On Drilling and Practice

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. 

https://teespring.com/fudo-shin#pid=2&cid=581&sid=back
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.    

構えは何ですか: What is Kamae?

Kamae “構え” basically means stance, yet there are several ways to approach kamae.   In Japanese, we have the verb form of Kamae, which is “構える“Kamaeru, which has several meanings as well, which it means; to prepare, to adopt a posture, to be ready and so forth.  Without going too deep into a Japanese lesson, let’s discuss the finer details about Kamae in general.  

Kamae is first a posture or stance, it is made up of specific rations involving the shoulders, elbows, hips, knees and feet, around the spine and our cores.  Whether it is shizen no kamae, ichimonji no kamae or hicho no kamae, there are similarities and specific ratios that are maintained.  From, the knees and elbows when connected in kamae form straight lines to the floor, the shoulders and hips are also lined up, the feet also are lined up in most kamae, but connected to another point that makes up the kamae.  There are some kamae that seemingly break these ratios, most notably is bobi no kame, but it also generally follows the same structural ratio.  I want you to keep in mind, the kamae I am specifically discussing are the way kamae is demonstrated and done by Noguchi Sensei and the late Oguri Sensei there are similarities by other Dai Shihan, but they differ slightly with their approach to kamae.   See my post “On Balance”.

Tengu in variations of ichi and hoko no kamae.

These ratios make up the majority of what makes or breaks a good kamae in my opinion.  In addition to these ratios, you have a control of balance as well as weight distribution.  Generally, you should maintain a kamae without much of a shift in balance, when you raise a single foot of either the front or back leg at any given moment.  Basically, in kamae you should maintain an ability to easily lift either foot.  If you must radically shift your balance to either leg, you have misplaced your balance somewhere it shouldn’t be, and you will not be able to adapt quickly enough to either counter or move into a better spot if a sudden attack comes, or by the third attack you will be “cooked”.

In addition, being able to easily move with minimal shifting of balance, we must look at the general structure of Kamae and purposes.  Kamae is meant to control lines, and both guard and guide attacks and defenses alone these lines.  Look to them as barriers set up to control the flow of water or air.  How would these kamae look in a wind tunnel?  How would water flow around these kamae in a river?  In addition, kamae is also intended to affect both our own mental states as well as the mental states of the opponent or uke.  They are meant to create a type of pressure on the opponent.  Both, easing or putting on pressure or energy in the kamae is important, all the while controlling the flow of that pressure along lines you choose.  At the same time, you can increase your confidence and calm your mind in these kamae.  Now, I am not waxing poetic or philosophical on purpose here, but this imagery might be helpful. 

Tengu in variations of Hicho and Ichimonji no kamae

 

Kamae helps guard and protect vital areas on the body, it also helps hide both movements and intentions.  Free use of kamae, comes from understanding your body and balance fully.  Taking kamae also requires practice and should be thoroughly studied and understood.  Kamae is not necessarily static, but first you need to understand your own structure and balance for techniques to be learned and acquired.  Will your Kamae break or faulter under pressure, will a breeze knock it over?  Yet through proper practice and time you should be able to understand kamae more intimately.  Through the process of Shuhari “守破離” you will arrive at a place where Kamae simply blends into what we call “体術” taijutsu.  Kamae, in addition, to balance is just one of the fundamental principles that is Taijutsu.  

Bo Practice before class at the old hombu dojo.

中心: Balance

Everyone seems to be acquainted with balance at least on the surface since walking, standing, sitting, and running all require balance.  While we can basically keep our balance in our everyday lives, but are we really all that balanced?  You could argue that, “we don’t fall over so we must be balanced, right?” Well, you could argue that, yet people slip and fall, people run into things, people have back problems and sore knees.  To have balance isn’t as simple as failing to fall over, it is something a bit deeper than that.  For taijutsu, it is crucial to develop a better sense of balance, a maximal sense of balance.  Just to remain standing and failing to fall over isn’t enough.  We need to control both our own balance as well as the opponents balance.  However, we must start with our own balance.  So, what does it mean to be balanced? 

Chushin (中心) basically means middle heart, but it is used to represent balance, balance points, and center of balance.  So, this description again doesn’t help us understand what balance really is, words aren’t enough for the body to understand.  So, let’s begin with an exercise to find our balance.  First, let’s align the body with the shoulders, hips, knees, and feet in proper alignment. This stance is almost what we call shizen no kamae (自然の構え).  I say almost, because, just standing this way doesn’t make you maximally balanced, there are few more things to align first before we can call it a true shizen no kamae. 

