Showing posts with label control. Show all posts
Showing posts with label control. Show all posts

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Budo and Control

I have this crazy idea that budo is not about controlling the world.  It's not about imposing our will on the world.  It's not about becoming powerful. It's about learning to work with the world as it is. It's about recognizing our inherent weaknesses. It’s about being able to deal with whatever happens calmly, simply and without losing our balance.

Many people seem to think the world can and should be controlled.  One of the lessons of budo is that the only thing we can have any control of is ourselves.  The world is bigger and more complicated than our imaginations can hold all at once. The connections, complexities and consequences of any action or occurrence are more numerous than we can envision.  The danger is fooling ourselves into believing we can control anything beyond ourselves.  

Budo training grants power, pure physical power. If we aren’t careful, we can delude ourselves into believing that the power that comes with the study of budo empowers us to control the world around us. With practice, budo teaches techniques and strategies for fighting, restraining and destroying others. It doesn’t teach how to control the world. It doesn’t really teach how to control anyone except ourselves.

Other people, animals, nature, the entire universe are beyond our control. Even with the most effective restraining techniques we can’t control someone else. A wrist lock or an armbar can only restrain someone temporarily. Even then, someone who doesn’t mind damaging himself can break through. A choke can knock someone unconscious but it doesn’t control them. A strike or throw can break bones and destroy soft tissue, but it doesn’t control anyone. What we can control is ourselves.

Budo asks the fundamental questions about what is important and what isn’t. We each have to answer those questions before we can begin to apply budo lessons well. Once we learn some budo techniques we have to answer for ourselves “What is important enough to hurt someone else over?” Pride? Ego? Love? Anger? Once we have power, we have the responsibility to learn when and how it can be best used. Budo, like any power, used without wisdom, can do more harm to the wielder than to anyone else.

Used on others the power of budo is destructive, allowing us to stop, to hurt, to damage and destroy. Used on ourselves the effects of budo can be positive and creative. That big question, “What is important enough to hurt someone else over?” gets shortened to “What is important?” This question is powerful because if we don’t know what is important, we can be manipulated and influenced over things of no value.

We can’t begin to stay calm and balanced until we know what is important. The thing that surprises me is how short the list of really important things is for me. I treasure people and nature. I value art and beauty. I value knowledge. All of those things are important enough for me to act to protect. Knowing what is important is the first step in controlling yourself. Without it you can be goaded into anger or foolish acts as easily as a child in the schoolyard. Asking what’s important to us is a critical step towards learning to stay calm, in control and balanced.

We practice budo and we learn to distinguish real threats from insubstantial ones, bluster from physical danger. Is what’s happening a real danger? Is it a bluff, a bird puffing up its feathers to look bigger than it really is, or a gorilla making dominance displays before smashing a rival?  Self control, self-discipline and wise action demand that we be able to distinguish between these.

Budo doesn’t just teach a bunch of techniques. Critical is learning to assess capability and range. People do a lot of posturing in the office, but they almost never do anything actually violent. They will try to intimidate by standing uncomfortably close or leaning over someone, but they’re not going to risk their livelihood and career by doing anything. They’ll imply the physical threat. They want you to react unconsciously to the threat.

If you are reacting unconsciously to people, you’re not in control of yourself and you are easily knocked off balance by others. Applied budo is not the art of harming other people, but the art of mastering yourself. You train hard. You go to the dojo and practice taking ukemi so you can be thrown around without getting hurt. Along the way you discover something about what actually hurts and what is just discomfort and annoyance. You learn to avoid injury and choose when to let discomfort bother you and when to ignore it.

Then we start to learn about spacing, at what range you’re vulnerable and where you’re safe. You learn to control the spacing. You can’t control someone else, but you can control their relationship to you so they can’t get close enough to endanger you. You practice attacking and being attacked so you understand the nuances of spacing down to a few centimeters. You learn to choose your action based on understanding what’s important and what’s a real danger.

