One of the most difficult things you will encounter as a Green Belt candidate is the mental shift from a defensive to an offensive mindset. This can be a very difficult transition for students. In this article we will discuss some of the things you should consider as you go through this process.
Defense Vs Offense
When most people think of self-defense they think of first blocking or somehow foiling an attack and then dishing out punishment that will dissuade the attacker from threatening further. In the prior belt you spent some time studying the ETD concepts that give you a range or responses you might employ in such situations.
In this belt we address these concepts with an additional perspective. The primary point we wish to make is that being defensive is losing. It is a fundamental element of more advanced Tensoku Ryu thinking.
In major sports there is an often-cited perspective that a good defense wins championships. The notion is that successful teams with the better defense are more likely to win a championship than a team with a better offense. This is patently not accurate. Statistically, teams with the better offense are equally likely to win a championship as teams with a better defense. It is essentially a wash. Having a good defense wins championships and having a good offense wins championships.
Now if you are playing a team with an excellent offense and you have a terrible defense, then you are probably in trouble. Conversely, if you have little in the way of viable offense and find yourself pitted against a team with a premier defense then you are unlikely to do well either. So the best strategy for a sports team is to have both an exceptional offense and exceptional defense.
None of this applies to the martial arts. The martial arts are not a team sport. They are, at their core, an individual activity. Being defensive, even if your defense is of world class caliber, is the key to failure.
This is because defense breaks down quickly when under attack. If someone throws twelve strikes at you in four seconds you are guaranteed to not successfully block at least some of these strikes. If a strike gets through your defenses then your abilities are slowly being eroded.
A different mindset is needed. Even if you were only to block once and then counter strike, your block has allowed the opponent the necessary time to initiate his or her next strike. So even here you are already losing or at best creating an initial draw. It is better, should violence be necessary, to ensure your opponent is losing from the start.
This is done by being offensive from the very beginning. The instant an assailant makes an aggressive move you avoid the attack (not block it) and strike first. The first strike from the assailant is your opportunity to strike. Simply move from your original position and impact the opponent in some manner. You might strike to injure, destabilize, throw, thwart, or even to initiate an escape. Any of these outcomes is possible because you are immediately in charge and in control of the situation. This is a dominant position you will not relinquish until you feel you are afforded the opportunity to do something different.
So in this belt everything you do and practice should be done with an offensive mindset. We do not strike first, but we land the first strike. The opponent’s first strike attempt is our opening and from that moment on we are purely offensive. We may elect not to be harmful, but we will not give the opponent an opportunity to strike again (unless allowing him or her to attempt a strike is to our planned strategic advantage).
What we want and need as an advanced Tensoku Ryu practitioner is an excellent and full-fledged offensive ability. Let the other person worry about his or her defensive skills. It is the only option we plan to give them.
Now that you have achieved your Blue Belt ranking you will notice dramatic changes in your training. One of the more prominent changes is the need to think more offensively. Let me correct that. Now it is essential that you begin to think in an entirely offensive manner.
This does not mean you must now be merciless with an adversary. It does not mean that you can never block. It does not mean that every action you take should be thought of as an attack. But it does mean you will need to make substantive changes to the way you have been taught to think.
Until now your Tensoku Ryu training has focused primarily on a defensive mindset. Most of the skills you have honed dealt with how to escape, avoid or thwart an attack. A common thread of thought was to escape if possible, and if necessary, avoid, thwart and counter your opponent’s movements to render him or her incapable of continuing.
This level of training is essential for new students who do not yet have a foundational knowledge of essential motor movements, timing, distancing, and essential physics. In order to have any chance of defending themselves in a conflict new students must adopt an essential defensive mindset as they undertake fundamental skills development. Commensurate with this is an understanding that one must generally strike or block with intent, power, and precision. This involves thinking about defending yourself first and then doing whatever is necessary to overcome your opponent’s attempts to inflict harm.
You will now find yourself in a major transitional period. You will no longer be encouraged to think about protecting yourself first. In all likelihood you already know how to do that well. You will now be encouraged to obtain and maintain an immediate strategic and tactical advantage over your adversary. This seldom begins by blocking or avoiding your opponent. It also seldom involves thwarting his or her attempts to strike you (though there is some element of these concepts in all movements).
When you think offensively you immediately think of how you can take advantage of the opponent’s future position. You do not care much about his or her current position – that is for those with a defensive mindset. You care only about what will happen next and how you can use that to your advantage. You will want to move while some action is occurring so you can position yourself to take advantage of any subsequent movement. Here are some examples.
In our first example we will assume someone steps forward with Migi Oi Tsuki. Stepping R7L3 will move you inside of the incoming strike and then cause you to move directly toward the center of your incoming opponent. You may wish to strike or initiate some form of manipulation or Nage just at the moment your opponent begins to retract his or her extended right arm. You are not blocking the incoming strike or attempting to thwart it in any way. It is completely irrelevant except for that fact that it must now be retracted in order for some other movement to be initiated. That’s all we care about. How can we use this future movement to our advantage? We will attack the opponent in some way at that precise instant.
