Martial Art Books that Serious Martial Artists Should Read

I am often asked what books I recommend to read about martial arts. I am an avid reader, and a bit of a book collector. It’s an addiction I’ve had when I was younger, OK I still have this addiction, but that is besides the point. Here is the list of martial art and Japanese culture books in my book shelf. This list is not ranked or in any particular order.

Essence of Ninjutsu | by Dr. Masaaki Hatsumi

This was one of the first and favorite books I ever bought on the martial arts. My copy of this book is over 25 years old and it was out of print for some time. I still reread this book from time to time, if not just for inspiration. I was able to find it on Amazon at a reasonable price. A lot of stories mixed in with techniques and descriptions.

The Grandmaster’s Book of Ninja Training | by Dr. Masaaki Hatsumi

This book is basically a conversation with Hatsumi Sensei and senior instructors during the 80s discussing the martial arts. A great insight into Hatsumi Sensei’s approach and the types of questions people were asking at the time. Another book that is difficult to get a hold of at reasonable prices. I recently, went through this book again. I think the Bujinkan has matured quite a bit since the 80s.

Unarmed Fighting Techniques of the Samurai | by Dr. Masaaki Hatsumi

This book has been considered the bible of the the Bujinkan. It contains all the unarmed techniques of each of the ryuha actively taught in the Bujinkan. It is also a great quick reference to compare with your notes, or to supplement your notes. It should be on everyone’s shelf. If you don’t have this book, you should get it now.

Japanese Sword Fighting: Secrets of the Samurai | by Dr. Masaaki Hatsumi

Another great resource about Hatsumi Sensei’s approach to sword fighting and martial arts. It lists a few techniques and strategies on sword fighting. I have quite a few prints of original photography from this book hanging in the dojo. The photography is wonderful in this book. I highly recommend this book.

Advanced Stick Fighting | by Dr. Masaaki Hatsumi

Again a fantastic book on bojutsu, but not as comprehensive as his first book on stick fighting. A great read and insight of how Hatsumi sensei approaches bojutsu. A must have for any dojo’s book shelf. I however no longer have the dust jacket for this book.

The Way of the Ninja: Secret Techniques | by Dr. Masaaki Hatsumi

I remember when these books were coming out in Japan. While I was living there, this was one of the first books I bought. A great read, again a wonderful addition to anyone’s’ book shelf. Another book I don’t have the dust cover anymore.

The Complete Ninja: The Secret World Revealed | By Dr. Masaaki Hatsumi

Another great book on the history of the Ninja and their connection to Budo in general. Great stories for inspiration. Having these books are like holding on to little treasures. We should strive to train our minds and bodies, reading assists with helping our minds comprehend what we do in the dojo.

Stick Fighting Techniques of Self Defense| by Dr. Masaaki Hatsumi

This is also one the first books I ever bought. It has a pretty comprehensive list and descriptions of hanbo techniques. Hatsumi sensei looks young in this hanbojutsu manual. The price on this book is a steal in my opinion. If you are interested in hanbojutsu you should buy this book.

Ninjutsu History and Tradition | by Dr. Masaaki Hatsumi

This was one of the first books, I bought as well about Ninjutsu. It is a great starter book on some of the techniques and strategies of Togakure Ryu and the Bujinkan in general. However, this book is extremely difficult to get a hold of these days. Many people have them listed for crazy expensive prices, however the link I have used books listed at reasonable prices.

Tetsuzan | Dr. Masaaki Hatsumi

I don’t have this book in book for, I have it on my Kindle. This basically was the newsletter from the Bujinkan that lasted about a year or so. Great articles and insights from senior Japanese Shihan of the Bujinkan as well as Hatsumi Sensei.

The Demon’s Sermon on the Martial Arts | Issai Chozanshi

One of my all time favorite books, it has a series of old stories discussing martial arts, martial arts practice, teaching, and the philosophy. Great stories that include Tengu, special skills of Cats and many more. I have two copies of this book one on the Kindle and one in print. This a great read for any martial artist.

