A Martial Arts Randori
Once upon a time, I was the training partner of one particular individual in aikijutsu or aikido. I believe he had been a student for 6-12 months longer than me. The condition for the spar was very simple. I, as the uke, would extend my hand towards him (initiation of drawing his sword, disarming him, attacking him, knifing him), and he as tori would execute a basic lock technique and then throw.
So I extended my hand out, not even at half attack speed, and he grabbed it as if we were doing individual drills at our own pace. I gave him .5 seconds to figure out what he was going to do with my arm, then I retracted my arm as the tori couldn’t decide what the next move in the sequence was that he wanted (maybe he was waiting for an instructor to phone him the technique steps when he was fighting on the streets, I don’t know). What I found interesting and worrisome later on, was that the instructor watching us said “no tricks” in reaction to my pulling my hand back. Of course, next time I tried it, the tori got an automatically tighter grip on my arm and immediately proceeded with a technique lock and throw the moment he obtained contact.
That wasn’t due to the specialness of the instructor or instruction, that was due solely to the fact that the uke, me, actually conducted a movement somewhat close to “realistic” context. That moment of learning, was far superior to the lectures and drills the instructor had given us, since it obviously had yet to penetrate my training partner’s head until he felt it for real. In all the times before, he had expected the uke/opponent to merely extend the hand as if in handshake greeting, and then wait for the tori to execute the technique. In some ways, that might be said to be a good way to learn how to get killed, if you do this long enough.
That was the good news. The bad news is that the instructor seemed to frown upon this or actually thought I was “feinting” when I extended my hand. At less than 50% speed, so that what takes me .75 seconds takes 1.5 seconds to do. If the instructor thought that was a feint, fake, or “trick”, they should have seen me at maximum effectiveness.
As time goes on, I come to empathize, understand, and agree with how ancient masters used to hide their techniques and full potential from public view or even from the view of their non inner circle pupils. There are people in this world that have no idea how to visually recognize a real martial movement done with intent and body-mind harmony. And it is often best not to clue them in, for their own good. They may start a conflict and argue about it. It’s not necessary to prove it or convince other people. Their training will be permanently crippled by working with training partners that do not know a real attack from a training exercise attack. Their training will be permanently crippled by drilling in movements that can defeat slow, methodical, predictable randori and drills; with nothing better to compare it against for improvement, the hard work will have been wasted.
The ancient martial artists didn’t have the NSA, IRS, Facebook, MySpace, and Google search bots breathing down their neck, but they did have these youngins roaming around looking for a “knockout game” on the closest and highest ranked martial arts practitioner. Defeat the boss and you’ll earn national “respect”!
Years ago, I also years ago wanted to test myself after my self enclosed individual training. I wanted to see the benefits or product of my labor and hard work. While the dojo or dojos I’ve went to had good to average instructors with years or decades of experience, I was extremely disappointed at the level of readiness on the part of the individual students. Given the time I spent, I had an equivalent of 1-5 years in a dojo, 4 hour per week schedule, translated from my individual training regimen before I entered a formal dojo for the first time. The students I saw were at least at the 12 month mark, if not greater. Yet only a few dedicated and talented individuals were what I might call near ready to start benefiting from realistic scenario, randori, sparring, and drill deconstruction training.
I was disappointed. Most of them didn’t even know to defend the center line and could not even see a simple jab, straight line linear acceleration strike. Of course a straight attack is designed not to let the eyes catch it, but even still, these individuals flinched after my fist reached the end of my range in front of their face, for range control drilling. We told them exactly what was going to happen and they blocked all kinds of attacks to the face (distance is made far away) from their fellow students, yet could only react via the superfast reflex of flinching without moving their hands to block at all. I write this not to disrespect their hard work and training, but to merely illustrate how absolutely disillusioned I was. Certainly competition teams and dojos would have had better physical athletes, and I certainly look forward to seeing how they do, but I had always thought the formal dojos had standards far superior than my own. It’s hard work finding a quality instructor in the US. The bell curve, that 5% at the top being the best quality, is still with us.
The Eastern knight errants and warrior philosophers often noted that once a student finds their master, they stick to that master via loyalty and fidelity. I always thought that was strange, to pick your own master and then become obedient. Since often the “picking” part involved fighting the master and being beat senseless by them. Because many warriors had life and death experience already, they weren’t going to trust their life and time to some old guy that didn’t even fight as well as the warrior. That makes a lot of sense now to me. Before, though, it made no sense.
Obedience to authority, obeying a master or instructor, should only be done when the individual knows absolutely that the authority is worthy of it. Not before. That has lessons for war and politics as well as martial arts hobbies/sports.