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.    

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.

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!?

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.

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.