Book of Five Rings| Miyamoto Musashi

Another book every martial artist should have on their shelf. This is the basis of Musashi’s philosophy on martial arts. It includes insights on how to carry oneself, aspects of tempo, and much more. A must read. I have three additions of this book. The one above is shinny, and looks good on a shelf. I have it on my self.

The Art of War | Sun Tzu

Yet another book everyone should have on their shelf. I don’t have the above copy of it, it seems my copy is a bit different or on the rare side. Fantastic read on old martial strategies and how to develop armies and generals.

Ki Ken Tai Ichi no Kiwami | by Kuroda Tetsuzan

Kuroda Tetsuzan is one of my teachers and an inspiration for martial artists around the world. This book is in Japanese only, but I recommend it for anyone who can read Japanese. This is his third book in the Ki Ken Tai series of books. Fantastic read, notes from his childhood, ideas about movement and kata. Kenjutsu as done through the Shinbukan. I am not allowed to teach this art, as there is only one teacher of this ryuha. People need to be members of the Shinbukan and learn the techniques first had from Kuroda sensei first before practicing with others.

Kono Yoshinori

I do not have this book, I have two others, but it seems I cannot find those books at the moment. This one is a book I am thinking about buying. Kono sensei is an interesting teacher, focusing on using the body in interesting ways. I have attended numerous seminars of his over the years. He is one of my favorites outside of the Bujinkan. Personable and approachable in his teaching methods. All his books so far are in Japanese only, still I recommend them.

Bugei Ryu-ha Daijiten 1978 Addition

I have the 1978 version of the Bugei Ryu-ha Daijiten, which is the Japanese encyclopedia of all the ryuha in Japan. Some that are no longer in practice or existing as well. The Bujinkan Ryu-ha are listed in there with lineage charts. Great resource and reference. These are no longer in print and hard to come by. They are well over $100 dollars in most markets.

I will add more of my books in later posts. I have so many books. And, I reread them and go through them at least once a day. If you have any recommendations for books, please let me know.

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.


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.

Message for 2019

As we pass from 2018 into 2019, I wonder what the new year will bring. I have hopes and aspirations for the development of the dojo; the students and location. In the hope to attract new students to the dojo I will blog and vlog a bit this year, although I am probably the most camera shy guy on the planet (I have a face for radio). I plan on sharing stories, insights into training, tips, and my general methodology and my experiences through my 25+ years in the Bujinkan.

I also want to contribute to the whole of the Bujinkan, the Midwest Bujinkan in particular, we are all flickering candle light attempting to overcome the darkness. A single candle light can lighten a room, but a million points of candle light can lighten the world. For us in the Midwest, we attempt to support other dojos and communities, we attend the Midwest Taikai and visit dojos who host teachers throughout the world. We are a bit like a family, we may not always get along, but we always care for others in the community. This year we have the Midwest Taikai being held in Michigan, with the theme being Women’s Self Defense. In the current environment of the #metoo movement, I think this theme is important. There are so many things we can learn through different perspectives and approaching the art with this in mind. The Bujinkan is more than a martial arts organization, it’s a community of friends and source of many life long friendships.

The past is the key to our future, the present moment is a result of how we have lived up to this point. As 2018 passes as memories, it becomes a support beam to build a bridge. A bridge to reach isolated islands, share inspiration, share hope, share goodwill and to make peace. We all train to be peacemakers, it is my opinion that the purpose of the martial arts is not to wage war, fight, or destroy, but rather it is to make peace from the ashes of war, fights, and conflict. The purpose of the martial arts is to endure the unendurable and make a lasting peace after weathering war. We learn to endure and transcend conflict even within the tempest of the conflict. We transcend daily struggles. To become peacemakers; we need to become strong in order to become meek. Self-defense, war, and conflict is easy, making and maintaining peace is difficult. Martial Arts educate us into being better people by influencing others in a positive manner while striving for a more moral and peaceful world.

I have rambled a bit too long, Happy New Year and I wish everyone the best in 2019.

