Sunday, August 1, 2010

Roles in Formal Exercises

Frequent readers of this blog will note that I often turn to traditional Japanese martial arts training processes for training students of HEMA. I do not use their techniques, interpretations or customs because I believe those to be contrary to the cultural aspects inherent in studying medieval German martial arts, but I recognize that these traditional methods of training and practice are vastly superior to the disgraceful nature of what is seen in most martial arts classes in these sorry days.

Like traditional Japanese martial artists, I recognize that free play is completely useless and meaningless when it comes to learning unarmored forms of combat, and that repetitive drills and formal exercises (called kata in Japan) are vastly superior and far more realistic when it comes to learning a true martial art.

When I first started teaching the Kunst des Fechtens, we simply called the attacker in these drills or formal exercises the “bad guy” and the defender the “good guy.” This nomenclature emerged as a joke, really, but as I thought about it I came to realize that this joke cost me a training opportunity, namely, being able to reinforce their real roles to the partners. Now, we refer to the attacker as the “teacher” and the defender as the “student,” regardless of their actual relative ranks, and emphasis is placed upon having the teacher lead the student through the exercise through correct use of measure, timing, etc. Again and again we emphasize that the student cannot learn properly unless the teacher teaches him the correct lesson—that is, does his attack correctly in all respects.

In his book on the ten kata of modern kendo, Paul Budden expresses this idea precisely, and also gives us some vital insights into the nature of formal exercises. Kata are often thought of derisively by poorly-trained modern martial artists because they never have the discipline necessary to advance far enough in training to fully understand them. Done properly, however, formal exercises, like kata, become living things that teach the reality of combat far better than two partially-trained students who just want to fight will ever learn in their clumsy attempts at free play.

“The idea that kata is practice for killing is a misconception. True representation is the high level training method as performed by two noble beings, correct in posture, dress and attitude, preparing to exact the practice of swordsmanship with true dignity and although both totally committed to the technique, they work within the dedicated guidelines to the utmost of their ability and control. It is a confrontation, with the resolve to carry it through to its conclusion. This conclusion is not stylized death with cuts that kill or pretend to. The feeling is of uchidachi [the attacker—HTK] as the teacher because he must lead shidachi [the defender—HTK] through the kata. His sole purpose is to teach to the student the responses and techniques offered through his attack. Timing is created by uchidachi’s lead, thereby establishing the correct distance, the necessary responses and zanshin (awareness, unbroken concentration). To this end, it is necessary for uchidachi in each kata to strike or thrust at specific areas for shidachi to learn and practice the correct responses. Each response... clearly demonstrates the complete control and the technique… The most important part of kata must be the ‘feeling,’ practicing with true sentiment but in very simple terms…

This almost electric feeling is sometimes apparent in the highest level demonstration by true exponents of the art. Keep your body strong by the correct use of breathing, kiai and awareness, and observe your opponent as a whole being rather than just watching his sword, feet or eyes…

This is the essence of the Kata, making it a living, vital and realistic form. It is not the clockwork motion that unfortunately is often the nature of kata today.”

(Budden, P., Looking At A Far Mountain, Tuttle, 2000, pp. 21-23)


Ian said...

Since the aim should be to develop proper neuro-muscular memory, kata, or formalized drills, should be the favored media to teach and train.

And honestly even MMAists drill. Boxers drill. Anyone involved in a combative sport drills constantly.

I think it is only idiot MMAists that can't see that their drills are kata and the idiot kids that just want to fight deride kata and drills.

Mr_Mike said...

You must use both kata and, randori/shiai. Kata, as Ian wrote, helps develop proper neuro-muscular memory, but it doesn't prepare you for the shock of a hard punch to the jaw, nose or a hard tackle, kick, or foot stomp. When pain, or just the stress of a fight comes upon you, how do you know that you brain is going to work as you trained?
Of course, randori/shiai isn't the end all either as you cannot practice certain techniques that will leave your opponent injured, or crippled.

Instead, you must take in both and, properly evaluate the strength's and weaknesses of each in preparing you to fight, defend yourself, etc.

Hugh Knight said...

