As we continue to move forward with the development of To-Shin Do as the best self-defense martial art available anywhere, I couldn’t agree more with An-shu’s directive that we must focus on what is practical, relevant, and reliably effective. I have long held that when we are practicing defenses against various forms of strikes we must recognize the limited practicality of straight-line attacks. Most punches, attacks to the head with pipes, sticks, bottles, etc., and even most knife attacks are not confined to straight lines. If we are to have faith in the practicality and effectiveness of what we study and practice we must consider the value of straight line striking attacks.
A simple scan on you tube of real fights caught on surveillance cameras or cell phones will make it clear that a perfectly triangulated straight punch by a well trained fighter is a rare occurrence in a self-defense situation, or even in a so-called social fight. You will find that a straight, over extended, lunging punch is virtually absent. The same is true of perfectly straight-line knife attacks or straight down clubbing attacks. Further, where women are concerned, forget it; the very nature of a slap is circular, and the probability of a stylized straight punch to the face is next to nil. I am not saying a woman would never get punched in the face (unfortunately). I am saying it wouldn’t be a 1500s lunging straight punch.
That said, straight-line attacks could arguably be a good place to start beginners because it makes the critical principles much easier to understand. For example, a specific angle is clearly much easier to calculate from a straight line as opposed to an arc with a wide range of potential impact points. Further, a straight punch is ridiculously easy to evade as compared to a punch that is not limited to a straight-line trajectory. The same is obviously true of something like a knife attack, which presents much more dire consequences.
I often use developing an understanding of mathematical principles as an analogy for cultivating some of our key principles, like balance breaking and angling. Dealing with straight line attacks, for example, a very extended straight lunging punch, is like learning addition and subtraction; a good place to start. When you begin to ad curved lines and complicated trajectories, you advance to multiplication and division. When you add quick, intense and perhaps choppy movement, combined with genuine intent to do serious harm, you are entering the realms of calculus and trigonometry. Obviously, without an understanding of simple arithmetic advanced knowledge like calculus is impossible.
When I embraced Ninjutsu training in the early 80s, once I began to grasp the principles that made the Ninja martial arts so unique, I became increasingly suspicious of the exclusively straight lunging strike attacks. Like An-shu, I have always been intensely committed to pursuing what will really work. It is this penchant for focusing on defending against real and highly probable attacks and defenses, and the corresponding dissatisfaction with unrealistic training, that caused me to break away from historically bound approaches to training; particularly if you are going to call it self-defense. This is what compelled me to follow An-shu as the right teacher for me (after training with many and having achieved high ranks in a number of other arts,) and to embrace the vision for the To-Shin Do experience that was established in the 1990s.
I continue to work with An-shu and the other seniors to remain true to that vision, as outlined in his recent posts. In the pursuit of furthering that vision we must guard against the temptation to be satisfied with the limiting (and comforting) nature of straight-line attacks. To follow my analogy, this would be like limiting our knowledge to addition and subtraction and believing we are good at trig and calculus. Clearly this could be disastrous on many levels, not the least of which is the shattering of a false sense of confidence.
As An-shu states, we have had to let go of some of our “favorites” from earlier and nostalgic training experiences. Evolution demands that this process be ongoing. Even the Dalai Lama, the internationally recognized figurehead of Buddhism, has stated that outmoded beliefs belong in the trash. This commitment to continuous improvement that An-shu is reiterating, once again, is part and parcel to our student creed: “I believe in what I study…” “I believe in my teachers…” Let’s continue to live and breathe these ideals and not let them fade to the level of mere recitations.