Dancing our way through martial arts

At the dojo today, we did a bit of sparring.  Afterwards, the teacher told us about “The Book of Five Rings,” a fighting treatise that the great Samurai warrior, Miyamoto Musashi wrote in about 1645.  Musashi was an extraordinary duelist, winning in part because of his skill, and in part because of his utterly fearless approach:  he was willing to take fairly significant risks in any duel to the death.  In his book, he identified all sorts of fighting attitudes, but the bottom line attitude was fight to win.

I’ve decided that my sparring attitude is “Ginger Rogers”:  dance away backwards at great speed, with beautiful footwork.  I justify this attitude on the ground that I’m at least a foot shorter, 40 pounds lighter, and 10 years older than all my opponents.  I’m not cowardly, I’m sensible.  That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

If you’d like to read a well-written and extremely funny essay about fighting that would have made Musashi proud, check this out.

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  • NavyOne

    A pocket, retreating, vicious Venus. . .

  • http://bookwormroom.com Bookworm

    NavyOne:  Exactly!

  • Danny Lemieux

    You have it exactly backward, Book: because you are shorter than your opponents, your style should be to get in close…inside their “power radius”. It’s counterintuitive, I know. That’s what I tell my students.

    – “3rd-Dan Danny” 

  • DL Sly

    I suppose it comes down to what your real intent is.  Are you trying to get to a point where you’ve incapacitate an opponent enough to escape?  Or are you trying to defeat them?  Given your size and (from what I have observed in my readings here) demeanor, I’m guessing it’s the former.  In such a case, then your’s is an understandable position.  However, any potentially harmful confrontations will hold significant uncertainty as to a successful outcome due to the fact that you will never know whether or not you can indeed incapacitate a given opponent enough to actually outrun them.  Not that that’s a bad thing.  Just an uncertainty one must accept.
    I think the lesson Miyamoto is trying to convey is that if you defeat them completely, you don’t have to worry about running away.
    Just my two cents….keep the change.

  • DL Sly

    As an aside, I can’t believe anyone, much less three of us, (my apologies at the exclusion, Ms. Bookworm, but you *live* here — in an imaginary sort of way, iykwim) actually got to comment here before Ymar.
    The slacker.

  • suek

    I took Judo in college one year. Two girls – twins – were in the class. They were puny…maybe 5 foot, but maybe not quite. Maybe they weighed 100lbs each in soaking wet winter jackets. They looked as though picking them up and slamming them to the floor would have been no problem for any of us in the class – at 5’7″, I was not the largest by any means. However, these two had been doing gymnastics and tumbling since they’d been able to walk – or near to it! – and were virtually un-throwable. They simply _bent_. Including backwards. Backbends were no big deal to them..you’d take hold of them to throw them, and they just bent over backwards, feet firmly planted on the ground.

    There are all sorts of interesting capabilites in life…

  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com Ymarsakar

    I smell somebody trying to provoke me…

  • DL Sly

    *sniff sniff*
    I think that was the dog…..or maybe you just passed by an Occupy *movement* too closely.

