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Techniques don’t work!

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by Nev Sagiba

Published Online

We continually hear obsessive talk about “techniques” and whether they will “work” or not in a fight. Ad nauseam the subject keeps resurging.

Here’s my take. Techniques are irrelevant!

Tune in next week for the remainder. Just kidding. And no, techniques are not irrelevant, that was just an attention-getter.

And yes, some techniques are better suited to unlocking strategic and survival potential than others. Look around, draw your own conclusions, select your preferences and accept responsibility for outcomes.

Aikido training works best for me because the outcomes consistently proved themselves in real and deadly situations. That was the debrief criteria of the ancients: if you came back dead they would strike your theories, hypotheses and opinions from the book. And practice what repeatedly did work as fed back by those who survived the battle and continually lived to return alive. And then refined and fine-tuned those. And road tested them in the next battle. And so on. Simple and obvious and an evolution over countless years, costing many lives and worthy of much gratitude.

In the end everyone moves the same and if they move well it tends to look like Aiki because Aiki is a fundamental principle of survival and efficient action.

However, obsessing over whether techniques, often poorly copied versions, not lucidly thought out or tested, “will work” or not in “a real fight” is irrelevant indeed. If you do get attacked, IT WILL SELDOM RESEMBLE WHAT YOU DO IN TRAINING, in a square room with a flat, padded floor, rules, courtesies, fancy dress and the rest of the circus.

Terms of reference. What constitutes a “fight”?

If you have not been in one, you will only have IDEAS and OPINIONS about what constitutes a “fight.” With all due respect, what goes on in “the ring” or the dojo is not a fight, it is a prearrangement, with rules, constraints and other impediments akin to driving with the brakes on. Murder is not permitted, not deliberately at least.

Conversely in a “real” situation, murder usually IS the intention. Ask anyone who HAS been in a real situation and they all have a rather different perspective to theorists. If they can be bothered talking about it. And they do not go looking for it, nor secretly live in the hope of another encounter (excluding the odd mentally unhinged.)

The dojo too, is a pre-arrangement, but properly utilised, will consist of Scenario Based Training with intent to debrief and enable to improve and fine-tune real and applicable skills. A scientific process of R&D, trial and error, observation and self-correction.

Techniques, not quite the least of it, but what other seeming auxiliary skills as technical training evokes, turn out to be not secondary at all, but rather of primary value instead. Such attributes as Zanshin and Kokoro, Maai and Deai, Metsu-ke and Kokyo, Taisabaki and Kusushi, Kiai and Aiki, Tsuki and other such attributes, can only be evoked through regular, consistent training over years. Worthless as concepts, but vital life-saving devices when embodied. And you can not embody these by talk or thinking about them alone. The context of a given situation includes terrain, strategic placement (yours-theirs,) knowing your advantages and disadvantages and that of the adversary, backup or lack thereof (yours-theirs,) observable cues, correctly interpreting these, knowing your orientation, advantages and disadvantages, your existing skill, fitness, capability or lack of it and other such devices and attributes.

This has to be assessed, summed up and acted upon, or otherwise as required, instantly. To work properly and effectively it requires regular and consistent SWEAT! What you actually end up doing in reality may not seem to resemble what you do in the dojo, but make no mistake, it was REGULAR dojo training which enabled it.

In the face of fact mere opinions are chaff. Or worse… It’s a hard way to learn the hard way! Given, the so-called “spiritual” benefits will accrue. These will appear with any other art, craft or discipline duly pursued and for purposes of this discussion all I can say is: Good!

Now let us get our feet back on the ground and accept the fact that Budo, like anything else, is practiced in order to be applied. By analogy, you do not go through years of toil to get a Doctorate just so you can wave a certificate around. (Discount those sad cases who do.) You use it to get a job and feed your kids. And so on.

So also Bu and the jutsu within the Bu are irrevocably intertwined by actual parameters, whether in the end ever used or not, exists to protect those who, whilst useful contributors to society in other ways, cannot protect themselves.

I generally do no like recounting “war stories” because it can too often be misconstrued as “boasting”. In fact, in the right company, it constitutes vital research. I like to hear “war stories” because I learn. There is gain to be had. No amount of parading of false modesty for an audience, which is equally a waste of time as boasting, can take away the value of comparing notes. In this spirit I’ll share one such incident in the following.

The story leading up to it is far more interesting, as with what I was to later find out about the individuals concerned, but to cut to the chase, in one event which occurred about 1972-3, I was attacked with an axe. The intention was to kill me. Faster than thought, shihonage just HAPPENED. It had nothing to do with me, my ego, technique, opinions about technique or what my self esteem at the time may or may not have been. But IT DID REVEAL THE VALUE OF REGULAR TRAINING. Before I could think, simple natural process identified a yokomenuchi variable and the imminent deadly risk, and my body moved. I removed the axe with a pretty basic but very intense shihonage, and it was over. Suddenly I had the axe, prepared to tsuki the less cruel butt end into the attackers teeth as he began to enter, but he was then called off. Then they all looked surprised and backed away. End of story. No thought, no contest, no ideas, no nothing. In a split moment you live or you die. What emerged simply happened because of training. It could have happened better or it could have happened worse and an endless list of ‘what ifs’ ALL IRELEVANT. It happened AS IT HAPPENED AND NO OTHER WAY! End of story. In some cases, it was not till later that I was able to contemplate and fully recognize the root basic technique — kihon, of what had spontaneously emerged in a moment of imminence. Thank you, Kami, Sensei, O’Sensei and all the Ancestors who received, refined and passed on to share what they had received.

We do NOT train to perfect a technique we THINK we are going to use in order to live in hope of being attacked so we can prove something or another. That is a psychiatric condition and abject stupidity.

We train to improve ourselves and our chances of survival in the event, which might never happen for many, we may come to need to express that skill in order to survive. That’s it. And if that sounds like years of futility, then there’s the “spiritual” benefits which are in fact a vivifying of all our natural, innate abilities as a result of the duress of the austerity of training which keeps these well oiled and alive and ENABLES OTHER ATTRIBUTES and hopefully makes us better persons. THAT is pre-eminent.

The best real fighters I have known ALWAYS AVOIDED CONFLICT as much as it was possible to do so. They had better things to do and other, more vital responsibilities. All real fighters avoid conflict and are usually able to read the signs well in advance and avoid, change, distract or divert the occurrence instead of it happening. Whether in the ring or in the street, they KNOW the implications and have a scar or two to remind them of previous close shaves with death. No puerile seppuku tendencies reside in them. And yes, when needed, they do what has to be done and no more; and then go back to normal life, which is what BU is all about; preserving and protecting a productively normal life (as close to whatever “normal” may be.) This they do by creative pursuits and, when the chips are down, by fighting to protect integrity. Simple as that.

THERE ARE NO GUARANTEES! No matter how great your opinions, once you engage combat of any kind, swim with sharks, sail a storm, conduct a rescue, skydive, fight a fire or just sit at home watching TV… THERE ARE NO GUARANTEES!

As some people say, “If it’s not your time…”

And if it is, you could simply choke on popcorn at the movies and there’s no dojos for that. So start practicing.

note: this article was originally published as a blog