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Technique Discussion: Debana-waza

Note: I'm going to assume the reader has watched the following video regarding the kendo technique debana-waza. The instructor in this video is a fairly high-ranking kendoka, and he does a good job of explaining the concepts - but he uses a lot of kendo technical language, particularly untranslated Japanese terms-of-art. Understanding the kendo is less important for this discussion than understanding the technique.

In debana-waza, one times the attack for the moment when the enemy has decided to attack. In that moment, there is a weakness that makes it very difficult to defend properly, because the body and sword are being put under leverage that will be used to create the imminent attack. In the video, the forestalling attacks were directed to the head and right wrist, but that should be understood as being due to the peculiar rules of how kendo matches are scored, not because those are the only places a forestalling attack may be directed.

Performing Debana-Waza With The Lightsaber

As in kendo, we deal with distance and presence in what we do. Debana-waza must be performed at the correct distances, because the provocation has to create the intended response or else the opening will not occur. That response will only come if the person receiving the technique honestly believes both that the moment is right to attack, and that if they do not act quickly the encounter will promptly go against them. This means that leading up to the use of debana-waza you have to be creating pressure on the opponent, and at the moment you decide to use the technique, you have to be just barely outside of the enemy's measure.

The easiest way to create pressure on the opponent is to attack. The next easiest is to have a strong middle guard position, and demonstrate that you can hold it effectively against enemy aggression. Having created that pressure, you then need to be outside of the enemy measure. In our practices, this is incredibly easy to do, and comes up many many times both in sparring and in games, due to how frequently we reset positions in sparring, and in how our respawn mechanics work in games.

Next, you enter the enemy measure, understanding that this will provoke an attack. In order to ride out what comes next, you need to understand the opponent well enough to know what attack they're going to attempt, so that you can arrive at the critical point ahead of them. For many people, they will beat at the blade and cut to the wrist. For others, they will go low. Watching the opponents eyes at the moment you press forward will give you the hints you need about what their target is. Then, once you see they intend to attack, suffocate the attack with your own cut. Note that this is not a counterattack in the usual sense, and you should not be attempting to block their strike if you are using debana-waza. Instead, you're cutting at the moment they decide to begin their attack, before their body or blade have had a chance to move more than a few inches. If you strike correctly, they probably won't bother going through the rest of the attack. If they do swing out, calmly deal with their saber and then perform a more traditional counterattack - you may have been off-target, so maintaining awareness of the enemy weapon is key, even if you touch the opponent.

How I Use Debana-waza in SSU

The most common method I use to generate the desired attack is the heavy right foot stomp. It's important to train the opponent to believe that the stomp accompanies an attack - which in itself can be a somewhat risky business. During this process I judge whether the opponent is the type to defend when they hear the stomp, or if they respond to aggression with aggression. The first type debana-waza is inapplicable towards, so I'll use the stomp, then attack a half-tempo afterwards, using their blocking instinct to guide where my attack should be placed. The second type, who will attack in response to aggression, are the ones susceptible to debana-waza. Typically I won't be able to place an accurate forestalling attack the first time I try the foot-stomp into a counterpuncher, so I'm obliged to block and counterattack by other means, but that initial encounter is not a failure simply because I failed to touch the opponent and was forced to defend momentarily. Once I've seen the attack the opponent uses in response to aggression, I'm free to stomp into measure again, only this second time I'm both physically and psychologically prepared to go to the place where the enemy's attack will originate from, and shut it down before it truly forms. This is the debana-waza - to jump ahead of the enemy's desire to attack and have your own attack waiting for them when they begin.

How The Debana-Waza Fails

The chief way this backfires is when I fail to judge distance appropriately, and begin a foot-stomp from within measure, rather than from just outside of it on my way in. This leads to my front leg getting cut.

The next way this backfires is when I fail to train the opponent that an attack comes with the stomp. This means that I've used the stomp as a feint too many times against that opponent, and I need to go back to using it "honestly" as a way to achieve deep entry into measure along with carrying good momentum into an attack. The good news is that I probably ended up converting that opponent into the type that freezes in response to the stomp, so if I simply go forward strongly and commit to the attack I'll probably get a good result, and at worst a mutual strike.

The last way this backfires is when the opponent responds to the stomp by simply leaving measure altogether. This results in a frustrating kind of match where I spend my time chasing down an opponent who will be hiding behind their blade while retreating and typically lunging their hips backward while attempting to score a wrist or arm cut from over the top of my blade. Those matches come down to being patient, coaxing out the poorly-structured counterattack, and responding to the overextended arms while driving in strongly to take advantage of the poor body mechanics. Against the people who employ this tactic poorly it's enough to simply lower the hips and advance using strong passing-step footwork, capturing the enemy blade, and cutting when they try to disengage.

Final Thoughts

Debana-waza occupies a unique place in the timing structure of an attack, because it starts second but arrives first. This makes it different from an outright attack, which either means to elude or crush the opponent's guard, and also different from a counter-attack, which relies on either blocking or voiding the enemy attack as part of the same motion as the attack. In debana-waza, the enemy attack never fully materializes, because it's not given the chance to do so. This means the practitioner has to be in control of space, timing, and to a certain extent the opponent's intentions. Performed correctly, debana-waza should feel nearly telepathic to its victim. Musashi wrote about the spirit of holding down a pillow, and this is a good mentality to have when performing debana-waza. Make the opponent feel helpless to attack, helpless to defend, and victory certainly follows.

If you have any questions, please reply here or feel free to seek me out at practice for a more in-depth demonstration.

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