Sunday, April 17, 2011

How "Angry Birds" is a bit like budo (No, seriously)

I've never, ever been the kind of kid who liked to play video games. Still don't care for them, frankly. But somehow, some way, I've become absolutely hooked on a game called "Angry Birds" on my iPad.

After a while, I began to pick up on certain common... I don't know, themes or approaches to the game. If you're not familiar with the premise, it's basically about flinging little birds through the air in an attempt to destroy all the little pigs. The challenge is, there are a lot of objects that stand in your way. You have a set number of birds to kill all the pigs on each level, so you have to use them very strategically.

I know, what in the world does this have to do with budo (particularly aikido or judo), right? First of all, if you're not familiar with the game, take a look at this short how-to video to get a better idea:



Right. Now—here's a few points on how to succeed at the game.

Don't aim for the pigs, aim for making the structure fall.
Most of the time, you don't have near enough birds to take out the pigs one by one. It's far more efficient to knock out the weaker points of the structure and let the collapsing structure kill all the pigs for you.

Sound familiar? Rather than aim for a specific technique or throw, think about collapsing uke's structure by capitalizing on the weak points, and let the collapse do him in.

The first shot rarely does the trick.
Most of the time, it take two or three shots at least to pass the level. Just because your first bird only got one or two pigs, you don't reset the level and start all over, do you? No—you keep firing, progressively wearing down the structure until it all comes crashing down.

Same with aikido and judo: sometimes the first attempt works, but not always. That's no reason to reset and start all over. Keep firing, never let uke get his act together and eventually, he'll crumble.

Aim for the weak points.
The structures that the pigs are hiding in are made up of a lot of different materials. Glass is naturally the most fragile. A little tougher, but still breakable, is the wood. The concrete, though, is tough. It usually takes several passes to do anything to it, but by then you've wasted too much ammo and time.

Humans are built much the same way. We have weak points, and we have strong points. Very rarely, if ever, do we rely on our muscle to beat uke's muscle, our size to overcome uke's size, or our stamina to outlast uke's stamina. Everybody's different in those regards, so you're gambling by relying on them. But in terms of architecture, pretty much all human bodies have the same weak points, and physics, well, ain't nobody immune to the laws of physics.

Many times, you take out the base first. 
Then you let everything it was supporting crumble and crush everything left, simple as that.

With budo, however, I don't know that this is always true. I think it applies to judo a lot, particularly with ashi waza, and in ne waza when you're on your back (take out uke's base to sweep, etc.). But even with hip throws, I don't tend to think of placing the pivot point at uke's hips and then lugging his top half over it so much as I do displacing his lower half (via my hips, and maybe a leg, too) and let his top half rotate over and toward the ground.

Other times, the very top needs toppling.
With aikido, on the other hand, it seems like one tips the top half over to create the instability we need. Which, of course, you also do sometimes with Angry Birds. You merely have to tap the top of a tall structure, even with the weakest of birds, and slowly but surely it leans further and further until it comes crashing down, taking everything with it.

And lastly, sometimes you fail.
Sometimes, as hard as you try, you just can't pass the level. You try five times, ten times, twenty—and you still can't get it! One of two things finally happens: 1) You learn each time you fail, what works and what doesn't, by trying different things and applying what you've learned previously, and eventually you succeed. Or, 2) you can go on YouTube and find a video that helps you figure things out, which you in turn assimilate and use to your advantage in all future levels.

Budo is no different. Sometimes, we get "got", sometimes we "tap out." In fact, we do it a lot for a looooong time. But each time, we're learning, adapting, picking up new ideas, applying old lessons. And if we get stuck, there are always those with more experience happy to help us. We just have to be humble and admit when we can't do it alone.

. . . . .

So there you have it—the Tao of Angry Birds! Okay, not really. But I have enjoyed how the way the universe ebbs and flows tends to echo through virtually everything we do, and if we open our eyes and pay attention, we see glimpses of singular truths in everything. Even in unlikely places.

Especially in unlikely places.

Happy training!

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