Originally posted on July 6th, 2018 by Geoffrey Green
Our concern in part one was the un-witted introduction and adherence to bad habits not in concert with our catalyst for training. Here we will consciously discuss how good habits can be ingrained toward unconscious proficiency.
Corrections veteran and author Rory Miller has postulated that for one to honestly assess training, one should question as to why each participant does not end up crippled or killed. Considering the zenith of our training method is the aimed mastery of blade fighting, it seems logical to ask this question. For the uninitiated observer, the weapon, which allows the greatest facility for death AND DOESN’T, will be seen as less serious. Therefore, the practitioner will seem as less skilled or perhaps even insincere in his efforts. It is also possible the judgment of the training method, even with full display of speed, accuracy, and precision; will be estimated as false because of this. I have heard several estimations to this effect when witnessing mutual live blade sparring, for which all these attributes are demanded in the extreme.
Our training method aims that we don’t end up crippled or killed BECAUSE in our full speed LIVE blade fighting we pull our strikes. We go as close as we can to making contact WITHOUT making contact.
As the sages often state “one will fight how one trains,” it seems reasonable to question why we would not do so when it was called upon us to actually make contact and, therefore, actually USE our art for the purpose it was intended. The dilemma appears not to be what we are willing to do (we are either willing to cripple or kill or we are not), it is rather what we are TRAINED to do. So, as our objective is to achieve VICTORY, how is it we are we not training incorrectly even at this highest level of achievement? In other words, how are we ensuring our catalyst is not betrayed by a regard for safety for our training partners?
A plan of action or policy designed to achieve a major or overall aim.
Our objective for victory is to place our opponent in as least safety as possible while still ensuring the greatest safety for ourselves. It is safer to initiate than to react. If possible before an engagement, it is generally safer to evade than to engage, and, within an engagement, it is safer to shield than to attack. Therefore, the first aim of our strategy is self-protection. As it risks compromise, so does the potential vulnerability of the attacker to defeat increase. As we progress in our understanding of combat, and the practitioner is able to regard and manipulate range and timing successfully enough to EQUALIZE their opponent’s strikes, so may strategy progress in the weapons flow toward attacking back (i.e., NEUTRALIZING the weapon or weapon hand). From here progresses the direct offense to the opponent, which is the ATTACK to the body of the opponent. This strategy may be accomplished to its completion over multiple weapon engagements, or a singular engagement, all depending on one’s range and timing.
However transparent the concepts of strategy may become, their successful application is dependent on the capability of the practitioner who executes them. Yet, this capability, if executed with any success, is dependent on the will of the executor. Ultimately, one’s capability is estimated by one’s capacity for understanding and for manifesting that understanding into reality. This capacity is progressively honed through visualization. The leveraging of this reality with apparent reflex can now be considered. This state of execution of awareness without conscious thought has been encapsulated as the state of NO MIND.
Defined by process, governed by strategy, inculcated by attention, yet invoked without intention.
At first, our intent is to ensure our protection and we are consumed by that focus. Progressively, this becomes automatic and the counter-offense is placed closer and closer at greater risk, which, although apparent to the observer, is, in fact, broached with confidences; the flow is realized out of complete spontaneous application. But, the counter-offensive knows, if purposely mindful, that he is not ready to attack back. He is only “following the lines,” but the concern for self-protection, at this point, is no longer the consuming conscious thought of the counter-offensive fighter. Seeing as how he knows he is able to equalize any attacks upon his person, then the counter-offensive knows he may exploit entries. Dictated (again) by structure itself. So, the realization of this culminates, not in attention consumed by self-protection, but the capacity to determine the measure of how much of a threat one may pose to others. With the full complement of this awareness, the focus becomes not what one is able to do, but what one is not able to do that elicits advancement toward domination of the opponent.
Whether this training will translate to efficacy in a conflict or not, the deciding factor seems not a question of what one is able to do, it seems the dilemma is what one has trained himself/herself to do. But, this is answered by a solo visualization of intent coupled with a visualization of intent. In solo, I am cutting heads and limbs off; in practice, I am coming as close as I can without hitting my target. Both are completely intentional. This is freedom; this is genuine FLOW. When this is realized, a mindful and conscious will of culminated discipline becomes the consumption of one’s attention. No longer is this achieved with such duality of intention, but with knowledge leveraged throughout the strike.
