A while back I wrote a post about The Budo Law Of Conservation Of Movement. Effective budo systems don’t waste time and mental space teaching a hundred ways to do the same thing. Instead they teach one way to do a hundred things. There is a corollary to law which is
The smallest movement that is effective is the best movement
Budo is about conflict, fighting, combat. Do you want to waste any resource in a fight, including your energy?. Strength and stamina are finite resources; no matter who you are, they will run out. How long will the fight last? Is there likely to be another one soon? These are unknowables, so any wasted effort reduces what you’ve got to work with down the line. Don’t waste energy.
Look at any classical budo. Koryu budo are almost dull in the way they do things; there’s nothing flashy or decorative in their movement. All the fancy movement and dancing that you see in movies is notable for its absence in classical budo. Or even watch competitive judo - there’s no unnecessary movement. Really good judoka often make for rather boring matches to watch. The competitors are there to win and move on to the next match. 99% of the action is in movements so small you can’t really see them. High level judo matches have so little excitement in their 5 minute spans that the rules are juiced to make them more interesting. These matches require a serious attack to happen every few seconds or a penalty can be awarded by the referee for stalling. In a tournament, a judoka might end up fighting 6, 7, or more matches in one day. Skilled judoka know they can’t afford to waste any effort because they will need it later.
Conserve your motion. Conserve your energy. Don’t make a big movement when a small one will do the job.
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The other thing about using the smallest movement to do the job is that it protects you. It’s not good to throw your energy around unnecessarily. Any movement you make affects you as well as your opponent. Bigger movements mean committing more energy. Any energy you put out there can be used by your opponent against you. I love countering techniques in judo because they turn an opponent’s attack into their defeat. The more energy an opponent sends out the more I have to work with. The bigger the movement you commit to, the harder it is to change trajectory once it’s started.
Overcommitment to a technique backfiring can happen whether it’s in an unarmed situation like a judo match, or weapon versus weapon. Learning to control your movement and take advantage of moments when your adversary is over-extended is fundamental. Watch a kendo match. The kendoka jockey for control of the center with just the tips of their shinai. Movements are just big enough to evade being controlled by the opponent and use just enough energy to do the job and no more. Openings are created when someone moves further than is needed or puts too much power into their shinai and can’t recover their position in time to prevent the attack.
All good budo is efficient. Wasting energy is foolish. So is giving your adversary anything to work with. Any excess movement, any unnecessary movement, creates an opening for your opponent. Overextend an arm on an attack and it can be locked or used as a lever to throw you. Too big a movement leaves a window for a strike or an entry. Therefore
The smallest movement that is effective is the best movement.
Special thanks to Deborah Klens-Bigman for her wonderful editing work.