When training a body skill it is common to have the impression that we are building something that is somewhat unique, or special, something that we feel is powerful enough to make a difference. This attitude can be seen in the multitudes of people studying martial arts skill that are wholly convinced of their unique supremacy. However,the reality is that all of these powers, body skills and methods that we hold so dear can become undone in an instant by those with an intelligent approach.
The intelligent approach is one that we often see in combat sports, where one opponent will not be playing the game of the other, completely undoing their significant skill set. Commonly, it is described as the process of not boxing the boxer or grappling the wrestler, instead going outside of the assumed game to gain the victory.
When looking at developmental drills or methods, this is often a big mistake as the drill quickly devolves into something unproductive. However, it can also be a useful tool if the drill has become the goal, or if the partner has lost sight of reality. This is most clearly a problem in some of the Aiki Arts where wrist grabbing and dumb, unchanging forces abound. Where Uke’s flip and flop at the slightest hint of direction.
There are numerous occasions from my training past where things have not gone to plan either for me, or later, for those who came to train with me. These lessons were instrumental in reforming my viewpoint on the real importance of specific methods or skills and their context. They are ‘undoings’ of ones perspective or reality, and are the doorways to real growth.
When I was first training in the internal Chinese arts I had the opportunity to meet many different practitioners and teachers. Part of my process was to always cross hands with these individuals. I wanted to feel what they were talking about, not just hear it. There were many occasions where simply feeling was enough to realise they were bullshiters, and their students pawns. But there were also many occasions were I was ‘undone’ with ease.
On one occasion I attended a seminar with systema master Vladimir Vasiliev who was well known as a expert of the Russian martial arts. His style of fighting and moving was very intriguing to me, because it seemed antithetical to the rooted, whole body movement style of training that I had been devoting my time to. His movement was very fluid like a wave or an undulation, without the rigidity and specific types of harmony or rooting that I had been immersed in at the time. I was unsure how this body method would stack up against my own training, so I was very happy to attend a seminar with this expert teacher and get my hands on him to feel for myself.
Although the interactions with Vladimir were enlightening, it was in fact the interaction with one of his students that altered my viewpoint. This student had only ever trained systema, he hadn’t trained in any other style and so his body skill and viewpoint were representations of pure systema skill. In our interaction, which was a wrestling scenario, I attempted to root down, solid like a mountain and maintain my structure. This was a method which was so successful with my peers in the internal arts and one that I was confident in, with this individual, however, it didn’t work as planned. He simply wasn’t playing by the same rules as me. Although my feet rarely moved, his always did and he simply moved around me changing angle, light as a feature, undulating and waving his way around my rooted and connected structure. It was like trying to catch a wave, I was the rock of the shoreline, he was the ocean and the two had very different ways of approaching their interaction.
It’s important to realise that this was not a high-level master of the art of systema, it was simply someone who was expressing a completely different view on the way in which the body moves and should be used in that specific scenario. It is also important to realise that this wasn’t a fight, he didn’t have it all his way, and the exchange was full of laughing and smiling as we both played with our respective ideas, but it was highly successful in dislocating my expectation and undoing the skills with which I had trained. I simply did'nt have an adequate answer for the questions his movement and body method were asking. We were simply using completely different rules of engagement and that simple change made a vast difference. There have been many other instances like this, where I have noticed an inherent difference in approach that undid my own. This helped to completely change my mindset about what was ‘good’ or ‘correct’ … there is no such thing.
Much later, after I had been teaching my particular brand of ‘internal’ arts for some time, an exponent of ‘aiki’ training came to my school to do some work with me. He was a very strong individual, heavyset and with great body skill. In the class, the general concept that I was teaching fitted the paradigm of what he already knew, and he would be able to perform many of the concepts and principles I was instructing to a high level, perhaps even higher than my own at that time. At one point in the session he was smuggly manhandling some of the other new students, and it was obvious to me that he had fallen into the trap of believing that this was the only way, and so confident in this way was he, that no other roads were visible to him. Time to "undo"!
And so during one of the demonstrations I asked him to push on my chest. This is a test that is commonly used in many internal arts to determine the ability of the person being pushed. They should be able to resist the push without pushing back against the pusher and so show a level of body skill. This was a test that I knew he would know and already have an assumption about what the aim and objective was. And so I said to him “I’m really interested to feel your body skill, to feel your internal power so I want you to really try to push me backwards … don’t hold back!”
As he went to push my chest I simply put my index finger into his armpit pressing up diagonally. This had the effect of breaking his ability to push and causing him pain whenever he pushed harder. I did not take a stance or use any of my body skill, I simply put my finger in his armpit and dug in a little. This was a technique one of my teachers had used on me in the past and I always remembered how uncomfortable it was. It was a method trained in a certain form of Ba Gua where the skill of 'Piercing' with the fingers was developer.
“That’s not fair” he said “that’s not the drill or how it’s supposed to go”
“It isn’t?” I quizzed “I just asked you to push with your internal power? I didn’t explain any goals or objectives other than that. Your job was to push me back, mine was to feel your internal power.“ he continued to look perturbed.
“Okay” I said “why don’t we try again and I promise not to put my finger in your armpit, deal?” after a moment “Deal” he responded.
And so he began to try to push my chest again this time I pinched his side with my index finger and thumb, another favourite of my old Teacher, who would use this tactic to distract wrestlers clinching with him. I used to come home from training looking like I had been attacked by a pack of dogs, so strong was his pinch!
He yelped and protested once more. So I simply explained “what good are the years of training and the many hours refining your body skill if it can be undone by an index finger or a pinch?” Although clearly upset initially, I believe he got the message.
Although we build skill in a single area or in a specific direction, an intelligent opponent will often find gaps that may not be obvious, especially if we spend our time in an echo chamber. There are many people out there training in a specific way to achieve a specific goal, convinced that they and their group alone have the real deal. In actuality, high specialisation, although also the domain of high skill, is often the domain of narrow focus. Narrow focus can blind us to the bigger picture and anyone who sees this bigger picture will be able to undo us. In training it is that bigger picture that we should all be striving to perceive, if our body skill isn’t to become undone with a poke or a pinch.
It would be true to say that the MartialBody system aims to spread skill set as widely as possible. We endeavour to develop the downward heavy skill of the HeavyBody while being able to be highly agile and light as found in the ElasticBody; we aim to maintain whole body power of the ConnectedBody while simultaneously able to express fluidity and change ability as found in the FluidBody. This marriage of opposite qualities is extremely difficult to maintain because one attribute can be thought to undo the work of the other. In fact, the improvement of all of the 6 attributes slowly builds a total competency over time. An individual may specialise in one area but they are still able to see and use the others.
Attributes of a MartialBody are, in some respects designed to spread us thin, to make us competent and able to percieve all of areas if not a master of them. It matters not what our opponent does, only what we ourselves can do, and if we can do one thing to a mediocre level that the opponent does not train it all, that puts us at an advantage and they will soon become Undone.