A few years ago fellow martial art blogger, The Stick Chick, wrote a post called, “I’m a LARPer (and I’m okay).” The post compares Live Action Role Play with martial arts, and points out that because martial artists are highly unlikely to encounter the situations we train for, we are not far off being LARPers ourselves. I read the post when she published it, enjoyed it, and filed it to the back of my mind.
Fast forward four years. I was at a Niten Ichi-ryu (Japanese swords) seminar and something was said to me that bought the LARPing post to the front of my mind once more. Niten is an interesting thing to learn and doesn’t have the traditional attacker and defender approach that you see with many martial art techniques. One side (termed shidatchi) encourages the other side (uchidatchi) to attack, rather than passively wait for the blow. When the attack comes shidatchi can defend and deliver a counter attack. In other words, although they are “defending” shidatchi is the one instigating the technique. But it doesn’t stop there! (It’s a Japanese martial art, you can’t have simple.) Uchidatchi is traditionally the higher level student, teaching shidatchi. They are the ones who set the pace and the tone of the kata, at a level suitable for the lower level student. So the whole thing relies on the interaction of two people.
What Niten relies on is both parties committing to what they are doing, and showing this through body language. The aim is not to be aggressive, but to have the attitude of challenge (thank you to my Sensei for that wording). If I’m shidatchi and act timidly then uchidatchi has no incentive to attack, so I can’t defend, and the technique is (as was said at the seminar) “a series of choreographed dance moves with no meaning.” And on the other side if I’m uchidatchi, and I do a half-hearted sword cut, then why would shidatchi even bother to respond? You don’t turn around and throw someone to the floor for tapping you in the shoulder, do you?
What we don’t do is go piling in at high speed, you can still challenge without the need for that. We also adjust for the level we are doing things at. My Sensei has 30 years training behind him. On Monday our newest student had two hours behind him. The rest of the dojo membership is somewhere in between. When we train with each we adjust, so that the senior student is always slightly ahead of the junior student, helping pull them up to a new level rather than destroy them outright. But we still need to show intent and purpose when we attack and defend else we are back to a series of choreographed dance moves.
So sorry Stick Chick (and I know your article was partly tongue-in-cheek, but so’s this response) but I feel if we consider ourselves LARPers then we are not treating our training partners with respect, we are not showing intent, and we stagnate in our techniques. We run the risk of becoming sloppy, of doing things because they look cool rather than questioning how they work (and indeed if they do work). I might never get into a sword fight outside the dojo, but inside the dojo I do and to think otherwise dishonours the tradition from which I am learning.
So train with intent folks, even if the only place you’re going to bash someone with a stick is in the dojo.