Robert J. Hartung III

Teachers and Students

In Japan, the relationship between teacher and student is a strong one.  It is akin to a parent and child with responsibilities that reach beyond the dojo.  The primary duty of a teacher is to aide in developing the student, passing on crucial information, initiating the student in the methods and skills, and ensure the student can lead a righteous life.  The student also has responsibilities to the teacher, to use these passed-on skills in a moral manner, to behave in a manner that doesn’t paint the teacher in a negative light, and to earnestly study and improve. 

The teacher teaches via examples not by mere rules or regulations; they teach in a natural manner.  If students have negative tendencies, the teacher leads them away from those tendencies towards something positive instead.  A teacher encourages the student when they fail, and delights in the student’s successes.  A teacher acknowledges their strengths and further develop those strengths and acknowledges their weaknesses and provides a path to overcome them.  A teacher is a lantern that lights the way and provides the general direction, each student holds their own compass; it is up to them to determine the which path will lead towards the destination. Both teachers and students put forth effort to ensure knowledge and skills are passed on and developed.

We respect our teachers and teachers respect their students, teachers care for the students’ development and aren’t repressive, although teachers might push their students towards excellence, and push students beyond their self-imposed limitations; teachers care about the overall well-being of their students.  Students merely must respect and assist teachers when possible and refrain from doing or saying certain negative things.  Teachers and Students are family, friends, and mentors; a relationship that is built on trust and respect, by choice, not by blood or obligation.  Obligation only exists, if a student and teacher agree to the relationship or bond.  

Over time a student might leave a teacher, seek out new teachers, or lose contact with a teacher.  However, that teacher is still your teacher, you can never undue the connection you made, the quality of the relationship may change, but a teacher and student bond endure despite the quality it may have over time.  Your teachers helped you get to where you are now, respect that connection.  Teachers also may have many students, each one of those connections endure as well, delight in their successes after they left you, delight in being a part of their individual journey.  Even if students turn towards the perverse or unethical, learn from your mistakes to prevent another turn in other students.  Life is about choices; choose both your teachers and students wisely.  There is always a trial period before being accepted in the dojo by a teacher and a student accepting a teacher. It is a mutual agreement of trust and respect that both students and teachers are giving and earned.   

Budo and Proper Practice

Budo and Proper Practice

Budo is often difficult to define. The term budo is made up of two characters “武” and “道”. The character “武” has many meanings. It can mean “bravery” or “valor”; it can also mean “warrior” or “military arms”. The character “道” also has many meanings. It can mean “road”,” path” or “course” and “moral teachings” or “journey”. When combined we can arrive at several possible translations. However, it is unnecessary to disambiguate the two characters into precise English terms. Instead, it would be better to allow the concepts of the characters to swirl about. Nonetheless, let’s focus on the process of studying and practicing budo.

Budo is a practice. It requires continual self-refinement and self-directed diligence combined with daily practice. One doesn’t practice budo without these three aspects. Unlike religion budo doesn’t require you to believe in anything. One merely maintains a daily practice for self-refinement as an act of polishing a mirror until the mirror reveals a true reflection. Even if one polishes the mirror over and over, they might be polishing it incorrectly or unevenly. The polishing of one’s mirror requires certain systematic and pragmatic approaches, without it one might polish their mirror with sandpaper or use caustic cleaners to quicken the process, but in doing so one will destroy their mirror so that it never reflects a true image instead it reflects a distorted image. The act of polishing our mirrors takes time and diligence with an even amount of pressure and control – this is what is known as “proper practice”.

Most martial art schools have a natural progression and transmission method of teaching. In the old days, masters often didn’t teach the secrets or the principles of the movement; instead they taught the movement and instructed the student to repeat it over and over again, without ever speaking about the principles. When the student showed promise and their movements became crisp the master would initiate the student into the principles. Only after many hours of practice and diligence on the side of the student would the master speak of the deep principles of the movements.

Today, teachers may begin by teaching the principles, which in effect is akin to spoon feeding the student. This act of spoon feeding kills the progress of the student, if the student doesn’t have to rely on his own abilities he may not pursue what is just out of his reach. More often than not, even the teachers only have a superficial understanding of the principles and merely parrot what they have heard without really understanding it. The principles won’t be understood without proper practice, to the effect that a principle without practice is a song without a single note. To avoid superficial understanding of the principles proper practice is a must.


