hint of a smile or a more confident posture emerge. When preparing to speak, most people will shift their weight a bit, take a big inhale, and begin to open their mouths a bit before actually speaking. The telegraphic habit can allow us just enough time to make a telling remark or bring forth powerful support for our ideas. These are just a few ways in which we can anticipate and “attack” outside of a combat environment.

Just After (or even during) a Move

Begin to counter as soon as your opponent begins to attack. If you can throw the attack off-balance or cause it to over-extend, there is a good chance to strike. Do not wait until your opponent has finished and is already preparing to move again. This keeps you forever on the defensive, in which case your only hope of winning is by superior conditioning.

In the early portions of a match, it’s common to see fighters testing each others’ responses with feints and changes in distance and tempo. Usually, this takes the pattern of: [sudden move to see how you will react] followed by [wait and watch for your reaction (which is generally presumed to be defensive)]. This is a golden opportunity to take the initiative away from your opponent and drive in with a decisive attack at precisely the moment he expect you to be flinching or retreating. Since he will be focussed on the “set up”, you will have a brief chance to move counter to his awareness.

We also have in Taido a ton of techniques that simultaneously protect the body’s vital areas and deliver strikes toward the opponent. Many sengi, most hengi and nengi, and even a few ungi and tengi can be used skillfully as counter techniques when begun during the opponent’s attack. Taido’s strategy to change the axis of the body works especially well when attempting to employ this opportunity.

In a less “sport” environment, this approach still has combat application. In fact, I see this as a particularly good response to a sucker punch. The reason it’s called a “sucker punch” is that your chances of seeing it coming are slim-to-nil. If you do see it, chances are it will be too late to avoid completely. It’s a sneaky, underhanded tactic that has ended many fights before one party was even aware it had begun.

Assuming that we are going to get hit by the time we see the punch coming, we are still not helpless. We can make some effort to reduce the damage we receive from the attack of course, but oftentimes this “flinch reflex” just serves as the invitation the aggressor needs to pounce fully into his attack. A better course of action upon noticing the rapidly-approaching sucker punch is to launch a simultaneous counter attack. In the case of an inside hook from low (a notoriously common sucker technique), an immediate retaliatory punch on the same side of the body can sometimes effectively block the opponent’s attack in addition to striking him. Even if his punch connects cleanly, you are still at even odds now since you have struck as well.

Just After a Missed Attack

Strike as soon as the technique has missed, but before any follow-up. Take advantage before your opponent realizes that the attack has failed. In some ways, this is very similar to the proceeding example. However, the execution is a little different.

In this case, instead of countering just after the opponent moves, we are waiting until he has finished his unsuccessful attack to strike. In many cases, the opponent may be over-extended or off-balance, possibly even slightly confused as to how he managed to miss. This is a brief window of opportunity for us to move in.

As an example, let’s looks at something less overtly competitive: highway driving. Let’s say you are driving on the freeway (not excessively fast, but not grandma-speed either) in moderate traffic. Suddenly, two cars immediately in front of you smash into each other as a result of one driver becoming distracted while attempting to change lanes. He then “corrects” by steering hard in the other direction. The other driver instinctively pulls away from the collision, opening a space between the two vehicles.

Right at this moment is your only chance to pass safely between them by quickly accelerating. Slamming on your brakes will only risk being hit from behind, and staying put is not safe either because, just as both drivers first reacted away from the collision, the presence of other vehicles and the desire not to turn things into a pileup will inevitably bring them back to center. If you pass up this brief chance to escape to the front of the accident, you risk being brought into it yourself when the two cars re-converge. (Of course, once you have secured your own safety, it is your civil responsibility to stick around and see if it will be necessary to assist by calling an ambulance or providing a statement to the police. However, at least you can be grateful that you won’t need an ambulance yourself.)

There are many other instances when action immediately following an event (not necessarily an attack) is advisable.

During a Loss of Balance

Attack when your opponent is in an awkward position or by changing the direction of movement to upset his balance. You must attack quickly during this brief period of vulnerability. The key here is taking the initiative before the opponent can regain his balance and composure.

Though not specific to loss of balance per se, I want to address a particular strategy as an example here that works on the same principle. In tennis, one common strategy is to draw your opponent to one side of the court and then drive the ball hard to the opposite corner. You can also do this in jissen.

Most Taido techniques can be grouped into two major mechanical classes based on direction: frontside and backside. I was first exposed to this notion when I used to try performing tricks on a skateboard. Any trick that was executed against an implement (a ramp, rail, stair, or other obstacle) in front of you was called “frontside”. If the implement was behind you, it was “backside”. Almost every Taido technique is decidedly either frontside or backside.

