June 11, 2015

Taijutsu Truth: Tactical to Viable

This word "tactical" gets thrown around in martial arts nowadays. I've seen "tactical combat," "tactical martial arts" even "tactical name-your-art" - it’s overused and for the wrong reasons because it doesn't describe what folks are actually trying to say.

“Tactical” is an adjective that describes “tactics, especially military” and is “characterized by adroit procedure” and related to “a maneuver or plan of action designed as an expedient toward gaining a desired end or temporary advantage.”

By this definition everything in martial arts or combatives is already “tactical”: every strategy, tactic, technique ever devised has been refined toward its aim of “expedient” (read "efficient") utilization through “adroit procedure.”

Thus saying your martial art is “tactical” is like saying you’re drinking “wet” water. “Wetness” is an inherent feature of the water, just like “tactical” is of any martial art. And even though buzzwords can better marketing, it still puts us back at our beginnings because “when everything is tactical, nothing is,” and we still have not articulated what we’re really trying to say. So what are we trying to say?

This may actually be true.
“Tactical” describes a thing’s functionality, i.e. a tactical vehicle, or tactical maneuver, indicating a thing’s purposeful adroit proceduring or tactical-ness. It seems we could ascribe nearly any thing or action as tactical merely by purposing its inherent procedure adroitly. One dictionary example: “They gained a tactical advantage by joining with one of their competitors” – pretty broad usage. And this still doesn't indicate, especially for training, what we’re actually searching for: how best to keep from dying.

Too often, martial technique is devised, understood, or trained outside of conditional use. A technique may look efficient, since it has no rough edges, but when trained against an honest partner trying to keep us honest, is ineffective because we've not accounted for it. So, if we think being tactical will keep us from dying, guess again, it’s only the first act of a three act play - the second and third acts involve identifying openings and closing them off.

Mmm, tactical bacon ...
Seriously, where can I get this? 
“How ought I train to habituate protecting life?” This is the optimal question for training because it relates to the shaping of actual use. It goes beyond mere procedure to ask for “manner,” “degree,” and to what end or “outcome” it is to be used for - important stuff, in fact, the most important for training.

And so I stopped saying tactical to mean “life protecting,” since something done tactically may simply be the most efficient way to gain one’s end, even at the expense of one’s life.

Out of frustration for clarity, I turned to the word "viable" to mean "in a way that protects life." “Via” comes from the Latin “vita” meaning “life” and describes that which is “life-enabling” (I like "life-able" myself). I now use “viable” to describe just how to apply our manner of usage, degree of that usage, and contextual outcome in training under various conditions, to perceive how best to protect life – our own, others’, and even the enemy’s - as we employ whatever tactic or technique we deem necessary.

Since there is no such thing as a technique that “works” in and of itself (they must all be applied), sharpening our instincts and perception of how best to protect life is the furthest we can reach or even hope for in training. At its core, effective training is about better decision making, so the finer our instincts regarding viability, the better chances we give ourselves.

That being said I can think of least five aspects regarding the "how" of viability, presented hierarchically. And since these are to be considered the parameters or restrictions of how we ought to habituate ourselves physically under conditions, they are chronicled in the negative, but explained in the affirmative.
1. Do not be a danger to oneself.
Know self-awareness. Be a protector of yourself from threats or danger you might impose through actions and behavior. Listen to common sense when it speaks and heed its message. 
2. Do not endanger those who need protection.
Be a protector of others, including the enemy, if possible. Calibrate what one ought to do by context. 
3. Do not allow conditions to prevent viability.
Know initiative. Be ahead and lead according to context. 
4. Do not allow the opponent to be a danger.  
Know positioning, leverage, and proportionality to outwit and outmaneuver. 
5. Do not allow the opponent to prevent their own endangerment.
Deny vulnerabilities to those who would use them against us.
How we might apply the "tactical" to make it “viable” is for me the dividing line that separates knowledge and wisdom. Knowledge is the minutiae of martial arts and its information comes in the form of strategy, tactics, and techniques. But what’s far more important is the wise (read prudent or judicious) application of whatever knowledge one does have.

Ultimately, all martial arts are thousands of years of refined physicality in order to embody our visceral sense of "ought" - the mental, willful, emotional drive that compels personal obligation. So this concept of viability, while reaching toward the physical, as it is trained and carried out that way, is rooted in our ethical bearing, since "action to protect life," whether our own, others’, or the enemy’s, is an inherently moral consideration.

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