By Hiroshi Ikeda
Translated by Jun Akiyama
A student recently asked, "When a yokomenuchi strike is not preselected to come from the right hand side or the left hand side, how do you make the distinction in a split second? Do you watch the hand, the body, or what?"
Another way to phrase the question might be, "When we do not know what kind of attack is about to happen, how can we make a split second decision as to what to do?"
Finding oneself temporarily paralyzed or responding ineffectively in the face of an attack is a fairly common experience on the mat. This is usually caused by our having a preconception of the technique that we want to execute. In training, very often we have already decided how we plan to move. It is like having an answer ready before we know the question. If the question, or the attack, is different than what we expected, of course our answer could be wrong. Instead, we must try to take actions that fit well with the attack -- we must correctly anticipate and respond to the attack and work with what the attack provides.
In many martial arts, kata, or form-based, training is used to facilitate the teaching of basic movements fundamental to the art. However, when we progress to jiyurandori (freestyle) or to taninzugake (multiple attackers), we may find that we often lose sight of our options and try to force movements that do not work.
To solve this dilemma, it is helpful to keep these three concepts in mind:
First, we must gradually supplement the prescribed step-by-step forms of kata training with the practice of freestyle techniques -- moving our bodies freely in order to nurture our sensibility of our partner's movements. Through attentive and long-term practice of spontaneous techniques, our bodies will "absorb" the movements, and the techniques will become more and more our own.
Next, as we practice freestyle, we should keep in mind the spacing, both physical and mental. The physical distance to our partner must be neither too close nor too far, lest we find ourselves in a disadvantageous position. We must also cultivate mental space, so that we do not feel panicked and constricted in our thoughts, and thus will be able to perceive our options.
Last, we must overcome our perceived limitations of time and timing. Of course, the occurrence of an event is measurable in fractions of a second, but our perception of the timing of that event may have nothing to do with seconds determined by a chronograph.
In situations such as taninzugake (multiple attacker scenario) it is not uncommon to find ourselves in a state of panic, as we attempt to evade the attackers. This is a result of our losing physical and mental space, and of being unable to fully realize our mobility. When we train, we must always be mindful of moving in ways that create physical, mental, and temporal spaces.
Sometimes during yudansha exams, we observe candidates handling multiple attackers by throwing them one right after another. This is a mistake, for by stopping to throw each person, nage interrupts the flow and leaves him/herself open to the other attackers.
Our first objective should not be to throw our attackers. Instead, the first course of action is to evade the attacks by moving. When the space and timing has become our own, then we may see an opportunity to execute a technique or a throw. Practicing tai-sabaki (body movement and footwork) is crucial in this endeavor. Within these movements we will find the space necessary to keep our physical, mental, and temporal relationship with our attackers in a manageable state. Only then can we stop our attackers. Should we, ourselves, stop in our tracks and start defending, we will inevitably find ourselves trapped, especially in a multiple person attack situation. We should always keep this in mind and train in a way to prevent this from happening.