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Home > Columns > "The Grindstone" > November, 2005 - On the Interdependent Nature of Tactics and Strategies

On the Interdependent Nature of Tactics and Strategies by "The Grindstone"

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This column was written by David M. Valadez.

In another thread, working off an idea presented by George Ledyard, I suggested that statements like "Aikido is 90% atemi" could be understood experientially. In particular, I suggested that we could experience the importance that a strategy of atemi plays in supporting Aikido tactics (e.g. Irimi Nage, Ikkyo, Shiho Nage, Kaiten Nage, etc.). Moreover, I posited that the statement "Aikido is 90% atemi" is pointing to more than just "you got to be able to strike at Uke," etc. I suggested we might be talking about an underlying structure to the entire Aikido arsenal (as it has come to be practiced today in general). In other words, I suggested (and I think in agreement with George Ledyard) that in order to execute Irimi Nage, one would have to base 90% of that possibility upon the real threat/capacity to strike one's opponent.

I suggested that one could gain some experience in this understanding if one were to conduct the following experiments. They are re-presented here below:

"Conduct the following experiments:

1. First Experiment: Have a dojo mate you are close to come charging at you with anything they want to -- as long as they are charging at you "balls to the wall." Of course, I am assuming you have some spontaneous capacity here. If your dojo mate attacks you "balls to the wall," and you have some skill at spontaneity, you will be able to easily pull off any number of techniques. The techniques you pull off will feel very similar to what you experience in your normal Kihon Waza training.

2. Second Experiment: Have a dojo mate attack you again, but this time have them come in slow and cautiously -- more the way that a Roman-Greco wrestler might bridge the gap from the standing position in overtime at the end of a championship match. If your dojo mate attacks you the way that a wrestler (noting here that there are no strikes in wrestling) might slowly and cautiously bridge the gap, you will find that you will not pull off any, or near as many, techniques as you did in the first experiment. You will also find that of the techniques you did pull off, they were for the most part reduced to matters of raw leverage, etc. -- not very aiki. These techniques will feel very different from what you experience in your normal Kihon Waza.

3. Third Experiment: Now have your dojo mate come in like in the second experiment, but this time as he/she does, beat the living hell out of him/her with any and all strikes you can throw -- be sure to aim for the groin, and slap them across the face a lot, etc. Remember, your dojo mate is reduced or rather restricted to bridging the gap slowly/cautiously. When your dojo mate is bombarded like this, he/she should be able to note the urge in them to not come into the "kill zone" so slowly and/or like a wrestler trying to bridge the gap cautiously, etc.

4. Fourth Experiment: Now have your dojo mate come in any way that he/she would like to, with you doing any technique (Kihon Waza, etc.) you would like to and/or with you striking (when your dojo mate closes the gap in a way more akin to what was being done in the second and third experiment). If you do this, you will start to notice that in an attempt to not be bombarded coming through the kill zone (as in the third experiment), your dojo mate will provide an energy that is much more closely related to that experienced in the first experiment. Meaning, the tactical architectures you manage to pull off in this experiment will feel more akin to those you pulled off in the first experiment AND more distant from those you pulled off in the second experiment."

In the aforementioned thread, I briefly summarized these experiments by suggesting that an aikidoka that did not, or could not, support his/her Aikido tactics with a strategy of atemi could be extremely vulnerable to the slow advance. Of course, we can open up the "slow advance" to include non-committed attacks, fakes/feints, acts of de-commitment, measuring strikes, feeler strikes, etc. As is experienced in the third experiment, one can conclude that a strategy of atemi "inspires" an attacker to commit in such a way that tactical architectures like Irimi Nage, Kaiten Nage, etc., can function as designed and/or at least as they are currently and generally practiced today. Consequently, when an Aikido tactic is not supported by a strategy of atemi, and should that tactic actually "work," that tactic would likely be reduced to crude mechanical advantages and/or other matters of raw leverage. In either case, said Aikido tactics would certainly prove faulty in comparison to other tactics - such as grappling, trapping, ground fighting and striking, etc.