If in this same scenario we had moved to the ear side of the body then we could press the opponent’s right arm in toward his or her center causing a center rotation that lends itself to some forms of Nage or to a strike to the ribs or a kidney. This tends to be more of a defensive mindset however. Instead you might consider that the opponent must begin to retract the right hand and is likely to rotate his or her center toward you in order to strike with the opposite arm (you will want to check the right arm to ensure it doesn’t attempt to do something unexpected). This is when you employ your manipulation, Nage, or perhaps strike to the face that is so conveniently rotating in your direction. A strike to the opponent’s face will naturally impact its target sooner than the opponent’s incoming left hand because your hand will move in a linear manner while the opponent’s hand is moving along a circular path (and has further to travel even in a linear sense). This is utilizing a more offensive mindset. You ignore what has been provided for you and take advantage of what was intended to be held in reserve.
Again using this same attack sequence, consider stepping using a C-step pattern so that your left leg moves L7L5 without an intervening footfall. This moves your left shoulder inside of the incoming strike (though you may still incur some contact) and positions you directly in front of the attacker. Your left leg will likely be in contact with the inside and back of the opponent’s right leg. As your foot settles at A5 you deliver Hidari Age Empi Uchi, Hidari Otoshi Shotei Uchi, and Hidari Shotei Uchi in rapid succession to drive the opponent backward in what will likely be a violent fall. This takes advantage of manipulating the opponent’s right leg as he or she begins to shift weight off of this leg when initiating a retraction of the right arm. We are ignoring the appendage in order to gain the opportunity to strike at the core. This is the essence of having an offensive mindset.
A similar discussion might be had for dealing with a Mae Geri or Yoko Geri attack. Most self-defense strategies and techniques will have you deal with the kick in some manner, perhaps blocking, redirecting, grabbing, or striking the kicking leg. Those are, as described, defensive strategies. An alternate strategy is to bypass the kicking leg altogether and to strike directly to the head or torso of the weightless opponent as he or she begins to retract the kicking leg. Why deal with an opponent’s strike when you could be delivering one of your own at the very same moment?
Going from a defensive mindset to an offensive mindset is usually a very challenging and disruptive process for students. It is not an easy transition. You will constantly find yourself resorting to defensive tactics when an offensive technique may have been very beneficial. This can be the cause of significant frustration as students undergo this mental turmoil. Understand that nearly everyone is heavily challenged by this conceptual upheaval. Let the frustrations go and focus on what you could have done instead. Eventually you will begin to think more offensively, but it does take a substantial period of time for this way of thinking to invade your subconscious. Let it happen at its own pace. Expending copious amounts of conscious thought on offensive strategies will hasten the development of your subconscious thought patterns. In the interim, have fun learning a completely new way of thinking about a conflict. Understand that frustrations are a likely consequence of this training and that you can safely ignore them as an integral part of the learning process.
In order to achieve your Green Belt you will need to have a substantial appreciation for how to think and behave in a purely offensive manner. This will be a major portion of your training. By the time you have master all of the other material for your Green Belt you will have had abundant practice thinking in an offensive manner. We start this training on your first day as a Blue Belt so that you are more than adequately prepared for this aspect of your Green Belt test.
Blocking is Unnecessary
As you adopt a more offensive mindset you will come to appreciate that blocking is largely a waste of time and energy. This does not mean that blocking is useless; it certainly does have its uses. But in most situations blocking is both unnecessary and an encumbrance.
If you attempt to repeatedly block someone who is attacking you then eventually they will get through your blocks and strike you anyway. It may take a few seconds but eventually someone who is trying relentlessly to strike will succeed.
Blocking generally has several negative consequences. The first is that it forces you to deal with an historical artifact. The strike you are blocking is no longer relevant by the time you have blocked it. It is the next strike you should be worried about.
Secondly, the act of blocking often causes a rotation in your opponent’s body that actually initiates and encourages his or her next strike. If you block with Chudan Uke this forces the opponent’s striking arm out and away, bringing his or her opposite arm directly in line with your mother line. A second strike will immediately follow as you are just completing your first block. So in effect your block was your own worst enemy.
A third detrimental outcome of a block is that the energy you used to perform the block could have been used to strike at the opponent. Nearly all blocks can be easily applied as a strike instead. A Chudan Uke is simply a Tate Tettsui Uchi masquerading as a defensive tool. Why not use the Tate Tettsui Uchi and strike to the opponent’s head? An Age Uke is in essence an that rolls over into a [glossary]Kote Uchi. Why not use either one or both of these strikes instead?
By striking instead of blocking you will immediately destabilize your opponent thereby affecting his or her structure. This greatly reduces the chances that they will be in position to effectively strike at your again. You can now move on to other escapes, strikes, or controlling maneuvers that make it difficult or impossible for the opponent to attack you further.
If you simply step around an incoming strike and position yourself so you can strike directly at the opponent’s head or torso (or employ a Nage or other manipulation) then there is no need to consider a blocking motion of any kind, regardless of whether you intended to block or strike. Avoid the blocking motion altogether and focus on a more meaningful action at the opponent’s core.
There will always be instances where a block is warranted so we are definitely not saying you should never block. We are saying that in most situations you can substitute a strike or some controlling maneuver in place of a block. This will usually place you one step ahead of your opponent, instead of one step behind. You win a race by being the person in front.