Awareness in Budo
© 2014 Avi Nardia & Ken Akiyama with Carlos Newton
I first met Carlos Newton when he was 17 years old. Back then I could see that he had talent, but to accomplish what Carlos has achieved takes more than just talent. His success and skill is the result of hard work and we know that hard work beats talent, when talent doesn’t work hard.
Over the years, Carlos and I have shared friendships and crossed many bridges together. It was a long time ago when Carlos was one of very few experts allowed as my guest in Israel to teach the Special Forces. More recently, I was honored to complete a big circle by sharing knowledge and friendship with Carlos’s son Nick, who is now a young man of 17 years age.
During the last few years, Carlos and I have worked on many new projects together. Working with the Cree and Inuit tribes in the Arctic has been quite an adventure. 300 miles of remote roadway lead their native land; isolated territory inside the arctic circle where the temperature drops to minus 45 degrees. Our project is to teach martial arts to the tribes in order to reinforce their cultural traditions and values.
Carlos and I have also been teaming up on seminars and this year we produced a DVD with Ken Akiyama and Budo Magazine on the theme of “awareness”. Awareness is a key subject in martial arts. In order to gain skill in martial arts, you must first gain awareness of yourself, your fears, who you are, what you are, and most of all, what you want to be. Only after studying yourself can you begin to study others and only after knowing yourself, can you know others. The more you are aware of in life, the more you can make from this life. In martial arts strategy, the more aware you are of what is happening around you, the greater your ability will be to accept and counter.
Awareness is very important to study, as being aware will enable you to observe the first rule of self defense – action is always faster than reaction. In military and sport applications, we step into challenges and even seek conflict. However, in self defense, we seek to avoid conflict and escape. Often times a military unit’s mission will be to seek out the enemy and engage in combat. However, the idea behind civilian self-defense is to avoid conflict and escape without harm. There is a big difference and now you can understand why many teachers who teach military systems are missing the point of self defense. The application of military combatives is completely different from context of self defense. Police work is another context that has it’s own unique characteristics.
Good self-defense requires good awareness and great self defense requires great awareness. I know an Israeli combatives expert designed his system to teach his guys only 5 moves. His strategy is based on one tactic – if any one comes close you, kick the groin. He shared an anecdote to support his strategy. He said that a cat will always climb a tree to escape any danger. He said that if you give your students too many different ideas that they will not be able to think under stress. I immediately replied with a question, “What if there is no tree?”
Some teachers attempt to support their theory of oversimplification with scientific research. An experiment that was not related to martial arts was performed which showed that when people have many options to choose from, they will require more time in order to make a decision because they are seeking the best option. This research is valid when it comes to something like choosing a meal at a restaurant of selecting a piece of ripe fruit.
A system of teaching that is based on the assumption that the students are incapable of thinking seems like giving vitamins to a dead body. Why would you teach people who don’t have the capacity to think? I always explain to my students that a jet pilot needs to calculate many things in high speed. The pilot must be able to react quickly, and with awareness of many concerns while keeping the plane in the air. That example proves that we humans have the ability to make decisions under stress.
One secret to this ability is to cultivate a mindset of action, rather reaction. As I mentioned earlier, the best defense is to attack first. Even United States law allows preemptive action if you sense an immediate threat. You have the right to throw the first strike and still be protected under the right to self defense.
In the last seminar with Carlos Newton, Ken Akiyama and myself, we taught that action is faster than reaction and how you can use gravity and object mass (weight) to help you to hold your opponent down. We shared ideas from Aiki Kenpo Jujutsu, Machado Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, and invited a few guests to share their own ideas in free fighting.
In the spirit of expanding awareness, we also taught about the importance of studying “what if” scenarios, the chain of attack, and cause and effect relationships. Ken Akiyama demonstrated some ideas from a big project we are working on to share movement drills that are very effective for developing strength, and relaxation. The ability to move your body in a relaxed way is a vital skill for Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and self defense.
Jiu Jitsu is about understanding actions and reactions. When you can predict the effects and vulnerabilities of your actions, you can always block your opponents options before you attack. When you do this, your opponent will become very frustrated. When that happens, you destroy your opponents ability to think. When your opponent can not think, you win. That’s what makes jiu jitsu a great game of strategy. Strategy is the study of action, reaction, and forethought. Strategy requires awareness.