  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com Ymarsakar

    Castra Praetoria post said, “We were punched, kicked, hip tossed, and hurled to the earth repeatedly. Nothing takes the wind out of your sails like being struck with a planet, trust me.”
    Is it me, or am I, my trainers at TFT, and this guy about the only people on this English speaking planet that thinks of throwing as hitting someone with a planet? Because I’ve read a lot of what martial artists say and think on the places like YA Martial Arts, and they don’t talk about throwing like I talk about throwing.
    That aside, there’s some topics of interest here. Mind over body is an interesting topic concerning how the will to fight can be defeated before the actual resources  to do so runs out. It reminds me of that story I was told about how a police officer saw a perp that drew a gun on the LEO and fired. The LEO, hearing the shot and seeing it, thought he was hit and he went down on one knee. The LEO then fired back and hit the perp. The thing is, the LEO found out later that he hadn’t been hit by a bullet at all. That it was all in his “imagination”. That the reflex of his body going down… was entirely of his own volition. :gasp: This is like those magic tricks of mind over body. Where believing it is so, makes it so. That only works somatically and biofeedback wise, it does not work in changing external reality to fit our internal desires: no water to wine miracles here. The belief that you have been hurt and damaged can be so vivid that it convinces your own body, causing your body to reflect your envisioned reality. This can lead to defeat or victory, depending on what one’s beliefs are and how lucky they are. It is generally a good idea not to give up until you are dead, because you always have options so long as you live and breathe. Others think differently and believe  in giving up because they think the goal is unachievable. Visionaries and mad scientists are deemed those who consider the impossible, possible, and go on to make the impossible possible with effort and brilliance. Hard work makes the impossible into the possible? Heh
    Musashi’s tales may have seemed risky, but the fact that he died an old man on a mountain top, in peace, demonstrates that they were calculated risks. Musashi would prepare the battlefield well and make sure his chances of survival (both before, after, and during) the duel were always in his favor. This is why he often came late to his duels in the beginning, to spread the rumor that he was inept, rude, and always not on time. Then when he faced a group of disciples on the day that he was going to duel with their master, he arrived early. Before their ambush of the dueling site was complete. You see how that works out? A good fighter may win a duel with the master, but once the master is dead or incapacitated, nothing is going to keep his disciples from going for your blood.  These are the Japanese after all…
    Musashi can be considered a genius at strategy and tactics not because he was the best fighter in history, but simply because he understood these concepts and could “convey” them in written format to others: his students and you, long past his expiration date. What humans care about isn’t so much who is the best fighter, as who is the best fighter that is remembered by history for it. Knowing how to fight is common in human history: many people were great and fearsome warriors with near godlike skill at arms. Knowing how to teach and explain these concepts of tactics and strategy, another skillset entirely. Bruce Lee was also considered one of the same kinds of pioneers in martial arts.
    Much of Miyamoto Musashi’s comments in the Book of Five Rings dealt with situations and goals. Efficiency and accuracy, not power, were deemed the highest priority. To cut bone and organ was the goal, not to slash the skin and make them bleed. It’s because a human with the former is mortally wounded and no longer a threat, whereas a human with two can still kill you. What he also told the reader, but that the reader commonly overlooked, is that 1 and 2 also applies to barehanded H2H fighting.
    When Danny wrote about power radius, he is quite correct. Most boxing and muay thai punches are designed to achieve full power and follow through at a certain distance. Beyond that distance, nothing much happens. But what isn’t commonly known is that if you get closer to that optimum range, the same thing happens. Most people don’t like getting so close they can smell the aftershave on the enemy’s cheeks. But that is the actual optimum range you need to get to if you want to 1. kill the human or 2. avoid the power of common strength based punches.
    On the topic of sparring, it’s basically a game. People have fun with it for various reasons but they shouldn’t see it as more than it is. Sparring is a game like any drill is a game. It is designed to simulate certain conditions and improve your skills in certain fields. A game, however, is not the battlefield nor is it under the conditions of war. That’s something people continue to forget, assuming they ever realized it in the first place.
    Lastly, we come to me. Our dojo doesn’t do much sparring. In fact, there is no free style sparring at all. There are two kata or kumite sets where one is the attacker and the other the defender, and we run through attack/defense routines, but that is the closest to free form sparring we have. Other than randori in aikido. To sum up what we do in shinkendo, it is basically swing a wooden stick 8 ways and make our forearms look like Popeye’s. To sum up what we do in aikido, it is to twist each other’s twists in unnatural maneuvers… while training up a person’s ukemi (safe falling) skill in order for them to receive higher and higher levels of aikido hybrid joint lock/throw techniques.
