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!?