With the recent death of Muhammad Ali, I have been seeing clips of his historical fights on social media. Something caught my attention.
As Ali matured and gained experience in fighting formidable foes, he developed an increasing reliance on what we call “water strategic placement”. Watch and see if you do not agree. No, he is not in ichimonji no kamae, as he did not have to be wary of kicks coming at him. But he embodied the philosophy of water, craftily moving and then coming in on his bewildered opponents.
Indeed, much of the time, Ali just positioned himself strategically. His opponents struggled to punch him with rapid fire bombs and he did not even lift his hands in defense. He just knew exactly where to be and timed it perfectly.
I have worked to explain the water principle for so many years, and yet it remains difficult for some people to really get it. It is strategic positioning. It is not retreating to cover. It is not “backing off”. It is not fighting defensively. It is strategically positioning oneself to have a major advantage in a fight.
Something to try: Watch the shoulder of the puncher advancing on you. Move when the shoulder moves. (Once the hand is well on its way towards its target, it is too late. You’ll have to duck or pull to the side — definitely fighting defensively. You don’t want to do that.) Watch carefully and move with the aggressor’s shoulder. You will have a more confident feel to your taijutsu as you assume a position that leaves you in charge and them vulnerable. Be like Ali.
In honor of Ali’s colorful life, I have included a photo of myself and Ali, back in 2003, when I had the pleasure of introducing him onstage to the Dalai Lama.