Mobility – The motion of combat
Motion attracts our eyes, to be idle is a repression of what it is to be living. The condemnation of illness and near death is in our inability to move. To be confined inside a small place, denied access to beyond is a punishment so universal that humanity inflict onto man and beast. Governments control us through our movement, they monopolise most roads, regulate travel and impose borders. Yet, we cherish our limited abilities to move about despite this. Water when it runs is clean and living, when it sits stale and stagnate. Ultimately it is movement that often wins the day in competition, especially warfare. Those who can command the battleground or constrict their foes abilities from doing so often finds victory. Despite all of these truths seduction of the fortress mindset prevails and many who train in the combat sports and self defence under value the importance of their own mobility and that of their foes.
The Maginot Line was a splendid series of fortifications that separated the French nation from the German frontiers. It was born from an insecure fantasy that the French government held regarding the emergence of a strong militant Germany. The Line was a tremendous public works exercise, a spectacle of immense pride and a monument to engineering and delusion. The lessons of World War One, where early mobility on the Western Front soon bogged down into a state of attrition and trench warfare, was focused upon. Despite innovation in mechanised warfare and aircraft the French were determined to solidify their defence with a singular monument. Heavily investing in a limiting defensive line, hiding behind it so that in the event of war they would defy the enemy. Scores of individuals train with their own sort of Maginot Line of investment in mind, they do not necessarily have a singular concept, but they can satisfy their imaginations with training that is archaic or misplaced when it comes to the theatre of real-world violence. Like the French nation of 1939, they delude themselves with a false safety.
Despite many of histories lessons, the examples occurring in nearby Spain during its terrible civil war, the French continued the construction of the Maginot Line. Famously the German military by passed it, crossing the “impenetrable” Ardennes and as they had done in 1914 invaded neutral Belgium. Out numbered the German’s conquered one of the World’s biggest and on paper most impressive military’s, swiftly. Fast, decisive and with coordinated mobility with initiative and focused energy in mind a potentially powerful army was defeated. No moral virtue lurked inside the victors, they acted inside their own militant self interest as all conquerors do. Just like the French in Indochina or Africa, the German’s now ruled through superior violence. If like the French nation you continue to invest in your own flawed and fatal doctrines of combat, you too shall face swift defeat when you encounter a truly violent and vastly more mobile enemy.
It is not speed alone, or simply reckless motion for its own sake. Mobility in combat is coordination and economy of movement, elements that many of the founders of the great martial arts advocated. Long before most martial arts became an industry and a one size fits all system of rigid dogma’s the founding combat philosophers learned, trained and experienced human violence. They considered the elements involved and like a tactician they drafted up a series of advice, battle plans and training methods that they felt were best for them and those in their situation. The concepts and methods then took on a universal nature and with time became enshrined in custom and tradition, sacred. Holy. This could be expected for Okinawan, Japanese, Korean and Chinese martial arts many of which are ancient and stepped deep in heritage. But for the supposedly modern anti-thesis of these rigid systems the same infliction of doctrine and immobility taken roots inside of them also.
Judo, Jeet Kune Do and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu are modern martial arts born from a very real necessity to bring information and practical combative means to those seeking it. Jigoro Kano with great wisdom and practice refined the traditional Samurai arts of Ju Jitsu, removing the stiffness from its techniques giving the world an impressive and dynamic martial art that allowed the far smaller practioner to bypass strength with applied leverage and movement. The mobility of Judo was in its ability to go from standing to ground and then return to the feet with considerate balance and swiftness, break falls, and throws went hand in hand, allowing the student to understand how to land safely, should they be thrown or knocked down and how to best throw a larger opponent efficiently. Naturally Judo became a sport and slowly franchised out over time, the focused Judo of the past has drifted into an Olympic obsessed product and in many cases a McDojo friendly martial art that has lost much of its mobility for combat. Across the globe real Judo can be found. In many cases like other combat sports it is the competition that stimulates its training and methods, many however forget that sport should support the need for real world applications and training instead of being its own singular obsession. The eye can see the dynamic motions of the practioners of such a Judo compared to the stale idleness of grading orientated business Judo. Its mobility in battle is however very limited by its fixation on jacketed grappling only.