There is a zen saying about learning that states:
“When you go to a house you must go through the gate first; arriving at the gate is an indication that you have arrived at the house. Going through the gate, you enter the house and meet the host. Learning is the gate and not the house. Learning is the gate to attaining the way.”
Learning is not the same as understanding or attainment. Just because one has a bit of new information doesn’t mean one understands it. In the martial arts this seems to be very important as some can confuse the gate for the house. Or they confuse learning as knowing and take the bit of information as understanding.
Taking the gate to be training and the study of a martial art, and the house as understanding and being able to put into practice what one has learned, then meeting the host would be mastery of the art or the way. But in order to meet the host you must first walk through the gate and enter the house.
There are no short cuts to mastery, you must go through the gate, enter the house, and meet the host there is no other way.

Don’t Become an Imitation Budoka

Maintaining a daily practice is important. Every great martial artist not only advocates it, but has lived it by example. Martial arts mastery is a never ending journey, it doesn’t begin or end in the dojo it begins the moment you are determined to improve yourself and make the appropriate steps towards that end. The journey ends the moment you think you are good enough, or in the moment you make excuses for not practicing.

As soon as you decide not to practice or begin to make excuses why you don’t practice, is the moment you must realize your journey has ended. This is not the same as taking a rest or resting for the sake of practice. Baring injuries, if you go weeks on end without stepping foot in a dojo, or working on the foundations of budo is the moment you have quit following the way.

Those who don’t practice and only talk about mastery are merely telling their own stories and writing their own lines. They will become imitation budoka and won’t ever become the real thing. Imitation plants don’t grow nor do they bear fruit, imitation budoka are worse as they can more easily trick people with their imitation fruit. But, in the end their fruit will only leave a bad taste in the mouth once people taste the real thing. Don’t become an imitation budoka, become the real thing.

Japanese Dojo for Children

I am a firm believer that children are the future, but to create a better future for our children we must educate them and aide their growth.  I also believe the Japanese way of teaching and nurturing children through the martial arts aides in creating brighter futures for children.  But you might wonder, “what is the Japanese way of teaching?”  Here are a few outward examples of the Japanese way of teaching you will find at the Bujinkan Roselle Dojo.

  1. The dojo is cleaned and maintained by the students, regardless of rank and age.

What this entails is cleaning of the dojo after training and making sure everything is in its proper place.  The Japanese term for this is called Souji (掃除), it basically means cleanliness. It is an important concept in Japanese culture and especially Japanese education and dojo culture.  At Japanese schools in Japan, from teachers to students (principals on down) clean their respective areas with group leaders leading the cleaning process. At the dojo, this means cleaning the mats and putting away all materials used during the classes and maintaining a clean training environment. It goes beyond just the training area, but one’s own equipment and gear. Shoes are not worn beyond a certain point of the dojo to maintain a clean training environment.  So, from age three up to age 99 all dojo members clean and maintain the dojo.  Cleanliness in Japanese culture is believed to lead to a clear and peaceful mind, it also maintains a proper healthy habit.  (Children should extend this concept of cleanliness at home as a part of training in the martial arts.)

  1. Courtesy and Respect

Japanese manners and courtesy is a bit different from Western cultures, but at the Dojo you will find them being maintained.  Japanese culture as a general hierarchy to it, elders are respected, teachers are respected, senior students are respected and so on.  At the dojo, we use a dojo hierarchy and titles in terms of demonstrating respect and using proper manners.  Students will call teacher’s ‘sensei’ and their elder students sempai.

During our bow in ceremony you will hear the following phrases ‘sensei ni rei’, it means “bow to teacher” and “sempai ni rei” which means bow to senior students and “shomen ni rei” which means to bow to the front of the dojo.  Outside the dojo, or to non-students of the dojo, children are encouraged to use sir and ma’am.  They are expected to show respect to people entering the dojo and leaving the dojo.  Students are expected to also show up on time, and if late to wait until the teacher acknowledges them to enter the dojo floor and to apologize for being late, same goes for leaving early.

