When involved in a conflict we can either deal with events as they happen or create circumstances that are of benefit to us. In this article we will cover some of the many ways in which you can take control of a conflict and generate conditions that provide you with additional opportunities.
Creating a Void
There are times where it is prudent to deliberately create a void between yourself and an opponent. We generally seek to eliminate voids, but there are certainly times when having some space between yourself and an opponent is of great benefit. This may be to afford you a chance to gain better structure, to perform some type of strategic maneuver, to escape an opponent who is gaining an advantage, or to disrupt an opponent’s next intended movement.
Whatever the reason for desiring to create a void there are some useful ways in which this can be accomplished. The first is perhaps the most obvious. Simply let your opponent go. They will usually automatically create a void. They did the work. You simply allowed it to happen. As a result, you may catch your opponent in a weightless state as they try to move away. This can be advantageous.
But you should not release an opponent who is in a position to immediately press into you. This will leave you in an extremely compromised position. Simply releasing a person should only be done when they have little option but to move away.
You can of course employ any form of escape to create a void. Step back, use a stepping pattern or twist your opponent so it is easy to move away are all fairly typical ways for creating a void. By now these should be second nature.
The next obvious way to create a void is to initiate some form of Nage. This gives you control and creates distance at the same time (depending on the Nage you elect to use). Naturally this assumes you are in a superior control position or can take advantage of an opponent’s weakness in order to accomplish a throw. This is not always the case.
A less obvious and not always successful way to create a void is to use verbal notifications. Simply yelling, “Cops!” might be enough to cause your opponent to create some distance from you. Feigning an injury or pretending to invite a friend to grab your opponent could work. You might think of these as mental rather than physical methods for creating a void. There are many other examples you might employ, but none of these are guaranteed to work. But if you are desperate, why not give it a try.
The most reliable way of creating a void is to gain a superior centering and controlling position from which you can direct your opponent away from you. Rising onto the ball of your right foot as you raise your right forearm to make contact with the opponent’s shoulder and subsequently settling down and forward may propel your opponent away enough to create or initiate a void.
Moving so that your opponent develops weakness in his or her knees will likely enable you to then push the opponent away with little opposition. This, and similar actions in which you first compromise the structure or orientation of the opponent and subsequently propel them (or yourself) away are some of the most effective methods for generating space between yourself and an opponent.
When thinking about generating a void be sure that you either escape or put yourself in a position that is superior to your opponent’s position. If not then you and the opponent are once again on equal footing. Now you must escape or you must again find a way to dominate and control your opponent if he or she once again attempts to engage you.
Whenever someone strikes at you or attempts some form of controlling action they will be strong at the point of attack, but weak elsewhere. An incoming fist, together with the associated arm and shoulder are strong. The opposite arm and shoulder will not be as strong. One hip will be strong, the other will likely be weak. This depends on which leg they have forward and how they are centered.
The moment after the incoming strike has completed its travel it will become weak. This is necessary in order for the arm to be retracted. Now what was weak before will likely strengthen. What had been strong will likely weaken. This is part of the ebb and flow of conflict. Learning to take advantage of these strengths and weaknesses is an essential part of controlling and manipulating an opponent.
But you do not need to wait for an opponent to initiate a movement to find a weakness. You can create one for the opponent. Here are a few ways in which you can reliably make an opponent weak in some portion of his or her anatomy.
As an opponent strikes you can forcefully impact the approaching side of his or her body. Such force is usually applied to the head, shoulders, or upper chest wall. This both disrupts the intended strike and makes the striking portion of the opponent’s anatomy immediately weak. If you use an open hand to perform this action then you may immediately be able to employ your hand to take advantage of the ensuing weakness before the opponent has time to restructure and regain his or her strength.
You can cause this same effect by moving an opponent so the opposite side of his or her body circles in your direction. At some point the opponent will think they have a clear opportunity to strike you. But since they are moving in a circular manner you will be able to intercept their strike by employing a linear strike of your own.
A similar action can be used if you cause the opponent’s torso to rotate such that he or she feels they can strike you with their approaching side. Since you had intentionally planned for them to strike you in this way, you are able to intercept the incoming strike and redirect it so it passes directly in front of you without impacting you in any way. The opponent, who was sure they were going to hit you, now goes weak along the attacking side of the body as they either try to retract the arm, become confused, or seek to spin in order to strike with the opposite arm. Why they are weak is not particularly relevant. Use the weakness you created against them.
