This third and last aspect is the most difficult to achieve. It’s to reconcile the ethic with tactical insight to best maintain martial viability - the way we physically train to keep oneself and others alive. There are two separate points:
1. Fundamental ethical contexts
2. Movement in Tactical Space
Fundamental Ethical Contexts
Most martial training concentrates on the practice of techniques. The thinking is that if they can be intuited by memorized practice, muscle memory will form, and the techniques will simply occur - even without conscious thought - when needed.
Now, I personally don’t even like it when I say things absent-mindedly – a Freudian slip or whatever – they are always mistakes. So, I am not a fan of a methodology for my body to react to conflict without my consent. This is an especially unpleasant court defense - “My body just reacted.” That’s great, Bruce Lee. Find your checkbook.
If technique-oriented focus is useful it is only useful sparingly to introduce and familiarize students with sometimes esoteric or historical movements. The danger is in its continued use and reliance. Learning techniques as answers inevitably drives the moment of their use – if one has a hammer just about everything is a nail. This is not only naïve, it can be deadly to the user who forces a technique in a threatening situation. Lousy martial artists are like lousy magicians here – obvious and oblivious to it.
For ability to truly advance we must recognize and intuit tactical insight. Thus training does not break down into specific “what-to-dos” – techniques - but rather how we can know and habituate knowing the right “what-to-do” under given circumstances. This means even a single technique could be utilized in a variety of ways under a variety of contexts. If training is about anything, it’s not simply about practicing a range of techniques as options, but habit forming a method to know how an option is right for any given moment. To understand this aspect we have to recognize this truth: Ethical action is tactical action.
Tactics alone may not necessarily beget ethics – you can take any number of tactical actions, but none of them may be ethical. However, ethics, and in this case we speak of a “Protector Ethic” – protection of self, others, and if possible, all others including the enemy - will always beget tactics. In essence, if you do the ethical action that is prudent – common sensible - you will automatically do the most tactical thing you can do as well. The inherent balance needs to be found in common sense. We are not out to do the “most rightest action,” but the action we know we ought to do and are capable of doing.
An example: You are enjoying an evening with your significant other. Upon exiting a restaurant you are greeted by a brawling crowd in the parking lot. You know none of the brawlers. What ought you do?
A. Escape to the relative safety of the restaurant and call authorities.
B. Extract the person in the brawl most at risk.
C. Intercede and stop the fighting.
D. Confront and subdue any perpetrator.
The truth is that any of these options and more, may, in fact, be the “right” thing to do. If your significant is about to be set upon, you may very well extract them. If it’s your family or friends that are brawling you may intercede and separate everyone. If a police officer is about to be overwhelmed or overcome, you may decide to go to their aid by confronting aggressors. If you are of law enforcement you may have to subdue those involved and arrest them. Bear in mind, each of these options may also be appropriate even if you know no one involved, but simply recognize when strangers need help and protection they cannot deliver for themselves.
This brings us to back to the point: Ethical action is tactical action. Knowing the ethical context – what you ought to do – points us toward the tactical action you can do. Ought we escape, defend ourselves, or protect others? The ethical context activates our feedback loop against how well we know ourselves and our martial ability. Once those elements reconcile we can be prudent toward common sense action – what we ought and can do. If you’ve a high level of skill, but you’re sick or injured, then repositioning by escape is probably for you. If you’re low skilled, but a loved one is under attack, it would be hard not to intercede on their behalf.
I count six fundamental ethical contexts for training:
ESCAPE is to reposition so as to be alleviated from immediate danger, threat, and conflict: Running away, outmaneuvering, seeking cover or concealment, driving off, causing a distraction, whatever. In these cases, escaping stops the conflict. Escape must be the first level of tactical training that everyone knows and understands – especially kids. In our physical training, escape takes the form of Taihenjutsu Ukemi, the dynamic body in action for familiarity with the ground and the prevention of injury. This may involve tumbling and leaping skills against armed and unarmed opponents, climbing, and vaulting. If students cannot attain skill enough to physically reposition, reassess, and reduce or eliminate any imminent threat, no other training will matter. In fact, nothing else will matter.