Hello Mike,

I disagree. Shiai leads to error, because the unrealistic nature of the game (yes, game--if you use rules and safety gear, it's a game) causes changes to the art you're practicing: I call this the Kendo Syndrome because it reflects how Kendo changed from the study of historical swordsmanship to an unrealistic sport. Koryu martial arts don't practice shiai, that is the province of gendai budo. Read this:
And this:
And this:
And this:

As you can see, I'm completely in favor of free play in armored combat (as long as it is done after several years of careful drills, and is controlled to keep the participants from gaming the rules), but never for unarmored systems.


Mr_Mike said...

Oop's, when you said unarmored systems, I assumed you were talking about striking and, grappling without weapons. By unarmored, I guess you mean fencing without armor.
Your comments make sense in that light.

Ian was also referring to hand to hand combat, so that further led me off track.

Hugh Knight said...

Hello Mike,

Well, I was primarily referring to armed combat fought without armor (there's a mouthful!), yes, but we don't practice Ringen (grappling) in shiai, either. That's because what we practice isn't a sport, but rather a system for lethal fights.

It's like the difference between Judo and Jujutsu (real Jujutsu, koryu Jujutsu, not that sportified Brazilian stuff that's basically just Judo newaza with some punches): Judo can be and was intended to be practiced in randori. To make it possible to do that safely, Kano-sensei took koryu Jujutsu and removed the really dangerous things, especially the striking or atemi-waza. He kept those things in the Judo kata (especially Kime-no-kata and Goshin jutsu), but did not allow them in randori. That’s because he didn’t intend his art to be primarily for self defense—it is a gendai budo, none of which are primarily intended for combat.

Real koryu Jujutsu systems do not practice randori because their techniques are too dangerous to do in a competitive environment (nor do the “Brazilian” sport types—I won’t call them Jujutsuka; when was the last time you saw one reach out and snap someone’s finger so he could be thrown?). Where Judo might rely on strength to make a throw work (and I know it shouldn’t, but why else is strength training such a big deal for Olympic judoka?), Jujutsu depends more on causing damage to enable a lock or throw—often atemi-waza. Unfortunately, there’s no realistic way to practice using an eye gouge to make it possible to throw someone stronger than you in randori. So if we tried to practice our Ringen (grappling) in free play (like Judo randori) we’d end up creating a new art that’s different from the historical combat we are trying to study, because people would start to figure out ways to make the techniques work without the dangerous techniques (called Kampfstücke and Mordstöße in German).

Your points about people not being prepared for real street combat without being beaten up are well made and true, but our focus is the resurrection of historical systems *exactly* as they were (or as close a we can come), not in creating yet another “world’s deadliest street fighting system.”


Michele said...

Actually, in traditional Kenjutsu there was an intensive use of free practice, even before the Bogu was developed.
The bokken itself was invented to allow free practice with less risk than using a live blade; after a few centuries, the shinai took its place, being fairly safer.

I won't take everything Otake Risuke says as good; after all, Katori Shinto Ryu is one of the most commercialized ryuha. They keep saying that their techniques are the same of 1441 by Iezasa Ienao's will, but as a matter of fact, under Sugino Yoshio the TSKSR katas became about 200 when they were less than 10 at the beginning.

Please don't think that I am criticizing or blaming you: I have a great respect for anyone who trains in martial arts, regardless their ideas. And I admire the great precision, either in technique and in spirit, that someone achieves by practicing his style's kata.
But in a real fight, someone like Otake Risuke would be easily beaten by a 'mokuroku-level' kenshi who does regular free practice. The unrealistic nature of fighting with bokken and without contact is an acceptable drawback, if you need to train yourself in using what your style teaches you in a totally free situation. Expecially if you sometimes test your cutting power.

p.s. Kendo is totally unrealistic not because it is based on free practice: in my opinion, the wrong rules for getting the ippon corrupted its nature.
In a real fight, shouting the point you're hitting is useless, and so it is hitting the ground with your foot.
Besides, cutting with power and circular movement (allowing the blade to slice) is vital; and in Kendo, you need only to touch the enemy to do a valid strike.
If Kendo rules were different, like in Gekken, it would be fairly more realistic.
The point is that in Kendo you don't train to defeat your enemies, but to reach the Ki-Ken-Tai ichi. So you need to hit (Ken), Prove that you are cutting with full intention by shouting where you are hitting (Ki), and use your whole body in the movement (Tai), all in the same time (Ichi). Reaching the Ki-Ken-Tai ichi in a fight makes you get Ippon.

