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Asymmetry & The Loser of 60 Duels

Asymmetry is a crucial factor in considering the strategic precepts of Jujutsu.  Continuing with the theme of concepts illustrated by Jukendo kata, I will attempt to articulate why this concept is so important and as an aside, how many 'modern' martial arts (or more specifically combat sports) can often be subject to the pitfall of symmetry.

I'd start by reminding the reader that I do not know anything about Jukendo other than what I observe, and therefore would not rely on my thoughts if constructing an essay on the essence of Jukendo.  We do however find in the Jukendo kata something that is often missing - comprehensive asymmetry.

The kata do not simply include fixed bayonet vs fixed bayonet for Jukendo and bayonet vs bayonet for Tankendo.  There is fixed bayonet vs bayonet, fixed bayonet vs sword and bayonet vs sword - all of which contain successful outcomes for both sides.  This comprehensive asymmetry is a rare treasure.

The essence of my own school's strategies and tactics can be summed up in the battle of the short sword and the spear.  You can't fight a spear by using a short sword in the same way you use a spear.  You can't fight a short sword by using a spear in the same way you use a short sword.  If you have a sword, you use it like a spear against the short sword and like a short sword against a spear.

When I went looking for this concept in other arts, I came across Jukendo.

To simplify this concept, think of it as hard (Go, the spear) and soft (Ju, the short sword).  There are four situations you can find yourself in:
  1. Using hard against hard.
  2. Using hard against soft.
  3. Using soft against hard.
  4. Using soft against soft.
Despite what people might say, the basis of most martial arts (ie military arts) is using hard against hard.  Bigger, stronger, faster, better trained, better equipped etc - turn up with the strongest force you can and then try not to get out-maneuvered or out-positioned.

Seminal treatise on achieving victory from a position of total disadvantage are few and far between.

Combat sports tend to try and contrive symmetrical encounters, also known as 'fair fights' by controlling the environment, possible actions and even size of the opponents.  Here the idea is to find out who is better at a particular skill set - if you can't win you need to get better at that skill set (and probably improve general physicality).

This is very true of Karate, Judo, Kendo, Muay Thai etc, although BJJ has an asymmetric top vs bottom approach much of the time.

This is not necessarily a bad thing.  If we take the case of Jukendo, for example, it's ultimate roots are for one soldier with a fixed bayonet to overcome another, quickly and in a life-threatening situation, and then do whatever comes next, more than likely further close combat.  Here you want the symmetrical style training (ie Shiai) to have put you in a position where you are better at this skill set than your opponent and to beat them (thereby surviving).

Even in a symmetrical encounter, in reality, there is probably someone with an advantage, it just isn't readily apparent who this is a lot of the time.  There is a pitfall in combat sports if there is no element of asymmetry within the syllabus, as there is no (even notional) way forward other than being better, and in actual combat (and life) the fight is often 'unfair'.

If I told you that for the most part, martial arts was about being better and/or stronger than your opponent through preparation, that may not fit many peoples idea of what they are doing - but this is the case 80% of the time.  The other 20% is Jujutsu, that is prevailing when you are on the wrong side of that equation.    

The Loser of 60 Duels

Miyomoto Musashi remains famous for his writings and is held out to be undefeated in more than 60 duels.  When (and of course I mean when not if) my own legend is recorded, as a man of Jujutsu I would hope to be known as the loser of 60 duels (if not 600).

I've always trained something else along with Jujutsu.  I've been bested regularly by teenage girls in BJJ, Karate and many others (most recently Kendo).  You never know what side of the equation you're on, and if you play someone else's game, you can expect to lose.

I've learnt a lot from going to the best places I can find and getting bested regularly, both in terms of trying to pick up their basic skills and finding a way to shut them down.

Here is where we return to Jujutsu.  Of our four possibilities, the most common mistake is using hard against hard when the other person is better than you, and you don't realise it.  Therefore your default approach should be soft, at least until you know what side of the equation you are on.  

That is why it is called Jujutsu, not Gojutsu.

The original videos from which stills in this post were taken can be found here:

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