    Most everyone I read or talked with on the net has said or claimed that aikido is advanced or difficult. These were people with a moderate amount of martial arts experience in Koryu or gendai Japanese arts. Personally, I can sort of see what they were talking about. For someone that lacks anatomical knowledge about joints and how to utilize effective striking (atemi), aikido would be a hard one to start with. But if you had already been trained in how to hammer someone’s organs into shock with nothing but your body in motion, and if you already knew the theory and applications of how to break joints and tear ligaments, then aikido’s more advanced and non-lethal joint locks is just the “next step” in one’s evolution. It was said by some aikidoka that training in a “hard” Japanese art like jujutsu or karate would make the transition to Aikido much more natural: as it was historically. Well, our branch of aikido is more aikijutsu and samurai fighting based than the “aiki” (harmony and love) version of Aikido’s founder Morihei.
    My previous training helps me with certain things, even if I am just observing an aikido move. More stuff is going on in my brain as I connect the dots, so to speak, without being told, explicitly, things about the techniques. For example, with some of the more complicated wrist holds or versions, I think immediately of how I can simplify it or make it work without having to hold the wrist or having my wrist held (avoiding loss of grip). I’m not sure whether the example of the 13-14 year old that trains at the same location would do any good, but he’s one of the definitions of a “blank slate”. No fighting experience. No previous martial arts experience. Below average body coordination due to his larger size and height. In one training session, a senior student in aikido was told to help us with aikido drills/techniques. This time we were doing knife (tanto) techniques. Aka defense/counter-attacks. This is where both training partners have wooden tantos. This one specific session had a good counter technique for someone using a knife thrust on you. You just sprint towards them (similar to what Danny said), and use your left unarmed forearm to stop his thrusting right arm by hitting him in the biceps, forearm, or shoulder while your right (armed hand) goes for an ice pick thrust on the opponent’s neck or collar bone. This is where nerve clusters and some major arteries reside. Anyways, the 14 year old high school student was doing this for the first time (I was also doing it for the first time) and he would keep using his unarmed hand to try to grab my knife hand as it comes in to stab him. Since we were doing it at like 30% speed/power, it worked. We kept telling him not to do that though, since trying to catch another person’s striking hand or forearm with your hands is very difficult, as well as dangerous. You can catch one of your fingers, sprain it, and also miss and allow a hit through. He kept doing it incorrectly though, so I told him I’d demonstrate why it wouldn’t work. The senior practitioner told me to be careful and be sure not to hit him, so I made sure my thrust would be angled far enough out that it wouldn’t hit him once it went through his guard. So when I came in to strike (stab over hand), his left hand shot for my right arm and… guess what happened. His hands slipped on my forearm. Because I was coming in at around 80% speed/power with my whole body in motion. If I had been aiming at his body, the thrust would have gone home over his heart or collar bone or neck. And then I’d just use my elbow muscles and keep stabbing him in the back of the neck and there wasn’t much he could do about it. Cause he’d be dead.
    So, that’s another way to use Danny’s “power radius”, Book, to ensure your own safety. As the enemy tries to stab you from high, you power in and stop his strike from getting close to you, by moving closer to him and then using the distance to counter-attack beyond his ability to defend. It’s a principle, so not just limited to bare hands. It’s how direct linear attacks beat circular over hand type attacks. Linear is just faster. Whereas circular hands are sometimes more powerful and has more energy, and can deflect linear attacks. So everything beats everything ; )
    As a side comment on MMA or other sports. They are specialized to fight at a certain range with limitations. Those limitations ensure that the specialization to fight at say, boxing punch or MMA grappling range, “works”. Sports are sports and war is war. A significant difference. Training, however, is neither sports nor war, so it falls into this grey area that people then tend to misunderestimate all the time. For example, much of the shock power that comes from martial arts punches and kicks, don’t work with boxing gloves. It doesn’t work. And some of the hand grappling and traps, don’t work with those huge boxing gloves either, because you can use those gloves as a shock absorber or a shield. The gloves absorb the shock force of the blow and requires more strength to gain speed and more strength to transfer force, favoring…. the boxer. Huge triceps. Huge shoulder muscles. Size and speed and strength over strategy and tactics. Just because of one thing: gloves. A limitation imposed solely because of the specifications of the sport itself.
    Suek’s comments about judo demonstrate that a person able to shift their body weight and center of gravity around  becomes a difficult person to throw. True. This is why higher level advanced techniques were developed to combine throwing and joint locks. No matter how flexible a person is, if their joints are locked and about to be broken, they have little choice but to try to go with the force and roll out of it. But the joint lock prevents them from rolling to safety and their imbalance allows them to be thrown if they react to the lock. If they don’t react, their joint is broken and made unworkable. Catch 22. Efficient. Take seionage in Judo. It was originally a hybrid shoulder dislocation throw. Either you threw him, or you dislocated his shoulder, or you threw hm and then dislocated his shoulder. Less work, more results you see.
    Danny, you should write more about your experiences teaching students. They can be quite interesting here.

