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The Problem of Techniques/The Technique of Problems

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Question: Sensei, can you demo this type of a response to a "jail house" type of knife attack?

What you're doing here is, once again, dynamic and beautiful, but it's for the singular, big movement knife attack, yes?

I'd love to study your response to the rapid fire style knife attack!!

Answer: Yes, it is a technique for the passable knife. As for the “jail house” attack: The short answer is, “No.” In answering “no,” however, one has to put aside for the moment the fact that this waza is not a self-defense application, but rather, like all waza, a drill in which and by which one cultivates sought-after skills – skills that can then go on to be used martially as required by incident, environment, and desired end. So, putting this huge fact aside, the answer is “no” because this technique uses a knife passing tactic, one that passes the knife along the original line of attack. Such a passing tactic cannot and should not be used when there is no knife to pass. In the “jail house” type of attack, due to the weaponry being used and the mission being adopted, the attack has a different degree of penetration and is thus less matched by a passing tactic. (More on this later) One has to do something else: One has to do something else because the attack is something else.

This idea of matching tactics, of there not being one tactic for all attacks, should not be foreign to us as Aikidoka. Afterall, expanding upon a common maxim of Japanese Jiu-Jitsu, Osensei told us: “When pushed, turn (tenkan): When pulled, enter (Irimi).” What does this maxim teach us? It tells us several things, but they all work from the truth that there is not one tactic for all attacks. For example, the maxim tells us that we should not turn when pulled, and that we should not enter when pushed; it tells us that there is a difference between pushing and pulling attacks; it tells us we should not hold that there is one tactic for all attacks; etc. While we moderns today might consider this common sense, the ancients saw this as an application of Yin/Yang Theory: This was truth at a cosmological level!

Colloquially speaking, the ancients knew that there were different things in the world, and they knew that certain things went with certain other things. They knew there was not one thing, and they knew that not everything goes with everything. Again, putting aside for the moment the huge fact that the video is demonstrating a drill, a waza, and that it is not a martial application or a self-defense technique, and not attributing this position to you at all, I would like to point out the following: Folks that see a video, and “what if” it or “what about” it ad absurdum seem totally ignorant of this simple truth and this basic application of Yin/Yang Theory, both of which lies at the heart of the art. I understand that your query is coming from a position of sincere curiosity, but these other so-called martial artists that play this ad absurdum game must either not train, or not train much, or train with no professional or practical end in mind and nor have experience to that effect. For anyone that does knows that jabs and crosses are treated differently, as are tackles and headbutts, as are single opponents and multiple opponents, etc., etc.

Please allow me here, now, to use your question as a springboard for discussing other related matters. Again, I in no way am attributing the problematic views mentioned below to you. I am merely using your question to raise several matters I feel you may find interesting or worthy of contemplation:

The following positions are born out of 37 years of martial arts training in multiple disciplines, several having competition formats (boxing, wrestling, karate, BJJ, etc.), multiple weapon systems (stick, baton, knife, handgun, rifle, shotgun, etc.), a decade or so of racial and territorial street fighting as a youth, and 15 years of law enforcement duty, where I’ve served as a patrol deputy, a custody deputy, a detective, and am currently assigned to our department’s Training Bureau, etc., plus 12 years of higher education (BA/MA/Phd) in Japanese History and Japanese Religious Culture: I turned 55 years old this year. In this personal history, I faced an aggressor with a bladed weapon three times. One was on duty and two were not. In two cases, one of which was on duty, I disarmed the aggressors. In the remaining incident, I “fought the archer and not the arrow” - an old Roman Legion maxim: People tend to stop fighting and stop holding on to things after a Koshi Nage with no mat at the bottom to receive them.

In all that time, and in all those different venues, I never trained in or with “if/then” modalities. Meaning, I have never trained within a paradigm that holds there is a one-to-one relationship between an attack and a defense. The only people I have ever seen do this or think this are brand new beginners, Aikidoka, and social media types that do not train or do not have a practical end or experiential end to their training. Everyone else trains in skillsets using drills or micro-drills, at least for the most part, with scenario-based training being used to monitor other skills like mindset, decision-making, conditioning, etc. They know, no technical skill can be truly born in the environment designed to test for whether or not said skill is present. This is why boxers, for example, shadow box, do mitt work, bag work, etc., and why when they spar it is very controlled, slowed down, and rule-governed while making use of extra protective equipment: This is why boxers do not fight all of the time as the primary means of becoming more skilled. It is also why you see the same use of drills and micro drills in football training and why teams do not scrimmage all of the time or just play games.