Hugh Knight said...

Hello Michelle,

With respect, I disagree. Free play with bokuto (as a training method) did not infect Kenjutsu until the Edo period when the martial values of the art were downplayed by a society caught up mostly in the arts of peace. An excellent study of this can be found in two books by the esteemed Donn F. Draeger: “Classical Budo” and “Classical Bujutsu” (both published by Weatherhill). Frankly, the extreme lethality of the bokuto made it such that it was never really used for free play practice, or not for very long (after all, Musashi killed men in duels with them); as you say, that led to the development of the shinai. I think you’re confusing this period of transition from arts used on the battlefield to arts preserved for other reasons (which really started during the Edo period) with classical combat as practiced earlier. Many people do, thinking that since there were still real samurai during this period that the arts practiced then must all have had real martial value, which simply isn’t so.

As for Kendo, when you look at the original systems from which Kendo grew, you can see some of it biases; for example, some of the kote cuts in Kendo seem directly connected to all the wrist cuts in on Ona-ha Itto-ryu. But it was the “sportification” of the art that led to the unrealistic way these techniques were employed. I think they moved to that approach consciously, that is, they intended to ignore the practicalities of longsword combat in order to focus on the spiritual aspects of the new art (again, read Draeger), but the fact remains that turning it into a safe sport would have rendered it less martially sound regardless. For example, the practice swords—the shinai—simply aren’t used as a real sword was because the weight, balance and shape are all wrong. This fact, when applied in a free play environment, forces the competitors to change their techniques by adapting them for the characteristics of their new “weapon.”

As for your criticism of Otake-shihan and Katori Shinto Ryu, I can only say I disagree vehemently, but I decline to get into a “whose system is best” argument.


Mr_Mike said...

I think the eye gouge could be taught when doing randori. Roy Harris, who is a polymath martial artist, including a 4th level BJJ blackbelt, has written about teaching over prideful, or aggressive students why BJJ isn't the ultimate answer for self-defense, when he lightly uses eye gouging, biting and, "grabbing tender body parts"-type techniques when they "roll." The lesson was on why certain things work in sport and, do not work in self-defense.
So, when training the eye gouge, have your students strike the area above the eye, or just have people wear swim goggles? Also, you can combine kata drills and, randori when you teach the different types of kuzushi/zukuri for the o soto gari, for instance.

Mr_Mike said...

I think the weightlifting that Olympic Judoka use is more so they won't physically break down during the gripping/off balancing stage. The lifting techniques they use are also help with the explosive speed and, movement they need to enter the throws and, sometimes complete them, if they are off on their timing. The throws are usually done without brute strength. They just get everything prior correctly and, the opponent goes-a-flying.
I've seen a number of Ringen techniques that could be done with full force and, speed. Some could not, but that could be studied and, accommodated.

Hugh Knight said...

Hello Mike,

I'm going to respond to both of your recent comments here, if I may.

I've never heard of Roy Harris, but he sounds like a reasonable fellow. But here’s the point: Let’s say I try to execute a shoulder throw in Ringen practice (it’s almost identical to Judo’s Ippon Seoi Nage). If a Judoka can’t make it work, he tries harder by applying more strength. You’re right about the speed, etc., and even the idea of being tougher to withstand the sport, but look at any collegiate or Olympic shiai, and tell me that *huge* amounts of strength aren’t being used; it’s obvious to anyone. Yes, skill matters, it matters a lot. But when the students are close in skill, strength matters a lot, too… Unless you can use something else, such as atemi-waza.

So if I want to throw someone using a shoulder throw and he resists me I can add more strength, as long as I’m stronger than my opponent. If not, I can use a strike to a vital target (called Mordstöße in German) to stun or distract him for a moment while I apply the throw. That way, I don’t much care if he’s stronger than I am, I can throw him easily. Harris’ suggestions are fine for demonstrating what the silly MMA folks are missing, but they won’t actually allow you to throw a bigger, stronger man. For that, you have to *actually* gouge his eyes (or whatever) so he’s in agony, and that’s not something people can do in competitive practice. Sure, you could set up a rule that says that he has to wear protective goggles, and that if he sees your fingers in his eyes, then he’s supposed to let you throw him, but that’s not true competition, is it? That’s just another artificiality… like kata.

This same problem existed in the Middle Ages. One of the most important grappling masters of all time, Ott the Jew, wrote that:
“Although a weak fighter in a serious fight can be equal to a strong opponent if he has previously learned agility, reach, combat techniques [meaning joint breaks, etc.—HTK], and death blows, in a friendly fight strength always has the advantage.” (Codex Wallerstein fol. 15v)
And since we can’t practice those deadly techniques in actual competition with enough safety, we must rely instead on formal exercises to practice real fighting techniques, lest we degenerate into nothing better than MMA: A sport masquerading as a serious fighting system.

And, by the way, we *do* practice the throws of Ringen at full speed: We have mats and I teach my students jujutsu ukemi to allow them to take powerful throws well. That’s not the part that cannot be done safely.


Mr_Mike said...

Good points, all. Would you say that your approach is similar to a Historical Reenactor who attempts to be as faithful to the original as possible?


"That’s just another artificiality… like kata."

Yes, when you practice for combat, artificiality is often the best we can manage, but why not add a greater degree of realism with sparring, even though it's still artificial? Sparring need not degenerate sport if the right mindset and, instruction take place. Lets say on Monday, we do the Judo method of seoi nagi up to the Shiai-like level. On Tuesday in the jujitsu class, we practice it your way, discussing the two methods and, their merits. I'd think a student under those conditions would have the best chance of using the technique in self-defense. Practicing 2/3 of the whole technique competitively is better than none.

Hugh Knight said...

Hi Mike,

First, let me say it’s so nice to have a discussion like this with someone who can do so reasonably and without the rancor that so often occurs. Thank you.

Yes, I’d say we’re like that reenactor, but we strive to be like the most crazily-authentic one you can ever find, with clothing not only authentic in design, but also hand stitched, where the type of stitching is documentable and the type of thread is the same. To me, there’s simply no other reason for studying historical combat other than to do so for the purpose of learning how it was done in period—it simply has no place in our modern world (well, in fairness, the Ringen would make for an effective self-defense system, but that’s only one piece of what we do), and therefore there’s no justifiable reason for changing it in even the slightest way.

As for practicing the throws towards a shiai level of performance, now there I actually agree with you, in a way. I have developed a system of progressive drills that can apply to any form from Ringen to pollaxe in which you gradually do the techniques in a more and more free manner until, by the highest level, you’re actually doing it as you would in a real fight, except that you only do one technique (and its follow-on techniques, of course). In that case, as an example, the attacker would attack, the student would *simulate* a Mordstöße (as you suggested with the eye gouge) and then would apply the shoulder throw as if it was a real fight. Sometimes the attacker will allow it to happen, sometimes he won’t, requiring the defender to use one of the plays From the Change (meaning techniques to transition to when someone resists your throw). But it’s not free play because only one technique (and it’s connected techniques) is done.

This kind of engagement allows for almost total control of the exercise, with the teacher able to instantly stop an engagement if the student attempts to do something incorrectly, or to use a non-canonical technique, for example. Also, the attacking partner knows to react as he would in a real fight, only going with the technique if the defender does his job perfectly. This is like what the Japanese call the “coming out of kata” (something most students never train long enough to understand) in which kata evolve into more of a free-play kind of thing, and it’s a good balance between controlled formal exercise (i.e., kata) and randori. No, it’s not perfect, I’ll be the first to admit that, but I think it’s a good compromise which allows us to stick as closely as possible to the real material, dangerous techniques and all, without allowing anything new to creep in.


STAG said...

"Without the rancor which often occurs...."

I dunno...I find it very difficult to discuss anything with you Hugh because discussion implies a different opinion. And you swat down dissenting opinions with great joy and verve. One is reminded of the phrase "waving a red flag in front of the bull". I suspect you like to argue, and you certainly know how to hit the hot buttons which cause the "rancor".

OTOH, another phrase comes to mind which I heard when I was in Arizona... "It ain't boasting if ye can do it".