Then, as you spend more time studying budo, you start applying the same lessons and principles to dealing with things that don’t involve physical danger and the risk of getting hurt. Is that snide remark really a threat to me, or just bluster? Should I take offense and counterattack, or do I practice ukemi with a self-deprecating agreement? We’re social beings and social attacks can be just as painful as physical attacks. Those budo lesson questions and lessons about what’s important and recognizing the difference between a genuine threat and puffed up bluster apply just as well in the office.

Ukemi isn’t just about how to fall down. It’s how you receive an attack. The ukemi for receiving attacks in a social setting are just as important as the ones for when you’re thrown. They might be more important, since social attacks are more common, and if you’re social ukemi is good it can de-escalate an otherwise unpleasant situation. It’s important that you be in control enough that you can choose your action rather than just reacting.

We can’t control the world. We can’t control other people. The only thing we can control is ourselves. We don’t decide how people will act or how they will react. Budo teaches us to relax, breathe and deal with things as they are, knowing the difference between what’s important and what isn’t. Budo happens when we know what’s important and choose our actions based on that knowledge rather than letting the world write a script for us.

Friday, August 8, 2014

The Most Essential Principles In Budo: Timing

Previously I wrote about structure and spacing. Closely related and entwined with spacing is timing. Timing is the subtle ingredient that makes spacing and structure appear to work like magic. If you have great structure and good control of the spacing, you’re doing well and you can be quite effective. To be great though, you need to master timing..

Timing is what makes that incredible technique from Shinkage Ryu and other styles where the tachi cuts through the cutting sword of her opponent and into the opponent’s head while driving the opponent’s sword off the target into ineffective space.  Too early and the opponent simply evades and counterattacks.  Too late and the opponent’s sword will slice right through you.  There is a fraction of a second window in which to make this work.  The same is true of the stop strike in Shinto Muso Ryu.  Too early and the opponent easily evades.  Too late and the cut will take off your arm before your attack can have any effect.  

The stop strike is at 0:16

An entire class of techniques that requires perfect timing is Judo foot sweeps like de ashi harai.  When done correctly, uke doesn’t even notice the technique. They just notice the floor disappears from under their feet and then reappears between their shoulder blades.

This technique, like the sword techniques, is deceptively simple.  You merely sweep uke’s foot to the side while they are walking. The trick lies in the fact that the foot has to be swept after uke has transferred weight onto the foot but before the foot touches the ground.  Timing here is everything.  Too soon and there is no weight on the foot so sweeping has little effect. Too late and the foot is on the ground and solid, making the sweep impossible.

Timing is so important we don’t often talk about it.  We just practice things that require it without really focusing on how to see it.  Good timing is something I’m still developing in my practice, so this is definitely a work in progress.  For me, the first step in learning to understand and apply timing is recognizing that there are common elements that make certain moments optimal for action, and these common elements hold true whether it is an armed or unarmed art, whether you are at grappling distance, empty hand striking distance, lond weapons distance or even tangled with your opponent rolling on the floor.

A moment is optimal when an opponent is committed but not fully supported.  In swordwork, this would be the moment when your partner has begun to execute a cut and is so far into it that they can’t pull it back.  They have committed the sword and their body to the attack.  If you merely evade, they will finish and their body will return to a stable condition as both feet settle back on the ground and the sword stops moving.  In grappling an example happens every time someone takes a step.  Every step involves transferring your weight forward onto a foot that then touches the ground.  You have to transfer the weight before the foot is on the ground though. This creates an instant when your weight is committed but not supported.  If something happens in that instant, you can’t pull it back or move it further forward easily or smoothly.

It is this instant when you’re vulnerable. Understanding and recognizing this moment in your partner makes good timing possible. If you don’t understand this, good timing is just good luck.  Learning to recognize and exploit moments when you partner or opponent is vulnerable takes practice. There are least two ways to recognize when that moment exists.