Many Aikidoka do not understand these training laws, and social media folks that do not train understand these laws even less. It is by this ignorance that you find people that do not train or that are relatively very unskilled telling a trained knife fighter who has disarmed people in real life that this drill or that drill would not work against a trained knife fighter and that the only practical thing we should do is to run away, which is ridiculous. Allow me to expand upon this point through a non-martial example:

Imagine there was a man, a husband, a father, and he felt his moods were very conditional to outside or worldly stimuli; he was very reactionary to the news in the world, to how things went at work, to how he thought people thought about him, and to what he imagined they were saying about him to each other, etc. Sometimes, he would come home very on edge, sometimes angry, sometimes depressed, and depending upon how he felt, which was depending upon what of the world he was experiencing, he treated his wife and his children very poorly. As a result, he made his family very on edge. For they knew not if he was going to be sad, or angry, or kind that evening when he returned home from work. He knew his familial relationships were disintegrating, and he knew it was him that was disintegrating them, and he knew he was disintegrating them because he had made himself and the world one; where he reified the world and the world reified him. But, a part of him also knew that he was not the world and that the world was not him. Yet, he just could not figure out how to live that truth, and so he couldn’t figure out how to get along with this family, and how to keep his relationships with his wife and with his kids meaningful, loving, and positive, and that is what he wanted most: He wanted to learn how to have a meaningful, loving, and positive relationship with his family members.

So, he goes to a Zen priest for counselling and direction, for he heard Zen has a great philosophy for how to make one’s way in the world – for being in the world but not of the world. However, the priest talks not to him at all, and instead has him sit on a cushion, silent and still, and to do it over and over and over again and for great lengths of time. Imagine if we video recorded the man sitting on the cushion in silence and stillness and we posted it in the Aikido group. Upon seeing it, we would see the social media trolls saying, “Sitting and staying still cannot be used in real life!” “That is so fake, like your wife is just going to let you stop moving and not expect you to answer her when she’s asking you a question – letting you just stay silent!” “When can you sit still and be silent in real life?!” These trolls do not know what the Zen priest knows: 1) No relational technique, no communication technique, no familial management system, etc., can bring a meaningful, loving, and positive end or even be fully utilized until the ego is reconciled; and 2) when the ego is reconciled, we are no longer reactionary or reactive to the world. In a way, what Zen is saying is this: “Dude, if you cannot reconcile the ego when all you have to do is sit on a cushion and remain still and silent, you sure as hell aren’t going to be able to do it when your boss is riding you, and your kids are sick, and your wife has a “honey do” list three pages long for you!” Meaning, the cushion is a ritualized (i.e. rule-governed) and simplified training venue designed to cultivate essential skills, essential skills that one then goes on to use as a part, or even as the core, of real-life applications.

Kihon Waza is no different. Here in this video I posted, the sought after beginner skills being drilled and cultivated are these: A coordination of Angle of Deflection, Angle of Attack, and Angle of Deviation, Aiki adhesion, trapping mechanics and strategy (people fall into traps/you do not chase people with traps), non-contestation strategies (Jiu-Jitsu), Angle of Cancellation (Positions of Disadvantage, Height Check), Weapon Prying Mechanics, Fluidity of Mind and Body, Release and Non-attachment to the Weapon, Unifying armed and unarmed tactics, etc. All of these are just skills. Will you need them in a martial application or in a decided upon response to a knife attack? Yes, indeed you will, regardless of whatever shape that application takes. However, the vessel by which they are cultivated is not the martial application nor is it a martial response. The social media troll that does not train or that does not really have a practical or experiential end in mind might want to ask here, “Why don’t you develop your skills in actual responses then?” But, here they have only bought us full circle to why boxers do not fight all the time and why football teams do not just play games and why Zen priests will make us sit in silence and stillness! “Why not?” Answer: Because it is an inefficient way of training. “Why?” Because the venue that requires the skill the most cultivates the skill the least.

