Too Fast To See

Razor Sharp

One of the sharpest descriptions of the way we move and win comes from combat aviation.  The way we move in Shorin Ryu, with real crane-style application of technique, is not well-understood, even by people who practice the style.

Drawing on the observations of a United States Air Force aviator, Col. John Boyd, we are better equipped to understand the tactical approach designed into our techniques, and to use it to our extreme advantage. 

USAF Col. John Boyd

John Boyd was a Korean war era fighter-pilot instructor. During that time, at Nellis Air Force Base where he trained pilots for combat, 5 to 10 pilot-trainees died every month, 70-100 each year.

Graduates became the world’s most skilled cadre of aviators.

Col. Boyd taught them in the classroom and in the sky.  


Boyd offered a standing challenge to any pilot in any branch of the military: I can defeat you in 40 seconds. That means encounter, maneuver, get into position, and (simulated) fire.

I win. You lose.  

Fighter pilots are extremely competitive. They are accustomed to winning. Hundreds took the challenge. Boyd never lost.  

Not only did he win every time, his mind was so sharp and his attention so tuned in, he observed what he did. He noticed how he won.  His theory didn’t start as a theory. It started in action. 

Later on in life he went to college and graduate school, studied engineering, mathematics and physics, and was able to describe his theory using the language and empirical modeling that Pentagon experts could understand and decision-makers could evaluate.  

Universal Application

His ideas worked. They are now used throughout the world. They are applied in domains far beyond combat aviation. But as far as I know they have not been applied to martial arts before.

His description gives access to the way our movement in Shorin Ryu are intended to work.  

Fast Transients

The premise: Speed is not enough. Power is not enough. What is necessary is what Boyd called “fast transients.”

 This theory confirms what we feel, see and experience. With this insight we can understand the techniques of our kata and restore our technique to the practically unstoppable combative tool it was devised to be. 

In his review of the book “Certain to Win” by Chet Richards, Taylor Pearson describes “fast transients” this way: 

The “transient” is the change between maneuvers. The ideal fast transient is an abrupt, unexpected, jerky, disorienting change that causes at least a hesitation and preferably plants the seeds of panic in the other side…

Speed is not Enough

We can all recognize this in empty hand combatives. Mike Tyson at the height of his career was not just fast and strong, although he was both, he was unpredictable, confusing, deceptive, ceaseless – appearing, disappearing, hard to find, hard to stop. Great fighters fight like that.  

Our three-part basic techniques, from which all moves of all of our kata are built, work precisely this way. This is generally overlooked, but once you see it you can do it. (Our video series will demonstrate this more concisely than I can describe it in words.)  

Our Three Part Kihon Waza

The essence of it is that the rapid change of direction in our movement will get inside the opponent’s perception-interpretation-response cycle and will instantly end the encounter. If you get it right, he cannot respond.  This is how we move. This is how we respond and counter. This is how we attack. 

In air combat the idea was for a fighter pilot to keep the enemy continually guessing, hampering the enemy’s decision-making process, collapsing the adversary into confusion and disorder, causing him to over- and under-react, rendering him unable to predict our intention or position. 


Inside his Reaction Time

In empty hand combatives we learn not to telegraph our intention by repetition of technique or tactics, or by a balance shift, target glance or other indicator.  

In the original Pentagon briefing in which John Boyd presented the fast transient concept: New Conception for Air-to-Air Combat, Boyd included the following:

Exploit operational and technical features to: 

• Generate a rapidly changing environment (quick/clear observations, fast tempo, fast transients, quick kill). 

• Inhibit an adversary’s capacity to adapt to such an environment (suppress or distort observations). 

Unstructure adversary’s system into a “hodge podge” of confusion and disorder by causing him to over and under react because of activity that appears uncertain, ambiguous, or chaotic. 

 Our Style dominates by Instant Reversals

The use of instant reversals and deceptive maneuver, what Boyd called fast transients, is a staple of the combative technique in throwing and grappling arts including judo and jujitsu.

This essential tactic is built in to all karate technique. It has not been fully grasped or exploited. Using it will make karate as effective as it was designed to be.    


Post and photo Copyright © 2023 by Jeffrey Brooks, instructor, Yamabayashi Ryu, Mountain Karate Dojo, Saluda, NC, author of True Karate Dō.

For more on USAF Col. John Boyd and the application of his insights to empty hand combatives in the Yamabayashi style read the important new book True Karate Dō.


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