Budo-bum in Shizen no Kamae | Robert J. Hartung III

We need our hips to be in aligned and we need to use a few core muscles as well to keep the hips in alignment with the rest the body.  Our shoulders should be back and pulled down, we also should have our hips (pelvis) titled forward and our glutes should be taunt (you can flex your glutes to get the pelvis to shift into the right spot.  Your bodies weight should be in the middle of the foot right before the balls of the feet.  There should be a straight line from your knee to the middle point of your feet.  The knees should point the same direction as the direction of your foot.  To ensure, you have the proper alignment tighten the core and attempt to flex the muscles in the direction of you tail bone while tightening your glutes and extending your elbows to the floor and rotating your hands/wrists in the direction of your belt and sink slightly while having the sense of your legs extending outwards.  Then relax, breathing naturally through your hara (腹[), or diaphragm, without raising your shoulders up and down.  Breaths should start with the nose and end being pushed out the mouth, but through the nose only is ok if your breaths don’t raise your shoulders.  Now we can call this shizen no kamae and you should be balanced.  But, standing still and statically without being able to move doesn’t help much, so in make sure we can move in a balanced manner we need to find how to initiate movement from this position.  But, first let’s see if we are balanced with another check. 

Lifting the foot in one upward motion, do not push off at an angle, In red is the focus point of the balance on the foot. | Robert J. Hartung III

Once you have a good shizen no kamae, you want to sink down into a squat slowly while keeping your feet flat on the floor.  Your knees should start the movement as you squat, if you feel like your balance is shifting back you haven’t aligned your hips properly you should be shifting forward.  Most likely if your balance is shifting backwards, you have pushed your glutes backward thus causing the shift.  If anything, you should feel like you have to rise up on your toes.  This keeps your balance aligned[.  Now hopefully you are getting a sense where your balance is and how to maintain it while standing.  However, this is just the beginning, the goal is to control your balance throughout all your movements and maintaining control of its vector.  Yes, I said it, vector.  A vector is a line of force, which is important to taijutsu and an important aspect to how you need to control your balance.

In Japanese Budo we use this kind of movement. Tucking the pelvis to start the movement while sinking using the knees as guides. | Robert J. Hartung III

In moving and maintaining your balance, you must learn how to control your hips and let the knees become your feedback sensor.  Basically, you must learn to listen to your body and make your body a sensor (this goes beyond balance, but it is first place to start).  So, what do I mean by sensor, well I generally mean feeling the natural loading and weight/ tension on the knees and thighs and the moment your weight begins to shift over the balls of your foot.  So, to illustrate this, start in shizen no kamae and slowly sink as we did in the previous balance and alignment check.  Sink until you reach about 75-80 percent weight on your knees, or until you feel like you’re forced to lift your heels off the ground.  This is the moment of movement, your legs, knees and feet become coiled like a spring (building torque) and you launch forward with one of your legs.  The lifting leg is lifted straight off the ground and the back leg pushes forward by using the glutes.  Extending the back leg fully then pulling it in reaching 50/50 with the two legs.  If done correctly, you should feel an explosiveness to the movement at first, but for the sake of understanding your balance slow it down and try not to shift the weight to one leg too much.  Also, try it with both legs.  Your belt should be a good guide, keep it pointed straight forward towards your target, don’t twist the upper body.

If you think you have the basic stepping forward action, we will move to stepping at forty-five degrees.  First off, most people step back something steeper than forty-five, in order to understand how to step back, I recommend having something square to align your foot placement better. Stepping back at forty-five you want to sink and drop into it, it should feel as if you are stepping down stairs backwards, your body weight should also be 50/50 on both legs and hips aligned the similar as your forward step.  To check if you have proper balance, you should easily be able to lift either leg without pulling the leg in but lifting it straight up.  Some common issues you may have is taking to  large of a step or you have rotated your core and shifted your balance outside a position you can easily control or manipulate for movement (this will cause wasted movement, and allow others to read your movements.)   Also, when moving you might have tendency to twist your body, twisting the body causes major shifts in your balance.  By twisting I mean anytime your hips, knees, shoulders, and feet are not aligned.

Here are the muscles you want to isolate to initiate movement and turn into sensors. | Robert J. Hartung III

When stepping back at forty-five degrees, you should sink by lifting the back foot straight up of the ground evenly. Then you should land the foot with an even amount of pressure, placing it evenly on the ground.  Your placement of your feet needs to be flat, not heel toe or toe heel.  The sinking, stepping, and placement of the foot should be in one even motion.  To lift the back leg, focus on using the muscle closest to the hip (sartorius muscle). Focus on this muscle to lift either leg to move forward or back, focus on this muscle alone.  If you have a proper shizen no kamae and simply lift the leg and sink with proper timing you should naturally fall on a 45-degree diagonal line (test this by putting down lines or find a corner of a square or triangle[). 

