The Fifth Element and the Five Ways of Attack

Updated: Feb 9

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

Hand Immobilization Attack (HIA)

You are immovable, holding your ground (Defondo), dominating the centre, and defending the borders of your territory, smashing down or blocking the path of any attacks (Pisada), and repelling anyone who would encroach upon your space; thrusting the second they move (Songkete); or smashing through barriers designed to stop your advance (Pakusog). 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 (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 (Riterada), and hurling yourself back at an unexpected and advantageous angle (Lastiko) for a powerful and devastating counterattack, or staying at range to pick off the opponent's limbs as they attack again (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 (Sagasa); while deploying broken rhythm (Kontra-Kumpas), rapid uneven half-steps (De Salon), and non-telegraphic and combination attacks (Amara) to blitz the opponent, before they have had a chance to react.


Controlling Trajectory

Progressive Indirect Attack (PIA)

You are unpredictable, staying close, yet slipping elusively around and away from your opponent's attacks (Adentro), using side stepping, parrying, and angling, leaving them foolishly chasing where you were rather than where you are (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.


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.


Ninja Fighting Techniques (Part 2: The Elements of Fighting) by Stephen K. Hayes
Ninja Volume IV: Legacy of the Night Warrior (Chapter Five: The Force of Intention) by Stephen K. Hayes
The Secrets of Giron Arnis Escrima (Chapter 2: The Twenty Styles of Giron Arnis Escrima) by Antonio E. Somera
Tao of Jeet Kune Do (Five Ways of Attack, pp. 194-199) by Bruce Lee