In a second post I suggested that through such experiments one could come to experience the reverse of the statement "Aikido is 90% atemi," coming to also understand that "atemi is 90% Aikido." This becomes realized as the attacker becomes wary to commit in an attempt to not risk being thrown (i.e. attacking as in the second experiment), and thus opens him/herself up to being struck (i.e. as was experienced in the third experiment). Here let it be clear that I do not understand atemi to be outside of Aikido. Nor is it that I understand Aikido to only be Irimi Nage, Kaiten Nage, Shiho Nage, Ikkyo, etc. So before I go on to explain how an atemi strategy supports an Aikido tactic and how an Aikido strategy supports an atemi tactic let me cease making uses of these percentages and/or of these huge and often difficult to define terms like "atemi" and "Aikido."

Here let me now say, in my own way, that the above experiments point us to the interdependence that must exist between striking, throwing, pinning, and ground fighting techniques, etc. In particular, allow me to suggest that we are not merely looking at a combination of things at a tactical level. We are not merely seeing a reason to use a strike to setup Ikkyo or a reason for why a kick should be used to setup a shoot, etc. Rather, we are looking at a total interdependence of various skill sets, one that occurs at the tactic/strategy level. In other words, using a specific example, what we are seeing in these experiments is that in order to get Irimi Nage to work as in Kihon Waza, an attacker needs to commit. We are also seeing that an attacker can be made to commit by making use of a strategy of atemi (since not committing will have them extremely vulnerable to striking tactics). Simultaneously, but inversely, we are also seeing that a jab, a kick, a trap, a shoot, becomes tactically viable as the strategy of throwing (e.g. Irimi Nage) exists as a supporting structure, making an opponent come in more slowly, less committed, etc. In short, these experiments are suggesting that the tactical viability of any combative skill is structurally supported by the availability of other interdependent strategies, both of which are being determined by various levels of commitment.

Recently, I filmed one of our workouts. We did not run these experiments per se, but because we were interested in cultivating and further understanding higher levels of commitment (because of how challenging they truly are to manifest and to address tactically under spontaneous conditions) we did indirectly touch upon the interdependent nature that exists between tactics and strategies. In particular, we came face to face with how a strategy of throwing supports a striking tactic and/or a shooting tactic - which of course revealed the vice versa. We were seeking to understand that one does not jump out of the frying pan and into the cool air simply by not committing in their attacks and/or de-committing in their attacks (as aikidoka often do come to believe as a result of being captured by their training culture). We were seeking to understand (experientially) that a lack of commitment in one's attack and/or a de-commitment of one's attack only have one jumping into a different frying pan. In other words, what one is about to see could be understood as the mirror image to the above experiments: Instead of going from striking to throwing, we are going from throwing (strategy) to striking (tactic), etc. I would like to share the following clips in an attempt to promote further discussion regarding such things.

- In Clip 1, we can see what we are ideally trying to go for in this practice session. Here, the attacker (myself) is attempting to commit at such a level that it becomes tactically difficult for the defender (Sean) to implement any kind of striking strategy. This, I suggest, is one way, and one reason why, an attacker might manifest the commitment necessary for a technique like Irimi Nage to function at a high viability rate. For the sake of our practice, it was not necessary that this commitment be manifested with any kind of sophistication. In fact, the point that one can shut down a defender's striking strategy by committing fully to his/her attack is more poignantly made when that shut down happens via the use of crude tactics. Here that crudeness happens along side a proscription against ground fighting and by really using nothing more than raw aggression to manifest one's commitment to attacking. As one can see, a striking strategy is made difficult to implement under such conditions because the constant attacking pressure forces the defender into non-beneficial positions (e.g. weight on the back foot, loss of balance, moving backwards, head kept down, gaze turned away, loss of proper Angles of Attack, etc.) The emotional and physiological effects are no less debilitating when it comes to trying to implement a striking strategy against such commitment (e.g. physical pain, physical injury, fear, frustration, a sense of helplessness, the generation of an egocentric-oriented awareness, a sense of Time moving too fast, etc.).