Students are expected to bow before entering the dojo and bow again on entering the dojo mat area.  In addition the students are expected to bow upon leaving the dojo mat area and the dojo.  The dojo itself deserves respect similar to people.

When a teacher is speaking students should listen, if they have a question they should raise their hand or wait until the teacher is finished talking.  They also should listen to sempai in a similar way as to a teacher and not interrupt.  It is a proper way for communicating and listening intently.  Courtesy and manners are expected to extend beyond the dojo, but bowing isn’t necessary outside the dojo for students unless it is in Japanese environments or meeting with Japanese people in general (demonstrating cultural understanding).  Students are expected to be mindful of their own actions and how their actions affect other people given different environments.  Think of others before thinking about self before deciding what is the best way to behave.

  1. Manners

Students are expected to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ when appropriate, at the dojo it should be done in Japanese and it is also a part of our bow in and out ceremony.  ‘Please’ and ‘thank you’ are phrases that should extend beyond the dojo.  Same thing with ‘excuse me’ and ‘may I’, getting and receiving permission is crucial in the martial arts, as well as asking for forgiveness.  These aspects are important aspects that are expected in the dojo and outside of the dojo.  Training in the martial arts doesn’t stop at the dojo it extends beyond the dojo walls.

  1. Encouragement

Students are expected to encourage others to do their best.  If a student struggles, others are expected to encourage that student to keep going and keep trying.  Failure is a common thing in life, students will learn that it is natural to fail sometimes, but it is always important to keep trying and keep making effort.  In Japanese there is a saying; “Fall seven times, get up eight”, it basically means no matter how many times you fail, keep getting up and trying.  This extends beyond the dojo, to school work and work life.  Giving up is not an option, trying, studying and self-improvement extends beyond the martial arts it is a life time attitude and habit.

  1. Leadership

Older students are expected to help lead, teach, and encourage younger students.  Senior students also have a duty to ensure the dojo runs smoothly and that everyone is getting the most out of the martial arts.  On a rotating basis, different students will lead warm up exercises and souji, also they will be asked to demonstrate and teach basics as well.  Senior students are to be role models to younger students. Mutual respect is expected and encouraged.  Having chances to lead also helps develop student’s ability to think about others and how to organize and interact in groups.

  1. Setting Goals

In the martial arts setting goals are important but setting practice goals are even more important.  At the dojo we have a name plate board that has student names listed on placards in Japanese.  Students will be taught how to write their names in Japanese and will put their name on the board when accepted as a student of the dojo.  Their name plate will move up and down the board based on their practice and attendance as well as their ranks.  While for adults we only have three color belts, white, green, and black, kids’ classes will have multiple belt colors until joining the adult class.  This will both show their progress as well as a physical attainment of past goals and setting of future goals.  This helps with both motivation and creating self-esteem and a sense of pride.  Also other students are expected to help others with their goals.

  1. Class Structure

You will see senior students and junior students in the same class, you will see senior students helping junior students and teachers making sure class is running smoothly and everyone has progressing together.  All students will receive personal instruction, encouragement, and critique from the teacher.  The teacher will ask questions and expect answers from the students, the teacher will also share stories that encourage moral behavior, motivate students and their understanding of martial arts and life in general.  Martial arts training is almost like a moving lecture on life.

  1. Unseen aspects of Japanese methods

You will see students slowly build on previous skills and knowledge, by improving coordination, balance, and adapting certain behaviors and manners. Students will have self-control, grit,  and increased self-esteem and the ability to raise up other students’ self-esteem.   You will see an increase in concentration and an attitude of being able to overcome obstacles.  You will see students helping others and thinking about others well-being.  Martial arts are for the benefit of both the individual and others, it will help secure a brighter future.

This isn’t an exhaustive list of examples of Japanese teaching methods, but it should provide some answers to what it entails.  There are other aspects of the Japanese teaching methods in the martial arts, but some are not readily seen via examples.   Such as correcting only behaviors only when they are detrimental to the student or tend to be bad, letting the student develop natural according to their own abilities and capacity.  Pushing students towards excellence and taking on challenges.  Teaching towards their individual strengths and eliminating their weaknesses.  But, these aspects are not easily seen it is something that naturally arises in training and learning.


