Wednesday, April 08, 2015
Now touch me, baby
Can't you see that I am not afraid?
What was that promise that you made?
- The Doors
There is almost nothing more important in martial arts than the sense of TOUCH. I would argue it is almost more important than any other sense, including sight. Philosophically, we are all connected, touching and being touched, by the energy and lives of those around us - living beings that we interact with, even for a moment, touch us and can change us forever. Our martial arts is symbolic of this.
However, practically speaking as well, touch is critical to martial arts training.
Very often in class I see that students are afraid to touch each other (especially on the face).
While I recognize that there can be some deep-seated cultural and social rules around this, it is a big danger to the training and skill development if we do not touch each other. The dojo is a laboratory where cultural rules (apart from courtesy and safety) must be broken in order to learn, explore and discover.
Specifically, touch is critical to our development of sensitivity and reaction. Many martial arts systems have it, called chi sau or "sticking hands" in Wing Chun or te no tori "taking hands" in Aikido, a fundamental skill of practical martial arts is the ability to make and keep contact in order to feel the energy and direction of someone's movement and intent. It is simply not possible to develop much skill without learning this.
Also of great importance is the use of touch in understanding how to move and control the body of the attacker. Kali Majapahit is about attacking the structure of the opponent, and the only way to learn this is by touching. We operate mainly on the head/neck/spine in order to take away the structure/balance/strength and control the fighting situation from the earliest possible moment. This can only be possible through touching and keeping contact. In fact, this is the most ethical way to engage.
If we do not make and keep our touch, we are forced to use only the most temporary contact (percussion) to submit and subdue someone. This is most likely to result in injury for either party since percussive impact is often imprecise and can be extremely difficult to control. It is far better to make and keep contact, where we can manipulate the body to take away strength and aggressive intent without causing injury. This is only possible through mastery of touch.
In training, it is absolutely necessary to touch our partners. This is the only way to get a natural reaction that we can use to study the motion and build chains of techniques. It is the only way to learn the degrees of pressure and force needed to control another person. It is the only way to study locking and submission without injuring our partner. Particularly, it is necessary to touch the head/neck/face since these are key gateways to controlling the spine and taking away the structure and balance of an aggressor. We must, therefore, become comfortable in both touching and being touched as part of the training. There is nothing rude about it.
We are NOT doing our partner any favor by not touching them.
We are NOT doing ourselves any favor by not allowing others to touch us or being hesitant to touch our partners.
If we are nervous or uncomfortable about being touched or touching, this is going to make it very hard to defend ourselves or to remain calm if a confrontation occurs. For such people, it is common to panic, tense up or freeze when being touched by someone - not a great fighting response.
The dojo is the perfect place to gain confidence and safely learn how to do touch others and become comfortable with physical contact. Instructors are there to ensure safety and give the right context to the situation, so students who are afraid can learn to overcome any apprehension. Touching and being touched builds confidence and reinforces our sense of "connectedness".
This does not give us the right to hurt each other - in training TOUCH IMPLIES TRUST.
That means that what we do we must do with CONTROL.
Please do your partner the kindness of making contact, hopefully they will return the favor.
Remember, we are all connected... :-)