In this clip, one can see that the attacker has no concern for being thrown and/or brought into a state of kuzushi, etc. - at least not in terms of attacking while being cautious and/or prepared for such things. The onslaught is successful in shutting down the defender's striking tactics, and with no throwing strategy on the horizon, it also succeeds in keeping the attacker in a relatively safe position - one of strategic and tactical domination. Note: Interestingly, if one looks closely, especially during the slow motion portion of the video, one can see the embryo of an Aikido tactic doing exactly what it is supposed to do against such an attack. This occurs about 47 seconds into the video, when the defender inadvertently executes a kind of tenkan maneuver. At said time, one can see the attacker actually enter into a state of Kuzushi - having his center primed for throwing. Unfortunately, the defender is unable to capitalize upon this opening. Consequently, more of what preceded this moment occurs all the way until the final guillotine.

- In Clip 2, we see the attacker (Sean) "attacking" without much commitment. This is of course done in an attempt to not be thrown - since a throwing strategy is currently supporting the striking tactics being used by the defender (myself). Because of the attacker not committing in his attack, you can see the defender having no pressure applied to his striking tactics. The defender is free to move in and out of range, measuring and aiming his strikes accordingly and at will, etc. As a result, and in conjunction with a bare minimum of trapping tactics involved, the defender is quite free to do just about anything - which can be noted in the liberty he possesses to implement any kind of tactic that can be supported by the underlying throwing strategy. Here, the defender has chosen the least sophisticated of tactical options - remaining in the given, prime, conditions for striking.

- In Clip 3, because a strategy of throwing is continuing to support the various striking tactics, we see the attacker (Sean) again "attacking" without much commitment; only here, we see the defender (myself) now opting for a slightly less crude tactical option than that seen in Clip 2. Here, the defender chooses not to remain in the given conditions that are prime for striking and trapping. Instead, the defender opts to shoot in order to adopt a more dominant striking position from side control. (Note: This also happens because the attacker lacks a supporting strategy of throwing.) What one should see is how free the defender is to implement this new strategy. This freedom is the direct result of the attacker not pressuring the defender's striking tactics; which is the direct result of the attacker not committing; which is the direct result of being pressured by the defender's supporting strategy of throwing. In other words, the attacker thus allows the defender the possibility of generating a committed attack in the face of the one the attacker failed to bring to the table. With no supporting strategy of throwing of his own, the attacker is easily brought to the ground where the once "exchange" of blows now becomes completely one-sided. This is the exact opposite of what one sees in Clip 1 - where the attacker used commitment to shut down the defender's striking strategy. Here, the Yin aspect of the attacker's current strategy is matched with the Yang energy of the defender's shoot. In the slow motion section of the video, you can see how the attacker's lack of commitment and/or de-commitment almost pulls the defender in for the shoot.

- In Clip 4, we again see a strategy of throwing supporting the defender's striking/blocking/trapping/etc. tactics. This is noted in how the attacker (Sean) is again opting to not attack in a committed fashion. However, in this instance, rather then remaining in striking range (Clip 2) or shooting to side control (Clip 3), the defender (myself) encourages the attacker forward by combining certain parrying tactics with certain body postures, etc., in attempt to "squeeze" out more commitment from the attacker - in an attempt to meet the architectural considerations for throwing tactics. This does initially produce an ample amount of commitment from the attacker - one that allows for the viable execution of Irimi. However, immediately thereupon the attacker de-commits from his action in an attempt to again subvert a throwing strategy from manifesting itself tactically. Since at the point of Irimi a throwing tactic was being supported by a strategy of atemi, atemi tactics are immediately (re)available when the attacker again opts to engage combatively without commitment (i.e. de-commit). The attacker's de-commitment can be noted in both of the filmed repetitions - especially in the slow motion sections.

In the first one, the attacker de-commits at the bottom of the ensuing Kuzushi. This de-commitment does in effect have him not then thrown, but it ends up having the attacker become a stationary target lying on the ground - not good. In the second one, the attacker de-commits right after the Irimi-ashi is performed against him. This de-commitment does cause the attempted Kuzushi to malfunction, since the attacker now takes the Angle of Disturbance on both feet and not just the front foot. However, because the Kuzushi is being supported by a strategy of atemi, this de-commitment opens the attacker for a left knee to the ribs (which is available now that the defenders base is not being used to generate the Kuzushi). In the end, the knee strike takes the attacker down just the same and opens him up again at the bottom of the descent to even the most primitive of barrages. From here, as we can see (inversely) in the video, we should note how many of Aikido's prescribed ukemi responses are actually expected responses mature attackers make in order to not be debilitated by such things as a crude rain of punches and kicks. Additionally, we can say that Aikido's prescribed ukemi responses are actually expected responses mature attackers make as a result of being committed to their victory (i.e. the defeat of the defender) and thus to their attack.

