Anticipation Traps

Anticipation in martial artsAnticipation can be a good thing, especially around times like Christmas. It can also be a scary state of affairs when you are anticipating the unpleasant.

Anticipation is found in the house of timing. It is one of the rooms there, one that bears inspection.

In the martial arts, you want to control two centers of anticipation, yours and his. Actions like fakes and feints are one way to rock his timing and—true to the topic at hand—I will stall this until later, increasing anticipation.

One aspect of controlling your anticipation is beautifully expressed in the simple act of a martial artist throwing a punch. Every punching strike is a choice instead of a palm or finger attack. Each depends on the timing of impact. The beginner anticipates the punch at the first moment and forms the fist long before tossing the punch. But the advanced martial artist, already moving toward the target, must have the option of deciding intuitively, if a punch is the best option to reach the target, angle and timing allowed. Perhaps a grab or a poke might better serve. In other words, a punch is a punch when there’s an opportunity for a punch. (Thanks to teacher John Ottenberg for formulating this last idea.)

Controlling anticipationThink about it. The wrist structure, elbow angle and such must be correct for a punch to land well (most don’t.) That is the real reason boxers wear gloves, not to protect their opponent’s faces. Why can MMA do without gloves? Because the punch is not their only weapon and the number of punches thrown during a match is probably less than 1/10th that of a boxing match.

 Now I am going to tell you something that, from an old traditionalist like me, might be surprising. One of the reasons so many martial artists have trouble throwing a really good punch lies in their forms practice. And I’m not talking about the tradition of shooting from the hip. I’m talking about having a tight fist formed before you even throw it. Indeed, this protects the beginner’s fingers and hand—at the beginning—but later a good basic can become a bad habit. The punch should become serious only in the last 10% or so of its flight. To do this you have to manage the timing, refusing to anticipate the hand formation too soon.

Expect the unanticipatedHow does this rule relate to what we were taught in form practice? It’s a question of completing your education. If we study longer, the big moves already learned tend to become more spontaneous instead of rote. A good teacher brings this out. One of my teachers simply created more and more problems for me. For instance, the movement that thrusts a punch forward cocks the other hand in a fist at the hip, right? After a while he disallowed this, telling us to hold our open hand at the hip, fist to the target; either fist/fist or fist/palm were about the same in meaning. Then it was fist and claw, then punch and block, then any number of combinations requiring the timing of a drummer with multiple tasks and rhythms. He wanted us to learn to manage, not cock, our hands. Even all this I’ve described isn’t particularly difficult, but try it with triple punches and see how bad it can be.

Next he varied the yin/returning path so it did not match the yang/attacking movement. Once this was added, the possibilities of limb management were endless and mischievous.

Soon my hand would shoot forward, sweep a block out of its way, strike with a fist, then grab a little flesh or hair on the way back. Anticipating not success, but change, slowly taught me to read the situation, the tailoring matching the moment.

Once you have this you are not required to show the perfectly formed punch like an ID before you apply it. When it lands, it is what it is. Much more deceptive and functional.

Anticipation and timingYour level of skill will definitely rise. You may not look any prettier but you will be multi-tasking while others are still trying to perform their salutations.

Sending the anticipation vibes in the other direction is a separate and powerful skill. We all know a little about fakes but there’s another level here, too. I’ll tell you what I saw Joe Lewis do over and over and let you figure out its significance.

The game was simple. Take a black belt out of the audience. Tell him “When I move, Kiai (shout).” Then throw a fast, hard, low punch (don’t actually hit the helper.) He should Kiai instantly. Then repeat that strong initial movement, garnering another shouted response. Then Joe would so something that was almost magical: instead of a low shot he would slowly, lightly raise his hand to the volunteer’s face and the guy would try to yell without success. It was like watching someone choke on his coffee spoon. The anticipating energy completely cross-wired the demonstrator’s ability to respond as he suffered a mini-seizure trying.

Anticipation. It’s easy to see which side you want to be on.

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