Yesterday, I showed some of my students a little card magic I learned in the waybackwhen, the summer I worked in a carnival. I’ll tell you that story sometime.
One reason I did this is simple: magic is exactly like combat.
Allow me to elucidate.
Magic relies on capturing your audience’s mind. You lead it where you want it to go, by using a combination of suggestion, distraction, diversion, subterfuge, subtle deception, and outrageous lies. You baffle and bewilder them by making them think that they “see” things that they are not really seeing. And because they “see with their own eyes,” you make them believe – even if just for a moment -- things that are not true, cannot be true, things they know are impossible
Combat relies on capturing your opponent’s mind, too. You trap your opponent’s mind using a combination of suggestion, distraction, diversion, subterfuge, subtle deception, and outrageous lies. You baffle and bewilder them by making them think that they “see” things that they are not really seeing. And because they “see with their own eyes,” you make them believe – even if just for a moment -- things that are not true.
And a moment is all you need.
A lot can happen in a moment.
Eliminate the impossible and whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.
Another reason that the study of magic is valuable to the student of the sword is that it stimulates your critical thinking juices. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “Sherlock Holmes once said, “Eliminate the impossible, and whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”
The importance of this principle cannot possibly be over-stated.
We know that playing cards do not change, do not move around on their own. It’s IMPOSSIBLE. Therefore, you can trace the illusion back, step by step. When did it APPEAR that the cards changed? When and where did you last actually see the card? What happened after that? Clearly, what you thought you saw was really something else. Step by step. Question each one. Verify what you think you know and HOW you know it. Verify what you think you saw – did you actually SEE “X”, or did you conclude that you saw “X” because of some assumption, or suggestion?
In both magic and combat, you use your opponent’s assumptions, beliefs, habits, and responses against him. Because you know that your mark responds to “A” with “B,” you can anticipate “B” and be ready to do “C.” See?
This brings me to the second master principle I want to mention, one that you should probably get tattooed on your forehead: “If you don’t have a Plan B, then you don’t have a plan at all
Let’s put it in fencing terms.
Let’s say “A” is the attack, the initial offensive action. If you understand the nature of your opponent’s attack, you can counter-attack, make an offensive action DURING the attack. An opponent who is committed to an attack is in a very poor position to defend and so a properly chosen and executed counter-attack has a very high probability of success. Counter-attacks are good. I love them.
It’s foolish to put all your eggs in the attack basket. It’s a habit of beginners and very poor “fencers.” They try to attack harder, faster, and deeper so that their opponent doesn’t have a chance to do the counterattack, or that the counter-attack will miss, or be a hair too late, and in the artificial context of a fencing contest, the “rules” will save the attacker’s life. But there are no such rules in a fight. The attacker must save himself.
People are good at what they like and like what they’re good at, and tend to do it whenever they can. If I can determine that my opponent is so inclined to counter-attack, I won’t try to keep him from doing it. I’ll let him do what he wants to do. Hell, I’ll ENCOURAGE him to do what he wants to do. I’ll create the appearance of an opportunity to do it that he can’t resist, because he thinks I’m making a mistake. And then I’ll use it against him.
For example, I “attack” with my swordarm bent and my high outside line slightly open. This invites my opponent to counterattack with opposition to that line. I telegraph my intention, and contrive the speed of my attack to enable him to “pick me off” with a fast thrust. As he makes that thrust, I parry, and then continue my forward movement with a riposte with opposition to guard against a remise of his counterattack (getting inside his point if I can).
We use the term contre-temps or “counter-time” is used to describe every action made by the attacker against the defender’s counterattack.
If my opponent is skillful, he will not walk into the same ambush again. If he is skillful, he will understand the nature of my contre-temps and will either deceive my parry, or parry my riposte and make a counter-riposte.
We use the term fenta di tempo, or feint in time, to describe every action made by the defender against the attacker’s contre-temp.
Let me break it down for you another way.
Suppose we’re having a fencing contest.
My plan A is to hit you with my attack
If you try to parry my attack, one of two things will happen: either you will find my blade, or you will not find my blade. If you do not find my blade, it’s because I have deceived your parry. Deceiving your parry is my Plan B.
But suppose I try to deceive your parry, and I fail. You find my blade. One of two things will happen: either you will make a riposte, or you will not make a riposte. If you do not make a riposte, I will make a remise and hit you. That remise is my Plan C.
If you DO make a riposte, I will parry and counter-riposte. One of two things will happen: either I find you blade with my parry, or I don’t. If I find the blade, I will execute my counter-riposte. That simple parry and counter-riposte is my Plan D.
If I do NOT find your blade with my parry, it’s because you have deceived my parry. If I do not find your blade with my parry, I will give a little ground (if necessary) and execute a second parry and find your blade with that one, and counter-riposte. That compound parry and counter-riposte is my Plan E.
Are you beginning to see a pattern?
Anytime you make a plan, you have to ask yourself, “What could go wrong?” at each step of the plan, and have a back-up plan for each eventuality.
I don’t even put my pants on without a Plan B.
Resources for Further Study
Just for fun, here are some films I strongly recommend. They’re good films and I think you’ll enjoy them. But they aren’t “just entertainment.” Each of these films is about illusions, distractions, ambushes, understanding the nature of the opponent’s probable response, plans and back-up plans.
1. The Sting. Dir. George Roy Hill (1973)
2. The Spanish Prisoner. Dir. David Mamet (1997)
3. House of Games. Dir. David Mamet1987
4. Heist. Dir. David Mamet (2001)
5. Harry in Your Pocket. Dir. Bruce Geller (1973)
6. Inside Man. Dir. Spike Lee (2006)
7. The Thomas Crown Affair. Dir. Norman Jewison (1968)
8. The Great Raid. Dir. John Dahl (2005)
9. Deceptive Practice. Dir. Molly Bernstein (2012)
10. The Illusionist. Dir. Neil Burger (2006)
Sing it, Brother Ray: