Joukenhansha 条件反射: Reflex Conditioning or a Trap?

正拳 photo by  *嘟嘟嘟*
I love it when I get to spar with a martial artist who has great conditioning. Not only is it a great test for me and what I think I know about martial arts, but I have a secret weapon in our Bujinkan taijutsu that allows me to defeat them even if they have superior conditioning. This weapon is the conditioning itself. I can use it to trap them.

In martial arts, sports, or combat training people strive to develop fast reflexes. Reflexes don't require conscious thought. In fact the action of a true reflex follows the reflex arc to create a near instantaneous response to stimuli.

This is an advantage in dangerous situations where there isn't time to think about your choices. You just pull your hand out of the fire. In our training we are not usually studying true hard-wired reflexes. Instead we are conditioning our muscles and bodies to develop responses that have proved effective in our training and in combat.

Some people call this muscle memory. Or another term is procedural memory. This is where you commit a specific action to memory by training it over and over. This repetition strengthens neural pathways allowing the brain to access these patterns more efficiently. A medical definition for this might be more like the word reflexive as opposed to reflex.

For the most part, this conditioning is useful and good. Unless you are facing a devious and thinking opponent who can turn it against you. Soke calls this 条件反射 joukenhansha which is a conditioned response. He spoke of this while talking about how you should not take ukemi. Which I wrote about here: Why Do You Take Ukemi? So How can this conditioning be turned against you?

Well a reflexive action is a habitual and unthinking behavior; or relating to or consisting of a reflex. It's the habitual and unthinking part that gets you. When I recognize these reflexive actions in your movements, whether they are offensive or defensive, I will seek to trigger them to set a trap.

It's easy to see this in action no matter the style. Test it out on any person (choose someone who will not seek revenge). Stand facing each other, but don't tell them what you are testing. No reach as fast as you can for their ear.

How do they react? People with no training at all act with pure reflex in a startle-flinch response. People who train in a specific style will reveal their training, which is reflexive. In the 1980s the US Army conducted experiments to discover that people can be startled into their favored, trained fighting stances, no matter what those stances were.

Then set a trap so that when they react with their reflexive conditioning again, you will defeat them. All you have to do is trigger that reaction by reaching for their ear. Or you can make some other feint, kyojitsu, or threatening motion.

Hatsumi Sensei says this is like Pavlov's dogs. And he says we all know how easily dogs are controlled by people. So we should not train ourselves to be conditioned like dogs. Don't design reflexive traps into your training program.


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