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Martial Mania

Uso Kumite / Yakusoko Kumite

By George Donahue

Much of what we practice in our martial traditions is the art of deception. It’s a paradox we tend to ignore for a while but which we eventually have to deal with. While we strive to develop greater honesty and honor in ourselves and our students, if we have a true concern for their safety and well-being, as well as our own, we must also teach them how to act in such a way that an attacker cannot anticipate their reactions to an attack. That is, we must teach them, at first, not to telegraph their intent, and later how to make the attacker think the erstwhile victim is going to do something that the victim is not, and to not realize, until too late, that the victim has done or is doing something else entirely. That is strategy, of course, but at its core it’s the Machiavellian art of deception and psychological manipulation—Sun Tzu rather than Mr. Rogers.

Unfortunately, a lot of our training is counterproductive for this end. For example, just about all schools of all martial traditions practice some variety of yakusoku “promise” kumite, whether they call it that or not. This is prearranged sparring or drill in which the defender knows beforehand exactly what the attacking partner will do. The attacker promises to attack only in a certain way and the defender is responsible for defending against that exact attack and no other. When yakusoku kumite is done well, it’s a very useful tool for beginners, especially if the repertoire includes a wide variety of attacks. It’s also good for choreographed demonstrations of an art for consumption of the general public. It is almost never a good tool for intermediate or advanced students. When students practice yakusoku kumite for too long, their movements become robotic and their timing becomes too plodding, even at full speed. Even worse, their thinking becomes robotic, predictable, and inferior. If they rely too much on this sort of training, they don’t stand much chance against even an ordinary street thug. What starts as a reasonable training regimen becomes ridiculous, not just useless, but actually harmful.

On the other hand, most schools don’t practice enough uso kumite. Many don’t practice it at all. That is a great shame.

Uso means “lie” or “deception” or “untrue.” So uso kumite is practice in lying, either verbally or physically. The principles of uso kumite are built into kata. The kata Chintô, for example, has elements of deception in almost half the moves. When Chintô or any other kata is practiced without taking into account its chicanery, then it’s in danger of being merely a graceful exercise and not a rich repository of fighting applications.

There are many ways to practice uso kumite and many concrete exercises to develop skills in deception. I’m not going to discuss specific exercises here, but perhaps I’ll write about them in the Martial Craftsman (regular articles by this author) series on FightingArts.com, if there is any interest. If you agree that deception is a useful skill, then you can easily develop your own exercises. Thinking up deception exercises can actually help you become capable of more deception, whether you practice the exercises or not.

In sum, when someone is trying to kill you, or otherwise harm you or your companions, you have no obligation to play fair.

Copyright © 2008 George Donahue & FightingArts.com. All rights reserved.


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About The Author:

George Donahue has been on the board of FightingArts.com since its inception. He is a freelance writer and editor, providing literary and consulting services to writers, literary agents, and publishers, as well to advertising agencies. He has worked in publishing for more than three decades, beginning as a journal and legal editor. Among his positions have been editorial stints at Random House; Tuttle Publishing, where he was the executive editor, martial arts editor, and Asian Studies editor; and Lyons Press, where he was the senior acquisitions editor and where he established a martial arts publishing program. He is a 6th dan student of karate and kobujutsu—as well as Yamane Ryu Bojutsu—of Shinzato Katsuhiko in Okinawa Karatedo Shorin Ryu Kishaba Juku. He was also a student of Kishaba Chokei and Nakamura Seigi until their deaths. He teaches Kishaba Juku in New York and Connecticut, as well as traveling to provide seminars and special training in karate, weapons, and self-defense. His early training was in judo and jujutsu, primarily with Ando Shunnosuke in Tokyo. He also studied kyujutsu (archery), sojutsu (spear), and kenjutsu (swordsmanship) in Japan as a youth. Following his move to the US, he continued to practice judo and jujutsu, as well as marksmanship with bow and gun, and began the study of Matsubayashi Ryu karate in his late teens. Subsequently, he has studied aikido and taiji and cross trained in ying jow pai kung fu.


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deception,principal of karate,karate strategy,hidden hand,Chinto kata


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