Forced creasing of the knees or hips is also an excellent way to generate weakness. Once the knees bend it is often easy to further compress them or cause the opponent to rotate such that his or her center of gravity is moved away from the hips. Sometimes all you need to do in this situation is pivot on a foot or make a small sliding step in order to throw the opponent with virtually no effort. Causing a crease at the hips (in any direction) also impacts the center of gravity. This creates a weakness in balance that commonly leads to a fall.
Disrupting Opponent Movements
The studies in the previous belt curriculum covered the concept of thwarting an opponent’s actions. This involved somehow making his or her initial strike or grab ineffective. This is, though it may seem otherwise, a defensive strategy. Because we are dealing with the initial strike or action we are still playing defense – even though it is masked as an offensive behavior.
Thwarting is still a viable strategy, but what we need to thwart is not their first strike, but the next likely strike they will initiate. As the first strike is launched in our direction we must immediately strike or manipulate the opponent to thwart any potential follow-up strike. This disrupts those future movements and gives us a structural and timing advantage over our adversary.
If the opponent throws a Migi Oi Tsuki then we might step to our right and strike into the opponent’s left front chest wall. This disrupts any attempt to strike with the left arm. Striking to the head instead causes the body to contort as it tries to follow the displacement of the head. Again, any future strike will be disrupted. Attacking the opponent’s base will cause severe structural instability that will preclude the ability for the opponent to deliver a subsequent strike.
These are just the opening forays in a conflict. Once we engage with the opponent we will seek to disrupt any movement the opponent attempts (there are exceptions to this when we deliberately want an opponent to move in a particular fashion). We might do this by checking some portion of the opponent’s body, hooking and pulling some other part of the body, striking, creasing, settling, rooting, re-centering, or creating weakness. We might do any number of these things simultaneously. This means any movement that our opponent attempts will be met with failure.
Once such a failure has occurred the opponent will exhibit a weakness which we can then exploit. Every aborted movement is an opportunity for us to move the opponent into an increasingly unfavorable position. If we then allow them to attempt a movement again but disrupt it, then we have yet another weakness to exploit. This can continue for a few cycles until the opponent finds they cannot move even if we allow it.
Practice these disruptive cycles repeatedly. You will benefit from sensing where weaknesses occur after a disruption and from exploring new and interesting ways to cause a disruption to occur. The number of options available here are truly endless. This is a key element to dominating an opponent. Any movement he or she attempts leads to improved superiority in our position.
Force Opponent to Move in Large Circles
As we have mentioned before, you want to ensure you move in the smallest and fastest circle possible which still allows you to accomplish your defined task. Conversely you want your opponent to move in the largest, most conspicuous, time consuming, and energy absorbing circles possible. For every step you take along a circular path you will want your opponent to take three or more steps. For every inch you move in a circular direction you will want your opponent to move five or more inches.
But we can make the opponent move in multiple circles at once. Having an opponent engaged in multiple large concurrent circular movements is ideal.
If we have an opponent out of structure so they can be easily moved then we might rotate from a stationary position through ninety degrees. Perhaps we rotate from octagon angle one through angle three. We should not need to step to move this amount. But our opponent will need to step multiple times to cover this distance or they will fall.
While the opponent is moving along this path from angle one to angle three we might also rotate his or her torso vertically. This represents another circular movement with which he or she must contend. Now we might also cause the opponent’s hips to sway from side to side. We have introduced yet another circular movement, due in part to the rotation of the torso. That’s three deliberate circular paths the opponent’s body is following. There will be other unintentional circular paths that develop as well. The arms will likely move along circular paths as might the feet and the head. All those circles take a lot of energy. It is our goal to make (within reason) both the circles and the energy consumption to be as large as possible.
Another strategy for using circular movements is to employ a series of consecutive circles rather than concurrent circles. Consider again that we are rotating from angle one to angle three. As we move the opponent to our left (along a large circle) we force his or her head down. As we reach angle three we reverse the direction of our rotation and pull the opponent’s head down and then to the right. Now we rotate through angle one and toward angle four. Reaching angle four we pull the opponent’s head up and then back and then down again, once more heading in the direction of angle three. We may need to step a time or two in order to keep a void from developing, but the opponent will quickly become tired and hopelessly disoriented.
As you can see, once you have an opponent whose structure has been sufficiently compromised you can quickly make them tired and disoriented through the rational application of circular movements. When working with a partner notice when you have made them move in circles larger than your own. Now work to further minimize the number and size of circles you must use while deliberately maximizing the number and sizes of the circles your partner must traverse.
This is a truly essential and fundamental skill that you will use consistently through your Black Belt. You should strive to practice and hone this skill every chance you get. Always look for ways to maximize the difference between the number and the size of circles that you and your opponent must navigate.