Jeet Kune Do was the personal martial philosophy of Bruce Lee, it was HIS Tao. A work in progress, a living philosophy of a young man cut down in his prime. Much of what is being taught as JKD doctrine stems from the input of familiars, students and his incomplete notes. It is an incomplete understanding of a man’s own personal reflection upon combat and life. A man so ardently opposed to rigid systems and doctrinal enslavement tragically with his death helped to inspire another cult of such adherence. Bruce Lee in film, life and training was motion. He was active in action and like Kano adhered to the importance of economy of motion and leverage, he searched long and hard to find as best as he could what was the best methods for himself. The notes he left behind relay a hybrid of sorts but his philosophical writings push beyond the styles and sports only mindset, the importance of fluidity and adaption being lost over time. Instead to watch many JKD stalwarts one can find imitation or a blend of Wing Chun, Kali, boxing and now BJJ. Many of modern JKD perform in what Lee once termed as being “land swimming”.
The Gracie family are famous for not only giving rise to one of the most effective and heralded pure approaches to combat but because much of the family famously fought no rules to prove themselves in combat for honour and prestige. Currently sports BJJ, whether no gi or gi and the many advocates for either it is hard to imagine that a version of what many of the modern practioners participate in came from a very violent Vale Tudo no rules style of competition. Challenge matches, beach fights, dojo storming and the infomercial that was the Ultimate Fighting Championship are the distant roots of modern BJJ. It is very unlikely that most BJJ belt holders would ever fight NHB or accept a challenge match from a rival. It is hard to imagine many of them even entering the safe arena of MMA. Regardless many still enjoy the association that their modern version of BJJ enjoys from its past and its attachment to MMA. A BJJ instructor may have never had a fight in even their parent’s life time but thanks to the heritage of those who came before them, the term BJJ assures an association of macho violence. The masculine heroism of the Gracie family and their famous challenge, the Jiu Jitsu rivalry with Lutra Livre and the many traditional martial artists that mostly ended in the 1990s are now lost. BJJ has become a business. A profession like the traditional martial artists its advocates scoff. The mobility and fluidity of the rolling is now geared to mostly grappling sports comp, the understanding of real violence is lost on the modern instructors. Judo students helped to create Brasilian Jiu Jitsu a century ago, and now in many ways the same course that has harmed Judo also inflicts modern BJJ. Like Judo one can still find real battle-ready Jiu Jitsuans but one must ask how rare will they become over time as the focus and fixation draws to the lucrative sports and grading perks of increased enrolment and sponsorship. The purity of combative knowledge, that which ALL martial arts in some way boast is lost in practice, the mobility of the art shall continue to limit itself to the ground with a very specific spectrum of conceptual awareness.
Naively and with sincere desire a lot of new students enter the many dojos with the interest to learn how to defend themselves. They do so with very intimate concerns. They will come across those who enjoy the hobby aspect of training, the social, the health and fitness and a few that like to compete in a combat sport. Many of which likely began their training with their own wish to learn how to preserve themselves and their loved ones inside those moments of terror. That initial mission can be lost. Forgotten and likely converted. The assumption, thanks to indoctrination and the religiosity of martial art cults is that a little knowledge is enough or, that what they are being taught is superior. The die hards will watch MMA or street fight footage and cherry pick those moments where a familiar technique is used. It is prophecy in that example that their methods are legitimate. Missing the completeness of the fight or the entire endless library of human conflict to draw upon. Instead the dissonance directs them to the memes that confirms their bias. The complexity of the complete violence is lost on them, the simplicity of a segment is all that is needed. The limited mobility and constricted elements of their fixation is enough. In faith, they are correct, they and their peers are verified bad asses. Though they themselves or few they know have been tested in real combat.
The mobility needed to defeat and overcome numerous threats is learned, it is experienced. Much of it needs to be conceptualised and appreciated early in the training. Being told is not enough. Witnessing it and feeling it up close is crucial to implant the seed inside the mind. If one experiences something, it exposes a weakness in their own training or methods and still they deny it then shame on them. This is common however as it is drawn from the ego and the realisation that time was wasted in learning a flawed doctrine. When fighters discuss mobility and footwork they do so with a real value, the ability to travel into contact and escape it is more than walking backwards and forwards. The skill to escape the bottom position and to contain one underneath you are more than learning that positions can also be about winning points. To be able to take a foe to the ground, or to stop them from putting you there is more than knowing a fitness sprawl or a superman rush tackle. The nuances are many, but all requires mobility and at first a command of ones own self, a balance and sense of timing that is not dependant on a cooperating opponent or focus mitts. To press forward, to slip and escape incoming blows, to dance like Ali and to pin the foe against the cage are all skill sets and abilities that require fundamentals of form but constant economy of motion and learned mobility. To be able to deny your foes the ability to out manoeuvre you and to catch you off guard is crucial. Implanting oneself into a horse-riding stance or butt scooting into bottom position adopting the leg scissors or guard position is not preferable in a mobile multi-faceted fight. Yet mentally this is the attitude of many.
