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  • Writer's pictureRobert Parkes

The Fifth Element and the Five Ways of Attack

Updated: Jul 2, 2023

Know the enemy and know yourself; in a hundred battles you will never be in peril. When you know yourself, but you are ignorant of the enemy, your chances of winning or losing are equal, and for every victory will come a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you are certain to be in peril in every battle.

The Art of War, Sun Tzu

There are many ways to approach tactical training. In this short article I attempt to distill and synthesise strategic concepts from traditional Filipino, Japanese, and European Martial Arts. Specifically, I draw on Bruce Lee's (JKD) Five Ways of Attack (inspired by his analysis of Boxing and Fencing strategies); link it to various traditional tactical approaches found in the Filipino Martial Arts (borrowing heavily from the terminology used in the late Guro Tony Somera's book on Giron Escrima); and combine it with the Japanese Five Element Theory (particularly as articulated by Stephen K. Hayes).


Controlling Positioning

Temporary Immobilization Attack (TIA)

You are immovable, holding your ground, dominating the centre, and defending the borders of your territory (Fondo Fuerte), smashing down or blocking the path of any attacks (Estilo de Fondo); or smashing through barriers designed to stop your advance (Tero Pisada), and repelling anyone who would encroach upon your space; often thrusting the second they move (Estilo Songkete). Your solid defences are experienced as impenetrable.


Controlling Distancing

Attack By Drawing (ABD)

You are unreachable, luring the opponent into attacking by presenting a false opening (Estilo Abierta) or feigning weakness; or goading them into attacking by encroaching on their space; then repositioning yourself for tactical advantage, slipping or retreating away from their attacks, and hurling yourself back at an unexpected and advantageous angle for a powerful and devastating counterattack (Estilo Riterada), or staying at range to pick off the opponent's limbs as they attack again (Estilo Largo Mano).


Controlling Timing & Intensity

Attack By Combination (ABC)

Your attacks are unrelenting. You strike pre-emptively or on the opponent's preparation to attack, with explosive, committed, and decisive action (Praksyon); controlling the timing, energy and intensity of the exchange; invading and consuming the opponent's space with continuous forehand and backhand strikes (Sagasa) or continuous circular strikes (Estilo Redonda); or the deployment of broken rhythm (Contra-Compas), and rapid uneven half-steps (Estilo de Salon), to disrupt the opponent's timing and defences.


Controlling Trajectory

Progressive Indirect Attack (PIA)

You are unpredictable, staying close, yet slipping elusively around and away from your opponent's attacks (Combate Adentro), using side stepping, parrying, and angling, leaving them foolishly chasing where you were rather than where you are (Estilo Escapo), and effortlessly finding the cracks in their defence, which you penetrate with your own counters; or deceive by feinting, baiting and distracting the opponent (Engganyo), setting them up for your real attack; or use sudden changes of angle in the trajectory of an attack (Rapeleon) to penetrate their defences, including the use of lateral and rocking motions combined with fanning motions of the weapon (Estilo de Abanico).


Controlling Self and Perception

Single Angle Attack (SAA)

You are unmatchable. Bruce Lee's "no way as way" is an expression of the Void (the fifth element), in which you adopt the appropriate elemental tactics dictated by the needs of the specific opponent or situation, and/or deploy a wide range of tactics to keep your opponent guessing, while staying calm, focused and intensely aware (Dakip Diwa); demonstrating resilience by never struggling with a failed tactic, but gear-shifting (Kambyo) and adapting as required. As Lee describes it, you "respond like an echo" and "adapt like a shadow" suggesting an immediacy to your actions that implies you intercept your opponent at the level of their intention (fighting without fighting), striking precisely at the right time. In the Afro-Brazilian Capoeira tradition, a player at this level might be described as a Mandingueiro, a clever warrior who fights like a wizard, almost seeming to bend reality in their favour.


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