On Randori

Randori translates into free exercise or sparring, but in the Bujinkan not all dojos utilize randori as a part of their regular practice. In this article, I will discuss my methodology and approach to randori, but first here are a few words on randori in general.

In Judo the term, randori is the same as the bujinkan, in Kendo, they call it jigeiko, like mini matches without points and in karate they use the term kumite. All these terms are basically the same thing, it is sparring without points. As a yudansha in Kendo and a senior teacher in the Bujinkan I have used randori and jigeiko in my practice. It is my opinion that randori and jigeiko are useful and it is a part of our regular practice at the Bujinkan Roselle Dojo. However, I do not think that everyone or every dojo necessarily needs to do randori. I think doing kata alone, learning the principles of movement through the kata, will make a budoka stronger without it. Also, randori is a personal choice for individuals it depends on what the individual wants out of the martial arts; how far they want to push themselves, and their own personal journey. I do not force my students to participate in randori for this reason. Without dragging on the conversation about whether or not one should do randori, here is my methodology for randori.

Drills

I use a series of drills leading up to randori. Using certain drills leading up to randori, will ensure that taijutsu will be maintained during randori. Following are some of the drills I use with descriptions:

  1. No-Step Drill

The no step drill starts with both individuals standing in shizen no kamae at punch/tsuki range. This distance is the distance one can hit the target without stepping in to punch. The person punching has the target of either the throat, solar plexus, stomach, or temple or neck. Types of strikes can be either, shuto, boshi, shikan ken, or fudo ken. The goal of the person attacking is to hit the target without telegraphing or giving the person a tell while attacking, the attacking person is learning how to hide their movements during this drill. The defender simply deflects the attacks from these vital points also without moving. They sink or drop their body weight controlling their balance with the hips and knees without twisting. Their goal is to control the center-line (seichusen) and block in a manner that protects their core and attacks from the outside. The defender uses jodan uke nagashi, uke nagashi, or gedan uke nagashi without moving the feet. The defender’s goal is to learn to read the subtle body movements of an attacker, control of the center-line, as well as develop the proper body dynamics used in performing uke nagashi. Speed of the attacks should be progressive, until attacks are at near full speed, but under control. The attacks and defense resets after each strike, develop a tempo that increases over time.

  1. Half-step Drill

The one step drill begins the same as the no step drill, distance is the same. Both attacker and defender start in shizen no kamae. However the defender drops back at a diagonal and blocks the attacks. Main point of the block and step is to have the block meet the attack at the same time the step hits the mat. Dropping back using both balance and a proper use of the hips and knees. Also, this drills adds kicks. The tempo is the same as the no step drill, reset after each attack and defense.

3. Full-step Drill

This drill begins with both individuals are in ichimongi, doko, or bobi no kamae. Both start with a one step to target distance. One individual initiates the drill by attacking with a tsuki/ or punch to the throat, temple, neck, solar plexus or stomach. The defender then blocks either with a jodan uke nagashi, uke nagashi, or gedan uke nagashi. After the defender blocks he in turn goes for a strike and becomes the attacker and the other person blocks in return dropping back at a diagonal. Both sides trade attacks and blocks back and forth in a circling motion, then they reverse the direction, by attacking with the opposite hand as well exchanging strikes and blocks. Also, utilizing kicks, and strikes back and forth with a step. Develop a tempo of while controlling the center and utilizing proper dynamics and ashisabaki and taisabaki. This drill helps develop the taisabaki and ashisabaki, being able to strike, block, move freely without giving up balance or kamae. It helps build proper timing and distancing.

4. Two-step Drill

The two-step begins with both individuals are in shizen no kamae. The attacker goes for the same targets, defender uses taisabaki and ashisabaki as well as uke nagashi. The focus of this drill is to develop the ability to read and develop better use of body movements. After the two attacks and defense both reset and begin again, progressively increasing tempo.

