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. 

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.    

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. 


[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!?

Budo and Proper Practice

Budo and Proper Practice

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

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

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

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


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