Cheetahs and Gazelles
The cheetah is known as the fastest animal on land, able to sprint at 96 kph / 60 mph. The gazelle is a common target for the cheetah. Gazelles have horns that are of limited defensive use against a cheetah attacking from the rear or side. The gazelle is agile but not nearly as fast as the cheetah. So how is it that gazelles can often avoid becoming dinner for the hungry cheetah?
The cheetah will sprint quickly toward its prey. If the gazelle is not paying attention, this could spell a quick demise for the gazelle. But if the gazelle moves sharply off the line of attack at the last moment, the cheetah very often overshoots his target and continues charging a considerable distance. Stopping, turning around and trying it again, the cheetah usually gives up in exhaustion after a few attempts.
In training in “traditional” Shotokan dojo, as well as other Japanese-based styles, most people put more time into the fast, direct movements. Many of the Okinawan stylists, as well as those of some other martial arts, spend significant time on the finesse and agility involved in getting off the line to avoid direct attacks. Aikido is a clear and obvious example, where this is basically their primary focus of training.
Here is an example of how you can practice both a fast, direct attack (the cheetah) and an agile escape (the gazelle):
1. First, do some repetition of quick, large, lunging forward attacks. I suggest practicing extra-large stances and letting the back foot slide.
2. Then do some shifting exercises. Concentrate on getting off the line of attack quickly.
3. Kumite: Person A begins in front stance or free-sparring position. Person B is standing or nearly standing.
4. Person A (the cheetah), with minimal windup or extraneous movement, steps in quickly and punches, trying to catch Person B (the gazelle) off-guard. I would suggest starting with just chudan (abdomen) attacks to keep things safe. In the first version, to concentrate on the complete conviction and large movement forward of the attacker, Person A should try to go through the target, not just to it. Person A should aim to go a full step past Person B’s initial position. Person B should step back as far back as possible, of course very quickly, to avoid being run over.
5. In the next version, Person B shifts out of the way, just parrying if needed (not a full block; no block/parry if it is not needed). Person B should work on moving sharply and only at the last moment. The end result should look a lot like a swift cheetah trying to catch an agile gazelle. Ideally, the cheetah will sometimes “catch” the gazelle and the gazelle will sometimes avoid the cheetah’s charge.
So is it better to be the cheetah or the gazelle? What you choose to specialize in may depend partly on what your body is capable of and also what type of person (character) you are. In my opinion, it is good to develop both the ability to charge in quickly and directly, as well as to be able to use agility to avoid an attack. There are times to act like a cheetah and times to act like a gazelle. They must both be doing something right if they are surviving in the wild, right?
Copyright © 2022, Jon Keeling (originally published October 2005)