Monday, December 28, 2009

Closing Distance and Not Overextending: Musashi's "Body of a Shuko"

Miyamoto Musashi’s Book of Five Rings speaks of “having the body of a shuko”, a shuko being a short-armed monkey. He writes that “… The shuko does not extend his arms… If you think o f extending your arms, your body will retract… it is easy to approach with your body in the same time it would take for your hand to reach out.”

In other words, close distance so that you do not execute any technique before you are within the proper range to do so. This is one of the largest compromisers of proper stance and posture because it causes leaning, throws off your center of balance, and prevents proper body weight transfer into the opponent. Simply put, your technique becomes incredibly weak and leaves you vulnerable. This applies to anything, whether it is a punch, block, kick, or grappling maneuver. While this seems like common sense, executing outside of proper range is extremely common and in the end ironically boils down to a fear of getting hit. This is easily observed in many fighters, regardless of their training background and experience. As such, many people are used to “stand-up fighting” well outside of the proper range and will prefer only to grapple within what we would consider to be proper striking distance. It requires extreme confidence to close distance with the body as a whole first before execution.

As Musashi would say, “study this well.”

This concept is of course tied in closely with what we call osae, the constant press forward into the opponent, which requires a post in and of itself. While Musashi does not use the term osae, he writes of the same concept in at least three separate passages. This will be discussed in another post.

As a footnote, I am currently using the William Scott Wilson translation of Musashi’s Book of Five Rings. After comparing it to the archaic Japanese used in the original work, Wilson’s translation is perhaps the best I have come across.