To Train a Warrior Art - Part III by James Morganelli


This third and final installment has to do with moving in tactical space, the last piece to training warrior arts.
As the story goes, at the Hombu dojo in Japan, Soke Masaaki Hatsumi painted the kanji for “life” on a sheet a paper. Then flipped it over and painted “death” on the back - a poetic distinction of the meager difference between living and dying.
Physically, this sheer difference is also the realistic margin of error we’re working within when we train. Too often, I see folks using far too much or too little space, paying no mind to the margin. But if the thickness of paper can mean the difference between life and death, then something like a foot of misused space might as well be the zombie apocalypse. General Douglas MacArthur supposedly said the following after battling the Japanese to reach Australia:
It was close, but that's the way it is in war. You win or lose, live or die - and the difference is just an eyelash. 
What happens when we lose sight of the margin? When our movement is too thick or thin and ill-timed? That’s easy: We set ourselves up to die. That’s the end, the one and only result when talking warrior arts.
So, how do we maintain this margin and train ourselves to stay within the thickness of a sheet of paper? Ultimately, we train and keep going. But first, we must learn to recognize the margin, recognize "tactical space." 
What is “tactical space?” What do we mean when we say “seeing the tactical space?” Is there really something there to “see?” Yes, but it's not something we merely observe, rather it’s about visualizing our martial awareness.
The term “space” is a little confusing here since we are really trying to determine at least two aspects when we speak of it. The first involves recognizing openings, vulnerabilities, that may be of use defensively or offensively. And the second is determining the particular timing necessary to their utilization, which normally requires entering or retreating from them. Now, I know that seems like a lot, but it turns out we already do this a good deal of the time. At least, if you drive a car. I can think of at least two rules here:
Keep open the tactical space. 
Expand into tactical space.
Driving a vehicle requires us to “see the tactical space” in a way that is very similar to martial arts. The vehicle occupies a certain area, just like our bodies do. As we operate the car we need to continually invoke and habituate the two rules mentioned above: We need to consistently keep the area around the vehicle open, which requires keen awareness of the occupied space of the vehicle and the environment and obstacles that it’s operating in and nearby. And we need to continually maneuver the vehicle into space we can expand into - area that is unoccupied - as this prevents the vehicle from hitting anything, which may include other vehicles and pedestrians. Driving, changing lanes, parking, and backing up requires that we perform at least these two aspects and consistently so.
Lastly, we don’t drive cars just anywhere. We don’t drive them onto sidewalks and through the front yards of people’s homes. There are these things called “roads” and when we drive we use them as guides. The manner in which we negotiate roads by the two rules above represents the use of the “tactical space,” since the roads are the key to getting us where we want to go. 
Now, this driving analogy isn’t perfect because it represents a 2-D model, whereas martial arts move ideally in three dimensions. “Expanding” into tactical space is the key here - moving in all three dimensions as opposed to two. We are most familiar with mobility in two dimensions, the north/south, east/west movements, because many of us take for granted the third dimension as we move and interact with the world - the z-axis or up/down movement. We are always activating this axis - gravity requires us to do so. But this action, so intrinsic and ingrained in our daily mobility, often means it is left out of our martial movements. Which is unfortunate since training in 3-D is necessary to take full advantage of tactical space. So, we must learn (or relearn as the case may be) to reactivate this axis to gain advantage over what is often two-dimensional movement used against us. 
The analogy also doesn’t paint all options regarding what is and is not tactical space. Certainly moving into any open space, including the opposite side of the road, may be a better alternative to preserve life and escape an accident than risking injury and death by following the “rules of the road.” But I’m sure you get the point.
All of this means orienting ourselves to be a good driver, which means being a “defensive driver.” Defensive driving is all about raising awareness of your actions and behavior. This includes but may not be limited to: Following distance, vehicle speed, and focus for consistency of movement. One’s following distance is measured by how much time one follows the car ahead. The vehicle speed positions the car in regards to its context, the circumstances of its environment, like traffic and weather. And the final aspect regards the focus one employs for consistent, non-erratic driving, as in refraining from distracting actions, like texting and driving. 
These elements matter because they foster acuity from which to deliver spontaneous and creative responses to variables we may well encounter while driving, like roadway debris and accidents. This habituated high-level of awareness, our bearing, then allows us take advantage of tactical space – time and place - so that if something unexpected happens, we have the wherewithal and enough time to avoid it whether that means slowing down, stopping, or changing direction. These three simple aspects of defensive driving that most of us probably take for granted translate well to the martial sphere as initiative, positioning, and leverage – the three principles of Taijutsu and one could argue Budo as a whole.  
