As preface, I wanted to congratulate the Nerd Posse for making it through Fighting September. We completely reviewed all of Master Hinojosa’s sparring drills that we’ve added to our curriculum. Doing that and still practicing all of our core curriculum took a great deal of athleticism and dedication, which the Nerd Posse provided! With the rugged, awkward moments of first acquaintance behind us, I look forward to seeing how each of the students befriends and then incorporates how those techniques apply to their own styles and physical abilities.
The scant nothing I know of Aikido is the source of the term irimi, or “entering” if I remember it right. It’s the active instead of the reactive version of a technique, moving at the moment everything begins, or even taking the initiative yourself. (Other than “tenkan” as an alternative that moves away or aside from the attack, I’ve exhausted my technical terminology on the subject.)
I’m no aikidoka, but I’d call myself a fan-boy at best. I’ve been thinking of irimi for the past two weeks, because all the soft-style counters that I know require a clear understanding of what is about to happen, a quick decision to commit, and fluid motion to put that decision into practice. For one of the throws against overhead attack, perception, decision, and reaction must all take place while the sword/bat/ax/whatever is still on the rise. If you wait until the downswing has begun, it’s already too late. The passive defenses, stepping back out of range, leaping out for the side, don’t require quite as fast a decision. They’re safer, easier in some ways.
The Nerd Posse stands at a profound moment in their training. For our three Ee-gups, promotion is in one month, four weeks, and they all have decisions to make.
For those students who feel challenged and ready to shoot for their black belt test this spring, it is time to begin a race forward. It is not a sprint, but a contest of endurance to polish up their art for promotion in a month, and then they will have a handful of months to master the combined set of gup-level material to demonstrate that they are ready to become black belts and formally begin training in Haidong Gumdo. There is no time to hesitate, and once moving forward, the only options are total commitment or failure at their goal. But the saying goes, Who Dares… Wins, and this is the moment to dare if daring is within them.
If martial arts training is a battle not against physical enemies or spiritual forces, but a battle to master ourselves, then our own negative qualities, our limitations, doubts, and fears are the foes, and the moment has come to seize the opening and begin. For this moment, in this season, the path ahead lies open if we have the speed of will and perseverance to pursue it.
For the students for whom a six-month season of training and focus is not a good fit, it is time to understand that irimi is not the only approach to the challenge before them. If you cannot close the distance in time because you do not have the speed, or the enemy is too fast, or if there are too many “foes” of commitments, duties, and the everyday pressures of life to make the entry wise, it is wisdom and not failure to step back and avoid the blow.
To keep my metaphor of the overhead long-weapon attack, there are two primary moments of opportunity that I know. The first is the opening as the attack develops, that time when the opponent is committed but has not yet delivered their technique. The second is after the technique has been evaded, as the enemy’s force and power continues by and they are carried by their own efforts out of guard and out of position. Different, and perfectly correct techniques apply in each opportunity, and both are effective in their own way.
For the students who do not feel that they should leap forward, this is an opportunity to step back, to regroup, and to approach gently what the others would do suddenly. Krav Maga has a saying; “Slow is smooth and smooth is fast.” In that self-defense system the way to develop speed and perfect technique is to understand it and perform it slowly, unhurried, loose, and ready. Like air and water erode the hardest stone, time and persistence takes that slow approach and turns it into something fluid and beautiful to behold. If you doubt, look up the practical combat applications of Tai Chi sometime. Some of the techniques are as powerful as they are pretty, and the path to that power is a lot like standing in one place, only slower.
To wait is not to abandon the pursuit of training (for training only truly begins at black belt), it is to stalk perfection like a skilled hunter instead of charging forward.
The wall at Range Martial Arts has a saying that goes something like this:
“Not promoting every time does not make you look bad, it makes you look better.”
To enter or to evade, whether pressure or passive progress is the correct path, that is a decision that every student must make for themselves.
But the moment of decision is upon us.
Whichever path the students take, I look forward to the privilege of watching them learn and grow as martial artists, the path we have all embarked on together, to black belt and beyond.