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As practitioners of Ninjutsu, we all want to be able to disappear. When I first saw The Matrix, I was astounded to see the characters in the movie move in ways that seemed unnatural. I knew it was a movie, but I couldn’t help but wonder, is it possible to really move the body in ways that were superhuman. After many years of training in the martial arts in various styles, I still can’t move matrix-style, but I’m beginning to understand the mindset needed to move in a way that comes pretty close.
I found an article written in a forum about this very subject. This article helped me so much that I had to share it with you in it’s entirety. The author did an amazing job explaining a topic that’s very hard to comprehend and one that many will never understand even after years of martial arts training. The full article can be found here, but you will find the same content in this post. Read slow and share this with your fellow practitioners.
Why I LARP
Confessions of a Budo Taijutsu
I have always felt, throughout my youth as a martial arts enthusiast, that there has always been a key component absent from my experience. It would be logical to assume that the missing component lies in various arts’ differences in philosophy and mechanical quality of function; but I’ve come to the tentative conclusion that their common perspective is where this missing component hides.
The exerting of one’s will through superior timing and mechanical advantage. This perspective seems perfectly appropriate. If we look at it mathematically it seems to represent; <better timing + better technique = will exerted/desired result>, I believe this to be inaccurate. Absent of self-deception, the formula looks more like; <better timing + better technique + my will = result(?)>. We tend to be of a mind that; if we are seeking a certain result, the best way to get there is to work in logical steps toward that result. Makes sense.
What if instead of the above formula, we changed it to read; <better timing + better technique = result(?)>. When we remove our will from the exchange, the only thing left is our learned responses and training. Those things we all spent hours upon hours learning, dissecting, and imprinting. The result is a question mark in either case, an ultimate variable. Unknowable by either party. Regardless of what I think I’m going to do or what’s going to happen, regardless of what my opponent thinks he’s going to do or what’s going to happen, the result is unknowable. Confidence is an illusion through this paradigm. Confidence is an illusion because the result will be what it is regardless of what you thought it should be.
If the result is truly unknowable, the only way to accurately shape it is in real time. In order to do this, you have to become zero. “Becoming Zero” is to become tangibly absent from the equation. Existing naturally in the present. To insert oneself into the equation is to exist in the potential future. Two opponents applying the first formula are equally matched in their ability to perceive opportunities to shape the result. As both exist in the potential future, they meet on the same plane, which to them, is the present. Ooooooh…. Graph Time!
Now, switch it. Opponent 2 exists in the potential future, in other words focusing on what he ‘can make happen’. Opponent 1 exists naturally in the present, focused on nothing in particular except what is ‘actually happening’ and because of that, is converging with Opponent 2 in his past.
Try not to think of these graphs as representing the encounter start to finish. It should be viewed as a moment within the exchange, the entire exchange by which would be represented as a vast network of converging and diverging branches of time, space and opportunity.
Now, Opponent 2 can still catch opportunities to shape the result, however he may find it awkward to manifest superior technique, finding himself trailing slightly behind on the timing to capitalize. When Opponent 1 capitalizes on opportunities he finds in the natural present, they are invisible to Opponent 2 until they near the point of Actual Result. Opponent 2 being in the potential future, is constantly forced to catch up to the past. To the things that have already happened by the time they reach his ability to perceive them in what he sees as the present.
“You are not just fighting one opponent. You are fighting the unknown.”
As in Depth Perception, is an ability we gain when the quantity of counter-opposing external stimuli reaches a certain threshold. Draw a square, draw five more lines and at some point a threshold is reached where our perception of the square becomes wholly different. If we remove all evidence of the counter-opposing external stimuli, i.e. erase the five lines leaving only the original square, we are robbed of this perception.
While I don’t think it’s possible to completely remove an opponents’ ability to perceive depth, at least not through martial arts, it can be tweaked, toyed with, and distorted. When we’re speaking of action oriented dynamic depth perception, the speed at which things happen or change is a significant factor. Whether a simple biological glitch or more closely tied to early hunter gatherers, our brains seem to favor more sudden changes in counter opposing external stimuli to a point with regard to this function. That is to say, there is a prime range or ‘sweet spot’ of informational feedback rate that is optimal for this purpose; Which means that there is a range of informational feedback rate that is sub-optimal.
