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The duck form: the yin yang of perception

To fight effectively, it is important to anticipate your opponent's tactics, techniques and micromovements by observing him carefully. You must also be aware of your movements, position, distance and strategy to counter your opponent.


This article does not focus on observing the micromovements to detect the type of the technique that is coming at you, that will be the subject of a subsequent article. Instead, I want to address another phenomenon present in combat and in self-defense situations: the alternation between the perception of external and internal events.



Blind spots

To respond effectively to a physical or verbal attack, stay in external awareness. To analyze tactics and strategies, enter internal awareness. The problem in this alternation is the appearance of perceptual "blind spots".

A blind spot is what we don't see, hear or feel because our attention is focused elsewhere.

For example, if we are fighting face-to-face, and you are very focused on my actions, everything that happens behind you becomes a perceptual blind spot. But you may also remain unaware of what is going on inside you, being overly identified with your outer awareness.

The identification processes

Similarly, if you are completely identified with your inner processes you will not perceive your opponent's actions, his internal and external reactions, the movement of his eyes, the position of his body and hands, etc.

To stay aware of all this, you must activate your peripheral vision (and hearing) and your somatic center.

Then you will become aware of what is happening at 360 degrees. The problem of the perceptual blind spot arises when you identify only with one side at the expense of the other.

If you identify with either the outer (yang) or inner (yin) side, you tip the scales to the same side; this creates a perceptual blind spot and a loss of information. So when you go too far inside yourself, you may not perceive the other person (or more) on the outside. And when you become too focused on the opponent on the outside, you may not perceive what is happening inside of you.

How to solve this problem?

I like to tell the story of the little duck, to express how our external and internal processes must cooperate to master the art of combat, confrontation, and tactics on both a physical and psychoverbal level.

Many masters who have invented martial arts styles have used the forms of animals (as I have done with psychoverbal self-defense). This happened either through a dream or while observing animals fighting or defending themselves. I, too, made a discovery while watching a duck in the wild. However, I did not invent a martial art style based on the duck.

The origin of the duck form

One day while walking, I was watching a duck on a lake. It looked peaceful and seemed to be just floating on the spot as if it was meditating quietly. Then I became aware that bits of leaves and pieces of wood were floating and quickly overtaking the duck, which seemed almost motionless on the water. I realized, by observing the duck closely, that it was not just floating peacefully on the water, but that its little legs were moving quickly to give a semblance of stillness.

I have used this metaphor extensively in my classes. The duckling style teaches you to be calm on the outside and alert on the inside or alert on the outside and calm on the inside.

When your body remains still, keep your mind alert and vice versa. A yin-yang balance instead of identifying only with one of these parts.

Effectiveness in combat depends on this alternation

To remain effective in combat, the body must be relaxed (yin) to be able to move freely and react in a split second, and the mind must be alert (yang) to be ready to find the opportunity and to strike back quickly.

When we strike, the body's energy explosion is yang while the mind becomes receptive (yin), open to any reaction or retaliation. We must use both sides of consciousness simultaneously and not sequentially, just as we learn in martial arts to use both our left and right sides simultaneously.

Words of a famous samurai on this subject

"When your inside turns to yang, or action, keep your outside in a state of yin, or stillness. When your inside stays yin, keep your outside yang. This is the case in strategy. This is the nature of things. When your action remains on the offensive, you must keep your mind still and not let it synchronize with your exterior. By keeping your mind still, you can control your actions much better."

These words come from Yagyu Munenori (1571-1647) who decided to pass on to future generations the theories and techniques of combat that he acquired through his great experience in the field. He survived great battles. Most of his writings are detailed accounts of how to control the mind during battle and the kind of training needed for such mind control. He seeks to transfer his theory of combat to social and political life. A Viel ancestor of psychoverbal self-defense.

Like my little duckling who gives the appearance of calmness on the water while he frantically waves his little ones under the water, a well-trained strategist will appear very calm on the outside, while he keeps his inside very sharp.

Visual/kinesthetic (The V-K synesthesia*)

Beware, there should be no elaborate inner dialogue, it is visual/kinesthetic and the cognitive mind should be kept to a strict minimum. Naturally, this level is not reserved for beginners or intermediates.

It is one of the purposes of the strategy to achieve a state of mind that can fully control the alternation of offense and defense, action and stillness.

To achieve this state of mind, one must go right to the heart of this alternation, between the higher cognitive center, the somatic center, and the relational field (see the 3 minds or 3 centers model).

When we are focused, we escape identification. When we are centered, everything is interaction and interrelation. A good way to learn this skill is to work on being present to what you are doing (your internal awareness) while perceiving what is happening around you (your external awareness). Do this while walking down the street, while working, while cleaning the house, in any activity outside of karate. Then transfer this to the dojo and your sparring.

Gaëtan Sauvé * Synesthesia : the production of a sense impression relating to one sense or part of the body by stimulation of another sense or part of the body.

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