The first way is to learn to see it.  Watch people move.  Start by watching their feet, and then see if you can understand what their feet are doing from watching their hips, and then try to understand where their feet are while only watching their chests, then their shoulders, then their heads.   Eventually you’ll be able to see the subtle shift in the body that occurs as the feet are moving and the weight is transferred to the unstable, moving foot.  That’s the moment to do something.

The other way to learn to recognize that movement is through touch.  To quote the great Judo coach Obi Wan Kenobi, “your eyes can deceive you.” Just as bad, your eyes are also slow.  If you are at touching distance, you need to sense what is happening faster than your eyes can tell you. You need to be able to feel it. I have spent, and continue to spend, a great deal of time walking around the dojo with my eyes closed and lightly touching my partner’s arm or shoulder or lapel. We walk around and I practice maintaining the connection and moving with my partner while tracking exactly where their feet are. Occasionally I reach out with my foot and lightly push my partner’s foot while it’s in the air. That’s if I sense things correctly.  If I don’t I’m pushing on foot that’s on the ground and stable, or I’m pushing on a foot that isn’t committed yet and floats away from me (often into a smooth counterattack). We walk around with me refining my ability to sense my partners movement and occasionally pushing on her feet while she makes sure I don’t walk into anything. Then we trade roles and I walk around with my eyes open while she practices catching my feet at just the right moment.
It amazes new students that I can walk around with my eyes close and slide their feet out from under them. No peeking and no secret powers. From my hand on their sleeve or collar I can feel where their feet are. It’s not a secret power though. It’s nothing more than learning to use your sense of touch more fully. Students learn the basics of this skill remarkably quickly.  Within 10 minutes most students start to sense the foot movements, and to their surprise they can feel their partner’s moving foot even with their eyes closed. Feeling the right moment to catch the moving foot though, that takes a lot more practice.  I’ll let you know how much when I can do it every time.

Lately, I’ve started trying to understand my partner’s movement when my ability to touch is extended through a weapon. I’m sure it is possible, and I can feel some of it, but I’m right back at the beginning of the learning curve with this. Our weapons are crossed and I can feel the strength and energy my partner puts into the sword or the staff. Just like when I was a beginning Judo student though, I still can’t interpret what I’m feeling. I want to fall back on my eyes. So here I am, once again a beginner slowly trying to figure things out, and probably overthinking things to a remarkable degree.

Timing is simple. Attack when your opponent isn’t stable or can’t move to defend themselves.  At striking and weapons ranges, this might include stealing a few inches of ma’ai so that you can attack faster than they can respond. When grappling it can be feeling that moment when their movement is committed but not yet supported. Rolling on the ground requires at least as acute a sense of balance and commitment as standing.  

Simple doesn’t mean easy though. Simple means “not complicated.” Easy is something I’ve never encountered in the dojo. I keep working at the timing. I’m collecting bruises right now as I work on training myself to not move too soon when someone attacks with a weapon. I stand there watching the sword come up and down and at me and wait and wait and move at the last possible moment when they can’t change the direction of the attack and can’t even stop it.  That’s the goal anyway. Often what happens is my lizard brain shrieks and I move too soon.  Or the lizard brain forgets to say anything and I get clocked in the head while watching the sword come in.

If I manage the timing properly, my movements can look almost lazy because my partner can’t do anything about it. I can move slow and smooth like I should.  Good timing means never having to rush because there is nothing your partner can do about it at that moment.  Timing lets you make the very most of your structural strength and flexibility and to use that spacing you control to the greatest advantage.

It’s simple, but not easy. The right time is when your partner is committed to one direction and unable to stop. Add some energy at that moment. Move their foot a few inches. Add a little energy in the direction they are already going. Done at the right time, this is devastating even as it looks like you haven’t done anything.  Great timing is not the art of doing something at the right moment. Great timing is the art of already being there.