This glitch is the reason that we have brake lights on motor vehicles. Without them, we don’t have enough of counter-opposing external stimuli(read: comparative before/after input) to realize and measure the change in depth as the car in front of us presses the brakes and begins to slow. Only when a certain threshold has been reached, where the scene in front of us has changed enough from the before that we begin to realize that an ‘after’ is taking place.
This is what telegraphing is. Feeding the opponent enough of the right kind of sensory input to allow him to keep pace with changes in time and space. The opposite is self-explanatory.
There are numerous examples of these kind of exploits in Bujinkan movement, let’s see if I can illustrate a couple. The half-lazy drifting rearward and slightly offline style of evasion common to most every practice moment in class, where the upper body is kept upright and nearly static, and the majority of changing is done from waist down in the lower periphery. When utilized in concert with the past/future exploit from the Perspective section above, Opponent 2 can’t perceive the change until near the point of Actual Result. To Opponent 2, it appears that Opponent 1 is simply standing the same distance away that he was at the beginning of the movement without moving. Opponent 2 can see the beginning and the end, but the in-between is beyond his perception. This is called ‘Change Blindness’. Here are a few examples of this concept in action.
[youtube url=”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=voAntzB7EwE” width=”640″ height=”480″ autohide=”1″ controls=”0″ rel=”0″ showinfo=”0″]
[youtube url=”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5igHSsydm1Q&feature=player_embedded” width=”640″ height=”480″ autohide=”1″ controls=”0″ rel=”0″ showinfo=”0″]
From this we can safely say that the brain processes information differently or not at all depending on its’ own contextually specific measure of importance. In the case our martial engagement example, changes that are deemed non-threatening and therefore, low priority, are less overt than their more obviously threatening counterparts, and in some cases ignored all together.
If an expert in the fighting arts sincerely pursues the essence of Ninjutsu, devoid of the
influence of the ego’s desires, the student will progressively come to realize the ultimate secret
for becoming invincible – the attainment of the “mind and eyes of god”. The combatant who would
win must be in harmony with the scheme of totality, and must be guided by an intuitive
knowledge of the playing out of fate.
In tune with the providence of heaven and the impartial justice of nature, and following a clear
and pure heart full of trust in the inevitable, the Ninja captures the insight that will guide him
successfully into battle when he must conquer and conceal himself protectively from hostility, and
when he must acquiesce.
The vast universe, beautiful in its coldly impersonal totality, contains all that we call good or
bad, all the answers for all the paradoxes we see around us. By opening his eyes and his mind,
the Ninja can responsively follow the subtle seasons and reasons of heaven, changing just as
change is necessary, adapting always, so that in the end there is no such thing as a surprise for
(Ninjutsu Hiketsu Bun)
Quick snapping changes, in this case, illicit a stronger response in the brains’ processing function than slower, smoother transitions. Slow is smooth, smooth is fast. What can you do with this? Metsubishi(sp?) is, on the surface, a distraction technique and while it can certainly be used in that context of manifestation, the underlying exploit that allows it to work as a distraction can be used for other ends. Metsubishi functions as a distraction because it is placed in a high priority threatening zone. i.e. inches from face. By capitalizing on this exploit in concert with those above, it can be used to elicit all manner of space-taking, balance-taking functions.
Think of summer, taking a walk in that re-invigorating breeze. You notice a bee zooming around in your space. You shift around to give him room to go by and find something else to be interested in but I’ll be damned if the little bastard doesn’t fly directly into your face, every time, without fail. Now it’s just a bee, it doesn’t have the power to kill you, or even hurt you very badly, but it does have the power to hurt you. Given that, it is a threatening agent. It’s threat measure is gauged based on its’ physical proximity to the brain(or your face). So it’s recognized by the brain as an increasingly threatening agent and evasive measures are triggered. The quality of movement used in the evasion is gauged and triggered in direct relation to the level of threat perceived. That is to say, fast moving threats toward the face are dealt with using a decidedly increased response; and conversely slower moving threats are dealt with using a decidedly measured response. With the slow lazy-drifting pace at which the bee invades your prime threatening area(face), it is viewed by the brain as a low level threatening agent and because of that, the amount of information the brain decides needs to be processed lessens. Weakening the depth perception until it becomes more difficult to accurately gauge the appropriate course of evasion. You begin to rear your head back at roughly the same measured pace that the bee is invading. What eventually happens is that the bee has now taken space that you needed to maintain stability, and with it, equilibrium, and he took it without you being accurately aware. Now when I say the bee has ‘taken’ this space, this is inaccurate. In reality the space was given, balance was given. The bee simply triggered your brain into classifying it as a lower priority threat until the moment of Actual Result. Like picking someone up at a bar, you can’t seem too eager or you’ll be classified as a high priority threatening agent and evasive measures will be taken. One must remain aloof to operate the mechanism.