Examples of backside techniques which place the opponent behind us and attack in the direction of our backs (in left-lead stance, this would be those techniques that include some clockwise motion) include sentai, senjogeri, ebigeri, suiheigeri, some karami, many throws, sokutengeri, and backward tengi. Techniques that keep the opponent where we can see him are frontside. Some examples of frontside techniques are most ungi, shajogeri, some harai, some nengi, many grabs and joint submissions, and forward tengi.

So what does this have to do with loss of balance? By paying attention to which class of techniques our opponent tends to use (and almost everybody has a favorite. So much so that you can usually tell simply by watching someone perform unsoku happo which type of movement they prefer), we can throw off his most comfortable patterns by forcing him to move in the opposite direction. If the opponent tends to throw backside techniques, it’s in our best interests to stay in front of his chest. If he likes to move frontside, we should strive to stay behind him. Everyone has a comfort zone, and preferred method for moving through it. We can exploit this to cause our opponents to lose balance, or at least to lose acclimation.

A fighter who tends to throw a lot of hengi and sengi will tend to point the toes of his front foot to the inside. In extreme cases, the fighter’s footwork will reveal most steps leading from the outside of the foot, toward the heel rather than the toe (or actually, knee as it should be). Such a fighter will likely find it difficult to move frontside, partly for reasons of habit or inclination, partly because his footwork and stance don’t really support it. Stay in front of these guys and pull them to that side. 90% of the time, they will move to put you at their back, where they are more comfortable. Knowing this puts you at an advantage.

During a Loss of Attention

Take advantage when your opponent loses attention or concentration. Any distraction, such as uncomfortable clothing or ambient noise, can be used to your advantage. This opportunity also manifests in the classic “hey, your shoes are untied” trick from all the old movies. In a fight, your attention should be on the here and now of what your opponent is doing. If his attention wavers, he is writing you an invitation to attack. However, be careful that you don’t fall for the feigned loss of attention (similar to misdirection mentioned in first point, above) at which some fighters are expert.

Be sure to keep in mind that we don’t have to simply wait for our opponent’s to get distracted before we can act. We can manufacture distraction. One particularly devious example of this is what corey myers did leading up to the grappling matches for the american Taido 30th anniversary tournament. For about a month before the competition, corey wore the same uniform each night for practice. Not so bad, except that he didn’t wash it once during that period. In fact, he once wrapped his jacked up in a plastic bag and set it on the dash of his car all day in the summer sun.

Now just try to imagine how that gi smelled. Corey was long since immune to it, but his opponents were gasping. The distraction his smelly uniform posed his them no doubt helped corey find opportunities to utilize his considerable grappling skills in the tournament. Sun tzu would have been proud.

This is also one mechanism by which pickpockets and muggers prey on their victims. In crowded areas, a person may “accidentally” bump into an intended victim and use the misdirection as a chance to grab for a wallet or purse. The distraction of the bump is often powerful enough that the victim doesn’t even notice until he attempts to pay for dinner. A common technique of muggers is to pretend to ask for directions, or a light for their cigarette, or the time, etc. While you are distracted by their seemingly innocent bantering, they sucker punch you.

During a Shortness of Breath

Press on when your opponent shows signs of fatigue. This is pretty self-explanatory really. When we feel winded, we are slower to react and more vulnerable to psychological issues. Also, as the body is slow to react during deep inhalation, use this opportunity to strike, even if the opponent isn’t actually short of breath.

In the real world, we can also apply this principle to take advantage of fatigue or loss of momentum on the parts of our opponents. Finishing what we start, “going the extra mile”, “seeing things through”, etc. Are all examples of taking advantage of our endurance, be it physical or psychological. When we can outlast others, we will be able to accomplish more. Hence, as pacing is important in a physical event, setting goals is important to realizing our dreams.

By Recognition of Pattern

learn your opponents patterns and use them to you advantage. Watch for favorite attacks and strong/weak sides. Just as I pointed out above with reference to fighters’ tendencies to favor either frontside or backside movements, we can often learn to read their favorite moves and patterns if we pay attention. Since Taido sparring makes heavy use of combination techniques, this is especially applicable in jissen, where players will tend to sting techniques together according to a consistent and personal pattern of favorite combinations.

The application of this idea outside of fighting is best summed up by the cliched saying “those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it”. In this case, history does not have to mean that class you hated in high school. It means knowing what you have done and applying an analysis of this to what you intend to do. Learn about yourself and try to understand what basic drives compel you to react to your environment in the specific manner in which you do. I highly suggest keeping a journal for this reason.

Almost as important as learning your own patterns is learning those of your family, friends, enemies, coworkers, clients, and anyone else whose actions effect your life. Knowing what you can realistically expect of other people in various situations is a powerful ability, and it can be gained through recognizing their patterns.