“Calmness of mind does not mean you should stop your activity. Real calmness should be found in activity itself.” – SUZUKI
Mastery of adaptation, while striking, is achieved by (and observed as) FLOW. Yet mastery may be too readily considered the requisite to VICTORY. Herodotus stated, “…the individual in time of crisis will not rise to the occasion rather than sink to his lowest level of training”. It seems reasonable that the level of training one sinks to will be that which will provide the greatest benefit with the most minimal effort. Such a variation will likely reflect the personal attributes of the practitioner. Is it better to capitalize on the attributes you have or to focus on FLOW itself? As dark imaginings prove inseparable for consistent visualization, the idea of VICTORY seems to be habitually reinforced. But, in the pursuit of training for various ranges and “spontaneously adapting” to them, it may prove unfortunate, if such adaptation abandons physical advantages or demands an unrealistic adaptation of one’s physical resources. If this proves true, then it is wise to question if it is mastery or victory that is the objective. That the two might be briefly confused may be a measure of how wrongly indoctrinated the fighter is; and, when the resources are needed most, any duality may pose its worst threat to such a practitioner.
It is bad when one thing becomes two. One should not look for anything else in the Way of the “Samurai. It is the same for anything that is called a Way. If one understands things in this manner, he should be able to hear about all ways and be more in accord with his own.” – Hagakure
A Prior article (Click here to read the article.) discussed the importance of the ranging of drills in attaining spontaneous adaptation. Adjusting the variables of speed, timing, and rhythm within known expectations closer approximates but does not equal sparring as drills. There is an understanding before the drills committal as to how these variables are to be manipulated, regardless (as stated) whether these are to be with a known consent to practice within such parameters, regardless of how difficult it makes a respective attacker/counter attacker to perform their objectives. However, each participant adhering to these parameters amounts to the degree the drill will approximate sparring; yet, it never can truly be sparring as each participant is locked into a pattern of anticipated MOTION. Graduating this motion from pure observation toward replication and toward personalization still amounts to practice of motion. It is only validated as ACTION when this motion is utilized successfully without a prior acquiescence of the participants…then, when the true dangers and exploitations are seen does motion transcend its nature toward action. This is sparring. And this is why, although drills are key toward achieving sparring proficiency, there is a fallacy in allowing drills to substitute for sparring.
“Spontaneous adaptability is the key to a warrior’s survival.” – Mangisursuro Mike Inay
Properly regarding all these caveats, mutual destruction may still occur. When he who is on offense disregards the counter-offense’s change in timing and crashes upon them…or, if the counter-offense overestimates his capacity to change the timing and crashes upon their attacker, the danger is the same to either participant. Again, as our standard is live blade attacks, no trade off SEEMS acceptable. In training, we regard the fault of either participant respectively regarding their range and timing, and we fine tune this in accordance with our strategy.
In a fight, it doesn’t MATTER which participant is at fault…in mutual destruction, they BOTH lose or there can be an acceptable KNOWN trade off in the mission to destroy their opponent. This is not in lockstep with sound strategy, which when progressively manipulated broaches mastery. This unsound strategy, although in training may be seen as a mistake, in the fight may, in fact, provide VICTORY. In short, mastery can provide victory; but, a victory is not always evidence of mastery. It is my belief the two should not be divergent if strategy is intact…. Or, as it is often, said, “…once one is fluent with the rules, they can learn to break them.”
As our standard in PTK is to engage in sparring with the full complement of the system with live blades, it is true that in our training method that there is a reason why in our sparring we don’t end up crippled or killed. This is because of an understanding of control and a highly cultivated, progressively applied precision.
That many dedicated martial artists could equate that to a dilution of intent further elucidates the cycle of dogma which substitutes for many of the lost training methods today. It is astounding how WEAPON-based martial arts in particular seem to be a haven for the most ridiculous, risky, and careless practices. Why and how do these instructors get away with it? One part of me believes that it’s because the idea of realizing true control seems so farfetched to them that they would subscribe to a mentality of defeat (i.e., realize you’re going to be cut anyway), although, this may, in fact, be true, there is a difference in resolving oneself toward an action despite malady vs TRAINING as if such a malady is a given.
However, there is also the reason that in weapon-based arts, the understanding of FLOW is too frequently misrepresented as COOPERATION to allow a continuance of technique or drill.
In short, we train in context of a system and because we don’t end up crippled or killed as we spar; we train with a degree of cooperation. But we do not cooperate to allow victory of our opponent to achieve this flow, nor does our opponent cooperate to allow OUR tactic to be realized. To do so would be (and in much of the “sparring videos” I have sampled) such a wretched waste of time and to teach this compromise AS FLOW, in my mind, amounts to criminal action, if not simply a dishonor to the warriors of old. That we encounter others who may disregard their self-protection does not make our system irrelevant (nor any other that heeds these caveats) for by understanding the application of it in these contexts it is EVER relevant and…it evolves as we are able. How fascinating that even though this is so, it was perfected hundreds of years before we were born. The struggle of how to best internalize such lessons is each warrior’s fortunate burden. To regard the adage of one should “train as they fight” will be regarded as anathema to victory unless one believes they should “fight as they train”. Thus, in the pursuit of the no mind, mindful intention is ever necessary.