History is considered from several different vantage points in Tensoku Ryu. Sometimes we are very cognizant of history while at other times we completely and deliberately ignore it. At times we teach the importance of history while at other times we teach that it is completely irrelevant.
The difference of course is the context in which history is being considered. You might think of history, within Tensoku Ryu, as a example of short-term versus long-term memory. We wish to emphasize long-term recollection, but ignore short-term memories.
Within Japanese martial arts there is commonly a set of written historical transmissions referred to as Densho. These were often in the form of scrolls that contained written lineage and other fundamental knowledge about a system or family art.
Within Tensoku Ryu we often use the term Densho (another related word is Denshou) to refer to history. This is a slight misuse of the word, but it provides a way of suggesting that as a martial artist a practitioner should have some understanding of what and who has come before themselves. Much can be gained by understanding past events and prominent practitioners.
Within Tensoku Ryu there is a tremendous amount of Densho. The student manuals, instructor guidelines, Dojo management guidelines, and even this web site are in fact Densho. They are a written definition of the art containing the experiences and insights of those who have gone before you. Not all of this information is derived from those who initially founded the system. Those individuals had instructors, who in turn had instructors. That type of accumulated knowledge is the basis of all martial arts today. It is Densho.
Your Martial Art
Regardless of the martial art you have elected to study you should spend some time getting to know how the art came about, who was involved in its formation, and the principles or assumptions on which it was founded.
If this information is difficult to obtain or obscured in some manner then you will want to probe more deeply. You must ask yourself why this information is being obscured.
Even if information is readily available or promulgated within the martial art that you study you will want to ask yourself if what you are told contains the ring of truth. Outlandish stories of the founder spending decades undergoing grueling training in an isolated wind battered wilderness cave under the tutelage of a cranky and demanding monk who was expelled from his monastery due to his radical but innovative teachings should be verified via third party sources before they are accepted as factual. Mystical origins are seldom factual origins.
Most martial arts with a relatively long history will have well documented Densho. You are likely to know who the founder was and be able to verify that this founder was known by others outside of his family or martial arts system. In such a system you can realistically expect to understand how the art has come about.
Martial Arts in General
Any martial art you study will have a limited view of the martial arts. That is true of all marital arts, including Tensoku Ryu. There is so much material to consider it is impossible to have a firm grasp on it all.
It is therefore beneficial to know something about other marital art systems. You can learn a tremendous amount from other martial arts and martial arts practitioners. Knowing the background of other martial arts, their founding principles, and initial practitioners will help you achieve a broader appreciation for these arts and for your own art as well.
You should know who people like Gichin Funakoshi, Kan Jigoro, Bruce Lee, Miyamoto Musashi, Robert Trias, Carlos Gracie, Mas Oyama, and Morihei Ueshiba were. If you have a few moments explore the background of one of these (or the many other prominent martial artists). It will help put things in context for you and allow you to better appreciate what you are studying. It may also put a thought in the back of your mind that there is another area of the martial arts you may wish to explore some day.
Within Tensoku Ryu we ask our students to study these (and many other) individuals. We think it is critical that people understand how the martial arts have evolved and to appreciate many of the key people responsible for that evolution.
Patterns of Behavior
Another and quite different way to consider history is through observation of patterns. When you are sparring with someone or when you are in a conflict you will want to notice patterns of behavior. If a person consistently steps with the left leg before throwing a kick you will want to make a mental note of it. Now you may be able to step to the side or otherwise circumvent the person’s kick while also placing yourself in an advantageous position.
You will of course want to ensure the person is not merely setting you up. He or she could be moving the way they are so that you will give away your planned or reflexive response. This may allow them to take advantage of you in the future. When you are dealing with a thinking opponent you both may be working to establish historical behavior patterns.
You can often (but not always) tell if a person is trying to set you up in this manner. The person may seem much more interested in how you respond to a movement than they are in what they can accomplish by completing the movement. That is a sure sign the person is merely attempting to understand how you will move in the future based upon historical evidence. You might let the person do this twice. The third time you know their historical pattern and can behave differently than they will expect.
Most Recent Event
When someone strikes at you there are two fundamental choices. You can deal with the strike in some manner, or you can completely ignore it. For beginning students we always suggest they do the former. For more advanced students we suggest they learn to rely primarily on the latter.
Blocking a strike can be useful, particularly if you have limited skills or have been caught by surprise in some way. Sometimes a block is just what you end up doing as an unplanned initial response to some event.
But Blocking can have some inherent problems. A block will freeze your focus for a brief moment and potentially initiate a rotational movement in your opponent’s structure. This rotational movement may be the very movement the opponent needs to begin delivery of a strike from the opposite side of his or her body. So your block may in fact simply accelerate the delivery of the next strike from your opponent.
This is one of several disadvantages to blocking. As students advance we recommend they simply move out of the way. They are in essence ignoring the strike and moving into a position from which they can better manipulate and control the opponent. They may also move to a position from which they can thwart the likely next movement of the opponent.
When we teach this and related skills to students we tell them that the first strike has already occurred and is therefore a historical artifact. As with most historical artifacts you can chose to utilize it to your advantage or ignore it altogether. You may elect to manipulate or control an extended punching arm, or you may decide it is better simply to strike the opponent while paying little or no attention to the initial strike.
One thing is certain. If you pay attention to any strike as it is occurring you are dwelling on the past. The future is about to strike you literally in the face.