May 21, 2015

Taijutsu Truth: Proportionality

We buy clothes that exemplify our fashion style and personality. We don't (normally) wear them undersized or oversized and we often designate them for particular use, like work or recreation. This is proportionality in action and it's operative in martial training as well.

In a previous post, "The Athlete and the Protector," I outlined three differences in the use of martial principles. Those differences of manner, degree, and outcome are also present for proportionality, or the prudential (see prudent/prudence) use of techniques, the extent to which we use them, and why we are using them at all.    


Much like a fashion sense, martial artists should have a "technique sense" - a manner that sensibly pulls us toward techniques we have a greater chance of mastering and repels us from those that may give us more obvious trouble. Those hipster skinny jeans? You may think they look great with your sweet beard, but you may just want to start dressing like an adult, you over-40 so-and-so. Same goes for martial technique. Upside down spinning Capoeira kicks look great on that new Daredevil TV series, but they may not be the wisest choice for self-defense and/or use for law enforcement. This isn't to say we should only engage with the stuff we find easy to use, but rather toward that which best represents ourselves, our level, and the context of our intended use.

Our manner of technique use is dictated by a variety of personal concerns: ability and level, athleticism, health, acumen - they all impact the physical particularities we may choose and will speak to how effective and efficient we can make those choices.

Not photoshopped. 
Matthias Schlitte "has a rare genetic defect, 
which made his right forearm bone 33% larger than his left."

The know-how to shape technique under conditions characterizes the degree to which we understand them. This notion is akin to wearing clothes that "fit" us rather than squeezing into shoes that are too tight (ladies) or wearing baggy/saggy clothes that may be some kind of rebellious fashion statement, just an uninspired and dumb one.

Martial training requires us to shape techniques to "fit" us as well, so in practical use they do not represent a liability. Rather than "trying on" various techniques, degree involves knowing how best to embody and maximize the technical based on our individual dynamic. Are you fat, strong, skinny, or short? Very mobile or not so much? Being honest with ourselves in regards to strengths and vulnerabilities can indicate our direction in training as well as calibrate us to deal with obvious realities. One of my students wears a bushel of hair on his head - an obvious target for grabs in a violent encounter - so he's got to train for that eventuality.  

This is especially true if one is working from a position of handicap, whether temporary or permanent, that must characterize the technical in broader ways than the standard method. Knowing the standard is fine, and is often the way for most. But knowing how to broaden use so as to exemplify the standard under various conditions, well, that's always way better than fine.      


Outcome, or purpose, drives the overall ethics and justness of our usage. Outcome is the meat and potatoes of training as it speaks to the "viability" (a truth in itself) of how well one is able to invulnerably utilize techniques by manner and degree, which must include not being denied their use by the counters of an opponent.

We should seek to throw without being, say, stabbed in the process, strike without being struck, and of course use weapons of any size and shape, whether they are considered standard or have been augmented to fit our body types appropriately. All these aspects speak to ethics since we ought never unnecessarily risk ourselves or others due to poor training habits, or worse, misinformation or misunderstanding regarding the actuality of use.

Staff weapons in particular are a great example of proportionality. A rokushakubo is about six feet long, because at some point these tools were standardized to this length by the entities teaching their usage, which might account for their greater ubiquity. But even this standard length in Japan was most probably taller than any of its users and raises the question of correct use and whether we are today invoking this same proportional comprehension in our own training.

If one is naturally six feet tall, then a staff to grant us proportional understanding is one that is naturally taller than its user, perhaps about seven feet. In my Shingitai-Ichi Dojo we generally try to use staves that are at least one foot taller than the user, as this exaggeration teaches in ways far clearer than any standard length how best to maximize it.

Slipping into the trap of standardization may in fact train us to use our positioning and leverage at inopportune times within the interval of conditional use - a constant threat that all martial artists should train hard to avoid.

No comments: