Todd Jones in action
Angular attack theory is a conceptual framework that is taught in many martial traditions in one form or another. A fundamental comprehension of attack theory is essential to successfully effectuating defensive strategy and tactics. Ignorance of the construction, tactics, and strategy of attacking guarantees defeat. That said it is a difficult task to convey these concepts in writing, but here goes…
This treatise provides a glimpse into our approach to its study but is by no means a comprehensive treatment of the topic. Angular attack theory serves as a bridge to understanding and communicating strategic and tactical concepts in various martial traditions. An understanding of angular attack theory will help to ensure that applied aikido techniques possess martial integrity and are truly effective.
Before we delve into the intricacies and details of angular attack theory, it is imperative that certain contextual and definitional issues be addressed first: please bear with…
Perception colors perspective. Perspective affects philosophy. What a person believes is a function of their intelligence, experience, education, and circumstance. Disagreement is usually a matter of insufficient commonality. When one or more parties to a disagreement are sufficiently lacking in experience (i.e. maturity and/or patience), we frequently observe physical altercations.
Physical altercation, controlled or uncontrolled, is nonetheless a form of communication that reveals much about an individual’s psychological makeup. As such, karate kumite, aikido randori, and kendo or judo shiai, represent nothing more than physical “conversations.” If you watch closely, regardless of the art being practiced, you will learn much about any participant’s personal style of, or approach to conflict resolution. This ability to observe a personal style of interaction is not limited to activities in the dojo; the way a person walks, the way a person holds posture, the way they speak, are all telltale signs to be observed and chronicled.
In modern budo, we train for many reasons, but all martial arts eventually require some degree of physical interaction. Whether you train for self-defense, general health and conditioning, sportive competition, artistic pursuit, or some combination of the aforementioned; intimate contact with another human will become necessary at some point. And despite that every human body is essentially constrained to a limited set of biomechanical capabilities and therefore limitations; depending on your chosen martial path that contact will be more or less damaging to your body. Every endeavor has a learning curve and every person learns at a slightly different pace. So, no two experiences are, or can ever be the same. Therefore, how we come together is the essential distillate on many different levels.
Human beings are competitive by nature. And although “winning and losing” is a topic worthy of an article, or book, of its own, it is not the central theme of this article. From a competitive perspective, winning or losing is merely the outcome of a game. From the standpoint of discussing self-defense, it is a matter of life or death. Individuals practicing an artistic pursuit may not even recognize the concept as having any validity whatsoever. Perspective can dictate philosophy. Part of learning to be successful and happy in life is learning to understand the perspectives, and agendas, of others whom we encounter and have to deal with. Knowing where they are coming from and what they really want are critical to finding commonality and seeking agreement… ending conflict. Aikido.
The cornerstones of physical interactive success are skill, conditioning, and experience. All things being equal, a shortcoming in any of these three categories virtually insures defeat. A budoka with superior skill, who is in top shape, and is experienced at physical interaction, should never fail. A budoka with superior skill, who is in top shape but lacking interactive experience may fail, but may get lucky if the conversation drags out long enough. Likewise, a budoka with superior skill and experience, who is not in top shape, will prevail over another who is in top shape but lacking in experience. Thus explains the old adage, “youth and exuberance are no match for age and experience!” Of course, even a skilled budoka who is out of shape and lacking interactive experience is doomed to fail.
Before this discussion can go much further it is imperative that certain concepts and terms are clearly understood. Most disagreements stem from misunderstandings…
The Line is simply understood as a ray extending through each partner’s center, regardless of where they move. Angular attack theory advocates that although the shortest distance between two points may be a straight line, it is not necessarily the path of least grief.
The Gap is the space between the two partners. “Bridging the Gap” is a dangerous exercise worthy of much study, and angular attack theory is central to success. Boxing, judo, karate, kendo, and most other competitive arts focus in this area. It is arguably the Achilles heel of most aikido practitioners and the reason many other martial artists criticize aikido training methods.
Zones: there are several types to discuss. Spatial Zones vary, based on person-specific physical and psychological factors. Spatially, the outermost is the Zone of Influence; this is the point at which an advancing individual causes a physical reaction in their opponent. For example, a step backwards, or a raising of the hands, is an indication that the aggressor has entered their opponent’s Zone of Influence, because they have influenced that person’s behavior.
The next closest zone is referred to as the Effective Striking Range; it is the area between the maximum range of a person’s back leg kick, and the maximum range of a lead hand strike in karate. Many aikido and kendo techniques are executed in this range, because it is the range that karate and kendo practitioners are most comfortable at. Finally, the Throwing Zone is the area inside the Effective Striking Range; this is the zone that judo and jujutsu practitioners prefer, for obvious reasons.
Physical Zones include High, Middle, and Low body areas. Most agree that the High zone is above the nipple line, the Middle zone is between the nipples and the groin, and the Low zone extends from the groin to the feet.
Maai is the Japanese term that refers to space-time/rhythm and distance relationships related to “Bridging the Gap.” How one gets from here to there is the real problem in effectively addressing conflict, physical or otherwise. Functions of maai that must be intimately understood include distance, angle (X, Y, and Z axis), rhythm, and speed.
The Compass and the Clockface are virtually identical concepts that relate the two-dimensional spatial relationship between the two opponents or partners. You should imagine that you stand in the center of a giant compass or clockface; your partner is standing at north or twelve o’clock. These concepts are especially useful in multiple-attacker training.
Defensive Footwork delineates three categories of responsive movement and each reflects a particular psychological persuasion. Jamming is any responsive footwork that moves you toward the attacker between the NE and NW compass points. Jamming is irimi. Jamming is endemic to bold, self-assured, or impatient individuals. Blocking is any responsive footwork that tends to hold ground including movement between the NE and SE or NW and SW compass points. Humans are territorial by nature; otherwise we would need national boundaries. Eighty percent of karate practitioners fall into the blocker category of defensive footwork. Running, or Moving, is any responsive footwork that moves you away from the attacker between the SE and SW compass points. Runners are typically high-strung, frail, and cautious people. Responsive footwork is more important to note than attack style; it is the clue to understanding your opponent or partner. Knowing how they are likely to react is key to successfully bridging the gap.
Initial orientation and stance considerations have four components:
1. Posture, attitude, kokoro. In Japanese, the word kokoro translates as both physical and psychological attitude; how adept! What is the initial placement/orientation of the hands (e.g. boxer’s guard)? Is there torso inclination? What is the stance width and depth? Does the particular stance favor power generation or mobility?
2. The initial angle of the feet. Is the person in riding, triangular, or natural stance?
3. Orientation: The relationship of one partner’s feet to the other person’s. Are you in an open-open (gyaku hanmi) or open-closed (ai hanmi) orientation?
4. Vector: What initial stepping movement occurs and at what clockface angle? Essentially, there are only a few different steps to learn. The pivot step is referred to as tenkai in aikido terminology. An avoidance step is called tenkan. The J step is tenshin-ashi, and shuffle stepping (tsugi-ashi) can be done several ways: lunging, shuffling, slide up, or skipping. Alternating or running step (e.g. normal walking or sprinting) is another, sometimes called ayumi-ashi. Spinning step is sometimes called furi-ashi, and also there is circle stepping where one moves along a perimeter.
5. Consideration must also be given to the vertical or Z axis. In aikido we practice hanmi handachi, in judo it’s a little different, in karate and kendo we target high, middle, and lower body targets. A spinning sickle sweep requires a different defense than a flying, spinning horse kick.
Observation: After years of teaching, it has become apparent that it is just as important to teach proper observation of the demonstration because it facilitates rapid understanding. Students should first observe the demonstrators’ initial orientation (i.e. open-open or open-closed relationship). The next point to note should be the stepping employed by each partner. After understanding those elements, the initiator’s (e.g. aite or uke) first action (e.g. grab or strike) should be observed. Finally, the respondent’s (e.g. shite or nage) redress should be noted.
The Risk-Benefit Ratio is a measure of an attack’s relative risk/benefit. A boxer’s jab, for instance, is a low risk, low benefit technique if executed by itself. You will not incapacitate your opponent with a jab, but you will not be very exposed to counterattack either. On the other hand, a jumping, spinning hook kick has a high risk, high benefit ratio. If the kick lands, such a technique can easily disable an opponent; but usually it doesn’t land. A flying, spinning backhand strike, is a good example of a high risk, low benefit technique. Chancing such a feeble attack puts one more at risk than anything else.
So, finally, we are at a point where we can address the thesis of this article. There are five categories of Angular Attack for bridging the gap.
Now that we have established functional definitions for basic communication, it is possible to address more technical matters. Martial art techniques are like tools in a toolbox; the more you have, the more you can do. Depending on the tool selected, one can build or destroy. That said the process of learning angular attack theory may require a temporary abeyance of ethical considerations in training in order to permit an exploration of the available opportunities. Technical response and target selection in basic angular attack theory training may not present the highest possible ethical ideals only because the emphasis is on technical simplicity and communicating theoretical concepts. Once the concepts are understood, the user will gradually be able to adjust target and technical selection befitting their personal comfort in any given application. The higher the skill differential, the more benevolently one may respond.