Monday, November 1, 2010

Mental Unbalancing - State of Mind

This is the second in a series of blogs I plan to post on the nebulous concept of 'mental unbalancing'.

Recall from my previous blog that, based on the Oxford dictionary definition of unbalance, mental unbalancing could be described as upsetting or disturbing the equilibrium of a person's state of mind. Colonel Rex Applegate, the father of Modern Army combatives, in Kill or Get Killed specifically referred to mental balance as a 'state of mind'.

What does 'state of mind' mean? Recall from my previous blog that I could not find a dictionary which defined this phrase, even though it is a phrase which is commonly used. If any reader can point me in the right direction for an authoritative definition of the phrase I'd be very grateful. Having said that, and based on the common usage of the term, let's look at what state of mind means to some people.

A person can have a calm or agitated, peaceful or aggressive, healthy or unhealthy, positive or negative, robust or fragile, rational or irrational state of mind. Applegate explains that mental balance is a state of mind. Pain is often described as a state of mind. So is fear. Courage is a state of mind according to Major Darryl Tong of the New Zealand Army. Success and failure, happiness and sadness, freedom and slavery, and democracy and communism have all been described as states of mind.

Defeat is a state of mind according to Bruce Lee. Texas is a state of mind according to John Steinbeck. Youth is a state of mind for Robert F. Kennedy. The Dali Lama refers to disciplined and undisciplined states of mind as causes for wholesome and unwholesome actions respectively. People’s subjective states of mind are often referred to although an auditor is suppose to have an objective state of mind.

Recklessness and negligence have been referred to as states of mind in law. So has motive. A cool state of mind has been described by a trial court as meaning that a killing was committed with a fixed design to kill, regardless of whether the person was angry or gripped with passion at the time of the act. A guilty state of mind has been described by other trial courts as meaning an act was committed deliberately or recklessly and without care about the result of the action. The English Court of Appeal argued that, for the purposes of law, consent is a state of mind when deciding whether sex was consensual or not. But what does ‘state of mind’ actually mean? In each case this question is never specifically addressed.

While I could not find a definition for state of mind, a synonym of the phrase, frame of mind, proved more successful. Based on this definition, state of mind can be thought of as the way a person thinks and feels about something at a particular time. This definition certainly applies to the conceptions of state of mind referred to above.

Therefore, mental unbalancing could be defined as upsetting or disturbing the way a person thinks and feels about something at a particular time.

When discussing the 'most basic fundamental principle in hand-to-hand combat', balance, and looking at mental balance in particular, Applegate explains that
in exciting circumstances, such as vital combat, the mental balance of the opponent can often be upset by the surprise of the attack. The use of yells, feints or deception; throwing dirt or other objects in the opponent's face; or the use of any strategy that he does not expect forces him to take time to condition his mind to a new set of circumstances.
Does Applegate's mental unbalancing tactics sound like upsetting or disturbing the way a person thinks and feels about something at a particular time? The way a person thinks or feels about something, not what they are thinking about (a leading question if ever there was one).

Loren Christensen in Far Beyond Defensive Tactics lists the following tactics as mental kuzushi (unbalancing): pointing away from you, screaming, shining your flashlight in their eyes, deliberately knocking something over, saying something to an imaginary partner behind the suspect, warning a suspect about a passing car, and handing a suspect’s ID back and then dropping it to the floor just before he takes it. Shinzo Takagaki and Harold E. Sharp, in The Techniques of Judo, suggest that it is important to try to unbalance an opponent's mind in addition to unbalancing their body. They refer to the following 'tricks' as examples of ways to unbalance an opponent’s mind: shouting, slapping some part of your body, creating a sharp sound, or a jerk. Would you suggest that these tactics are designed to upset or disturb the way an opponent thinks and feels about something at a particular time?

