Friday, September 20, 2013

There is no such thing as late

I was watching TV, History Channel if I recalled correctly, there was an interesting view on how battles or wars were usually lost, they used the "war of attrition" strategy, meaning kill and destroy as much things as you can and they will eventually give up or there is nothing left to defend.

Then they show how most battles or wars were won, it is about being in a position of more advantage. They used many examples on the application of Sun Tzu's Art of War, which apparently, in the way they present it, is not a strategy of attrition.

Analogy-wise, it is like between a game of chess and a game of igo (囲碁). In chess, you take out your opponent's piece one by one, until you are able to expose the king, and corner it for the kill. In igo, it is totally different, you start with an empty board and start placing your pieces strategically, making your opponent unable to move/place his piece.

There is saying that whether you are facing one opponent or many opponents, it is just the same. The same could be said when you are in a theater of war. The strategy for war or battles, and the strategy for one-on-one combat is the same. As in igo, one must be in the correct position/location in order to make his opponent unable to move, or at most the movement is weak and predictable, thus controllable.

If the mindset is being in the right position, then many of the classical techniques will start to make sense, other than just trying to pummel the other guy to death.

One of the interesting things when I started practicing Aikido is the view that there are some techniques that are used when you are late to take actions, ura (back) n most cases, omotte (front) for yokomen attacks. After a few years, the view of a late action does not make sense. In a situation where life and death is at stake there should be no such thing as late.

The terminology itself, ura and omotte themselves are not describing whether or not you are being late or early, it is actually referring to your position in regards to your partner, whether you are going through the front or through the back, inside or outside. Again, it is about position, just like igo.

When you are attacked, there is no time of thinking where the opponent is going to be, what attack is he going to use, or which hands. These are all irrelevant thinking which will lead to a cluttered mind and have you end up freezing and eventually killed. The first thing you do to break out of your freeze is that you move, left, right, front, back, whatever, anywhere, just move. After this move then you will find your position in reference to your opponent, and this will determine what you will need to do next.

In training you practice moving in a certain way. This will be one of the earlier things being taught, not the technique itself, techniques should come much later. One needs to train to move in getting into an advantageous position, and then if one does not know any technique, one could attempt to run away safely. Getting into a position of advantage should be the primary movement, this could even mean movement or non movement, depending on the situation, and perhaps depending on the skill of the practitioner himself.

There is no such thing as early or late, it has to be in the right moment. Even being early could get you killed. All the techniques should be executed while being in the position of advantage and at the correct moment, not forcing your way through while you yourself is unbalanced which therefore having access only to an inefficient means of generating power.

Simply put... be in the right place at the right time...

But simpler said than done...

Correct Practice

Student: Sensei, how do I hit the target every time?

Sensei: You practice hitting the target, every time.

I saw this meme floating around, and the quote, the saying, in it reflects how one should practice.

There's another saying that you probably have heard as well, it is better to practice one technique a thousand times rather than a thousand techniques once. However, this saying has been taken to meant repetitions. If it's only merely repetitions, then it is not enough even if you do it a million times. Why is that so? Practicing something that is wrong a thousand times won't make it right, it will just mean that you become good at doing the wrong thing.

In Japanese budo there are 3 words that you usually hear which in English are all taken to mean "practice" or "training":

  • Keiko (稽古)
  • Shugyo (修行)
  • Renshu (練習)

Keiko literally means "tracing the old". This is a part where one sees how the elders do it and replicate it. Replicating not merely in form, but in totality, the process and outcome. In the eastern arts, the end does not justify the mean. One must follow the process in order not to miss important details that are not visible in the outcome. In the east, the arts are process based, not result oriented, though the results are clearly visible.

The only way to quickly get results is to go through the process diligently and correctly. Tracing the old is not merely copying, but understanding why your predecessor could achieve results through the given process. As the word suggests, you have to have something to trace to, a point of reference. This part is saying that you will be under the guidance of, receiving instruction from, somebody that is more senior. Even though you are doing self-practice (独稽古) or free-practice (自由稽古) the guidance is still there, in the form of what you have traced previously from your elders/seniors.

Shugyo could literally mean conducting self discipline, mastering oneself. This is usually related to spiritual or even ascetic practices. This is used for budoka as well because they are seen in the process of achieving enlightenment. A budoka is even sometimes called a shugyosha (somebody that practices shugyo). This is a part when one practices religiously, being really serious about the discipline that one is studying. It is not merely self-practice. If we could see spiritual shugyo of Buddhists or Shinto practitioners, for example, it takes dedication, not merely a 2-3 minute meditation. The same could be said for budo.

This is the further exploration of your keiko, it is more than just self practice, but you really do it to achieve understanding of what you have learned. In budo, the only way to really understand it is to experience it (taitoku). Finding out the correct process, practice it, experience it, have the discipline to train in it.

Renshu is the part that do actually mean training, practice, or repetition. This part is where one repeats everything that one has learned and experienced. This needs to be done correctly based on one has received through keiko and shugyo, this is the part where one practice hitting the target each time, doing the repetition correctly.

The three terminologies are not interchangeable but they are connected, as there are philosophies behind the words used, and each aspect of practice includes all of them.

Don't let this confuse you. Just forget about it, and keep training...