INITIATIVE is represented by “when” as in “when ought I act?” It characterizes the timing of our motivational instincts of self-and-others preservation, our “common sense,” to initiate the scope and shape of our ethical bearing, our response to the "ought" of obligation when we deal with conflict.
POSITIONING is represented by “where” as in “where ought I act?” It physically maneuvers the body tactically, which provides no openings for conflict to occur.
LEVERAGE is represented by “what” as in “what ought I do?” The application of techniques, their shaping and manipulation, belong to the state of leverage we can gain over conflict to ensure our response’s “viability,” or the life-preserving action that occurs when the ethical and tactical are reconciled.    
Together these principles make up the elements necessary for successful use of tactical space or the “moment” of motive, place, and action. To use them successfully we must abide by the two rules above regarding keeping the tactical space open so that we can expand into it as necessary. 
The main issue in preventing use of tactical space and refining one’s combat mindset and “tacticality” as I like to say, is the reliance upon techniques to “do the work.” But as it turns out this is not simply an issue for the martial community but the military as well.
Check out this quote from the “Maneuver Warfare Handbook,” by William S. Lind. The quote itself is by Colonel Michael D. Wyly, USMC, from the introduction to a lecture series on tactics he delivered to the Amphibious Warfare School in the 1981-82 school year. It is longish, but highly informative.
After he first declares that the “fundamentals” of tactics are not “control measures” and “formats” (think techniques and kata), he defines fundamentals as, “that which dealt with defeating the enemy. The answer to the question of what will work to undo the opposing force is what we must be searching for in tactics … All else is peripheral.”
… First the student must learn to think creatively, to innovate, and to do the things that will most quickly seek out the enemy’s weak spots and undo him. Learning to think in that fashion is fundamental … Once these fundamentals are learned, that is, once the student has begun to think clearly about how best to undo his adversary, once he has been rewarded in the classroom or the field for creative thought, the careful weighing of alternatives and risks followed by boldness in decision-making, he will then be ready to study definitions, control measures and formats. He will grasp their meaning more rapidly, for he will have a context in which to place them. They will be more than words and symbols. 
When we teach tactics in the opposite order, that is, the mechanics ahead of the thinking, too often we produce, instead of soldiers, structured mechanics who find it difficult to think without rules. The art of war has no traffic with rules. Yet I have often seen students reject their best tactical ideas because they could not fit them into the format.     
As this quote is representational of warfare – they are past the politics of deployment and already on the field of battle - and not the civilian and martial sphere, I would tweak the first paragraph, perhaps exchanging the word “creatively” for “ethically,” and then apply the notion to the six-model contexts from Part II (Escape, Resist, Extract, Intercede, Confront, Subdue). Bearing in mind the protector ethic, which of those contexts will “undo” the adversary? "Learning to think in that fashion is fundamental."       
Wyly also cautions against becoming, “structured mechanics who find it difficult to think without rules” (think "technique collectors"). “Seeing” the space between you and your partner, let alone an opponent, as extraordinarily charged, is to treat them as if they are radioactive. When is the earliest point I (or others) can disengage from threats or danger? 
. Following that gut feeling is to speak from the ethic and ask, how ought I protect myself and/or protect others? Concentrating on the motive of “ought” - when we ought and ought not to act - opens us to the opportunities for technique. So, we must make a concentrated effort to let go of “what to do.” Turns out, there is no what to do, only our personal ethical bearing and "when" and "where" to act upon it. It is this combination that naturally produces the “what,” the technique. 
Our own human nature can in some ways work against our best intentions. For every day we go conflict free, every chance, turn, and moment we feel safe and secure, we are seduced into dropping our guard, our mindset of zanshin (and sanshin, the shingitai) just a little bit more (to say nothing of the way in which society’s moral relativism seduces to drop our ethical bearing!) When we start focusing on technique to do our work for us, when we let the “what to do” drive the moment of its use, we numb ourselves just a little bit more to our own common sense, our own common humanity. This should scare the hell out of any serious budoka.
There is an old Japanese proverb, Ichi go, Ichi e, 一期一会,and it speaks to having, “one time, one meeting.” It is often used to describe the transient uniqueness of a given moment and thus it is apt for use in Budo and warrior arts as, “no second chances.” Years ago, Hatsumi sensei painted Ichi go, Ichi e for me during a break in training. And being the poet he is, changed its meaning entirely by substituting kanji characters that sounded identical phonetically, but had an altogether different meaning. His new phrase? Ichi go, Ichi e一会, “one enlightenment, one meeting.”
Just as there may be no second chances to safeguarding life, there may be no second chances for safeguarding life.   

by James Morganelli

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