Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Turning Weakness Into Strength - Flexibility

Hello All,

I’m back on-line.  Thanks for your patience.  It's good to be back.

I’ve mentioned in the past the importance of studying and practicing how to attack properly (as uki), or realistically, in order to give the (tori) defender, or receiver of the technique, an ‘as close to a real’ experience as possible.

If we don’t attack in a way that mirrors how real violence may very well occur, we are doing each other a disservice.

A single straight punch where you leave the arm extended as the uki does nothing to help the tori.  Nor does a lapel grab that has no follow up.  No one just grabs your lapel and stands there.

I recently started to apply a choke to my training partner.  Training dynamically, I didn’t ‘sink it in’ before he squirmed to the side.  I managed to transition into a side-headlock.  I wasn’t crazy about the position I ended up in.  I’m not a big fan of a headlock, unless you intend to really crank the head and neck, which can cause significant damage.  There’s not a lot of ‘in-between’ stuff.  Plus I know a variety of counters.  So I chose to disengage, feigning a back kick as I released my partner.

My point is not about the effectiveness of the headlock, though.  

One of the harder things to do in dynamic training (as uki) is to ‘let go’ or ‘give up’ your desired technique if it isn’t working as planned.  There’s a natural tendency to fight to hold on to whatever technique you initially selected/reacted with.  This ends in a strange sort of standing grappling match where the two partners are locked onto each other, not doing much more than pulling and pushing and spinning around.  A lot of real altercations end up in this back and forth ‘tug-of-war’.  The problem is that this ‘standing wrestling thing’ is extremely taxing.  The party that gets tired out first is normally the one that loses.

We must train to overcome our desire to hold on to something that’s not working.  I believe that very often the first thing you do won’t go as planned.  One translation of Jiu Jitsu is the ‘flexible art’.  Another is the ‘gentle art’ which gives me a chuckle.  It really means there’s less ‘force-on-force’ encounters.  You often accept the attacker's energy and momentum and use it against them.  So we must be flexible and adapt to changing circumstances.

If you successfully apply most Jiu Jitsu techniques (and many other styles), your attacker won’t be able to ‘fight’ it and resist.  If you haven’t locked it in though, your attacker may still have strength and leverage on their side.  If they pull a limb away, it’s better to go with it and apply a technique which capitalizes on their pulling motion.  You’ll often surprise them by going with it.

Simply put, if something you try doesn’t work, don’t be afraid to switch it up and transition to another variation or technique.  Never assume a technique will work flawlessly and always have other options available.  If your mind dead-ends with a single technique, and if it doesn’t work, you’re in trouble.

My Sensei says he’s always thinking 3 or 4 moves ahead.  The “if, then” model.  If this happens, then I’ll do this.

This type of training and mentally preparing yourself to be flexible, or even disengage if necessary, is very important.  I’ve seen footage of people so intent on trying to apply, say and arm-bar, that their attacker is raining down blows upon them until they lose consciousness.  

It takes some work to recognize this tendency and develop the mental flexibility to deal with it, but it can be done, especially through the use of more dynamic and realistic training.  As soon as you add movement and stop with the face to face, “ok, now you attack me” style of training, you’ll find you’ll have to adjust rapidly to defend effectively.  This is a great thing to incorporate into training.  You can also add in what I call ‘continuous Jiu Jitsu, where you and your training partner go back and forth with different techniques and figure out how to get out of each technique and apply your counter.  Randori is also invaluable.  When you’re surrounded by a group and they throw unspecified attacks at you, you can really get a sense of what a real encounter brings to the table.  You’re forced to react and adjust.

There’s an up-side to all this too.  Just as you have the natural tendency to try to hold on to something even if it isn’t working, so does your attacker.  If someone grabs you, by the hand, wrist, arm, head, leg etc, the will likely try to hold on for dear life to make good their attack.  This provides us with the advantage of time and we know where our attacker’s focus is.  They are far less likely to let go while you apply a technique to counter it.  You also know where their ‘weapons’ are.  If their hands are occupied grabbing a hold on you, you don’t need to worry about them doing other bad things to you.

Use this to your advantage.  Select a vulnerable area that’s available since his/her hands are tied up.  Understand that if you pull away, they will pull back towards them even harder.  You can easily use this to your advantage and ‘set’ them up.  Much of your training needs to be reactionary and instant, but in some situations, you may have just enough time to play some mental chess.

Turning potential weakness into strength.
Food for thought.


“In judo and some other martial arts, tori is the person who completes the technique against the training partner, called uke. Regardless of the situation, the principle is that "tori" is always the one who successfully completes a technique. The terms "tori" and "uke" are not synonymous with attacker and defender, because the role is determined by who completes a successful technique, not who initiates one.[1]
In aikido and related martial arts, tori executes a defensive technique against a designated attack initiated by uke. Aikido has alternate terms describing the role of tori, depending on the particular style or situation, including "thrower" (投げ, nage?) and "performing hand" (仕手, shite?).[2]


  1. Let me first say WELCOME BACK!!!!!!

    "If, then"...
    This was a big part of my Combat Hapkido training. My instructor could flow from one lock to another to another to another, etc all based on how I reacted to his techniques.

    Story time: I was still learning this when, years ago, I was fooling around with a buddy in my back yard. I went for an arm bar; he used his free hand to bend his elbow of the arm I was attacking and negated my arm bar then stood back up in front of me. But since we would hold arm bar by the hand (bending that joint as well) I was able to move him into a wrist lock and bring him back down.

    It was one of those "Why can't I do that when Sensei is watching?!" moments.

  2. Well, thank you very much, Sir.

    I was lamenting how when you work with someone who is truly talented at flowing from one technique, you're never quite sure if you were the one that tried to get out of the technique, or if they were the ones setting you up. An interesting experience.

    I chucked at the Sensei watching comment. Many a time I've nailed a challenging technique when his back was turned, only to mess it up when his eyes were once again on me.

    Thanks for the welcome back and for the comment.