It would be easy to understand what one is seeing here as a call for Aikido to become one more part of a given mixed martial art. However, that would have us falling prey to the current market considerations that have each art attempting to artificially distinguish itself so that it may find a proper place on the "for sale" shelf of Modern material culture. In a way, we should realize, such market considerations are dependent upon a "shallowing up" of each art in question. Thus, the combining of such arts would only have us piling up one superficial aspect upon another superficial aspect. In the end, we will find we have achieved no depth to what we are attempting to do and/or become. To understand the interdependent nature that exists between various tactics and various strategies is not a call to merely add or substitute a given set of weapons with or for another set of weapons. It is really a call to dig deeper into one's own practice in order to cultivate and/or acquire the necessary physical and emotional considerations that are the matrix for any given tactical architecture - be that one of throwing, striking, etc.

In addition, such insight is vital to developing spontaneous training environments that are partial to practicing techniques that are heavily aiki-based - environments wherein an attacker actually pressures the defender tactically; environments that are often more akin to actual self-defense situations and quite distant from match and/or sporting environments. That is to say, as a beginner has to first learn how to mimic a committed attack and/or how to make one within the rubric of Kihon Waza training, intermediate practitioners again have to learn how to attack with commitment within the rubric of spontaneous training environments. This is because commitment is actually a cultivated state of being. Commitment is not something that comes to us through our own volition. This is true of commitment whether we are talking about a marriage or whether we are talking about attacking. Commitment is a matured state of existence; it is learned only as much as it is practiced, and it is practiced only as much as it is learned.

In my experience, what makes this maturity particularly difficult to manifest for the average aikidoka within spontaneous training environments is that his/her basic training culture subconsciously, and incorrectly, often cultivates them to believe that having no commitment and/or de-committing from an attack keeps them safe - keeps defeat at bay. This occurs because of how they are subjectively experiencing the relationship between a committed attack and techniques like Irimi Nage, Kaiten Nage, Ikkyo, Shiho Nage, etc., throughout their training. Namely, I am referring to how training curriculums make it quite clear that these techniques require commitment in order to function at higher skill levels and/or in order to reveal deeper or more significant insights, etc. By a sort of reverse intuition, the average Aikido practitioner through such training is simultaneously realizing that a lack of commitment, or an act of de-commitment, goes a long way toward "de-sophisticating" these particular types of tactical architecture. Within Kihon Waza training, a lack of commitment or de-commitment is often addressed with the simple re-stating of Uke's role. However, in a training environment where one tells an aikidoka that he/she may do whatever is fitting, said aikidoka often attempts to use a lack of commitment or de-commitment as a strategy - big mistake - and no amount of reasoning is going to deconstruct years or decades of conditioning that has up to then proven that commitment means defeat.

Up to this point in their training, the average aikidoka probably never experiences first hand the true relationship that exists between a throwing tactic and a strategy of atemi (or ground fighting, etc.), and as a result, a lack of commitment and de-commitment seems viable when they first enter spontaneous training environments - where they are left to do whatever they find fitting. Because their training has been so centered around one type of strategic concern (i.e. full commitment) and one type of tactical response (i.e. Aikido Kihon Waza), the average aikidoka often seeks to defend him/herself against these tactics only and he/she often attempts to do so only by lacking commitment and/or by de-committing in his/her attacks. Therefore, in a spontaneous training environment, where one cannot tell the deshi "you SHOULD commit" (as in Kihon Waza training), one can use the interdependent relationship that does exist between various tactics and various strategies (e.g. between striking and throwing, or throwing and striking, etc.) to further educate a deshi on the cultivated state of commitment and the role it plays within martial settings. Through such means, a deshi can re-condition him/herself in how they are going to relate to issues of commitment by experiencing first hand how important it truly is to the viability of all tactics, particularly as they are practiced within spontaneous training conditions. More importantly, a deshi is going to experience how a lack of commitment or how an act of de-commitment plays no role in the viability of any tactic. This is the most important thing when attempting to construct truly productive spontaneous training environments - since we can only reap what we sow.

David M. Valadez

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