Soft techniques in martial arts (and good governance)

woman soft martial artsAn important element of our Better Choices sustainability  strategy is to achieve our carefully-considered objectives for the city, often very demanding, without avoidable social conflicts and divisions into opposing camps.  For that we need to be attentive to soft policy techniques.

Softness is often confused with weakness. But not in the martial arts. The goal of the soft technique is deflecting the attacker’s force to his or her disadvantage, with the defender exerting minimal force. With a soft technique, the defender uses the attacker’s aggressivity, force and momentum against him or her, by leading the attack(er) in a direction to where the defender will be advantageously positioned (tai sabaki) and leaving the attacker off balance; a seamless and to many invisible movement then effects the appropriate soft technique.

Here in a few words is how the soft technique works:

(1) The defender leads the attack by redirecting the attacker’s forces against him or her, or away from the defender — instead of meeting the attack with a block. The mechanics of soft technique defenses usually are circular: Yielding is meeting the force with no resistance, like a projectile glancing off a surface without damaging it. Another example could be: an Aikido check/block to an attacker’s arm, which re-directs the incoming energy of the blow.

(2) The soft technique usually is applied when the attacker is off-balance, thus the defender achieves the “maximum efficiency” ideal posited by Kano Jigoro (1860–1938), the founder of judo. The Taijiquan (T’ai chi ch’uan) histories report “a force of four taels being able to move a thousand catties”, referring to the principle of Taiji — a moving mass can seem weightless. Soft techniques — throws, armlocks, etc. — might resemble hard martial art techniques, yet are distinct because their application requires minimal force. (see kuzushi)

For example:

* In Classical Fencing, other techniques appear in all forms of swordplay which fall into the soft category, the most obvious being the disengage where the fencer or swordsman uses the pressure of his opponent to disengage and change lines on his opponent giving him an advantage in the bind.

* In Judo and Jujutsu when the attacker (uke) pushes towards the defender (tori), the tori drops under the uke, whilst lifting the uke over himself, effecting the Tomoe Nage throw with one of his legs. The technique is categorized as a “front sacrifice technique” in judo and jujutsu styles. The push from the uke can be direct, or it can be a response to a push from the tori.

* With martial arts styles such as T’ien Ti Tao Ch’uan-shu P’ai the soft style is also in keeping with the Taoist philosophy, the idea that the technique can also be applied in mental terms as well as physical.

Soft techniques can be used in offense but are more likely to appear in defense and counter offense. Much like hard techniques they are effected by foot work and skeletal alignment. Where a hard technique in defense often aims to interrupt the flow of attack; a soft technique aims to misdirect it, move around it or draw it into over commitment, in counter offense a soft technique may appear as a slip or a vault or simply using the momentum of a technique against the user. Soft techniques in offense would usually only include feints and pulling motions but the definition and categorization may change from one art form to another.

Soft techniques are also characterized as being circular in nature and considered internal (using Qi (Chinese) or ki (Japanese and Korean)) by martial arts such as t’ai chi ch’uan, hapkido and aikido.

 * Taken with minor editing from . With thanks.

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From the Soft City/New Mobility Agenda:

In the course of this continuing investigation of a Soft City approach to transport master planning and implementation, here are some useful references for those who wish to dig deeper:


• How one Lion-hearted Dutch inventor gave bike-sharing . . . –
• Amsterdam Homage: Dutch – English –
• Britton video on Schimmelpennink contributions.
• World Streets on Soft Cities:
* Planners Bookshelf (Soft Cities) –
• Facebook: * Twitter:
• LinkedIn:
• LS on Die Witte Stad –!AivPCmA_7fpkh7h30V4Utad_9NmBag
• EB notes on Soft Cities (draft) –
• On Schimmelpennink:
• On Britton:

MORE: For background, working papers, invitations, Britton at | S. newmobility | T. +336 5088 0787 – Schimmelpennink at Y-tech Innovations Centre – | Skype. luud69

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Image: From  The Way of Harmony: A Guide to Self-Knowledge Through the Arts of ‘Ai Chi Chuan Hsing I, Pa Kua, and Chi Kung

About the editor:

Eric Britton
9, rue Gabillot, 69003 Lyon France

Bio: Trained as a development economist, Eric Britton is a public entrepreneur specializing in the field of sustainability and social justice. Professor of Sustainable Development, Economy and Democracy at the Institut Supérieur de Gestion (Paris), he is also MD of EcoPlan Association, an independent advisory network providing strategic counsel for government and business on policy and decision issues involving complex systems, social-technical change and sustainable development. Founding editor of World Streets, his latest work focuses on the subject of equity, economy and efficiency in city transport and public space, and helping governments to ask the right questions -- and in the process, find practical solutions to urgent climate, mobility, life quality and job creation issues. More at:

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