Funes the Memorious by Borges, for me, is a poignant reminder of the dangers of specificity – missing the forest for the trees.  Funes focuses only on the details to the point that everything is unique – he has no ability to form connections to extrapolate a general pattern.  There is a deep lesson here.  Concentrate too heavily on each and every datum and analysis paralysis results.

As a student of Aikido we learn the names of techniques – labeled in Japanese.  In some ways this may be useful, to have an arbitrary (because in a foreign language) linguistic cue to frame a physical movement.  This may help build a mental-physical lexicon wherein we can collect an ever expanding number of discrete techniques.  I do not think that I was unique in collecting ‘cool’ techniques: this variant from this teacher, that one from another.  Like a reference library, the more I collected, the more I knew.  Or so it may seem to the lexiographically inclined.  But each new ‘technique’ remained discrete, even if it were a variation on a prior form, which leads to an ever deepening specialization.  And then I recalled a quote from Robert Heinlein (Time Enough For Love):

“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”

We cannot become too enamored with the specialized techniques – a matching of if this, then that logic, where a presentation of the wrist up is one technique whereas wrist down is a different one.  This would lead to a loss of adaptability and increase processing speed – the idea one must first recognize the attack, then categorize it, then select the correct response, then execute that technique.*  For me this ties back to OODA loops, cognitive linguistics, and Funes.**

This is the fragility*** of specialization.  I contend, we are meant to be bricoleurs – generalists – pattern finders – connection makers.  Build your lexicon, gather the variants, collect broadly, but then reflect and refine.  Like a good alchemist, distill the universals.

How does this relate to this morning’s class?  In the post title, I dropped the Tsuki purposefully because Jodan Tsuki is too specific.  This morning I attempted to present a more general reference frame – some might label it a heuristic – to simplify and better explore the physiological potential (q.v. Michael Janich) of our responses to any highline attack.

First a reminder of the lexical specificity you know already: shomen, yokomen, gyaku yokomen, kata dori, kata menuchi, kubi-shime, jodan tsuki, etc. but these are all highline attacks.

So let’s simplify and define:  The centerline bisects your body, left and right.  The midline separates the body on the high and low-lines.  In general anything above your elbow line is the high-line and anything below your elbows is low-line.  The anatomical quadrants**** illustrate some of the target organs available in each quadrant.

The classical sword posture of seigan-no-kaimae further illustrates the four quadrants:


Upper left, upper right, lower left, lower right.  Revisit the basic 8 cuts and the doce pares diagrams.  Now look at it again.

Rather than defining the strike (i.e., angle 1) look at it as a defensive zone (zone 1).  To your assailant, a “1 strike” is a specific attack.  For you it is a zone to protect (i.e., left side of your head).

We have been working from a very specific attack to explore the concept.  Jodan Tsuki is angle 5 (a straight thrust) but please recall that any thrust (point) can also define a line – shomen-uchi.    This was done purposefully because the #5 is a common way to along the #11/12 line (the centerline).  It also sets up the reference Matrix discussed in the previous post.

The specific training was R/R and L/L outside line – therefore nage delivered a back-knuckle rather than a palm deflection.  We therefore played this as irimi-nage, but that is just one possible dynamic.  It could just as easily have been kokyuho.

From there we moved  to the inside line – R/L and L/R thereby dictating a palm deflection, which was presented as a deflection to carotid strike to kokyu-nage.  Expanding this line of play, this transforms to shiho-nage.  But rather than encountering this at Aikido’s typical maai where tori’s attack is picked up at its terminal position (i.e., at full extension) this morning we moved to trapping range to make sure that the deflection, re-direction and capture were all nage-induced movements.  Meaning nage was the primary causal agent in the encounter.  Foot work was minimal, torsional power was arm and hip driven.  Why play at close range?  To ensure that you can do it.  No intelligent assailant would commit as fully at largo mano range – it is a training fiction.  So, to use the metaphor of the morning: take off the training wheels.

To make the connection back to a weaponized presentation, I showed that the R/L-L/R dynamic off the #5 is the same pattern as the “generic” opening for a 2 dagger or Espada y Daga opening.  R slash, L thrust, R thrust & clear, L thrust.   Follow the logic chain and you will see that this was the same pattern as the jodan tsuki kokyu nage throw we did.  Or, if you want a different “kata” think of the Kali sequence, this is #2 to #3.  Same pattern – different methods of presentation.

Perhaps a plethora of examples only adds to confusion.  The intent is the opposite – by showing the similarities among the ‘systems’ I hope to build linkages.  Momentarily ignore the myriad of details and look only to the broader global body motions and the similarities emerge.  Suddenly, one need not remember the multitude, and the universal becomes manifest.  We pare to the minimal movements with maximal efficacity.  At least that is the goal as I see it.




*In Heretics of Dune (1984) Frank Herbert introduced the Honored Matres whose Prana-bindu and Hormu fighting culminated with the logical (if fantastical) conclusion that to minimize response time one must bypass the brain.  Their kicking speed is reflexive and processed locally rather than through the central nervous system.

**Cognitive Linguistics:  I am not trying to make an academic argument, merely point out that there are interesting connections to make.  Boyd’s OODA loop was discussed in an earlier post as have the different types of speed (Bruce Lee).  The idea of mental constructs hindering or amplifying reactionary speed may be a testable hypothesis, but I am not aware of anyone conducting one.  Despite it being out of favor, the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis remains a valuable insight – our linguistic constructs (lexicon, grammar, etc.) produce perceptual blinders.  [I think of the Dragon of the North scene in Eric the Viking, where the Christian priest cannot see the dragon the Vikings fight – it simply doesn’t exist as a mental construct, therefore has no instantiated reality.]  But such broad generalities are out of favor – small-minded specialists lauding the primacy of individual experience always provide the exception to the rule.  It seems the academic-insects have won – hypertrophied specialist decrying the applicability of a general rule.  Back to heuristics again?  Perhaps I betray my intellectual age, but having read with David French and Gail Kelly, I find broad connections valuable and seminal.

***Antifragile.  I like the phrase as a concept better than the book, although I respect Nassim Taleb’s intellect and his conclusion(s).

****Anatomy.  The reminder of anatomical targets in each quadrant should not be lost on advance practitioners.  The natural “body armor” of the sternum and ribs protects the vital targets (lungs and heart) but the secondary organs are available and more exposed.


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