5. Three-step Drill

In the three-step drill, both start in shizen no kamae at a distance just outside the ability to reach the target. The attackers role is to reach their targets with three random attacks from either side. The defenders role is guard against these attacks and put themselves in a position to do a basic technique (kihon happo, or anything in the Ten Chi Jin ryaku no maki). The goal for the defender is to basically put themselves in the right position by the third attack, learning to read attacks and the ability to flow around these attacks using taisabaki and ashisabaki and level changing. The defender doesn’t have to necessarily take the attacker down or have them tap, just put yourself in a position to counter-strike or perform a technique. The defender is learning to read the space and develop a sense of kukan. The attackers goal is to hide their attacks and the ability to quickly attack targets and off balance the defender. The attacks are free attacks in any combo, from punch, kick, grab, or throws, and take downs. Find and create openings via the attack, make it difficult for the defender to find the right spacing or entering into a weak line or opening. If there is an opening after your third attack, exploit it and actively counter the defender. The defender has to seize the right line at the right timing, to minimize openings or counters. The role of the defender is to set up a position in which the person is off balance. The goal for both attacker and defender is to develop both the speed of defense and attack, but also the eyes and ways of moving while being guarded and minimizing openings or from being off balanced. There is still a defender and attacker, but on the third attack it is open to either side to take a technique. So, in this three step drill there might be four attacks or defense.

6. Five-step Drill

This drill is similar to the three step, but with five attacks with a possible sixth attack. Both start in shizen no kamae, and the attacker free attacks while the defender maneuvers around the attacks, by blocking or using taisabaki. The attacks can be anything, from punches, kicks, take downs, throws or grabs. The attacker attempts to set up a final throw or take down on the fifth attack. The defender attempts to counter or prepare a technique on the fifth attack. Both have to read each others movements while moving and countering the movements of each other. Progressively build tempo, but the tempo of this drill starts at a rapid chain of strikes and attacks.

7. Sabaki drill

With the Sabaki drill, both start in shizen no kamae. There is an attacker and defender. However, unlike the other drills the defender merely attempts to receive attacks with the body without blocking. The goal of this drill is for the attacker attempt to hit any number of targets with five free attacks. The defender attempts to receive the strikes right on the edge of the body. Or receive a slight strike or a strike near to the body within an inch of hitting the target. This drill is to help develop the sense of space and moving the body just on the edge, and better develop timing and distancing and movement in general. Like all other drills the attacker attempts to hide their movements as best they can within the rapid strikes and attacks. If the attacker grabs, the defender simply moves the body to the edge of their attackers balance. This drill helps develop using the body as a sensor.

8. Full Randori

Finally we have full randori, with both sides randomly attacking and defending with varying until the one person concedes with a tap out or the teacher stops it. No pads are used, strikes to the face are not used, or should be stopped short by the attacker, same with groin strikes. Strikes and attacks are done at speed, but both must control their strikes. If one gets hit or a strike lands, both continue until the teacher stops it or one side gives up or asks for a timeout, or taps out. There are no points in randori, it resets via a time out, the teacher stops it, or a tap out, either side can stop it at anytime. Safety is necessary without pads as well as having proper control.

Now, with this methodology and drills there are a few common mistakes to avoid. One of the common mistakes during these drills is a tendency for people to raise up their shoulders and taking a more boxers type of pose. While I don’t have any issues with boxing per say, we aren’t learning boxing we are learning taijutsu. Use proper taijutsu movements at all times avoid taking a boxers stance in either the attacker or defender modes of these drills. Always use taijutsu.

Secondly, there is a tendency for people literally forgetting to breath. Breath in naturally and through the belly, control your breathing and don’t hold in your breath. Also, remain calm and do not keep the body settled. If you get hit, get hit and take the strike with confidence or maintain a sense of fudoshin within the moment of the hit. Maintain your kamae and structure even if you are hit, merely adjust for the next possible strike.

Thirdly, there is a tendency for individuals to lock up a bit or get stuck, people have a tendency to try to do techniques at the shoulder level, or using only the upper body. Utilize level changes and creating openings by control of their hip position. You have to learn to control the whole body, not just the attackers arm, you have to control the core. Adapt when necessary and don’t have a preconceived attack or defense, let it arise out of your sense of kukan. When you meet muscle or power, drop your power away in a direction perpendicular to its direction or in the opposite direction. Learn to release your muscle, structure, and power at will without getting stuck by their tension.

Fourth and final issue that arrives sometimes are flinch responses, we have to control our flinch responses and literally take our time in developing our responses to motion. Breathing, drilling, working on kata, and general training will eliminate these responses. Also, there is no sense of failure when it comes to randori or any of the drills. We are merely developing our minds, bodies, and spirits towards Fudoshin. Take this pressure testing and learn. There are no winners and losers in this activity only study, training, and refinement.

I hope this break down will be helpful. If you have other methods or ways of approaching Randori, please comment and share them. I hope to have some video of these eight drills towards randori soon. Good luck in your training. Train safe and responsibly.

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