    Btw Sly, I remember when BillT said something over at Grim’s place. One of the secondary blog authors was writing up a post about an exhibit of arms she saw. This was an entire series covering European and other styles, but this time she posted descriptions of samurai armor and arms. BillT (Rotor) said, “Ymar bait” or maybe it was hrm “Ymar chum”. This post of Book that talks about Miyamoto Musashi and martial arts… may be similar in that vein.

  • 11B40


    Having grown up in the Bronx of the ’50s and ’60s, I was always a big fan of the “When the going gets tough, the tough get going, and the smart are already gone.” mantra. My first Drill Sergeant liked the part before the conjunction plenty; the part after, not so much. 

  • Mike Devx

    11B40 says: “When the going gets tough, the tough get going, and the smart are already gone.”

    A rhetorical question comes to mind. Not original, but I’m not sure where it comes from:
    Question: What’s the best way to get out of Nazi Germany?
    Answer: Early.

    Wisdom may lie in recognizing a bad situation early enough, and knowing what to do about it.
    Optimism is fine as a general approach to life, but be realistic about the here-and-now, too.

  • DL Sly

    I remember that post as well as Bill’s comment.  I also have been reading commentary from you at assorted sights for quite a few years now and am aware of your fondness for this site, so naturally I was surprised to see that you had not made it to this post yet.
    Of course, I couldn’t turn down the rare opportunity to pull your chain a little.  You might get the feeling I didn’t care…..

  • 11B40


    I was so enthralled by my own wit in my post above that I forgot to mention that there are three good “samurai” movies starring Toshiro Mifune that deal with the life of Miyamoto Musashi.

  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com Ymarsakar

    Correction EDITs:”But what isn’t commonly known is that if you get closer to that optimum range, the same thing happens.”

    Should be “if you get lower than optimum range”. Every attack has a minimum range, an optimal range, and a maximum range. Within range is something people easily talk about and think about. Beyond range, again an easy thing to consider given American focus on firearms and missiles. But too close, below minimum range for the weapon to fire? Hard concept for people to consider, given their lack of experience with it.  A handgun has a minimum range, dependent upon how it is held. The farther away the target is, the less accurate the firearm can be used. But too close, has the same effect. The closer a target gets below optimal range, the less accurate the fire. Below even minimum range and the weapon can’t even fire at all to hit target. This principle applies equally to boxing punches or any other strike such as Tae Kwon Do Kicks.

     Boxing punches and muay thai use “kinetic linking” to power their strikes, arm or leg. This means they can only use their body’s muscular momentum and energy to blow you away if you are at the right distance. The optimal distance. The Goldlilocks zone. Too close, and all you will get hit by is their forearm and shoulder muscle power. It’ll be a strong push, but a push is not a strike. Most people like to fight at arm’s length to each other, for social or anti-social reasons. This is why boxing is often touted as effective for self defense or street confrontations, at a certain low threat level. Most people fight just like how boxing trains you to fight, except you can do it better cause you have actually received training. 