Guiding Opponent Movements
What we are really discussing in this section is an exercise in subtlety. If you want an opponent to move some portion of his or her anatomy, guide it to its new location rather than attempting to push it there.
A rather quirky thing about the human subconscious is that we all want to be fiercely independent and part of a cooperative group. We can exhibit these seeming disparate positions through subconscious behaviors. You may notice this when working with a training partner.
If you grab your opponent’s arm and push it in toward his or her center you will be met immediately with firm resistance. Nobody likes to be forced to do something against their will. The instant you try to force us to do something we instinctively resist.
If, however, you brush your hand gently against the opponent’s arm and guide it subtly toward his or her center they will often comply. We like being cooperative. So if you suggest we should move in a specific way, we are likely to follow your suggestion. Since you are not trying to force us to do something, we will go along with your suggestion. As I mentioned, this is quirky, but it works nonetheless.
Try this with someone who isn’t expecting it. Gently guide their arm to a new location. The odds are very good they will move as you wish. Next time try to force the arm into a new position. You will be met with immediately resistance. It’s a simple example of human nature.
So, if you intend to manipulate someone you are much more likely to be successful if you use subtle movements to guide the opponent to the position you desire. As long as your movements do not last long you will likely be able to move an opponent into any reasonable position nearly instantly.
This does not mean that firm or forceful movement is not useful. With enough force under the right conditions a person will not be able to resist your movement even if they were to resist intentionally. There are times when a powerful movement is exactly what is required to accomplish some task. So we are not suggesting that you should seek to always avoid powerful movement.
In fact, you may wish to use a firm movement because you deliberately want to initiate the immediate resistance you are likely to encounter. Moving someone with a quick aggressive move is almost certain to cause the person to subconsciously resist your attempt at manipulation. That may be exactly what we want since we know the opponent will now be week in opposition to his or her resistance. So, for example, if we firmly push a person’s arm in toward his or her center they are likely to immediately resist our push. We now utilize abandonment and pull gently on his or her arm in a direction away from their center instead. They are unlikely to resist this deliberate and subtle counter movement.
We’ve all seen the old western movie where the hero is pinning down behind a tree by a rapidly firing villain. The hero picks up a rock and throws it so the villain’s attention is diverted long enough for the guy in the white hat to jump out and then overwhelm his foe. This is often pretty campy and unlikely to be a successful way to get out of the situation. But still, some forms of distraction can be effective in some situations.
Distractions can come in many forms and can be utilized at different times before or during a conflict. Feints are a form of distraction. Stomping your foot, issuing a Kiai, pretending to call to a friend, dialing an emergency number (e.g. 911), throwing your wallet off to the side, or honking the horn on your car are all forms of distraction that might be used immediately before a conflict begins.
As a conflict begins there are again many different forms of distraction you might consider utilizing. Moving one arm to catch the opponent’s attention while you strike with the other arm or a leg is often effective. Simply stepping twice can be an effective distraction. I particularly like distractions that force the opponent to focus on something that is moving away from them. Humans have a natural instinct to track something that is moving away and one can make effective use of this at the start of an altercation.
In the midst of a conflict you can find other useful distractions to utilize. Moving your head so it presents an apparent target for your opponent is a useful distraction. Your head will move (perhaps with the aid of a mocking expression) to a location for only a brief second, only long enough for the other person to recognize what has happened and to begin reacting to your head position. By the time a strike might land you have already moved to disrupt or take advantage of the opponent’s expected position or weightless condition.
Pinching, poking, slapping, pushing, or pulling an opponent can also be effective methods of distraction. Anything that produces a sharp temporary pain can be quite beneficial in the midst of a hostile exchange. This form of distraction also often results in the development of weakness in the opponent as he or she reacts unconsciously to the pain.
Once you have initiated a distraction you do not want to wait to see if it was effective. By then any advantage you may have gained will be lost. Instead, issue your distraction and then either escape, thwart, or destroy as you find appropriate. A person will seldom fall for two distractions within a short period of time, so immediately take advantage of any distractions you employ.
When working with a training partner begin to experiment with distractions (but I can’t say I recommending slapping your training partner). See if you can find a few distractions that you feel comfortable using. Now attempt to use the distractions on various training partners who are not expecting it. Avoid using the same distractions too frequently with any one individual. Mix things up so that your distractions will always be unexpected and unpredictable. This should help you build confidence regarding your ability to successfully perform a distraction and will provide you with valuable insights into when and where a given distraction methodology might be best employed, as well as when it might be best avoided. It will also help you appreciate viable subsequent actions that can be quickly and successfully employed following a specific distraction method.