As far as I can see "ye can do it". Which is why I keep coming back to this blog, when there are so many European Martial Arts sites at which I just shake my head and delete off my bookmarks list. I do have to admit that there is no limit to the number of people who have only a vague grasp of any martial art. The more I learn, the more I put myself in their ranks! (Remember, I refuse to call myself a "master"!) Only thing I can do is to read, study and learn from as many people as possible, and somehow, sift the wheat from the chaff.
So keep up the good fight Hugh...who knows, there may be time in MY lifetime for me to learn medieval German, Japanese and Old English, and cut my way through the verbiage of Silver and Myer. Until then, I look forward to your posts. Maybe I don't always post a comment, but rest assured that I read them, and read your commentators.


Hugh Knight said...

Hello Bill,

Actually, I don't like argument, at least not the rancorous way people usually mean the term. I like reasoned, thoughtful discussion (which is the real meaning of argument) quite a bit, however. I don’t use language intended to anger or inflame, I merely say what my research has shown. Unfortunately, that research is often strongly at odds with many people’s cherished misconceptions, which hurts their feelings, I suppose. For my part, when someone corrects me I’d rather suffer the momentary embarrassment of admitting I was wrong than suffer the ongoing embarrassment of continuing to be wrong, but apparently not all feel that way.

I suppose there’s an exception to that: When people are aggressively wrong, and are abusive to me for pointing it out, I often go beyond trying to help them and start putting little cracks in what I write to make fun of them, as I do with ARMAteers, just because I can’t help it. But to get to that point, someone has to be *ludicrously*, patently wrong, unwilling to accept correction, and abusive in response to said correction.

And your statement implies I don’t ever admit to being wrong: If you have really read this blog you know that not to be true; in fact, I *publish* my errors.

Of course, there are a lot of people out there raised not to ever be confrontational. Their speech is always tempered with “I think” and “as far as I can tell” and “in my humble opinion” and such phrases every few sentences. I dislike that kind of mealy-mouthed debate. If you have an opinion, state it—of *course* it’s your opinion, you don’t need to qualify what you say that way over and over. Just as they are offended by my bluntness, so I am offended by their mealy-mouthed approach. To me, that approach says I’m so weak minded and wimpy that I will be hurt or offended by what they have to say. To people like that, the way I write seems personal; as if I’m trying to anger them. After some discussions with people like that I’ve often asked them what I said that was insulting, and they can’t point to *anything*—their feelings were just hurt, and they felt that justified lashing out at me.


Hugh Knight said...

And thank you for your compliments, Bill. For my part, I still feel as if I'm only groping in the dark--I certainly don't have it all figured out!


Jesse said...

Hugh, you would make a great Philosopher, not the silly post modernist hack type, but the Kantian/Fregean analytic type.

I'm wondering what kind of techniques you use to train for the mental/emotional pressure of combat. Competitive sport fencing, though several iterations from the real thing, do engender a kind of mental/emotional pressure that is indicative of real combat.

I have attended many a class in WMA and EMA and have been involved in both formal and informal training, but the only thing I've ever found that got me close to the mind set of a real fight, is a competitive contest.

I think the fear of losing and the desire to win have a biological similarity to the fight or flight response. I know the chemicals are the same (epinephrine, dopamine, cortisol, etc) and that the key is introducing high levels of stress and learning to cope.

The only way I know to train for the kind of stress in combat is through competition. The martial sports, however flawed, seem to be the closest one can get to the mental state necessary for combat.

Well, I will give the caveat that Drill Seargents and the stress of traiming like BCT and other military training is the only other thing I can think of besides actual combat. I'm quite sure most practitioners would never go to that extreme to learn martial arts, but it is invaluable.

If you have an alternative, I'm all for trying it out!

Hugh Knight said...

Hello Jesse,

At the risk of being laughed at, I do think of myself as a sort of philosopher—someone has to think of the implications of all of this, after all.

To answer your question about getting the feel of combat, I have really two answers for you. First, you *can’t* get the feel of combat; anything that people claim is like it isn’t. If you aren’t ready to wet yourself in a paroxysm of fear, then it doesn’t feel anything at all like combat. This is impossible to simulate and impossible to recreate.

Second, having said that, there *is* value in learning to do your techniques in a *relatively* high-pressure environment, which is what I suspect you really mean. For that, I recommend free play. Oh, you thought I eschewed free play, right, like everyone says I do? Not so: I distinguish between armored and unarmored combat, and am all for doing armored free play after you spend long enough learning to do it correctly—a point I make every time I write about free play, but which people rarely notice. If you want to understand why I make this distinction, read back through some of the older blog posts.