    For those that have taken judo or would like to see the seoinage (shoulder throw) technique, check that link out. There are basically two versions: gi and no gi. The gi version is safer since you just grab unto the front of their clothing and throw em, not their arm. This prevents, 100%, shoulder dislocation because there’s no way you can catch their arm in mid air to apply any leverage. The target can only get a concussion or hit their wrist on the ground, and those two are precluded by mats. The original version is not done the way you see it in the video. The original version has one critical difference. When the person being thrown is just about to hit the ground after moving through the air, the thrower (nage) does NOT release the shoulder (arm) and instead locks the shoulder to his chest and stands up. So basically, the person falls down due to gravity, and you stand up, setting a gravity leverage in the shoulder, and popping it out. Then if he falls and hits his head, that’s a bonus. A person with a dislocated shoulder can no longer use that shoulder for much of anything, and it’ll take them quite a bit of time to recover and start fighting back. During this stun period, the person has no defenses and can be destroyed with no resistance. Even if he recovers fast due to being on metamphetamines and adrenaline/endorphine (like terrorists in Fallujah), they still won’t be able to use that arm. This is why aikido or non-lethal, non injurious attacks are harder to do than simpler, lethal ones. Killing humans and maiming them is relatively easy. Subduing them and making them admit defeat, without doing permanent damage, is actually a much higher skill set. Curiously, martial arts history started with lethal moves and then transitioned to non-lethal, but most people forgot about the lethal foundation and thus their non-lethal skills are iffy. Strange elven syndrome, like having a longer life span but not maturing until you’re like 30.

     So basically, martial arts as originally used on the battlefield were one move finishers almost (Why it is called ippon seoinage). With that one move, the advantage skewed so far to one side, that it was no longer a “fight” any more. Killers didn’t so much train to “counter-act” their enemy’s moves as to focus exclusively on dealing damage first, and more of it. Because the person who inflicts medically verifiable anatomical injury on the enemy, is almost guaranteed to survive that encounter. Sports, however, isn’t about killing, but safety and entertainment and fair play. A significant difference, as mentioned before. There’s a lot of argument about this on the nets and between practitioners (TMA vs MMA vs etc). My view is simple: do what you like but don’t pretend it’s something other than it is. That goes for the McDojo franchise black belt factories, RBSD, and MMA gyms.

    What all of this means is basically even if you lost the use of your arms, if you can still move and think, you can still kill the enemy. If you can’t, then don’t worry, cause you’ll be killed soon enough regardless of what you think or want. But if you give up, you guarantee the enemy’s victory: just handing him it on a platter. If you have your arms tied and can still think and move, that means you aren’t dead yet and can still kill your captors. A lot of military training tries to condition civilians to think in the “military” fashion because they don’t have long enough to instill these values by having philosophical debates about what is or isn’t reality.

    DL Sly,
    I am so glad to hear of your caring disposition, otherwise what you said might have scared me. *Pats Sly on the head* Kawaii desu yo!


  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com Ymarsakar

    However, any potentially harmful confrontations will hold significant uncertainty as to a successful outcome due to the fact that you will never know whether or not you can indeed incapacitate a given opponent enough to actually outrun them.

    *shrugs*  I was just told to keep hitting targets until the guy was non-functional. When he falls to the ground and isn’t moving, that’s a pretty good indication he’s out of it for the foreseeable future. Then they say “look around, go after his buddies”, but if there’s nothing around anymore, turn your back and walk off. Run? There’s no need to run. Running is a lot more annoying than just walking.

    Of course, that’s not what Self Defense people say and that’s not what Krav Maga says and that’s not what the way of aiki says you should do, but it works you know. Murphy hates it though, because the threat is ended so fast he doesn’t have enough time to jump into the fray, like he always does.

     Sometimes running is a good option though. Say you are surrounded by 20 strange people carrying weird implements like Black Panther at voting booth day. Then you should probably run… into an alleyway so you can fight one on one 20 times and annihilate them. That’s a tactical option that wouldn’t be available if you couldn’t run. That’s what I tell people always asking about how to “fight” multiple people. You don’t fight multiple people… you reduce that group into one and defeat them all, one by one.