Flare and Glare

Tony Annesi

The students’ one-step sparring was getting somewhat listless. One line of students is to deliver a predetermined attack to the opposite line of students which is to respond with a strong defense and counterattack. Oh, they moved sharply enough and focused their blows, kept good posture, had good speed, but they just didn’t seem to mean it. Uechi-ryu karate-ka have a saying, “Fast Hands and Glare in Eyes”, which is a good description of any style's well-performed ippon kumite (one step sparring) drill. My students were doing most everything technically correct, but their kumite was missing some flare because their eyes were missing the glare!

My first karate instructor used to “psych” us up by playing director to our actor. “The person in front of you just raped your girlfriend!” Heavy duty. To the women, he’d say, “Your opponent has just beaten and kidnapped your child!” Or sensei would invent, in the stillness of the dojo, some equally gruesome images to make us foam at the mouth before applying our defense and attack. Some students giggled. Others wanted to kill.

In fact, those who were effected by sensei’s direction so as to produce powerful, fast, frightening responses to the opponent's attack also were on the edge of wanting to attack their partner first! These images fostered anger, which, if channeled correctly could be a very powerful force. The students who were chomping at the bit to retaliate would certainly give a potential rapist or kidnapper second thoughts. The trouble was that the image produced in the students’ minds was of a deed already accomplished. I, for one, did not like to give my opponent that type of “power” over me. That is, I did not want to think that he had successfully intruded upon my life with anything so disturbing as a rape or kidnapping. I preferred to stay calm, have a minimum personal evaluation of the circumstances, but still remain intense.

Anger is an emotion with which everyone is familiar, and there can be no doubt that anger can make one want to maim and kill. So anger is definitely a tool which will get the job done. But anger also teaches you to hate. By using anger to create a mind-set which helps us survive an aggression by stimulating a powerful counterattack, we simultaneously create an emotion which hinders us from living a happy life in those long, uneventful periods between mortal assaults.

My initial resolution to this apparent paradox was to simply hold hate in reserve for the appropriate occasion and then let it all out at once and totally annihilate my attacker as I had done symbolically before in kumite drills. When the situation was not appropriate for hate, I reasoned, I would go on living my normal life. That was a logical first step for dealing with this incongruity in training philosophy. But upon evaluation at a much later date (ten years later to be precise), I understood that it was only a first step.

How was I to be able to judge when to switch on the hate, or if 100% of my acrimony was appropriate? Should it be a 75–100% venom level (red alert) or a 50–75% level (orange alert) or a 25–50% level (yellow alert)? And when I was not up to yellow alert as yet, what emotion did I feel? Mild disgust? Perfunctory preparedness? Nothing? I had no answer but realized that because of my “solution” to the ippon kumite dilemma, I was measuring everyone on a scale of hate and anger rather than on a scale of love or acceptance. I do not suggest that acceptance and love will, in every instance, serve to out-Ghandi an opponent’s Attila, but I did not want my self-defense skills and my dedication to my art to hinder my development as a human being. My whole thrust in remaining with the martial arts for my entire adult life was to have a path toward self-improvement. I did not need to be Ghandi, but neither did I need to be Attila.

To maneuver the mind into an intense state (which may mean anger to some people but to others means determination), one may imitate the physical characteristics which one would normally display if one were in fact in that intense state. There is a mental-physical loop which makes the body effect the mind as well as the mind effect the body. Sensei had had us use our minds to make our bodies perform at a certain intensity level. As an instructor, I prefer to offer a more indirect approach (body to mind, then mind to body) so that the student can use his/her mind in any way which is more natural to that individual. If the student is on the level of having to feel anger to become psyched, so be it. But once the student’s technique is more mature, once the student has confidence in his/her reactions and can afford to move more naturally with less tension, that student may choose to take a step away from anger to a more general emotion which I simply call intensity. Because the student is then avoiding anger, he/she can also avoid overcommitment.

