February 1, 2009

Function is the Form

We had some great training last Saturday – our 2009 Hatsugeiko; a long afternoon workshop in which we really tried to get our highest perspective yet with Taijutsu. And it was tough, many had a hard time letting go of what they thought they were supposed to know. But they should take heart in the effort they gave – they were exploring new areas, off the map as they knew it, and in short time will chart them as well.

We started with trying to take up the space opponents need to move against us. We took Kamae that positioned ourselves consistently ahead, leading them to move poorly, and make inaccurate decisions they would not have done otherwise. We talked of simply breaking balance and breaking their Kamae. Never demonstrating a sure way to do this, we instead left the defender to concentrate on the effect desired, rather than a technique to gain the effect. As a result, a myriad of techniques were discovered.

There was talk and questions regarding form. How unrealistic and unnatural physical forms have a tendency to sneak into training, unapplied. How expectations of outcome can become a form of the mind. And how “forming up” or “posturing up” causes us to pause and await the next attack, when we should instead be moving with the inertia of will to shutter the very space surrounding opponents, until their single best option is actually their only – the one that seals their fate.

Form does not follow function here - function is the form. The process of Taijutsu is one of creative un-expectation, improvisational comedy of combat, where our imagination does not make us “ready for anything,” but rather “ready for nothing specific.” This know-how, feeling, “knack,” to be in the right (safe) place, at the right (safe) time, doing the right (safe) thing is how Taijutsu functions. And that function is the very ‘form’ we tried to understand; the initiative of the moment, the advantage under the circumstances, the uncommon adaptive response when no single answer will ever do. Functionality is the fundamental quality of perceiving, persevering, and surviving; the ever-expanding ‘Utsuwa’ pushing the limits of its own boundaries.

The question training rose for me was this: since Budo is not about memorizing forms and instead about breaking them, what happens when we break the “function as form” form? Instead of ‘functional’ Taijutsu, what would it then become? Soke’s Taijutsu is much more than simply functional.

I suppose the answer is higher still.