The theme from this seminar was “breaking free” from conventional waza and exploring what it is that makes our kihon work. A large part of this was recognizing and understanding the distance, angling, and timing you take in reference to how your opponent moves.
We began the seminar by warming up with differentiating our body parts: our head, arms and torso, legs and feet. Rather than trying to always move our entire body together, keeping everything relatively fixed in its position, we worked on moving everything independently, such as keeping our arm in one place while moving the rest of our body to another place. However, this does not mean that we forsake our kamae. In fact, maintaining our kamae was a big point that Dan sensei stressed throughout the day. We should strictly maintain our kamae instead of maintaining a strict kamae. As we move we should naturally change our body posture, transitioning from one kamae to the next, without getting caught up with what specific kamae we go into. Kamae is nothing more than a snapshot in time; it is just simply something that you pass through as you move.
The timing of our kamae was something that stood out to me. In following the theme for this seminar, we did not train in a 1-2-3 fashion. A big point that was made is that if you wait for the opponent to make his move, than he will already get into kamae and have his body grounded. If you wait until this point to attack, your attack will be much less effective. We trained to move into the opponents space before he had completed a step in the technique, during his transition from one kamae to the next. This moment between kamae is when he will be least stable, and therefore easier to manipulate. This is how you can take the person’s balance without using any power.
Timing is what connects distance and angling with efficient taijutsu. You can have a good sense of distance and angling, but if it is not applied at the right moment, it will be ineffective. It is this proper timing that allows you to decrease the amount of power you have to use, while maximizing your own effectiveness.
An application of this timing is moving in while your opponent is moving through kamae. If he is trying to punch you, you move in and get into the space he was about to occupy before he gets there. This kind of movement will give you the reaction you need to powerlessly overcome him because he will throw himself off-balance trying to take ukemi to get his balance back. In the same moment as he loses his balance is the most appropriate time for strikes because you do not have to hit hard to get a big reaction. If you are accurate with your strikes, then you don’t need to put any power behind them to get big reactions. From this point on you have to keep moving forward. Your opponent is now behind you and is trying to catch up with what is going on, so be relentless in continuing your attack until the fight is finished. If even for a moment you hesitate, or try to force something to happen and therefore go against the natural progression of things, then your opponent may have the opportunity to regain his composure. This could turn out to be a deadly consequence.
It may sound like this manipulation of your opponent is something you might maintain for a long period of time, but really you want to end this fight as soon as possible, rather than playing with them, even if you are able to do so. The longer the fight progresses, the high the risk of it turning around on you becomes.
Part of having good timing means not dwelling on past occurrences or on things going on that are unimportant. If your opponent becomes captivated by something, such as a hold he has on you, that does not mean that you become captivated with the hold yourself. Move on and leave him behind so that he will lose awareness of what is really going on. Doing so will make him feel lost, disoriented. He keeps being struck in ways he does not see coming and is therefore always off-balance. He should have the feeling that he is always tripping over a rock. There may be moments when he can take a step where he regains his balance for a moment, but if you keep moving appropriately, then it should really only last for a moment; only long enough for him to trip over yet another rock.
When you take a person off-balance in this manner, it is like you are throwing psychological punches as well as physical ones. You are not only destroying their body structure, but also their mental structure. This is attacking the persons spirit. There is no reason to have to injure somebody (giving pain is a whole other subject) when you can just destroy their will to fight. This can only happen when you reach an extremely high skill level in budou, which should be how strong you aspire to be and you should always train to have this strength to be good enough to not have to kill, though killing may sometimes be the only option you have in order to survive.
This aspect of weakening your opponents spirit reminds me of the concept of nawa no kankaku. But instead of literally having a rope, it is like you are strangling their spirit with your own. You move around your opponent covering their whole body with your strikes (spirit) until they no longer feel any hope in finding their way back to safety. Any moments they go through where they feel like they have their balance again should be similar to how you take kamae: It should only be there for a moment. Just like how kamae is just something you pass through as you move, their sense of balance, and the hope accompanying it, should only be something that they momentarily pass through. As soon as they feel that balance and hope, they should just as quickly be taken off-balance again as if they are tied up with a rope.
This leads into one other concept that stood out to me at this seminar. Dan shihan mentioned using kyojutsu in our movements. Moving in such a way that you make your opponent lose his balance, spirit, and all hope for survival, and continuing to take his balance whenever he happens to finds it again is a part of kuki taisho, the demon’s laughter. It is like demons are playing a game with him. At first you may “invite” the person to attack you by appearing to be weak, then just as soon as they think they have done an attack, they have lost their balance and become disoriented. At some point they may get their footing back, but it only lasts a moment and they again lose their balance, as if they were setup to begin with to take that step and slip up. After this, their spirit begins to weaken to the point that they lose hope for staying in the fight as they are no longer even aware of where they are.
An example that comes to mind is if you are white water rafting, without the raft. You are trapped under the waters surface being carried by swift rapids, turning in unpredictable ways as you slam into rocks that you never even saw. You eventually make it up to the surface moments before you completely lose all of your air, and you see a branch hanging just within reach right ahead of you. You have just enough time to recognize that you can grab it, feeling like there is hope for you to live through this. And so you grab the branch, only to have it break off instantly without giving you any resistance against the waters current. And so you are once again submerged under the river and carried away by nature.
This was the feeling I got from training with Dan. Dan Ordoins Shihan is a great teacher whose training has given us many new skills and ideas to continue working with in our dojo. Everybody trained hard, learned a lot, and hopefully left with the understanding that there is so much for us as budouka to explore and learn, that we will never be able to really understand this art. But we should feel encouraged by this and still aspire to come as close to understanding it as we can.