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. 




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.

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.

Learning:学習

Learning:学習
 
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.