Two Tengu, work on Uke Nagashi notice the location of the block and relations of the elbows, knees, and feet. Keep these ratios in mind. | Robert J. Hartung III

With some practice and testing, you should have a bit of understanding of your general balance, now lets look at a few other aspects regarding specific lines using 地の形 (Chi no Kata).  So, everyone should generally understand chi no kata, but doing it with precision and naturally using balance is a bit easier said than done ( I will specifically use a certain version of Chi no kata most may not be familiar with so keep this in mind).   So, first begin by lifting your left arm up with a feeling of having the finger tips extending outward in an ark along a line moving and pointing of the middle finger at the left eye.  Then flip the left hand as if to cut the left eye with your hand.  Then move the arm on a flat line until you can no longer move it naturally back, then release any muscle tension and let the arm natural fall towards your center until it reaches the knot of your belt.  From there engage your left pec and the muscle near your scapula to pull/ push the arm out into an uke nagashi. While simultaneously sinking and lifting the right leg straight of the ground with the right hand extending towards the floor as if you are trying to extend your middle finger into the ground.  Do not twist, to do this movement.  Your left elbow should be over your knee and your knee should be over the point behind the ball of the foot.  Your right elbow should be in line with your right knee and the same point in the foot[.  Moving forward, sink and rock ( or extend) forward via the knot of your belt while using the right knee and then simply pick up the back foot (Do not push off with the back foot just lift it.)  In unison with the sink and movement forward, the foot, knee and elbow maintain alignment.  Use the left glute to extend the left leg to get a thrust forward.  The timing of the striking fist changes about half way through to the target.  At the end of the strike.  Sink and shift the weight by using the knees and then pull the left hand back and lift the leg in one motion back into shizen no kame. 

If you can put all these points together using the body and balance in unison and precision with timing and chained motions you will have a better since of balance, as well as an initiation into what taijutsu in general is about. 




体術は何ですか: What is Taijutsu?

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!?

Kyudo and Zen?

Kyudo like many Japanese martial arts has spiritual aspects attributed to it. Most notably Kyudo is seen primarily as a practice of Zen Buddhism in the west. Eugen Herrigel was the first to popularize Zen in the practice of Kyudo with his book “Zen in the Art of Archery”.

In recent years, a few Japanese writers have argued that Herrigel’s view was both the result of poor or vague translations at the time and Herrigel’s aspirations to find Zen in Kyudo. The strong association of Buddhism and Zen with Kyudo doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon, regardless of recent journal articles arguing against Zen’s inclusion. The relationship is so intertwined in the collective consciousness that it seems unlikely to ever disappear. This is due to the nature of religion and Japanese martial arts in general.

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Buddhism and Shinto are the two main religions in Japan and they are so interwoven that most Japanese cannot tell the difference between the two. Often one will find Buddhist temples next to  Shinto shrines, which further confuses the differences between the two faiths.

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Kyudo is primarily used in Shinto ceremonies. The bowman will wear the white garments of a Shinto priest while performing ceremonies. Unlike Buddhist ceremonies in which pure white garments are not used. The arrow itself is a Shinto talisman to ward of evil and to attract good luck. In Zen the sword carries a heavy symbolic weight and the arrow has no symbolic significance.

Despite the utter lack of Buddhist ceremonies involving Kyudo in Japan there are an extensive Kyudo exhibitions in the west involving Zen temples. Kyudo exhibitions are never held at Buddhist temples in Japan. It seems that Zen and archery has stronger associations in the west than it does in Japan. 

Although Zen Buddhism might not have anything to do with Kyudo directly, the ideas and practice of it are quite Zen-like. Central tenets like the concepts of no-mind and non-attachment are notions shared with Zen Buddhism, however slightly differing in aim and approach.

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Since Shinto lacks a founder and religious texts, many attribute Buddhism to things that are primarily Shinto in origin. The Shinto/Buddhism difference is paper-thin in Japan which further perpetuates the seemingly contradictory statements about Kyudo and Japanese spiritual life.

Some might regard Kyudo as an inner and outer practice uniquely Japanese, the outer as the expression of Shinto with the inner the expression of Zen Buddhism. Regardless what is attributed to Kyudo, the practice requires diligence, concentration and Zen-like qualities to perform the elegant and sublime feats of Japanese archery.

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.

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

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.