In addition, you can bring some of that to unarmored drills if you work at it. Our highest level of drill is, in effect, free play, it just only lasts for one technique and the follow-on responses. I believe you can learn to get that same competitive pressure in that environment because I have felt it doing Kenjutsu kata. I have not yet trained a sword student to that level, but it’s a long process—years. It’s worth it, however, to know you’re doing *real* swordsmanship, not just banging away at one another like ARMAteers without art just for the fun of it.


0cdc7a14-67cb-11e0-9092-000bcdca4d7a said...

I think your mistaken in your view on sparring. It helps practice timing, rhythm, and power. It doesn't have to be 100% realistic to count as good training. I would refer you to dog brothers to see what skills you can get. Yes the rules change the game but doing drills just isnt enough. You need to put it together.

I think a better answer would be to spar under different sets of rules. This way you dont get used to or adapt to a particular rule set. If you do this along with drills, sparring will not retract from your skills.

On another note i never saw much value on going very hard with drills. I would go at most a medium intensity and go hard during sparring.

Hugh Knight said...

You are completely mistaken. Free play (not sparring--that refers to fistic arts) with unarmored forms is nothing at all like real combat and so it teaches you nothing at all about real combat. Only drills can simulate real combat with unarmored forms. You need to read more of my blog entries to understand this. Study them carefully.

If you wish to learn distance, timing, etc. in a free play environment, then get a good harness and practice Harnishfechten.

I am not sure what you mean about "going hard" in drills, but if you mean they should be done with slower speeds and lighter force, then you're mistaken again. Certainly you have to start more slowly and with less force, but done correctly, drills are the ultimate form of training in the unarmored forms. They are the equivalent of the kata in kenjutsu. Learn to go beyond the mere technique. In real martial arts like kenjutsu, this is called the “coming out of kata.”

You need to get past your modern misconceptions about how martial arts are practiced and look to a more ancient and more realistic paradigm.


Kode said...

I fully agree with what you say about drills being the best form of unarmored training, and what you say of free play. However I don't know if I would say drills are equivalent to kata, at least not the fistic arts version can be an exclusively solo exercise.

Aside from learning the motions themselves I find that the solo variety of kata, without any form of contact with an opponent are about as effective as most forms of solo training in armed fighting styles. The issue is nearly the same for the two actually, as you must learn how to chose your next actions and adapt them to the current situation, and honestly there is no real way to get a good feel for this without any contact with an opponent. The kata can definitely provide a good template to work with, but the exact transitionary moments between techniques aren't as formalized outside of solo practice.

I prefer to see this in terms of the military weapons drills I've done. You go through specific situations with limited sets of responses over and over until the correct course of action is chosen on a tactical level. Much like playing end games of chess over and over from a set point until you fully understand all possibilities and the correct course of action.

Hugh Knight said...

Kode, I think you may be confused here. When I talk about kata, or our equivalent formal exercises/ drills, I’m talking about formal partner exercises. Solo kata are a mostly modern thing (except for iai kata) with little combat relevance or value. In the KdF, a solo exercise is almost useless; the only thing I use them for is helping new students remember their guards and simple cuts. Once past that, only paired exercises are of any value because they teach actions in the bind and what they feel like.


Kode said...

Yes, that makes perfect sense. I agree with you on all counts, unfortunately however the modern coloquial definition of kata on this continet has come to refer to the dance variety.

I got an amusing picture in my head of what Iai would look like with partner drills, one guy standing there, and the other guy just executes a draw cut on him.

Anyways, I agree that focused formal exercises are neccessary for training. Even if the drills don't emulate the exact situation per se, as long as they are designed to teach you a proper skill. An example would be how you talk about pushing against a partner's hands in reference to moving indes, I believe.

I can't really see how the unarmoured freeplay mostly being discussed could possibly teach any principle better than a purpose designed drill. In my unarmed trainng the more 'free' exercises are usually only used to expose your weak points, where you fail under stress and you lack sufficient training. If you start making errors when someone is allowed to attack you freely, it us unlikely that you will be able to recover your posture from the middle of the drill, and you'll revert to backpedaling or jerky twitchy movements etc.

I would imagine that armoured freeplay serves a similar purpose, revealing where you lack adequate practice. You won't get your timing, distancing and technique down during a fight, but you will know what to practice later.