Sunday, December 01, 2013

The Art of Unbalancing

This topic has been on my mind all week - from my private session to the Friday open class.  In fact, I guess I have been thinking about it more and more since my seminar in Singapore with Guro Maul Mornie of Silat Suffian Bela Diri.  He called it out specifically, and it ties back to older discussions with Sifu Frank on Wing Chun and Guro Fred on Kali and even my days in Yoshinkan Aikido with Sensei Mike.  From different perspectives, all of these masters were saying essentially the same thing.

Unbalancing is at the heart of all good martial arts technique.

We often think of unbalancing as a specific technique we use - sweeps or foot traps, or as a result of something else, for example our opponent falling down from our strong punch to the jaw.

The reality is very different.  Our goal should ALWAYS be to attack the structure; the balance of the opponent, rather than to cause specific injury. Aside from the valid moral philosophy that we martial artists should be wise enough to cherish all life and that "do no harm" should be a daily mantra for us, seeking to cause injury is inefficient technique.  Even if I can cause injury, I will always be close enough that my opponent can injure me at the same time (uchiai 打ち合い to all you kenjutsu practitioners out there).  Injuring my opponent may not always cause them to stop their aggression.  In fact, it may even increase their aggression.  Beyond the Buddhist principle of causing no harm, a healthy dose of self-preservation makes me want to not get hurt much more than my wanting to hurt someone else.

Thus, efficient technique always seeks to disrupt the structure and balance of the opponent from the first initial contact - turning their head/neck/spine or removing their base, which compromises the opponent's ability to generate strength and power and weakens their ability to resist.  Subconsciously, we always seek to recover our balance as a priority - spiritually/mentally as well, more on this topic another time - and this takes concentration away from counterattack.

This can be achieved by almost any technique, but several principles help understand what to do:
1) pulling - the simplest method, and the easiest to resist.  Pulling is much better when used a split-second before pushing
2) pushing - more effective than pulling, and stronger still when not done in a straight line.  Pushing into circles (rowing) can be extremely effective since it is harder for the opponent to find a line of resistance
3) absorbing - this can cause the opponent's momentum to carry them off balance and yield great opportunities
4) misdirecting - changing the line of the opponent's motion can lead to powerful unbalancing

In practice, we often apply our entries and techniques without remembering to unbalance our partner.  We think because we are training, there is no need or that it is rude/disrespectful/unfriendly to do so.  Sadly, this habit will prevent us from developing the correct muscle memory and instinctive reaction to take balance, which is precisely the skill we should value over all else.  Mastering this concept can help us to diffuse aggressive intent without having to injure an aggressor.  This is the pinnacle of martial arts achievement.

I suggest looking back through the various techniques you know and reconsidering how they work.
Reverse engineer them to understand where the contact points are, especially the entries, and consider carefully how to use them in the principles above to unbalance the opponent as quickly as possible.

In training, use your techniques to cause unbalance every time.  Note:  this does not mean slamming your partners to the mats.  Instead, it means using the techniques for their intended purpose - to understand human structure and how to influence it.  Subtle movements will show you when your partner's balance is being broken.  In training it is fine to allow your partner to recover.  In reality once the balance is taken away, never give it back until the situation is resolved.  It is up to you how much more than that you need for each specific encounter or set of circumstances.

Study this well.    

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