During my Chinese Boxing and Kempo Karate classes we often discuss different topics, and the other day we spoke about awareness.
The discussion started as a discussion on the “fighting measure” in Chinese Boxing (more specifically in Jeet Kune Do).
The ‘fighting measure’ is the ideal distance you want to maintain between yourself and your opponent. When you have the proper measure, your opponent will have to take a step in order to attack which allows the JKD practitioner to intercept the opponent. This measure is also an important distance from a self-preservation perspective.
While there is a simple way to measure this distance when a student start their training, it needs to become intuitive. You must “know” what the proper measure is at all times not only by using your vision but also by intuition.
Several years ago I had the opportunity to train in a very traditional Japanese system of martial arts. During my training my sensei would constantly talk about cultivating your intuition (kan in Japanese, written with this character 感). Some people may call this intuition an awareness, feeling or even a sixth sense… It is a heightened perception of what is going on around you and your opponent’s state of mind. It is also an intuitive understanding of timing, rhythm, distancing, beat etc. (my Chinese internal martial arts teacher would call this type of thing “ting jing” or listening energy).
In the context of the discussion with my students, this would be the intuitive understanding of distance and the “intent” of the opponent.
While this type of sensitivity takes time to develop, we use a simple drill to teach that feeling so a new student can begin to cultivate that feeling and allow the student to start sensing the proper distance to their opponent.
During this discussion I mentioned the 5th Degree black belt test of the Bujinkan (a “ninjutsu” school) called the “sakki” test (殺気 – which could be translated as “murderous intent” when looking at the kanji individually). I don’t pretend to know what goes into the preparation for this test, nor am I a Budo Taijutsu practitioner but I have friends who have completed the test who have shared a little insight with me.
Anyway, the test (or rite of passage if you will) requires the candidate to be kneeling with their eyes closed. The teacher, in this instance it’s typically the headmaster or senior instructor, with a fukuro shinai (a padded training sword) in hand stands behind the student with it raised.
The idea then is for the candidate to safely move / roll away before the teacher strikes their head with their sword (if they don’t move they will get hit on the head). This requires strong intent by the teacher, and good intuition by the student in order to perceive the exact moment to move away from the strike.
Here’s a video of a sakki test administered by Hatsumi sensei (the head of the Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu school):
Why did I mention this test?
Because I feel it’s an interesting and perhaps an extreme example of intuition and heightened perception.
While this level of awareness is obviously not necessary all the time, it is something I think we as martial artists should consider as part of our training. Because not only is it useful for feeling the proper distance / measure along with the various things I already discussed; but from a JKD perspective, this level of intuition is exactly what Bruce Lee was speaking of when he spoke of interception and “hitting on intention”, which in many ways epitomizes the system and the words: Jeet Kune Do.