To RESIST is what we typically think of as self-defense. We resist when escaping is not an option and until we can facilitate an escape. This will involve times when one is caught and cannot get away or when doing so may increase the likelihood of harm. Resisting means removing oneself from people’s grip whether that’s a bear hug, or wrist/lapel/elbow/hair grabs, tackling and mounted positions, even defeating mechanical restraints like handcuffs and flexties Houdini-style. It involves recognizing the range of the body’s natural weapons (we count 16): A variety of fist and hand positions, elbows, knees, legs and feet, and even the teeth and head. Not to mention the best and surest weapon of all, the body’s full weight. One should also be familiar with the body’s targeted points of weakness: The eyes and throat, soft spots of the head and face, nose, teeth, groin, anus, and armpits. For Taijutsu, there are a number of kyusho, weak points, that riddle the body, but their utilization takes study and experience.
To EXTRACT is to go to the aid of another, specifically to extricate them. In this case, evacuating them reduces or prohibits any threat or harm. These are people that may be injured and need to be carried or simply evacuated from an area. Under stress, one may become confused as to the ethical action to take. In these cases, choose to extract, like a bodyguard, someone in need, making their protection and defense your job. It will not only protect them, but yourself as well.
To INTERCEDE is to go to the defense of others. It is to lend resistance to another so they can safely escape or you can extract them. The challenge here is in remembering that this action is about protecting and defending them, with the goal of escape or extraction. Many times well-intentioned folks go to the aid of others in conflict only to throw matches on gasoline. Any escalation in threats or violence does not often end well and in the meantime increases the peril of those trapped by it, not to mention bystanders, and the one interceding. It even puts any enemy at greater risk as escalation may be met with broader resistance and violence that may force one’s hand to turn deadly.
CONFRONT is to attack an enemy whether openly or through deception. It may be considered necessary when preventing someone from entering your secure area, be it your home, or anywhere that must be protected and defended. The range of tactics here involve all kinds of martial aspects, however, the manner in which they are best trained is by naturalizing movements so as to “hide” their execution in spontaneous ambiguity and thereby ambush any opponent to grant them little to no time for response.
To SUBDUE is to effect the submission of threats, done through the physical confinement of an individual by submission locks or holds or a verbal interruption that halts further confrontation. This is by far the most difficult aspect to achieve, both physically and non-physically, for it calls to the highest order of the Protector Ethic – reduction of conflict through protecting everyone, reachable only when all parties feel safe, victims and perpetrators alike.
If we cast an eye upon the ethic itself and review its all-embracing formula we find that in order to achieve a level that aspires to protection of everyone requires us to embrace tactics of unlimited creativity. This is simply logical: If we can never be certain as to what exactly we will encounter in terms of opposing variables, then it stands to reason the broadest method of defense ought to be embraced. Here in lies the rub.
Each martial art is epitomized by specific techniques that they wish their students to learn. But from the broadest tactical perspective, the application of those techniques may not be especially useful due to the narrow or culturally myopic focus they are normally delivered and understood by. Thus turning attention toward the ethical context can in many ways broaden our awareness of tactical options under given conditions.
Which specific technique is used under those circumstances – the roundhouse kick of Tae Kwon Do or the wrist-twists of Aikido - will in large measure be due to one’s understanding and capacity for such use. The short of it: Know the techniques - the variety of martial arts dictate an assortment of responses. As their practitioner you are ultimately responsible for their choice, use, and consequences. It is this commonality that all martial artists share – the techniques used will vary, but their ethical usage is something everyone need aspire to. Thus right action not only precipitates technical usage, it can indicate which technique from your training is most appropriate. Twisting a drunk’s wrist, who’s pinned a police officer, so they can be handcuffed, is not the same as roundhousing grandma to get her hooks out of Uncle Joe’s neck. This will mean no more ribbon candy at Christmas.
In Part III, I'll detail movement in tactical space.