When someone reaches out and grabs you by the wrist, assuming they intend to control you in some manner while holding your wrist, the person will adopt what we refer to as his or her optimal structure. The person grabbing you knows innately how to position themselves so that they have the best chance of controlling you. For that person, it is the best possible anatomical structure. For you, it is not ideal.
A person who adopts such an Optimal Structure may elect to hold that structure in an attempt to keep you from escaping. They may instead adopt the structure for a mere fraction of a second. This may be all the time they require to impact your structural integrity and then move on to some other task intended to put you at increasing jeopardy.
When a person assumes their optimal structure they do so because that structure provides them with the best center of gravity, balance, strength, and structural integrity. From this position, a person believes they are strong and able to resist most of the movements that you might attempt.
You can experiment with optimal structure yourself. Find a willing (they must be willing) partner and grab them variously by the waist, arm, shoulder, wrist, neck, or in any other way that feels comfortable. At times jostle the other person gently as you grab. You will notice that each time you will quickly settle into a stance and structure where you feel comfortable, powerful, and in control. You will do this naturally and without any conscious thought. Your body has been training since birth to do that.
But this perception of strength and integrity is completely invalid. While a person’s optimal structure may appear to be sound, it is quite weak. You can learn to take advantage of this weakness immediately.
There are numerous ways to overcome a person’s Optimal Structure. We will explore several of them in this article. Others will need to wait until the appropriate moment during your training.
The first thing to notice about Optimal Structure is that it is adopted only after the person has grabbed you and then subsequently settles into that structure. While people could theoretically adopt the posture first and then grab you, it is seldom done in that order. Even if it were done in this order the person grabbing you would still likely need to make some subsequent adjustments in his or her structure to accommodate any last-minute changes in angles, distance, or with your movements. So even in this situation, the final optimal structure is not reached until sometime after the grab.
Consider two points here. The first is that optimal structure is not possible until sometime after the grab. The second is that optimal structure can only occur after a successful grab. These seem like the same thing, but they are not. Let’s explore them further.
The first point suggests that you can avoid someone reaching their optimal structure by preventing the grab in the first place. If someone attempts to grab you, but you move such that the grab attempt fails, then the person will likely settle into a structure that is not sound. The structure may be one of hesitancy or based on defense, but it will not, in all probability, represent a sound and confident position. The person is not certain what will happen next and that will be evident by his or her resulting posture. So, the easiest and most fundamental way to avoid someone adopting an optimal structure is to ensure whatever they are attempting cannot be accomplished.
The second point suggests that even after a person has grabbed you there is still a time during which the attacker is attempting to settle into their Optimal Structure. At any time during this process, you can move. This is possible because the opponent is still in a transitional or weightless state. Moving will disrupt the person’s attempt to achieve their goal.
Here are two experiments that can help you get a better sense of this idea. Have someone grab you by the wrist and then move to establish an optimal structure. After they have grabbed you and while they are still moving simply move your arm and your center to your right. You don’t need to do anything else. You will notice the person has settled into a stance, but it is not longer optimal for your new position. You are in an optimal structure, but your training partner is not.
Now have your partner attempt the same grab (or any other grab you wish) but now step forward about two inches while keeping your arm (or another relevant part of the body) fairly rigid. Do this step during the time your training partner is attempting to settle into a strong posture. Again your training partner will adopt an odd and uncomfortable (for them) structure. You, on the other hand, will probably feel quite comfortable and confident.
But what do you do if you have been grabbed and your opponent has settled into a strong structure before you have had time to react? Are you now at their mercy?
Of course not. All you need to do is move. Have your partner repeat the previous exercises but this time, allow him or her to establish a strong Optimal Structure before you move in any way. After your partner has stopped moving, hold your arm (or any other affect part of your anatomy) somewhat rigid and then step forward slightly. You will immediately notice that your partner’s strong stance has become dramatically weakened. You can create other similar (but always somewhat different) weaknesses by moving back, left, right, up, down, and any combination of the above. Any movement on your part, even an extremely small and subtle movement, makes the opponent’s structure weak. It will effectively devastate the person’s Optimal Structure. Why is that?
It’s because they were in their Optimal Structure. The structure was only optimal for the time, place, and circumstance of the moment. Once you move, the time, place, and circumstance have all changed. The person’s structure is no longer optimal for the new relative positions between yourself and your partner. The original optimal structure no longer works.
But can’t the person simply shift their structure to adopt a new Optimal Structure? Of course. But why in the world would you let them do that? Once the opponent’s structure collapses you take advantage of them. You might escape or you might do something more injurious, but you won’t stand there and let them attempt to control you again. That moment has come and gone forever.
Of course, you will want to move as soon as possible. If you delay then an attacker will move to gain better dominance in whatever fashion they feel will be most beneficial. So you must work on taking away the optimal structure as early as possible. Ideally, you will do this before the grab attempt. If the grab has occurred you will next wish to move to prevent the establishment of any Optimal Structure. If you are too late for that then you need to move quickly the moment an Optimal Structure is established to weaken and destroy it.
For those of you with more detailed conceptual knowledge, you will recognize this as the ETD model applied to overcome Optimal Structure. You escape, thwart, or destroy – in order of preference. For those of you without this additional piece of knowledge simply recognize that you can overcome a person’s Optimal Structure at any moment simply by moving. When in doubt, move (a common Tensoku Ryu phrase).
But what happens if we attempt to adopt an optimal structure so that we can manipulate, control, strike, or perhaps throw a person? Can’t the person destroy our structure just as easily? Yes, if they know what they are doing, they can. This becomes an issue in Ad Hoc Fighting because both practitioners will know exactly how to do this – therefore it can be a challenge to gain an advantage against another person.
But all is not lost. The simple solution is to not establish an optimal structure yourself. Be in constant motion. Force your opponent to likewise be in constant motion. Eventually, the opponent will be in a position from which they cannot, in all likelihood, affect your structure. At that time you may establish an optimal structure to perform some final action.
But even here this is seldom necessary. I control and manipulate people to the ground regularly without ever establishing an optimal structure. In such situations, I am in constant flux and motion. Anytime an opponent attempts to establish structure I destroy it. But I avoid trying to create any form of stable structure for myself. Any formal stance becomes a hindrance. I flow in, through, and out of stances in a never-ending cycle of movement. This is not easily done and requires many years of training, but it is a good way to ensure the opponent does not have an opportunity to impact your Optimal Structure.