Showing posts with label Ronda Rousey. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Ronda Rousey. Show all posts

Monday, September 28, 2015

Secret Techniques Versus Special Techniques

Ono-ha Itto Ryu.  Photo Copyright 2015 Grigoris Miliaresis

The movie hero studies and studies to learn the secret technique that will make him unbeatable (why is it always “he?”). The secret strike or trick that the foe can’t stop. We love secret techniques and hidden wisdom. Legions of movies and books are built on the premise that somewhere, somehow, there is a secret that will make the possessor unbeatable. Many budo systems are said to have been created when the founder had a sudden inspiration or even a divine revelation into the special use of their weapon.

Many of us started martial arts looking for that secret. The heros in kung fu and karate movies had to have some secret that made them so incredible. From the power of Iron Fist in Marvel Comics to the secret balancing training in The Karate Kid, the secret teaching brings power, and that is really attractive. The secrets of Katori Shinto Ryu are said to have been handed down to it’s founder by the kami Futsunushi No Kami, enshrined at Katori Shrine.  The secrets of Shinto Muso Ryu are said to have been revealed to it’s founder in a dream by a divine child.

Many classical Japanese ryuha protect their secrets and won’t let outsiders see them practiced. Shinto Muso Ryu has 5 secret kata that are only taught to the highest level of student and are never shown to anyone else.

This makes sense. An opponent cannot defend against what she doesn’t know about. Surprise attacks work. Attacking with something your opponent can’t imagine is coming is a wonderful tactic. I can see why a secret technique would be useful. The premise is very appealing. One set of techniques that you show to the world, another set held in reserve to maintain the power of secrecy.

Secret techniques sound fascinating and mysterious, but they aren’t usually what win.  Throughout the Tokugawa period (1604-1868), the most popular systems of kenjutsu were the various branches of Itto Ryu. There were Itto Ryu dojos all over Japan, and especially in Tokyo. The Tokyo dojo were significant for the spread of knowledge about Itto Ryu, because all of the daimyo and many of their servitors spent 6 months of the year in Tokyo. Their children were raised there. People could and did meet and train in dojo throughout the city.

The techniques and strategies of the Itto Ryu branches, particularly Ono-ha Itto Ryu, were well known and widely practiced. Yet this does not seem to reduced the effectiveness of the style. Ono-ha Itto Ryu may well have been the most practiced school of kenjutsu by the last half of the Tokugawa period. Not having a secret doesn’t seem to have cut into it’s popularity.

If secret techniques have so much power, why would a school like Itto Ryu, where the basic strategy and technique is well and widely known and recognized be so popular? The answer to that is simply that it was effective in the gekiken competitions that were increasingly popular.  In that environment, Itto Ryu technique worked well.

In the 21st century, Ronda Rousey competes in an unarmed combat venue similar in nature to the gekiken sword competitions of 18th and 19th century Japan.  She may be the epitome of not having a secret technique. Even before she entered MMA fighting, she fought in judo competitions. Throughout that time, she never had a secret technique. There are no secret techniques in judo or MMA. The nature of the rules mean that all the possible techniques are known.

Secret techniques have a significant flaw. They only maintain their special power so long as they are secret. As soon as you use a secret technique where it is seen, everyone will study it, know that you do it, and figure out how to defeat it. The power of a secret technique, like any secret, vanishes when it becomes known.

Ronda Rousey doesn’t have a secret technique.  Everyone knows what she’s going to do. She’s going to attack an arm lock. Most likely, she will be attacking what is known to judoka as jujigatame.  Even though everyone knows what she will do, for some reason they still can’t prevent it. It’s not a secret technique. It’s the opposite of a secret technique. It’s a specialized technique, and it works wonderfully.

The same was true of the signature technique of Ono-ha Itto Ryu. Everyone knew what the Itto ryu practitioner would do. Their signature cut is still famous and the basis of modern kendo technique. Everyone knows what Ronda Rousey is going to do. It’s a classic judo technique.

These techniques are powerful, and they are polished. That makes them stronger over the long run than any secret technique. Secret techniques lose their power quickly from the moment they cease to be secret. Special techniques don’t lose anything by being known. They may even benefit from being widely known. Everyone knows what Rousey is going to do. She’s going to do jujigateme.  So everyone spends a lot of time trying to figure out how to stop her jujigatame. Everyone who faces an Ono-ha Itto Ryu swordsman knows what she will do. She’s going to cut straight down the center, right through your defense. If you want to face someone with a special technique, you have to spend your time figuring out how to stop it.

The corollary is that when you spend all your time learning to stop someone’s special technique, that leaves you vulnerable to all of the other things they can do not quite as well as their special technique. Their special technique makes all their other techniques more effective. Itto Ryu opponents are worried about losing to kiri otoshi. When they focus on defending against that, they open themselves up to the other techniques in the Itto Ryu curriculum. Rousey’s foes focus on stopping her arm locks, which makes her perfectly sound striking and throwing techniques all the more effective.

Secret techniques won’t carry us very far. Their very nature makes their power and effectiveness short lived. Once a secret technique is known, it loses it’s power. Highly polished special techniques on the other hand, maintain their power even after they become well-known. For someone like Ronda Rousey or a student of a system like Itto Ryu, the very notoriety of their special technique can be asset, because it makes people focus on the special technique and neglect the rest of their repertoire.

The lesson in all of this is an old one. Kano Jigoro Shihan was famous for saying that the secret to success in judo is “Practice. Practice. Practice.” That hasn’t changed. Practice your entire art, but polish your special technique. Practice it and practice it. Make it shine so bright it obscures the effectiveness of the rest of your techniques.

9/30/2015 Special thanks to Meik Skoss for a correction on the Itto Ryu terminology.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Budo and Responsibility

Budo is about a lot of things, but one of the least discussed is responsibility.  The longer we practice the more important it is that we consider this.  At a very fundamental level, in it’s rawest form, budo is about power.  We who have that power are necessarily required to use it wisely.  As Stan Lee said so very eloquently through the lips of Peter Parker “With great power comes great responsibility.”  

This isn’t just about superheroes.  As we practice budo we really do become more powerful.  Under normal circumstances very few people would consider a 5’6” (168 cm), 135 lbs (61 kg) woman a significant physical power.  Ronda Rousey has been practicing budo for 15 years though and is an amazingly powerful individual.  Her skills give her power.  It’s a very simple equation.  Although many of our social rules and customs exist to keep individual power in check and prevent its abuse, there are plenty of people out there who abuse physical, social and economic power.  There is the office manager who uses his position to bully and take advantage of those under him.  There is the rich business owner who uses the power of her wealth to bully people who do business with her.  And we all know the physically strong guys who use their power to physically intimidate and hurt people around them.  

One of the great things about the power of martial arts skills is how equalling and equal opportunity they are.  Martial arts skills make the difference in power between a 135 lb women and 235 man disappear very quickly.  I have many vivid memories of small women reducing large guys to lumps on the floor of the judo dojo where I practiced in college.  Quite often, I was one of the lumps, whether it was from a powerful throw, a choke or an armbar, those ladies impressed their power upon me.

Skill doesn’t belong to those who are born faster or stronger or more talented.  Skill belongs to anyone who puts forth the dedicated effort necessary to develop it.  Once you make that effort though, you get not just that power, but responsibility as well.  At the most basic level once you have power you have to decide what to do with it.  I’ve seen people become skilled and then become bullies in the dojo. I’ve seen them subtly bully people outside the dojo as well. They learned only that they have power.  They haven’t learned anything about using it responsibly.  The difference between just learning a skill, and studying a way, a michi, a do, 道, is learning the proper, responsible use and application of that power.

This may be the biggest lesson of budo, larger than than all the lessons about technique and ma’ai and timing together.  Sadly, it’s also the most commonly missed lesson.  How do we use the power we have?  As a martial artist we can easily intimidate and hurt others.  After all, inflicting pain and damage is what we are practicing on each other in the dojo.

In the dojo we spend a lot of time learning when it is appropriate to use and practice what we know and when it isn’t.  Japanese martial arts are loaded with ritual that regulate practice so you know when it is ok to try to toss your friend across the room or for her to work on choking you unconscious or for the new kid to try the cool armbar she saw Ronda Rousey do in one of her fights.  All that meaningless etiquette and ritual turns out to have some very practical reasons for being there.  During practice there are times when it is ok to work on a technique and times when it’s not.  There are times when it’s dangerous to step on the mat and others when it is safe.  There are also considerations of how we treat each other when we are practicing.  We learn to treat each other with respect and honor and dignity regardless of how skilled someone is.  We are all on the same path, so there is no reason to look down upon someone because they haven’t taken as many steps along the path as we have.  As we gain skill our power to hurt and damage increases.  That means we are more responsible for not abusing that power by abusing others.

There are other kinds of responsibility in the dojo as well.  I am not one of those who believe that everyone who advances in rank has a responsibility to teach.  There is plenty to do around a dojo besides teaching.  Everyone can look at their personal capabilities, their powers, and figure out what they should be responsible for.

Responsibility changes as we grow.  Once we have the violent power that martial arts training bestows and we recognize the responsibility to act wisely and responsibly, then we become responsible for mastering something else.  We are responsible for learning the real consequences of using our skills, and not just the myths and irresponsible nonsense like “It’s better to be judged by twelve than carried by six.”  That’s just a flashy cover for the fact that someone doesn’t know the real legal consequences of their actions and choices.  Knowing those is our responsibility.

This is one of those lessons that stretches out of the dojo and into every area of our lives.  What are our responsibilities?  There are plenty of things that we can do that it would be best not to do.  Even if it would be entirely gratifying to apply a joint lock and tie that obnoxious jerk in the next cubicle into a pretzel, or choke that self-righteous jerk into silence, and it would be a simple and easy application of what we do at practice, we know we shouldn’t and we don’t.  There are lots of places in life where we have power and we should consider if and how to use it.

We have lots many different kinds of power beyond the physical power that budo practice endows: economic, social influence, parental, business, and others.  We don’t often spend time thinking about the responsibility to use the power we have wisely, yet how we wield social and economic and parental power might be more important than how we wield the physical violence of the martial arts.  WIth the power that martial arts gives us, the responsibility not to abuse it is very clear, with other, more subtle forms of power, matters are not always so clear.  Sometimes it’s too easy to use power to shoo our kids away when they need some attention but  we’re a bit tired.  It’s all too easy on the job  to use power to dump work on people or to get out of doing things we should be doing.

This is power too though, and it should be used with consideration and a sense of responsibility as well.  If we’re really serious about budo, we have to recognize that the lessons extend beyond the door of the dojo, and impact every aspect of life.  Budo is about physical power in it’s rawest and most basic form, but the lessons about considering when and how it is appropriate to use that power can inform everything we do.  Budo teaches many lessons, but how we handle the responsibility of power is one of the biggest.