Sunday, December 29, 2013

Timely Movement

      The swordsmen of feudal Japan practiced their art with the utmost intensity. In battle, success or failure was usually decided in a split second. There were rarely any second-place winners. A single blow would decide the outcome of the conflict. If their technique failed, the result was certain; they wouldn't be joining their families to enjoy a second helping of Mom's rice pudding. If the technique was successful, they'd live to fight another day.
A tiger approaches its prey very carefully. Every movement is calculated and precise. The movements are small, some are almost imperceptible as the tiger focuses on what it is about to do. If it fails to bring down its quarry, it may not get another chance to eat for a couple of days or more!
Both the swordsman and the tiger appear to be relaxed. There's no fidgeting around, no bouncing up and down. They are what we call “centered.” Can you imagine what would happen if the swordsman started bouncing round, or began jiggling his sword? I can. It would be a very, very short fight.
When many of the martial disciplines became “sportified”, we began to see a lot of twiddling, jiggling, and wiggling coming into play. The duel was no longer a matter of survival; it was (and still is) simply a question of who wins the game this time. The operative phrase in that last sentence is, “this time.” When one contestant loses, he can always try it again at the next tournament. However, this was not the case for the feudal warrior. If he lost, he lost it all.
In the traditional martial forms of China, Okinawa, and Japan, movement is never performed for its own sake. That is, you don't move just to be moving. Each and every movement, even small shifts of the feet, are done for a reason. Energy is conserved and the trained fighter represents the very essence of economy. The breath is controlled and calm, movements are never wasted.
If the enemy should attack suddenly, the fighter must be able to respond in an instant. This doesn't necessarily mean that he simply avoids the incoming blow(s); he must be able to respond and take advantage of this”window of opportunity.” He knows that within every movement, no matter how slight, there is a moment of vulnerability. If the movement is small, the “window” is likewise small. However, if the “window” is large enough and he is in precisely the right place at exactly the right moment, he can slip through it and bring his opponent down. Naturally, if he is hopping around like a rabbit on steroids or busily fidgeting about like a young man on his first date, he will be unable to breach the “window” and any attempt to do so would probably end in disaster.
I can see the young man in the back waving his hand excitedly. Is there a fire? Oh, you have a question...okay, fire away. You say that boxers stay on the balls of their feet and bounce and weave to confuse the opponent? And you say that they believe that a moving target is harder to hit? Well, let's have a look at your query... I'll start with a question of my own. What is the purpose of a boxing match? What is each contestant trying to do?
You say that they're trying to knock out the opponent? Well, that's only partially true. You see, the objective is not necessarily to render the opponent unconscious; the objective is to win! And you don't necessarily need to knock anyone out in order to win the bout, right? Right. That's because boxing is a game. There's a winner and a loser. At the end of the match, both competitors shake hands and go home to nurse their bruises. However, real combat is not a game. It's about “not losing.” It's about survival. In a life-and-death struggle there can be only one survivor (and sometimes, there are no survivors). There are no rules, no “points”, no referees, and no rounds. It ends when one of the participants dies.
Now, let's address the idea of bouncing around so as to confuse the opponent and to present him with a target that is difficult to hit. A trained fighter won't be at all confused by his enemy's movements. He remains focused on his intended target without any expectations. Secondly, a moving target is not at all difficult to hit. Remember what I said about each movement presenting a “window of opportunity?” A fighter who prances around is presenting his foe with numerous “windows” and sooner or later, the enemy will find one that's well within his timing and the fight will end abruptly.
Yes, I'm aware that there have been contests pitting boxers and even wrestlers against practitioners of various martial disciplines and the boxers or wrestlers frequently win. These have all been fools games, with “games” being the key word. No one was ever killed. The rules were fairly stringent so as to avoid serious injuries. However, traditional martial arts were never intended to be practiced as games. I wonder what the outcome would have been if no protective gear was worn – no gloves or footpads, no groin cups, no mouthpieces. And what if there had been no rules whatsoever? Combatant would be allowed to use any and all techniques at their disposal, including kicks to the legs, seizing techniques, biting, and whatever else came to mind. And what if there were no rounds? The fighters couldn't rest until the fight was finished. And what if the fight would end only when one of the combatants was killed? It would certainly make for a completely different approach to the match, don't you think?
In real martial arts, nothing is wasted. The feudal swordsman appears to be relaxed and calm as he faces his enemy. His movements are slight and made only when necessary. His mind is focused. When the window slides open he'll dart through in an instant and maybe, just maybe, he'll go home when it's over.

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