October 2015 Premium Article – Reacting vs. Countering

Reacting vs. Countering

You can react but not counter and you can’t counter without reacting. I had asked Mr. Parker about the difference in the two.

He didn’t really define anything but he said that reacting could just be something simple like moving your head and countering was striking back. I realize that’s not all there was to his answer but it’s what I needed at the time and I agree that’s the simplest way to look at it.  We can go a bit deeper.

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Suppose the opponent steps in with a punch from 12:00 and I don’t move. No reaction, no counter, maybe results in no teeth.

Same attack and I step back or off-line but don’t strike. That’s a reaction. If I off-angle and punch, that’s a reaction with a counter. I think many people consider the whole action of stepping and striking as countering.

Over the years I’ve seen some weird and wonderful things in karate classes and one was a reaction to an attack that resulted in a poke in the eyes. The attacking student attempted to lunge in and punch. The defender, being relatively new, just spazzed out and simply thrust his arm out in a natural reaction to keep the opponent at bay. His arm extended, as did his fingers. The other guy just ran into the hand. He was lucky it didn’t puncture his eye but it sure did break up the attack.

The natural, primitive reaction of sticking ones arm out was also a counter, although unintentional. You can see how reacting and countering can be one.

As always, there are numerous other factors involved. Timing is one. Too soon or too late and either are ineffective. If the defender had moved sooner or farther, the attacker would have time to alter. If he moved later, he’d either have been hit or the movement smothered.

Consider the Parker differentiations in motion being primitive, mechanical or spontaneous. The attacker did either mechanical or spontaneous movement. If he thought about it first, it was mechanical; if he didn’t it was spontaneous. The defender’s actions were primitive. If you had seen it, you would recognize the rearward action to escape, the unbalanced position, the flailing arms and even the eyes being closed. He stopped the attack but it was pure luck.

I think it resulted in a weak poke because the body tends to extend the limbs. The eyes being closed cut off one source of distance information, that being sight. With that lack, the fingers continue outward to act like probes. Contact would tell you where the threatening person or object is. (Lots of nerve endings in them and each one contacting a different way gives you position information, which is why we do the Finger Set as we do.) A better trained person would have set their base, timed the counter and used their bracing angles in stance and weapon delivery. Obviously, that would result in a devastating technique.

There are numerous natural reactions we work with such as retreating, closing our eyes, flailing, balling up, moving our heads, grabbing parts that hurt, making sharp points with our knees and elbows and more. When we study the arts we learn how to stylize those reactions and change or eliminate them.

Loading up a downward block, for example, is a stylized version of crossing our arms in front of our body, one hand high and the other, low in a defensive reaction. Other blocks are simply shorter, more focused actions instead of flailing away and hoping to deflect the attack. Combined with knowledge of how to retreat, set a base, breathe, etc, we get an effective defense. By learning good body alignment, we know we can’t throw our head back out of the way and expect to be able to counter effectively. Where the head goes, the body follows. We learn such things as tucking the chin or bobbing, slipping or weaving.

In executing techniques we know about planned reaction. We learn that the body reacts to a rib shot by bending and the hands moving to cover the ribs, which sets up an open shot somewhere else. We see that the person we work on folds at the joints and we have to check or zone away from the points that knees and elbows make because they hurt when we hit them or they hit us. Ever kick someone in the elbow with the top of your foot when throwing a roundhouse kick? Then you get what I mean.

It takes time to learn how to do all these things and some of us are better at it than others. Getting the upper body to work with the lower is one task and another is just getting the brain to work with the body. It seems the brain knows things the body doesn’t and vice-versa. If you stick to it and re-learn how to move you’ll find yourself to be more efficient in your movement and not in your martial art.       [private_Premium Newsletter/]