Tatakai - Combat Level

The combat level, Tatakai, is the awful level we are preparing for, the war, and so it is placed at the top of AKBAN's methodical pyramid. It does not constitute a wish, but a reference point best avoided but always a possibility.

Tatakai is not and shouldn't be confused with competition fighting and much less with sparring.

Movement goal—a realistic constraint, not wishful thinking

The term for the progress model's top level - movement goal - might prove misleading. In our method, not only is there no commitment to arrive at a 'goal' of real fighting; we usually prefer to avoid it. However, in martial-arts that emphasize sports or other movement skills the movement goal is different: a competition which one aspires to reach repeatedly might serve as a sports goal.

The movement goal level in Ninjutsu - real-fight level - does not describe an instruction process, or the end of the instruction process. It is solely a point of reference. This is the level of violent reality. It is the endless provision of our social life, exerting force and physically injuring the other. This level is placed at the head of the progress model not because it is the ultimate test of the warrior's ability, but rather to let reality cast its imposing shadow on all progress levels.

Letting go in real-fighting

The level of the real-fight (movement goal level) presents a state of affairs different from other levels. The needs of this level demand a unique emphasis such as disregarding injuries in order to survive. The spirit of this level is that "performance is more importance than the performer". In fact, this is not true, for it is the person and not the fight that is the goal. But the spirit of the motto is fitting. If driven by fear, the warrior hesitates to act at the right moment; his chances in a real-fight are reduced. This is one gloomy characteristic of 'letting go' that was mentioned in the section describing spiritual progress.

Learning through real-fighting

The first phase of preparing for a real situation is learning from previous cases. Thus, in my groups, there is a documented archive (written and video-taped) of real-fights in which students and others have been forced to take part. Here hundreds of fights are recorded, a valuable asset which my instructor colleagues and I can analyze and isolate cases for which we prepare ourselves, changing the contents of the model levels accordingly.

Documentation of confrontation components must be as detailed as possible, and include the following:

  1. the assailants' primary purpose, and whether it changed during the confrontation;
  2. the kind of terrain on which the confrontation took place;
  3. the techniques used;
  4. were any weapons used and how;
  5. how did the confrontation end;
  6. Any fact that will help the instructor analyze the confrontation and prepare for a similar one, e.g. clothing, by-standers' engagement, etc.

Analysis of the images offers the instructor a wide variety of facts to be integrated into the training model, from the physical preparation level, all the way to the sparring level.

Martial-art sports—how can facts be drawn from the movement goal level?

In martial-arts practiced with an emphasis on sport competition and other movement skills, the movement goal level serves as a source for facts not similar to the real-fight level.

If the movement goal level is competition, the general picture is rather clear. The instructor, gathering facts from this level, must observe as many competitions as possible and record their components. To my knowledge, similar analysis is done in all competitive martial-arts. In competitive Judo, for example, there are statistics indicating the practices most beneficial for competition, such that help score the highest, etc. With such statistics at hand, and the analysis of opponents' preferred practices, the instructor can construct a training program to optimally prepare participants to compete.

Example for applying the progress model in Ninjutsu

Years ago I began to note real-fights. At first, I recorded violent confrontations of my own experience, but after half a year I began to record street fights, certain competition fights, and confrontations in which my colleagues and friends were involved. This notebook as well as numerous videotapes serve as a reality check: does technical focus in the dojo prepare for a proper response in a violent situation in reality? Perhaps it provides tools for an imaginary confrontation? Are certain techniques effective? If so, what are such situations?

Some of the information deals with multiple opponents in a violent confrontation.

The most common scenario targeted by martial-arts training is a violent situation with one assailant. After a few years of noting down real-fights and analyzing them with the progress model, several larger pictures came into focus: defense against weapons, competitive fights, techniques that may be successfully performed on difficult terrain and many others that were formed out of the wide-range of information at hand.

In this section I shall refer only to one type, although in my instruction I try to relate to several (involving weapons, certain competitive fights, etc.).

