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Fluid Connectedness

In my many decades as an instructor one of the most difficult essential To-Shin Do concepts to get students to assimilate is the idea of moving with your opponent. For many students this is incredibly difficult to grasp. This is the principal of fluid connectedness. This is the understanding that once the conflict has begun you and your opponent are one energy, and, that the person who is most aware of and in control of that energy is most likely to prevail. The theory is always easy. Intellectually we get it. Now, getting our bodies to cooperate in training, let alone in a real fight, is another thing.

There are only three possibilities when we consider timing. I move too soon. I move too late. My timing is spot on. Let’s look at each of them.

If I move too soon my opponent is likely to adjust and I will have to change tactics. There are two components here. First is what martial artists often call telegraphing. This is when I give away my intentions, and can be the result of body language or a telling glance. This is all together too easy to do when you are adrenalized and freaking out.

The second happens quite frequently in the training hall. This is when you move to soon because you know the kata, you are expecting a clear and specific attack. (It is important to train with specific kata scenarios for various reasons). This can result in the development of a potentially dangerous false sense of confidence.

The three best ways to combat this are: 1) Have your uke vary the energy and timing of the attack once you are comfortable with the mechanics of the kata and techniques involved. 2) Do your best to act as though you don’t know what your attacker is going to do exactly (a very challenging mental exercise). Include specific decision making training and randori (free response) in your training when possible and at the appropriate rank. Try not to jump the gun here, free response can be completely counter-productive if a student does not yet have a working knowledge of fundamental principals and techniques.

The result of moving too late is usually very obvious. The reasons for moving too late, quite often, are not. There can be a number of contributing factors to this issue, such as; an unstable base, failure to understand natural speed and allowing gravity to move you, too much tension in the body, to name a few. However, the underlying pervasive cause is almost always being in a psychologically reactive posture or state of mind. For most people this is a very difficult nut to crack.

The first thing for us to fully understand is that reaction has little or no chance of beating action. By definition reaction chronologically follows action. If that action is quick, your chances are slim at best. If we can train our minds to see a conflict as a single thing, a dynamic form of energy with two components (as opposed to two separate energies battering each other) we will cross one of the most important bridges on our journey to reliably effective skills, and eventually, mastery. This is the essence of fluid connectedness

Here are a few ideas to experiment with.

The next time you are training with a partner take a moment to consciously think of you and your partner as two components moving as one mass of energy. Think of oil and water together. When you shake them up they appear to combine in various ways. Left to settle, they separate. Within a vessel it is virtually impossible for one globule of oil to move independently, without the water moving at the same time in a natural way. Try to be like that.

Stand face to face with a partner, both of you left leg forward. Ask your partner to slowly begin walking toward you right leg first. Practice being connected by matching the timing of your steps allowing your partner to “lead.” Once you are comfortable with this basic exercise allow the “leader” to move in any direction and practice staying connected.

Further, always keep in mind the idea of chipping away at unnecessary tension in your body and your movement. Tension is the enemy of both fluidity and connectedness.

As you move forward in your training do your best to keep this concept of fluid connectedness in your mind. Conversely, avoid the idea of you as separate from your attacker and that your method of defense is based on you doing things to or “at” your opponent. This can be a very tough bridge to cross, but once you do, an entire world of masterful skill will open up for you. Keep training, and have fun.

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