Saturday, November 7, 2009

Conversation with a Ghost

A long, long time ago when I lived in a different land one of my friends Ernest Rothrock shared with me one of his advanced students training manuals. Within that manual was a description of a training series of Ghost Techniques. In turn it was 5 years before I began to work out what they may have been following those notes and discovered a new twist in my martial studies.

I do not know their genesis, but the idea of the Ghost Technique is interesting, how to move so when your attackers attack reaches were you were standing, you are somewhere else.

They were just a series of movements to shift around an attacker such as you wanted to be directly behind them when their attack was complete, to completely disappear from their sight, or more directly, become a Ghost. The underlying principle was very simple you were to use Magic to disappear.

Magic of the mundane sort, not of Harry Potter’s studies.

I came to realize that Magic was not just for Ghost Techniques, but was the true basis of martial study. The Magician misdirects your attention so you watch one hand and not see the other hand move.

Okinawan Karate in its essence was an art of self defense, how to disrupt an unexpected attacker. It was not crafted to just work in a ring against an aware opponent, too often what Karate is focusing on today, the better ring fighter, or the street fighter wading into the street fight, instead of ways to break an opponent so no fighting is ever required.

Let me simplify this a great deal. Suppose I teach my students an art with one technique, now to break the nose of any attacker 100% of the time. Nobody would attack you if they knew you would be breaking their nose because of that attack. The attacker attacks those they can dominate to destroy. If they start doing so and their nose is immediately broken, it was because of Magic, their awareness did not include the ability that their prey was the hunter. They start the attack and their nose breaks by magic, no matter how that magic is performed.

In actuality my instructors have always been Magicians. As a brown belt sparring with Charles Murray I was never able to touch him once no matter how I attacked, he was always ¼” out of my range, but at any time he could walk all over me. A year after I made my black belt I visited Florida and Charles and I took the time to work out together and my first move nailed his nose, in that case Magic allowed me to do what he knew I couldn’t do – one time. Of course after my Magic was another story. Magic is the only way to describe Tristan Sutrisno ending up standing atop my shoulders before I finished trying to punch him.

The secret is not just training and skill, though the magic doesn’t work without those components, the secret is the way of misdirection, exactly as the stage magician does to the audience.

A person who attacks, does so because they know where you are and are so sure of that knowledge very frequently their attack shifts to an ‘automatic’ attack, not relying on their senses to target properly. Understanding that allows one to shift, move, etc. so you’re not there. It might be as simple as just shifting back a bit so their focused attack just hits air. It may be a movement shift to move outside of their attack laterally. It may be movement patterns in any direction to evade, entangle or counter an attack.

When you think about it a block itself is magic, you’re removing their attack from it’s intended target.

This brings to mind what is the focus of our Karate when we understand the use of magic in all situations?

Our kata studies have thousands of applications and we spend years learning the raw movements and then crafting how they fit many different attacks. That is the shape of how our karate can be used. But that is training, is that the purpose we should be choosing.

There are so many ranges of what an attack may be. Someone beating up another person leaves one set of focus to respond. Someone attacking use when we don’t expected leaves another.

But Okinawa through many instructors and words as in the Bubishi, would suggest we work to use our senses, or eyes and ears, to not be caught unawares. If that is the case and our awareness shows the attack unfolding is the correct response to sing Tennessee Ernie Fords words from ‘Sixteen Tons’. “If you see me coming better step aside, a lot of men didn’t and a lot of men died. One fist of Iron, another of Steel, if the right one don’t get you then the left one will!” Certainly one aspect of our studies leads us to wish that we respond thus.

Perhaps the crafted skill we develop can be better used to evade, to disappear intelligently and avoid the attack and fighting.

Personally I consider fighting the lowest level of our abilities. I concede there is logic in demolishing or destroying an attack under many circumstances. The difference is being unable to do so and thus having to fight derides the skills we work to develop. As a person I do not have a right to ‘punish’ an attacker, even though I do have the right to demolish their attack (which has many levels of meaning all appropriate situationally).

I think it is far better to become a ghost, whenever possible.

The first time I tried using one of Rothrock Laoshi’s Ghost techniques, when my student finished striking I was standing 10 feet behind him watching with amusement his astonishment that I was no longer before him.

In many cases, especially with our newest students, lower level Ghost techniques studies make a great deal of sense, how to learn to evade an attack, how to use their attack focus to allow them to retreat at a direction their attacker isn’t watching. How to not be there.

I’m not going to give a step by step look at my studies, just a suggestion how to use the magic. I find it very useful to look into your eyes, show a grin on my face and suggest “Come on Karate boy hit me, come on really, really hit me…… got it in you?”

And then disappear!

For the record, I’m an aging, slowing, decrepit karate-ka and I know you’re all younger, faster and better looking………………..come on Karate-boy..

My next post will discuss several basic ghost technique studies for training the newest youth students.


Tim Schutte said...

Great article, Victor. I always try to be elsewhere when someone comes after me! ;)

Gary Gabelhouse said...

Simply an outstanding article. The magic and Ghost Techniques conceptualize so much of our arts. Good stuff, this...