Some conclusions drawn from the street-fight scenarios

  1. many of the situations involving a single assailant were avoidable, or relatively easy to withdraw;
  2. A larger part of the cases involved multiple assailants, and were unavoidable. (the larger number of assailants increased their confidence);
  3. More scenarios took place with several assailants, less with a single assailant.
  4. a rather consistent action pattern was revealed, in confrontations with several assailants;
  5. certain modes of operation proved successful time and again, others did not prove effective as defense;

(I was especially concerned with item no. 3; was I actually preparing my students to confront a single opponent, while such confrontations are rare and usually avoidable?) A new instruction plan was needed, to meet the demand for proper confrontational performance which would still preserve the traditional characteristics of the martial-art.

Working with the progress model

In those early years, as the picture of multiple-opponent fighting became clearer, the progress model was at its initial stages. My idea then was that "insufficient preparation for multiple-opponent fighting requires more multiple-opponent sparring". This thought was followed by doing—first by me, then with veteran students. We began with fierce sparring one-on-one, and occasionally, with multiple opponents. We did see certain progress and were rather lucky, but injuries happened soon enough, and rather frequently. Neither was the progress itself satisfactory: in especially fierce sparring correct technique was altogether forgotten and made way for sheer aggressiveness and harmful body misuse.

At times, martial-art education disregards injury. Thus, as a student I remained rather indifferent to my own injuries: a broken nose, fractured fingers, concussions, broken teeth, fractured jaw and ribs, etc. As I began to teach, this attitude changed completely: I found myself much more upset with a student's injury and noticed a repeated pattern: I could not correct my students as they sparred. Certain injuries were related to poor physical ability, and for a long time I failed to introduce movement unique to Ninjutsu into the sparring fights. These were actual fights and benefited us only in a limited way.

Even then, before using the model, the partial result of my lack of understanding at the time shows that certain results may be achieved even in ignorance. The number of students was constantly growing, and indicated that popularity is not always a yardstick for professionalism.

Beginning of a solution

In those years the training session was divided in two: the traditional part in which Katas and their endless variations were performed, and the fighting part, in which students sparred with each other and with me. The two parts touched upon each other only incidentally. At times, a part of a Kata or even a single precise movement would appear in a sparring fight. To the untrained eye, most of the fights looked like street brawls. One day, while practicing a traditional Kata, I introduced an intended change in the Kata: instead of performing it as one would respond to an assault seven hundred years ago, I used it in response to one of the wild techniques popular in our own sparring. I was hit by a kick instead of a ray of light, but a some understanding hit me as well. I realized instantly that in order to improve sparring, we had to adapt the Katas to the fights, with precision.

I began to introduce intended change into the Katas and the single moves that compose them. Changes were now also inspired by the real life sequences I had analyzed in the fight notebook.

Division into levels of progress

The division into degrees of complexity yielded the progress model. As soon as the model began to work, a considerable improvement was noted in the training and its achievements. The sparring fight was planned so as to correspond precisely to real-fighting. One could change or choose Katas suited for sparring and real-fighting; choose single moves that were needed in the Katas and create the physical preparation adequate for the effort anticipated at all levels.

The specific solution - from the top down

Fierce sparring with multiple opponents must be carried out so that no injuries will be sustained, with full protective gear. This is the primary requirement: diminish injury.

  • sparring was graded so as to teach fighting skills first against a single opponent, and only subsequently with multiple opponents;
  • at the Kata level: traditional Katas were chosen, partner-synchronized, that accommodate work against multiple opponents; suitable initiated Katas were created;
  • at the foundation level: single moves of the kihon level were chosen and emphasized, such as have already proven effective at the real-fight and sparring levels with multiple opponents;
  • at the physical preparation level: since sparring with multiple opponents and at times real-fights, as well, demand superb physical fitness and movement, the physical preparation level emphasizes stamina (cardio-pulmonary) and leg power.