“Being natural is the ultimate secret of our art.”
– Takamatsu Toshitsugo
1. Of chief concern or importance.
2. Supreme in rank, power, or authority.
One that has the highest rank, power, or authority.
I’m sure we’ve all lost our balance at some point. Someone bumps into us, or we lose our footing, but in this moment an interesting thing takes place. Our backs arch, our arms flail in measured response in an attempt to cancel out the responsible force. If we’ve lost our balance, we’re falling. If we saved ourselves, we stay up. What’s especially interesting about this mechanism is how completely not in control of it we are. When you begin to lose your balance, your equilibrium gets on the phone to the motor centers of your brain and says DO SOMETHING!! WE’RE GONNA CRASH!!!!…… STOP SCREAMING YOU SISSY I’M ON IT, the brain says. And together, your sense of equilibrium and a non-conscious area of the brain synergize to deal with the problem. I say non-conscious because, while you may be conscious of the events unfolding, you are not consciously in control of the measures being taken to deal with the problem. Maintaining equilibrium is a Paramount function of the human brain. If you’ve had the experience of almost losing your balance, there is a frozen moment of time, where the responsible force is neutralized exactly and balance is saved at the edge. Stuck there like a car half off the edge of a cliff. A strong voice from inside bids you HOLD STILL….. If you can take an opponent to just the very edge of their balance and keep them there, there exists a moment of sheer helplessness. This is the place where locking and striking techniques begin to be performed. Taking the opponent to an emotionally and physically helpless state effectively kills fighting spirit. In this place, any technique is good. This is why the densho read “finish as desired”, at the end of descriptions.
“In avoiding and dodging, don’t move too far: just enough is just enough. You
get it, hm? But it’s not your head that needs to understand!”
As with any form of legerdemain; operation of these triggers takes years of dedicated practice. This is after the years of practicing the structure of the lessons to a point where you even realize that these mechanisms are the primary focus. It takes a while too. As a beginning martial arts student, you already have in your head what “real fighting” and “true budo” are and represent. You already have an idea in your head as to how the techniques demonstrated in class are performed. Unfortunately you can only see the structure of the mechanism through the paradigm of physical interaction, push/pull dynamics, and mechanical advantage.
Learning an instrument is almost identical in process and goal. You begin with an easily teachable structure, i.e. scales and chords. There are correct ways they go together based on a set of rules. There are also ways that they go together correctly that transcend the rules altogether. Since it’s pointless to start a new student in the structure-less void of the latter, they begin them on the former so that they have a guidepost to deviate from and return to. While the student spends hours upon hours practicing chords/progressions, and scales; They’re also practicing the bare physical conditioning necessary to let those things go and freely improvise. Finger pressure/placement, quality of attack(string), setting and maintaining rhythm, changing rhythm. While these exercises are the building blocks of creating music, they aren’t music. Nor are they a close approximation of music. Scales are not, ear-shredding improvisational guitar solos, nor are they a close approximation of such. They are, however, necessary to the creation of ear-shredding improvisational guitar solos.
Practicing Kamae and Kata are not dissimilar to this process. Not an A-B-C fight-model example. They’re more of a structured process of creating guideposts to improvise from without deviating too far from established efficacy. The ratio of time spent practicing scales vs improvisational exploration should be 65/35 in favor of structured practice, free from variable.
“Your life is on the line. Practice well.”-Masaaki Hatsumi
Ultimately, the study of True Budo, has little to do with fighting. At its’ heart, True Budo is the study of human behavior in response to changes in stimuli. Therefore mastery of True Budo is the attainment of understanding these behaviors on a micro scale. Influences at their most subtle, invisible to the enemy, and natural in their execution. This is what is meant by Ninja Mind Control. This is “Seeing with the Mind and Eyes of God”.
Many thanks to Hayseed for taking the time to research and write this article. It changed the way I looked at training Ninjutsu and I hope it has the same effect on you. Please feel free to share this article with your fellow practitioners of Ninjutsu or any martial art.
Stay healthy and keep practicing.