By Recognition of Fear

Test your opponents reactions to your movements. By forcing a defensive position, you have the advantage. Be mindful that fear makes people unpredictable, and many injuries occur when one party is frightened out of rational action. However, this point needn’t be limited to actual fear, but also to moments of fearful reaction, such as the flinch. If you move and your opponent blinks, there is a high likelihood that you can take advantage of this tendency to attack while he is taken aback by a sudden or unexpected move.

Examples of this are also plenty in life off the court and can include startling someone to catch them off guard, attempting to sell life insurance to families who have just suffered the loss of a loved one, and all sorts of other things that we tend to think of as devious or underhanded. Fear manipulation is the territory of crooks, swindlers, bullies, and politicians. And it obviously works very well.

And now for the liabilities:

Failure to Maintain a Calm Focus

Do not allow yourself to become confused or distracted. This point has been adequately discussed in various examples above.

Failure to Keep your Mind and Body Prepared for Action

Weak kamae invites attack. If the opponent senses an opening in your physical or mental defenses, it will be difficult to defend. Furthermore, your overall physical and mental state can either be a help or hinderance to you ability to accomplish your goals and avoid setbacks in life. Your physical and mental health should be of the highest priority in your life, so take steps to ensure that your own weakness isn’t holding you back.

Failure to Breathe Correctly and be Aware of your Body’s Feedback.

Pay attention to the condition of your body. Do not overexert yourself to the point of injury. Your breath is a powerful tool for effecting your body’s state. Slow and controlled breathing brings feelings of calm and control. Fast, erratic panting makes you feel nervous and unable to cope. In moments of stress, proper breathing can help to remain in control of our emotions and performance. In addition, paying attention to our breath and general bodily sensation allows us to tune in to our health and potential problems before acute symptoms signal that we have begun to harm ourselves.

Failure to Choose your Actions Carefully

Don’t guess. Errors in judgement will leave many openings for attack. Look before you leap, etc. All too often, I see people who spend their entire lives simply reacting to external events. Advertisers know the power of our emotions to make us act, and they exploit warm, fuzzy thoughts of happy, beautiful people doing things we wish we could do to sell us things we probably would realize we don’t need if we would just think first. Don’t just react; really look at what is going on and chose your own best response to the situation.

Failure to Adapt to your Environment

If you cannot change your ideas and adapt to the situation, you will be controlled easily by your environment. If you cannot learn to deal with change, you are going to have a hard time coping with the goings on in your life. If you are attached and tied down to ideas, people, and places, you are going to find yourself feeling trapped and suffocated. You must learn to let go of the things that bind your life and adapt to the curves and twists that the universe has in store for you. If you can do that, you can be assured of continued happiness and contentment.

Negative Repetitions

One very interesting thing that Shukumine mentions at the end of his discussion of the seigyo 5tai (five methods of control, from Taido Gairon) is that we should practice not only controlling our opponents, but also being controlled by them. This is overlooked by even the most skilled fighters. If we don’t practice allowing our partners to use these strategies on us in practice, we will not we able to tell when our opponents use them in matches. It’s very important that our martial art practice also include what those in weight training circles call “negative reps”.

Negative repetitions are the eccentric phase of a muscle’s work cycle – the controlled relaxation after contraction. In lifting, it’s a common mistake among beginners to assume that they need only concern themselves with, uh… Lifting. Actually, one of the keys to training lifting is lowering, and many weightlifters spend even more time working slow and controlled negative reps than they spend on actually pushing the weight. While this works on totally different principles than what I am discussing in terms of Taido, it’s a good concept to understand. Without going into the physiology of muscle growth and work accommodation, just understand for now that bringing the weight back to zero is considered at least as effective for building muscle as simply lifting.

So too in Taido, we can learn a great deal about our weaknesses by allowing partners to control us by exploiting them. When we impose our will on our partners, we become skilled at attack and taking initiative. When we allow our partners to impose their will on us, we become skilled at defense and regaining the initiative when we make mistakes or face a highly-skilled opponent. Think about ways to bring this negative repetition concept to your jissen training.

Now, use it

Hopefully, you are now thinking about how a few of these patterns have manifested in your own life, both on the court and off. Recognizing patterns at work is one of the first steps to being able to change them. As you become more and more aware of the patterns as they occur, you will have greater power to change your course of action. Just as recognizing an opponent’s pattern of movements can allow us to subvert his intentions in a fight, recognizing our own patterns allows us to subvert our less-productive instincts and habits. It is said that we are our own worst enemies, unconsciously sabotaging ourselves at every turn. Being aware of our own self-destructive patterns allows us to live lives fuller and freer than we are used to.

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