Okinawan and Japanese karate hold somewhat opposing philosophies regarding karate application. Japanese karate believes in the power of karate to kill with one blow. It is important therefore that Japanese karate-ka advocate a philosophy of withholding all action until absolutely certain that they are justified in turning themselves loose. Then they destroy. Having been pushed to the wall, they bring the walls down upon whoever did the pushing. No mercy, no remorse. The Okinawan philosophy incorporates more of a give-and-take. Since there was originally a great deal of variety in the application of Okinawan karate, one had a range of possible applications from utter destruction to bodily injury to mild pain. The techniques used by the two types of karate are not so different from one another, but their interpretation of application differs, and thus their fighting philosophies are not completely consistent with each other. Certainly my summation of karate philosophies should not be considered a representation of every Okinawan or Japanese system, but it does serve to illustrate another dilemma. For karate-ka with a tradition stemming from the Japanese or Korean arts originally based in Okinawa, which cultural interpretation of karate do we honor? And how do we choose between give-and-take and one-punch-kill? Between dealing with the situation before it intensifies and being passive until one’s life’s on the line?

Recently upon exiting from my dojo I walked across the small front lawn on my way to the parking lot. One of the two landscapers working with hoe, rake and shovel on the front flowerbed commented loudly enough to get my attention, “There goes another one walking across the fourken lawn!” Before he and his sidekick were hired by our landlord, my students and I did the landscaping ourselves to make the building look nice for clients. We were the first to weed and seed the lawn and to plant the trees and flowers. The lawn meant as much to me as it did to Mr. Landscaper, but a few seasons of people traversing the lawn from the parking lot to the entrance had killed the newly sown grass. Since no one could be there to patrol the area every hour of every day, it was clear to me that putting a walkway in was a more reasonable way to deal with the problem than getting angry and frustrated over people’s natural tendency to walk the shortest distance between two points. I looked over my shoulder at Mr. Landscaper who brandished his hoe across his chest as if about to begin a weapons kata, perhaps Hana no Hoe or something like that. “People walk across this area all the time,” I began to commiserate, but before I could express my opinion about the solution to the problem, he blurted, “Yeah, some broad just walked across here with heels on for cripezakes. Why can’t ya use the gorram walk?”

Immediately and unconsciously my eyes went glary and my nostrils went flary. As he took a step forward with his hoe, I realized two things: one, if he swung at me, I would go into destruction-mode, and two, this was a damn silly thing to have to hurt anyone over. I had to be ready, but not assume that the interchange would escalate. To assume the worse was to bring it about, I thought. So, still flaring and glaring, I began to explain that I knew how he felt, that my students and I had put a lot of work into the lawn and that it was frustrating to see it be beaten down all the time. I approached him now with a sense of sharing information rather than trading reproaches. “You know,” I said, “we ought to make a suggestion to the landlord to put some flagstone in that area since people walk on it anyway. What do you think?” Pretty soon we were standing side by side, with him leaning on the hoe and me attentively listening to his ideas on the subject of lawns, flagstones and landlords. His buddy had returned from a position of attentiveness to raking loam and the situation had turned from a feeling of tension to one of cooperation.

It was such a little, meaningless argument that no one would have expected any violence to come out of it, but of such inconsequential situations are violent confrontations made. I know of a very high ranking martial artist who got into a fight with someone who felt it was his duty to protect a bowl of potato salad from hungry picnickers before the appointed eating time. You never can tell when there is an annoying pimple on some fellow’s backside. If he cannot get at it, he may just try to get at you. If you cannot simply walk away or if appeasement will cost too much, perhaps your answer is Flare and Glare.

I teach my students in ippon kumite to flare their nostrils and glare their eyes to produce in their bodies a feeling of intensity and determination which will effect their minds in a similar way. On the street, this should be accompanied by words and gestures which create rapport or which at least do not threaten or challenge. Flare and Glare should intensify one’s state but should not escalate to anger or irrevocable commitment to destruction unless one’s life is truly threatened. If your Flare and Glare intimidates your antagonist, you may escape without having to throw a blow. If it does not, the chances are that neither would he be dissuaded by a neutral or withdrawing emotional state. There is no telling what level of defense skills or intensity is appropriate from one second to another. Let him decide. This is the merging of give-and-take with the potential of one-punch-kill, the interweaving of passivity with tenacity. It is Aiki applied to Karate, mind applied to body, and mastery of one’s art applied to one’s life.

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