Kuzushi 崩し : Unbalancing Acts

Kuzushi is often mentioned as one of the key elements in performing techniques, but kuzushi goes beyond mere taking the aite’s physical balance.

The concept of kuzushi in Japanese martial arts are similar, although each of them describe it or focus on different aspects.  In kenjutsu and kendo, the unbalancing is discussed in terms the tip of the sword or “剣先” (kensen).  In kenjutsu the “正中線”(seichusen) and various other places of point the tip of the sword are used to control and unbalance the aite.  This also applies to jojutsu and bojutsu, with the use of the tip of the bo pointed along certain lines or used to control or judge the lines.  Also various kamae are also used for unbalancing and controlling the aite. In jujutsu/taijutsu kuzushi is discussed in terms of direction of balance and controlling certain space to allow for a throw. Also, various kamae are used to set initiate and control of the directions of balance.

Kuzushi is primarily about splitting the aite’s lines of strength and power, while moving into a place where you are more balanced and have more “strength” (structural strength). An easy way to think about kuzushi is to think about moving yourself or some attack through their weakest lines while lining up your stronger lines along those lines. Or more simply, move where they are weakest, slowest, and can’t regain balance.  To off balance an aite effectively requires that one understands their own balance through an attack and defense. It also requires that one understands where their lines of force are directed. These lines of force are understood as the relation between the joints and the direction of force they can impose on an attack and defense. This is also important for cutting quickly and effectively, if your arms and elbows are out of line with your hips and legs you will oppose yourself when you cut. As your force is spread out over a wide angle.  This is the difference between a flash light and a laser beam when it comes to cutting.

Balance can only be effectively broken when the other person can’t fight effectively or easily regain balance. This requires a type of training that most don’t know where to look.  Examples can be found in Kendo and Judo.  In Kendo they have Kakari-geiko (掛稽古) and Ji-geiko (地稽古) which are types of unscripted practice, in the Bujinkan we have basic randori and some kata that require unscripted attacks. In judo, they focus more on randori than most traditional schools as most of the practice is geared towards competitions and matches. Non-compliance in training techniques is a mainstay of the martial arts.  It shouldn’t be neglected in our practice, but it also shouldn’t take over the overall practice either like it can in both kendo and judo.  However, it depends on the relationship between the uchidachi and shidachi to have an effective practice your uchidachi ought to be better than you.

Also, the mental balance can be taken to unbalance the body.  Unbalance the mind and you can unbalance the body.  This can be done with varying tempo or capturing the aite’s attention and have them focus on things that lead their balance towards your stronger lines and onto their weaker lines.  In kendo, this can be done with varying kinds of seme.  Also, it can be done with feints and direct attacks alone obvious defensive lines to open up the weaker lines.

Since this subject is extremely difficult to talk about effectively.

Great Faith. Great Doubt. Great Effort

“Great Faith. Great Doubt. Great Effort. – The three jewels of training.” (a zen saying)

In order to get the most out of ones training I think it is important to embody these three characteristics. I am often told to have more confidence by my teachers. Having confidence allows one to move forward and continue despite what happens and despite the unknown future. “自信” has multiple meanings one of its meanings is faith and another is confidence the literal meaning is self-belief. You have to believe in yourself enough to keep going, and keep training, as well as the confidence in ones current abilities to meet the unknown.

Great doubt is also important, without it you won’t have proper introspection to see what you are lacking in your training. To doubt yourself and your abilities is to look at the skills you are unsure of and the skills you need to test. With doubt comes the need to test oneself.

Great effort, in order to achieve ones goals or in order to become really skilled you must put forth effort. The amount of effort you put into training is the amount you will benefit from training. Wishing you were better will not to amount to much, making the effort will. Little things will add up but putting in too little effort won’t amount to much. The saying “焼け石に水” literally means putting a drop of water on a hot stone, which in turn means a little efforts don’t do enough. The greater the effort the greater the outcome.

Having these three characteristics or aspects in training one will progress. This makes for a more perfect practice. The better the practice the better one can become, the better one can become the better the practice.