The Problem with Traditional Kobo
The usual style of training kobo is based on the idea that “if he does that, you respond by doing this.” It ingrains patterns that may not always be to best response to a particular situation. The first thing we need to do to make kobo a useful method of training is to scrap the idea that we are training patterns to use in jissen.
The actual combinations of techniques in kobo have little value in themselves. The reason for this is pretty straightforward – there are an infinite number of possible attack permutations in jissen, because Taido techniques are made to be adaptable. This makes it impossible to learn defensive patterns for each possible attack. Sure, there are a few “high-percentage” moves, but they are still virtually unlimited in their execution because of the use of unsoku/unshin and rengi.
Again, patterns are of very limited utility. If defensive patterns worked, nobody would ever score with manjigeri.
Why Manjigeri Still Scores Points
Manjigeri is a very common attack in jissen. So what’s the most common practice seen for jissen all over the world? Hienzuki over manjigeri. This is universal at every club I’ve ever visited. The logic appears to be that since manji is so common, everyone will be better off if they know how to deal with it.
The problem is that people still manage to score with manjigeri all the time in jissen. Only relatively low-skilled players will ever throw the kind of manji that invites their target to jump over their heads and safely strike. There are fairly obvious ways to thwart this defense and score anyway. Yet, we continue to teach students that they should jump instinctively when they see manji.
Apparently, there is more to manji than is accounted for by the jump-algorithm. This is equally true for every other set of attack/defense kobo techniques I have ever seen practiced in Taido. For that matter, it’s just as true for all the one-and two-step sparring drills I’ve seen in karate, all the pattern drills in judo, and every single application in every self-defense book or course on the planet. Algorithms only work sometimes, and that makes them pedagogically insufficient.
A better concept
Jumping toward the head when someone attacks by manji is only one example of not being where the kick is headed. You can accomplish the same goal by several other methods without removing yourself from counter-range. Each one should be explored in an organic progression, but not memorized or drilled to the point of reflex-development.
The existing kobo routines in Taido do have some value to them. They show us that every attack has inherent weaknesses. They also teach us that it’s better to avoid by moving the body than it is to retreat. These are important things for students to grasp, and I think kobo are wonderful training tools for these two reasons.
But there is a third reason for practicing kobo that takes them beyond “wonderful training tool” and straight into “incredibly powerful practice method” territory.
How to make great-tasting jissen
The most important thing to get out of kobo is the process. Kobo is a process of gradually building up to jissen, or combat. This buildup has to be incremental. Why? Because your emotional arousal will scald your performance if you don’t increase your tolerance to stress by adding heat and pressure slowly.
Learning to fight is stressful. Most people don’t have a natural knack for dealing with conflict. Building this knack slowly and surely is the best way to learn jissen.
When most people start learning jissen, they are told to just dive in and try. This isn’t all that bad, since they are typically diving in against an understanding and friendly partner who will go easy on them. However, we all have anxiety about the possibility of getting hit. We also have anxiety about doing new things when we are unsure of our skills. Unless addressed, this anxiety stays with us.
Even after we have “gotten used to” the idea of sparring, our accumulated anxiety interferes with our abilities to respond appropriately to our opponents’ moves. Even before we have been moving long enough to be “winded,” we find that our hearts are pumping like crazy, and we are taking giant gulps of air. This is stress arousal caused by anxiety, and unless we deal with it intelligently in practice, we condition ourselves to trigger this response every time we do jissen.
Using Baby Steps
This is the reason to build gradually from kobo to jissen. If we start out knowing what to expect and how to respond, we don’t feel any anxiety. As we gain proficiency, we can slowly begin to add variables such as speed and power, different unsoku patterns, possible counter attacks, et cetera. The important thing to remember is to add only one variable at a time. This keeps the change manageable and prevents the anxious feeling of not knowing what’s coming.
Of course, most of us didn’t learn this way. And how many of us are great at jissen? It’s possible to learn in the traditional manner and get good at jissen. But it’s far more common to get mediocre and stay that way. Better training methods lead to better results. Incremental progression is a better way to learn jissen.
When we keep making things just a little harder each time, we eventually get to the point that we are improvising responses to complex signals at high speeds. If we have built up in an incremental fashion, this will not cause significantly more anxiety than moving slowly through a predetermined routine. Your muscles don’t tense, your teeth don’t clinch, and your breathing remains even. Your low level of emotional arousal allows you to observe and respond to things as they happen, and time appears to slow.
That’s magic. Imagine walking on to the court for a jissen match knowing that, whatever surprises your opponent has in store for you, you can remain calm and handle them. This is the edge that guys like Kaneko have on the rest of us. This is also why most of us can do so much better in practice than we can in competition. Less anxiety.
By practicing kobo as a method of incremental increase of combat variables, we can program ourselves to respond to jissen with a much lower level of emotional arousal, which gives us the ability to use the skills we have practiced in the most efficient manner possible.
Take a look at your own kobo/jissen practice and see if you can find some of your anxiety triggers – the things that make you “lose it” and make your performance go down the drain. Then you can step back to a similar drill that allows you to remain at a comfortable level of arousal. By designing intelligent drill progressions, you can deprogram years of built-up anxiety triggers in a few hours. Really. It just takes stepping back and rebuilding gradually.