The favoured comforts of training can feel rewarding they provide us with the delusion that in being active and working on the aspects that we enjoy most that we shall be complete in the moments of violence. For those who like to grapple, it is the obvious soft rolling or drills that confirm one’s talents for this art, those who like to strike padwork and mitts have become the stalwart of comfort training. Both generally provide the illusion of a mobility that is suitable for battle and yet they reinforce a limited range and ceiling, confirm a bias over and over again. Others may invest in fitness, running, lifting steel or flipping tyres. Sweat, swollen muscles, exertion are the public works of exercise. They help us to build impressive monuments to ourselves, impressing and naively hoping that like so many terracotta warriors lined up in a row that they will deter a violent threat. Statues however do not win battles. Fighting is a series of physical puzzles that require mobility. One needs to explore these potential scenarios and move according to the consequences that they seek to both inflict and avoid. Fight training should be about over coming challenges, not in rewarding the ego. It is often about discomfort and trial, elements the modern human seeks to avoid but the mobility gained from this exposure helps to ensure preservation in violence.
Watch a child play, the move, study and practice. They have no idea what they are learning other than they desire the stimulation, crave the exertion and feel an impulse to attain physical intelligence. Coordination that shall serve them in later years. The integration between thought and action, muscle and mind are forged early. All things being healthy it is with lifestyle and exposure to greater puzzles and stimulation that helps the child mature into a physically gifted and coordinated being. Access to adults who are interested in action, motion and movement will see the imitation and play expand. Stale and stagnate elders can also deter such energies. School and then regulatory shackles can settle the maturing child and young adult into a less than mobile and active lifestyle, so the hobbies and time away from such rigours can be the outlet. Short of being able to apply some coordinated exertion in the mundane every day, one can seek it in training with others. Those interested in self protection will yearn for it in the dojo or gym. Whether one has a place that considers reality important or not, one can move in their every day. Like a child remain fascinated, imitate when you can and then adapt, adjust and innovate. Observe all that you can, hunger and thirst for those sips and bites of knowledge never let it quench. Always seek it. Like the stale parents, stagnate coaches can also deter the yearning need to imitate and innovate of the learning mind. Bob and weave at home, stretch in between typing tasks, shadow box in the back yard, curl the shopping, bridge and roll in the bed and so on. Most of all never stop anticipating the potential lurking danger of the foes that will destroy your everything. Do not fixate on it with paranoid obsession but do not wish it away and allow your mind to grow flabby and complacent.
For those who train with the call of, “I will just do this” close to their lips, this is the ego speaking. The insecure whimpering of the impotent. The difference of thinking and knowing are stark, only those who know and have experienced understand. What one will do in a crisis is determined by their own adaption and abilities to move among the obstacles and to command and destroy whatever threats that there may be. We never really know what will occur in a sports fight, let alone a life or death struggle. We have experience and knowledge that can better inform us, muscle memory and skills that can allow us to respond and react, but wisdom ensures that it is in our adaption and responses in the moment that will carry the day. Initiative, economy of motion, dynamic action, righteous indignation and mobility. We will move well and survive, or we remain idle and suffer beneath the saturation of the enemies attacks. The importance of adaption and being able to move, escape, convert, press and impose all stem from one’s ability to move.
Instead singular techniques that are memorised and fixated on or limited ranges of contest, expose your weaknesses to all the elements of a fight as best you can. The forms and kata are different in the modern setting they are called flow drills and complex combinations on the pads. They are ingrained choreography that assumes cooperation and a certain feedback, no adaption, no intelligent mobility. Just ingrained muscle recall. Footage of blindfolded children sputtering their fists into focus mitts are cheered as they stand still, like a fistic dance choreographed, rehearsed and practiced it is made to entertain. It is not living. The kata is practiced, memorised and rehearsed, it is assumed it has application, yet it is used as a demonstration, a safe tool of grading and a monument of investment in time and training. The flow drills of grappling where a student remains idle, so that their peer moves about them like they are a playground of demonstrative excellence is used to showcase skills. Another Maginot Line impressive to some, a fixation of many but the enemy those who it is supposed to deter will by pass its immobile nature. It is so very beatable that one can only see it from the other side. So, in your training prize adaption, mobility but most of all do not fixate on stale and rigid doctrines of useless action. Move. But move smart. It is after all your life on the line and maybe your families if you assume to defend them. Fight your way out of the ambush, do not lay and pray. Defeat the enemy with decisive mobility, do not cover up and stand still. Train it. Live it. Move.
Kym Robinson, October 2018