Thursday, March 17, 2011

Forward, or Back?

  Reading through various “self-defense” writings, I repeatedly encounter the commonly held teaching, that one should “back-up” when first confronted with an aggressive action. At first glance, this would seem to make sense. Backing up, moves one away from the presumed threat. It doesn't do a thing for ending the threat, though it does move one away from an immediate physical harm. Unless one has an escape route available, the defender will still have to deal with the aggressor, and they are then in no position (literally) to retaliate.
  The majority of system's (at least initially) advocate a rearward motion, no doubt done for reason's of simplicity (for beginning student's), it none-the-less is detrimental to effective self-defense. Oyata (in most cases) promotes a forward (towards the aggressor) motion. This provides numerous advantages, though not always initially recognized. To appreciate this methodology, one must first understand the mechanic's behind an aggressor's strike attempt, and the necessary actions to create an effective response (which both protects the tori, and negates further attempts by the aggressor).
  When an aggressor enacts a punching action, there are numerous factor's to take into account (when attempting to defeat that attempt). First, it needs to be noted, that only the final 1/3 of a strike will have any (serious) energy potential (momentum). The “middle” 1/3, is when it is the easiest to divert/deflect that motion (from striking it's original target). This being the case, it is easiest to defeat this action during the initial 1/3 of it's motion. For the majority of striking attempts, this will require the tori to move towards the aggressor (uke). 
  Though the principle's behind this motion are usually (quite) apparent, it can be difficult to initially understand the tactical implications. By stepping forward, the tori changes the (initially) perceived striking range of the uke (thereby forcing the uke to readjust their attempted strike).The tori's first defensive strike is usually done upon the uke's striking arm (intending to damage it sufficiently to deter it's repeated use). This is done in conjunction with a kick, and with the tori's other arm either “loading” or (additionally) diverting the arm struck by the tori's primary (striking) arm.
  The tori moving away (or back) from the uke's strike neither fulfills or assists in any of these goals (to stop/divert the uke's striking action). Though explained as being a “beginner's” (version?) action by many system's, there is no real advantage to having a student practice in a directly retreating action/motion. This manner of “Avoidance” is only a temporary (and rarely effective) method to rely one's defense upon. If/when done in an angular direction, it has (slightly) more merit (by not moving the tori as far away), but still doesn't have the advantages offered from motioning towards the aggressor.
  To further understand this, the speed of moving one's (whole) body (in any given direction) needs to also be considered. The slowest direction of motion, is rearward. The next slowest is forward, and the fastest, is sideways and/or rotationally. If one's goal, is only to avoid being struck, the amount of distance required to do so, is actually minimal. A fist is only 4- 4 ½” wide(though only 1-2” of that area would be considered more harmful to the recipient than the deliverer, if one includes the amount of variance (that can be made to that strike by the uke) possible, the potential “striking area” is only (around) 6”. This is not considered to be an unrealistic amount of motion(to avoid being hit) to be made (if the tori is aware of that strikes occurrence). The deciding factor then becomes dependent upon the speed of avoidance (of the tori's body motion) and/or the speed of engagement (of the tori's defensive strikes). When one considers the tori's ability to motion in the various directions (and the resultant effects from doing so) motioning forward or rotating (a form of sideways motion) makes considerably more sense than rearward motion does.
  Even with knowing these facts, (some) system's still believe that teaching (at least) their beginning student's to back-up while performing some (usually) pointless “blocking” action, is preferable to teaching them to engage with a defensive (counter-strike). I've seen several instructor's also follow this methodology, though (IMO) it's derived from their own previous instruction(in other system's). When one considers all the relevant factor's to choosing which direction to motion, it almost seems silly to teach someone to back-up, yet that's what is commonly done, and expected. 
  Moving forward is often viewed as being an (solely) aggressive option, it isn't. Aggression is defined by intent, if that intent is for a defensive purpose, then it can be considered justified (in a court of law). Being legally justified in one's actions should always be considered when contemplating available options.
  In the end, it's going to be the tori's decision (whether to back-up, or move forward). Regardless of which direction is chosen, the response made by the tori has to include some form of contact with the aggressor. If that contact is made from a location of distance, it may prove too far to (either) be effective, or too far to (be able to) follow-up with (safely). Though familiar with the reason's for an (initial) retreating movement, I can't agree with those reason's (at least for anyone with any real experience). Many beginning student's don't have that real experience, that's why they attend a martial art's class (to learn from those who do). Not having that experience, they depend upon the instructor to provide the necessary guidance to understand what's involved with being in a defensive situation.


Anonymous said...

The best karate blog I've ever read, I can't thank you enough Open Hand.


FossMaNO1 said...

I agree with everything you've said here, however you have not addressed one very important topic: it is natural human reaction to retreat when attacked. How do you train a person to "enter the mouth of the tiger"?

openhand said...

Agreed, it isn't. What has to be done, is to show the student that by being closer, they are (in fact) safer. That only comes from demonstrating the inherent weaknesses in maintaining the “distance” that person's mistakenly believe will provide them with safety. A “natural human reaction” is (BTW) not to retreat, but to present a “blocking” action. We emphasize/train the student to make that action a strike (usually upon the aggressor's limb).

FossMaNO1 said...

Nicely said. In my experiene this takes drilling over and over again, in essence reprograming the natral eaction, to get the student to enter in and strke (the higher up the limb the better, as I believe you mentioned elsewhere in this blog).

In my own personal training this has taken some time to accomplish (I've studied Matsumura-Seito Shorin-Ryu karate for about 5 years now and only recently earned my shodan). As a more robustly built individual than most others (and, Lord knows, size may mean natural power, but it also means I have to work twice as hard as most others to effect body-change), I don't react as fast as a more trim person. I can reliably block/strike defensively then follow the attacker's technique back in (toward them) and capitalize on their reseting/refolding motion. It works quite well, however now that I have achieved my shodan my plan is to study the Naihanchi katas intensely, pick them apart, and learn how to incorporate better body-change with simultaneous attacks.

Of course, I still need to devise a drill that will help me practice effecting my technique just as I see my opponent begin theirs. Waiting until they refold to counter is nice, but if I can move in before they finish their initial technique I know I can achieve even greater success.

openhand said...

“the higher up the limb the better, as I believe you mentioned elsewhere in this blog “

Umm, I don't recall saying that? (oh well), the entire arm has numerous locations to effectively strike that will garner a usable reaction. The upper arm (bicep/tricep areas) is easier initially, but the forearm (with practice) will often (with practice) will effectively “deaden” the whole arm.

“Of course, I still need to devise a drill that will help me practice effecting my technique just as I see my opponent begin theirs. Waiting until they refold to counter is nice, but if I can move in before they finish their initial technique I know I can achieve even greater success. “

We have our student's begin by standing square (to one another), hands at their sides (both uke and tori). From doing so, one begins to “see” the additional/initial motions made when they begin their aggression. From practicing in this manner, when one is involved in an actual situation, an aggressor's actions become much more obvious. It isn't instantaneous, but will come with practice. The student's I have presently (after 3 years of practice) barely allow the uke the time to perform the motion being practiced, LOL.