It is the utmost importance to drill the basics, or kihon.  Without drilling, drilling, and drilling some more you will never strike oil, or expect them to be there in any significant way during an actual confrontation or even available when doing kata.  There is no excuse not to drill the kihon.  Absolutely none.  If you aren’t drilling in class, you aren’t training.  Drilling should be a part of every class.  In this article, I will outline some aspects on how to approach drilling practice, as well as what you should be drilling in general. 

First, body dynamics are the most important aspect.  You need to get the body to move in proper manner.  The body dynamics and body mechanics is a part of taijutsu.  This includes, using your balance points to begin movements.  Using tension and building natural torque in muscles, tendons, ligaments, also by effective use of structure and maneuvering your center of gravity/balance, (重力、磁力) are two aspects specifically a part of Gyokko Ryu. 

You should spend most of your training and drilling to develop body mechanics and mastery over oneself.  The technique part isn’t the important thing, the dynamics and how that technique is performed with the body is the most important thing.  The majority of our taijutsu body mechanics are entailed in the Sanshin no Kata.  These are not mere stand-alone techniques, each component of the sanshin is found in the kihon.  Take a long look at your sanshin no kata and ask yourself; do you understand it yet?  Does the body really understand it yet? When you do muto dori, does the sanshin no kata come into play?  When you do muso dori, does the sanshin no kata come into play?  When you are attempting to use the kyoketsu shoge, does the sanshin no kata come into play?  If your answer is no for any of these, your understanding of the sanshin no kata is not quite where it needs to be.  And, your taijutsu can greatly improve by further study of the sanshin no kata, and long practice sessions of it.  

You must practice the sanshin repeatedly.  You don’t need to do it just in the dojo.  Do it at home or in your free time until you have literally done it a million times.  To begin, spend 45 minutes a day on just chi no kata, without henka, just the basic.  Do this for 20 days, then move on to Sui, Ka, Fu, and Ku doing each for 45 minutes for 20 days.  You should begin understanding the sanshin no kata it after 100 days.  You won’t necessarily master it, but you should be able to have some understanding and ability to do it.

I truly mean it, do that single technique for 45 minutes straight.  And just that technique, push through the boredom and fatigue.  But, do them correctly for 45 minutes.  Most of the fat will be trimmed by merely doing it for 45 minutes daily for 20 days, but please get proper instruction on how to do them.  And, have your teachers critique them.   Both practice and receiving critiques of your practice is important.  Your teacher should also be Uke for this critique or a senior student.  Although, not overly necessary for the sanshin, but useful for other techniques.  The sanshin also benefits from having a teacher be an uke for it.   The same should be done for ichimonji, jumonji, and hicho; 45 minutes a day for 20 days.  In addition to a few mere body dynamics associated with suburi and ashisabaki, taisabaki. 

So, after a half of year you should have a good understanding of the general body mechanics and taijutsu associated with striking.  This is before drilling even takes place.  Practice, Practice, Practice. 
Now we need to drill, drill, drill. 

First, striking drills, find a post, tree, punching bag, and strike repeatedly using the sanshin, and koshi sanpo gata. Using proper timing and body dynamics to generate the strikes and targeting.  Do the same with the Uke Nagashi, include Uke Nagashi, Jodan Uke Nagashi and Gedan Uke Nagashi.  Do all three repeatedly against a target.  Keep in mind, the Uke Nagashi is not a proper uke nagashi unless it can withstand pressure or being pressed down or to the side using structure alone, without the bicep, chest, or triceps muscles.   Doing this will help develop both your structure and the stabilizing muscles we use in taijutsu. 

Now, we can develop both speed and power in our strikes and blocks without using unnecessary muscle tension and learn to turn on and off muscles at will and learn how to chain muscles together in a timing chain.  To do this think of moving the knee and elbows rather than the hands and feet.  Lift instead of stepping, let gravity and the natural shifting of balance move your body.  Doing this with all the sanshin and koshi sanpo, will lead to a more solid kamae and the ability to quickly maneuver in any direction while hiding movements. 

On Drilling with partners, both sides need to attempt to hide their movements, hide their intentions, to catch the person off guard as well as minimize the ability to track the person.  This requires timing.  Now, there are three types of timing, but one type of timing is difficult to master.  It requires getting over the fear of getting hit, or needless protection of ego by getting hit.  It is important to get hit in order to learn proper timing.  Here are a few specific drills to develop the timing and what to look for in the movement.  Drilling timing is perception training, developing the sense of kukan, and use of vision.  It isn’t pattern practice, its more like learning to read, or learning mathematics. It’s a language of the mind and body working in unison. 

In the randori, article I mentioned some striking drills leading up to full randori.  In this section, I plan on talking about drilling entering for throws and the use of capturing and breaking balance of your uke.  So, first we are going to have the uke grab both your wrists.  Without breaking their grip utilize the sanshin no kata, and any of the kihon happo, and simply do these techniques by maneuvering your and almost as if you are ignoring their grips.  The uke goal is to maintain a strong grip and attempt to counter the movements.  Build up progressively at first with just strong body structure then, actively attempt to stop their movements while maintaining your grip.  This will help develop your sense of balance and the balance of your uke and teach you naturally where you would need to go to break their balance, tension, structure, and maneuvering around their strength.  Next do the same with multiple differing grips being attached, like kumi uchi etc.  Then begin adding pulsing tension, by creating and releasing tension in moving doing these techniques.  

