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Techniques as Relationships

I took me years to appreciate how techniques in our martial art were determined by the relationship between attacker and defender, as opposed to just, well, a technique. I knew the idea almost from the beginning, of course, but it took me a few years to realize just how profound that concept was.

The other day I was helping out a friend and they made a lame joke at my expense. I knew it was a joke, but it was poorly worded and poorly delivered and we weren’t that close of friends. It had the result of making me a bit annoyed rather than amused. Poor technique. Wrong time. It reminded me of an old book written in the early 1900’s called the Virginian, by Owen Wister. The lead character, a very dangerous man, was called a certain name several times by one person and there was no response other than continued friendly conversation, but when the same name was used by the wrong person in the wrong way, a pistol was produced and the lead character, in a deadly calm voice said, “When you call me that, smile!” Poor technique. Wrong time.

But even good technique at the wrong time creates poor results. Our To-Shin Do 4th degree black belt skills, for example, are designed for use against a certain energy and skill level from the attacker. If that energy and skill level is not present, trying to use those techniques will not produce the results that were expected. At best, the techniques will not work very well, and at worst they could result in you in the hospital or in jail.

Whether it is verbal skills (a vastly underappreciated self-protection tool), physical skills, or any other area of self-protection we’re talking about, understanding the relationship at hand is vital to applying the correct technique. Who is the person we’re dealing with? What is their energy or personality? Can they be reasoned with, or are they beyond reason? Where is our own energy or personality? These are just a few questions that need to be answered.

The good news is that with training, you can get good at recognizing the answer to those questions without even having to think about them. (Bad guys are also, unfortunately, really good at doing this). It is built in to our everyday training. It starts with the elements and understanding why they work. As you train, pay close attention to the specifics of the attack. A lapel grab, for example, isn’t just a ‘lapel grab’. It is a grab and push. Or a grab and pull. Or a grab and hold. Or maybe a slow reach and and grab to intimidate. Or a quick reach and and snatch. Each one means something a little different in who you are dealing with. And each ‘technique’ taught in To-Shin Do involves a specific type of attack, and a certain state of mind from the defender. Change the relationship, and the defense changes. The principle doesn’t change, of course. The application does. Perhaps the footwork does. Or maybe the timing does. If we try to force the exact same technique to work in every situation then we might have good technique, but we’ll be like the proverbial broken clock. Sometimes it will be the right time. Most of the time it won’t.

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