There’s more though: Why don’t real people doing real things with their art use “if/then” one-to-one scenario-based training a predominance of the time? Because the application of a tactic or a technique under real life conditions has little to do with the structure of the technique itself. The application of a technique in real life has more to do with the player’s ability to be free from technique than it has to do with the technique itself. This is why doing waza, any waza, even a “martially practical” waza, no matter how much you do it, will never lead to being able to do that waza spontaneously within real life conditions. It is delusion to hold that if we do something over and over again our body will somehow recognize instinctually when the conditions for that something arises and thus implement that something accordingly. This does not happen, especially under real life human v. human violent encounters. In truth, such applications occur through training meant to cultivate a metacognition in the player, a metacognition that monitors the player for attachment to technique, and through a skill of releasing mind and body from what they were metacognitively observed to be attached. Again, no waza can ever do this, not any waza. In fact, all waza is an obstacle to these primary skills necessary for real life application.

Again, there’s more when it comes to real life applications: There are other things that are extremely determinant when it comes to whether or not a technique works or not; more determinant that the technique itself. These are: Lifestyle, Physical Conditioning, Mindset, Awareness, Decision-Making Skills, and Pre-Incident Strategies. Lifestyle for example works like this: Live a crimefree life; won’t get sentenced to a custodial facility; won’t get shanked. Or, be centered enough and self-sufficient enough that you do not cower from the world nor need any distance from reality for the sake of comfort or pleasure; won’t use alcohol as a mood inhibitor; won’t frequent bars; won’t get in bar fights. Lifestyle also goes toward Physical Conditioning; and, Physical Conditioning goes toward fitness, and mobility, and to strength. Weak, stiff, overweight people, people that are not mobile, people that have a hard time changing height levels or directions, these are people that will have a hard time getting any technique to work. Lifestyle also goes to armament. I think if one’s everyday carry does not include a handgun and knife (or two), and if one’s empty-hand tactics are not fully integrated with these arms, one cannot really be serious about self-defense: One should not talk about self-defense then. Mindset goes toward the determination to complete one’s mission or desired-for end; it is about commitment, discipline, and sacrifice, and depending upon one’s mission these things mean a commitment to die, the discipline to die, and the willingness to die as much as they mean a commitment to kill, the discipline to kill, and the willingness to kill. Awareness in martial conditions is the keeping of complacency at bay, it is the seeing up and down of the time line and the causal chain: It is the seeing of the whole chess board at all times. Decision-making is the ability to maintain cognition under extreme stress, such that one is at all times able to tap into one’s wisdom tradition, one’s training, and the means of advantage (strategy). Pre-incident strategy is the stacking of the deck in one’s favor before the incident even began; it is the seeking and gaining of advantage prior to any tactical application. These things, and much more, are much more determinant toward the establishing victory over adversary than the tactic or technique being used. Yet, very little of these things are ever addressed in waza; at most, they are assumed in waza, but they are never spelled out for the user, and so waza is not where they are best cultivated. In most dojo, they are absolutely non-existent: Members belonging to these dojo should not opine on self-defense matters.

I believe all this to be lost on most Aikidoka, and especially those folks that do not train. This is why they see a video and ask themselves: “Will this work?” Instead, they should ask: “What skills are being demonstrated and cultivated?” If they want to see what will work, my agency is hiring!

A short word on the “jail house” knife attack: The jail stabbing is generally a form of social violence, and not a form of asocial violence. Meaning, it is a kind of communication aimed at or reflecting a kind of social order. That is its primary purpose – not the killing of another human being. This is central to why it does not often represent or use the kind of territoriality, spinal displacement, or degree of penetration, associated with asocial violence, or knife attacks aimed at the killing of another human being. Additionally, or concurrently, the weapons themselves are geared toward this primary social purpose, and thus are for the most part incapable to attacking in a way more common to asocial violence. Most shanks are flimsy, fragile, disposable, one-time use, weapons, approximately one to two inches in “blade” length. They poke holes more than do anything else. It is this design that makes it so serviceable to these “sewing machine” attacks. Compare this weapon to the six-inch blade a trained knife-fighting holds as the minimum length for practicality and lethality: Equally, however, try to do a sewing machine attack with a six-inch blade balanced between cutting and stabbing performance – it’s not going to happen. Knives of this lethality create vacuums in the body at the wound site and they get stuck in bone. That said, inmates stabbed multiple times in custodial settings with shanks are often up and about in a relatively quick time, whereas a person suffering one stab from six-inch blade does not tend to recover so well: Go figure.

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