Are not these tactics more accurately described as distraction. Distraction means to divert a person's attention away from something. Isn't this what Applegate's, Christensen's, and Takagaki and Sharp's mental unbalancing/kuzushi tactics are designed to do? Isn't distraction a more accurate and nuanced explanation of what these tactics are designed to do?

Why bother? This is a question I'm often asked when discussing my work with others (the few that I do, other than readers of my blog of course). I agree that, at least initially, many appear not to be interested in the finer detail. But then why do these same people attempt to offer explanations on why certain things are done, and done a particular way? Why don't they simply stick with explaining how to do something instead of also trying to explain why something is done? The why adds credibility to the how. The why enhances understanding of the how. The why facilitates the understanding and study of the tactics and techniques of the martial arts (the how). Most people are already referring to these concepts - the problem is they have not been studied. Those that are referring to them are often at odds to explain what is actually meant by the concept, and when they can based on their own understanding of the concept, are often at odds to explain the inconsistencies of the concept when applied to practice.

Many instructors and authors discuss unbalancing and refer to both physical unbalancing and mental unbalancing. They then go on to provide detail of the physical unbalancing and often relegate mental unbalancing to 'then of course there is also mental unbalancing' (as one unnamed author did) with no further detail. Others provide examples of mental unbalancing as referred to above, without clarifying what is actually meant by mental unbalancing. Why? Because they cannot offer an authoritative explanation of what is meant by mental unbalancing.

There is one author, George Kirby, that describes both physical and psychological off-balancing in conceptual terms and then gives examples. He does this in Advanced Jujitsu: The Science Behind the Gentle Art. Kudos to Kirby I say. At least he attempts to articulate what others simply refer to in superficial terms, with no real understanding of what they are describing. However, as will be seen in next weeks blog, Kirby's conceptualisation of psychological off-balancing shows how nebulous the concept is and how all manner of 'sin' is included under its umbrella.

It may often appear I'm taking aim at the work of other authors and the teachings of other martial arts. This is only because reference to these works provides the basis to which others can readily refer when discussing certain concepts and issues. The school I was involved in is not immune to these issues. Mental unbalancing was often referred to within the teachings of Jan de Jong jujutsu (aka Tsutsumi Hozan Ryu jujutsu). As will be seen in later blogs, the use of the phrase and concept within Jan de Jong jujutsu is just as flawed as it is in many other teachings.

I would be appreciative of any reference to any detailed discussion on mental unbalancing any reader may direct me to. Or any discussion where blocking and striking techniques are explained in terms of these techniques being mental unbalancing.

Until next time.


  1. Hi John, I also tend to get a little hung up about pinning precise meanings to words and phrases (I have a science background!). Though I can't point you in the direction of any authoritative sources regarding the topic of mental unbalancing, I can give you my own opinion for what it is worth!

    To me there is a distinction between distraction and mental unbalancing. Distraction is acute -i.e the onset is quick (following a slap, shout etc)and the opponents mind becomes unfocused on the task for only a second or two. I think that mental unbalancing has a more chronic onset and lasts for longer, during which time the opponent expresses doubt, confusion or disorientation. For example, a man may 'groom' a woman for attack by intitially being nice to her, buying her a drink, complementing her, then once having gained her trust suddenly attacks her. She becomes confused and disorientated by this sudden change and is unable to defend herself i.e she has become mentally unbalanced. This 'unbalanced state' may last for half a minute or more whilst she reassess the situation and regains her mental equilibrium. The whole process has a longer timescale than mere distraction.

    Don't know if this makes any sense and like I said it's just my opinion :-)

  2. Thanks for the comment Sue. The opinion you expressed concerning what mental unbalancing fits comfortably under the expansive umbrella that is the mental unbalancing concept. As will be seen in future blogs, all manner of 'sin' are included within the mental unbalancing concept, which leads you to question why they are even concidered as unbalancing of any type in the first case.


Your comments make my work all the more relevant as I use them to direct my research and theorising. Thank you.