Next, we need to develop our perceptions further, primarily our eyes.  The next drill uses rubber or leather shuriken.  It begins, with the uke throwing shuriken at you.  You must simply stand in shizen and move only when you need to.  But before moving begin the practice with the idea of catching the shuriken.  If you can catch a shuriken, you can move out of the way of it. So, catch it develop the eyes to see the shuriken coming in and catch them.  Next, begin moving out of the way of the shuriken.  But, follow the shuriken with your eyes as they pass you.  If you get hit, get hit, don’t let getting hit knock your focus off.  Remain focused and present, don’t dwell on getting hit, think of what comes next.  You can also use a kyoketsu shoge as well.  Uke should spin the ring and release it in unpredictable ways. 

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Fudoshin and Shin, Shin, Shiki wo Shinobu. Please get a t-shirt to support the dojo.

Progressively pick up speed and add more throwers and attackers.  Develop your eyes and the ability to maneuver around multiple targets.  Also, as an uke if the tori moves early attack at the movement he is maneuvering into.  Your goal is to strike them with the shuriken or kyoketsu shoge.  Don’t give an inch, hide your movements and pressure them to make a mistake. 

Another drill involves the Uke using a padded hanbo or jo.  The uke will use various thrusts or outer attacks to the body, head, and legs.  The tori’s role is to block each one of these and maneuver effectively around them.  First start with one attack at a time and reset, then add three attacks in combo.  Vary the speeds and begin adding feints as well.  As Uke your goal is to hit the tori and break their focus.  If you get hit, take it, develop your sense of fudoshin.  Endure failure until you can break through it.  Remember being able to catch the attacks. 

Drilling with Kata you must break down the kata into its fundamental parts and practice those individually, then going back to the kata.  Rinse and repeat.  The Uke should know their specific targets and goals, while the tori are attempting to precisely maneuver around those goals.  Begin slow, then build up speed until full speed is possible.  Drill the parts of the kata under tension and resistance.  Without the interplay between speed and resistance, you won’t be able to understand the totality of the kata.  Doing something slow and under resistance helps with developing and understanding of how the body works, but one needs to also understand what speed does to one’s ability to maintain balance and muscle control.  You must understand both sides to get a clear picture of the kata and taijutsu in general.    

Taijutsu (体術) literally means body technique, but it encompasses a myriad of aspects involving how to use the body.  But this definition is woefully incomplete and unhelpful for most. So, what is taijutsu? It’s a good question (a question many have asked) and the primary reason for writing these blog posts. It is my intention to help those both willing and able to learn taijutsu to understand what taijutsu is and how it works. This blog will be conversational in its approach, by asking questions and leading the internal conversation and hopefully conversations on and off the tatami. You should question everything written here since nothing is gospel, but you should do it with an open mind and related it to your “Taijustu” and test it.  Upon a deeper introspection I hope, you the reader, the martial artists, find some answers all your own about taijutsu.

            In this series of articles, you will find conversations about multiple Japanese martial concepts, conversations from multiple martial art sources and ryu-ha, both modern and old.  You will hear stories to illustrate points, also concrete examples and training methods to employ to help understand these concepts.  We will also discuss other arts related to taijutsu, such as kenjutsu, shurikenjutsu, bojutsu, jojutsu, and many other “jutsu” as they related back to taijutsu. 

Two Tengu in a staring contest.

At the time of writing this, I have been training for twenty-five years in the Bujinkan, (since I was sixteen years old). I have spent some time in other martial arts and traditions in addition to the Bujinkan (since I do not have master teaching licenses in these other arts, I will not list them.) I lived in Japan for five years and became a bit of  tengu,[1]  But, to become a “demon” is much easier than to be human, it took several years and getting married to my wonderful wife to truly understand what it means to be human, although she jokes; ”あなた、人間じゃない”[2] and she calls me Sheldon from the BIG BANG THEORY. But, becoming human is preferable to becoming a demon, as it is something I still strive to become.  To sum up this brief rambling of an introduction, this series of blog posts will be a basic guide to understanding taijutsu and its key concepts. So, I hope I have a chance to discuss these concepts on facebook and a chance to meet you on the tatami. 

頑張りましょうか[3]


[1]天狗になる Tengu ni naru, means becoming a tengu.  There is also gesture that corresponds to the phrase, where you take both of your fists and hold them on your nose as if to make your nose longer.  Tengu had large noses.  The phrase basically means to become arrogant.  However, in folklore tengu are considered masters of martial arts often teaching people that have founded schools. 

[2]Translation: ”you aren’t human”.

[3]Translation: Let’s do our best!?

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.

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.

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

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.

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.