For beginning To-Shin Do students, just having an answer to a problem is the goal. We start with twelve fundamental techniques, based on common attacks, so that we have the skills to react to difficult situations. Reacting correctly is the next step. A black stripe on a color belt means it is time to start choosing between possibilities. The options might be several different attacks, or the options might be a violent threat versus a less violent threat. However it is set up, being able to react correctly is vital for self-defense.
Once we’ve gained some skill in reacting correctly there is an even more advanced consideration. If we think about the word ‘reaction’, it’s obvious there is some sort of ‘action’ first. Then we ‘react’. A punch is thrown. (Action) We use, say, our earth hook punch defense. (Reaction). But as we start to drill down into what is really happening, it is far more complex. Our first reaction to an attack might actually be to feel confident or surprised. Then our body moves accordingly (using the elemental defenses we’re familiar with).
The next stage for really advanced training, then, is paying attention to how we react to our reaction. It might start in the training hall with examining ourselves after a technique. Did we get angry because we didn’t respond the right way? Did we get proud for being in just the right place? In a pure self-defense consideration, such reactions can pull us out of the present moment just enough to not quite be ready for the next attack, or may cloud our judgement for how we act after the defense is over.
If our reaction in an actual fight is an angry, violent one (whether justified or not), how we react to that can keep us out of jail. Or help us end up there. If we react to being angry with words like, ‘that guy got what he deserved’ or we react by saying ‘I’m so sorry, I shouldn’t have hit him so hard’, that can be all the confession a police officer needs to assume we’re actually the bad person.
For deeper training, we can start to look at how we react to our reaction before the fight beings. For example, someone says something threatening, so we are scared. A reasonable response. But if our reaction to our scared reaction is to ‘talk tough’ so no one realizes we’re scared, then we create a worse situation. Or our reaction when faced with anger might be to want to avoid the confrontation. This is, again, a sensible reaction. But if our reaction to that feeling is to avert our eyes, we might be telling this person what a great victim we are.
It can be difficult to set up this level of training in the dojo. So for very advanced training, we turn the whole world into our dojo. Anytime we have an interaction with someone, we can train. How did we react? What was our reaction to our reaction? It is scary training though. In a lot of ways, it is even scarier than an actual fight. It is scary because to really practice this you have to 1) be honest about how you respond, 2) recognize there might be deeper layers to your response and 3) be willing to change the part of you that isn’t generating the results you want. Advanced training indeed!