Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Martial Arts Ukemi

Ukemi- the ability to land on the ground without getting hurt, the ability to "receive" an attack from a training partner, the ability to blend and flow a movement. As a foundation in the ten ryaku no maki section of training it is a dual skill- one we practice in every class, and one that is on the roster for daily training at home. 

The focus this past class on ukemi was building an awareness between ourselves and our training partner, and when is the moment to take ukemi- from the perspective of preventing injury. As an example, we used omote gyaku to explore the idea since it appears in many places in our training- the kihon happo, gyaku gi, and a number of kata in the jin ryaku section of training. 

In this movement, your training partner takes your wrist, and using correct taijutsu movement, locks up your body and ability to move. Through the twisting of the wrist and the arm, there is a slowing of ones ability to move as it locks the elbow, shoulder, hip, knee, and ankle of the lead foot. There is a moment, where the body entirely locks up and a moment later you are thrown over with the omote gyaku movement, done is such a way that one can't take ukemi.

When we are practicing ukemi, in that precise moment before the entire body is locked up, we use on of the break falls or rolls to land- depending on the technique and the position of the training partner. The idea is to be sensitive enough to the movement to know when to take ukemi or not. 

Done early your training partner will just change waza and take you in a different direction, done late, and you can't escape or take ukemi, done at the right moment you blend and can protect yourself from the technique.

From there you can also perform kaeshi waza or sutemi waza to capture your training partner with their own technique. 

Monday, October 15, 2018

Bojutsu Training

Would you find it odd, in joining our group, to be handed a bo (6-foot stick) on day one of training? 

For many schools the use of "weapons" is reserved for black belts.

What thought process or flow behind this?

In taijtusu, there is just the martial movement of the body. The idea of different weapons, unarmed movement broken down into striking, grappling,etc. as all being different or separate is an alien concept. 

In taijutsu we only have movement of mechanics, regardless of armed vs. unarmed. 

There is also the idea of controlled chaos in training- from day one you start learning all the skills needed to navigate a situation. Of course there are basics and fundamentals to practice, a starting point, and at different levels of training as one progresses the focus will shift, but being exposed and learning everything along the way is by design- even if it is overwhelming.

Survival is survival, and awareness is KEY. Being aware of training tools, movements, situations, and what could happen with various movements- even if one can't do them right now, makes you aware of what could happen. In terms of natural capacity, we also have the ability as human beings to learn everything- how would it play out in the moment of survival if you needed a certain skill, but it was withheld from you because you are not a black belt or a certain rank in training. 

You are shown everything, it is your responsibility to to "get it".

Learning the bo, in comparison to our other historical training tools such as the sword, spear, weighted chain, etc. has very practical returns. A long stick can be found or substituted in many places- its movements can be used in a variety of situations.

From that end our training in bojutsu can be explored in the following points:

Kamae: postures and ways of holding the stick to manipulate distance and timing.

Ukemi: ways of receiving an attack with the stick.

Uchi waza: ways of striking with the stick.

Kata: traditional training forms.

Bojutsu heiho: strategy and interacting with the stick and training partners.

Building on that the bo is also useful for understanding distance and timing. At six feet in length, it can be used to understand angles of attack, ways of keeping or expanding distance, and other movement ideas which can be directly used outside of the stick. In many ways its a physical training tool to understand the unarmed movements and isolate certain training principals so they are easier to see.

From the new member of the group the stick is also used to teach coordination and timing, and is one of the KEY reasons we start them off with the stick.

There is a training exercise called bofurigata which is spinning the stick to create distance. In order to do this correctly one has to move the upper and lower part of the body at the same time and in unison. 

If the timing is "off" your knees or legs get whacked with the stick.

Very quickly one learns about the timing and unison of both the upper and lower parts of the body working together to generate power- which compliments and build on the lessons of the san shin no kata.

Grab your stick and see you in the park. 

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

This Is Ninjutsu

Catching the feeling of ninpo.

(Trying) to understand ninjutsu, but realizing it can only be experienced.

Struggling to put all of the pieces of training together.

A natural process of training.

Fortunately for us, and for me, the solution to training is "easy".

Just show up, train in class, work on the lessons at home each day, and trust in the bujin to guide us.

Rinse and repeat over a few years, and soon the movements themselves are powering you.

That said, when we struggle to understand outside of just experiencing the movements of budo taijutsu itself, I often find that art and pictures can convey much more vs. words.

I was asked by a friend to help explain ninjutsu to them, naturally I struggled, and due to the distance our our locations I wasn't able to share with them the physical movements of training.

But I knew a great picture that I had that captures an amazing essence of ninjutsu.

That picture is above.

Different people will see different things, all based on where they are in the moment and what they believe to be true.


Learning The Martial Arts: Taiden, Shinden, Kuden

In learning the martial arts there are two sides to the training- that which is in plain view, and that which is hidden- not because it is “secret”, but rather that is just how the transmission is set up. The teacher to student / master to disciple model is in full effect.

The first layer of understanding is called taiden- body methods and is the easiest to understand. You watch your teacher perform a movement and you copy it. They add another piece and you add another piece- most of our learning as a society is done this way- watch and mimic.

The second layer is kuden- verbal transmission which follows the taiden. Moving here opens up that, you do this to anticipate that- verbal instruction regarding the training and various movement scenarios that can only be understood once you have the base movements down as a reference.

Shinden in the final layer, and the most mysterious since one already has to have the taiden and kuden bolted down and under their belt so to speak. This is the years of experience endured by your teacher- which is a result of the years of experience of their teacher- all the way back through the history of your school/style. The finer points that can only be experienced are transmitted that way- knowledge passing from one to another in an unspoken and unexplained manner.

To put it in cruder yet easier terms to understand?

My teacher wants to transmit to me the shinden of throwing somebody so they throw me around for a bit, experiencing the lessons first hand in the moment as they actually exist, not as they would be taught in a learning environment. When the smoke settles and I get back up the shinden has been transferred to me to understand- capturing that feeling and experience in the moment of being thrown and allowing it to mature and grow in my own training. 

Monday, October 8, 2018

Martial Arts Walking

Walking and the martial arts.

How do we generate power in the martial arts- which was the focus of movement for class this week. 

The idea, that when encountering another person in a martial arts situation, they are going to be bigger, faster, and stronger vs. us. How those attributes of strength, speed, and size we have limited control over for ourselves. 

Some martial arts focus on strength, speed, and size, but what about focusing on distance, timing, and rhythm which are used to counter those physical attributes, and can be used by anybody regardless of them.

Body alignment is the first focus for distance, timing, and rhythm.

We move with out feet, and they are the power behind the techniques (waza).

Working on a wrist lock (omote gyaku), both the upper and lower parts of the body are in alignment. As we take the wrist, we walk in the direction we want to take our training partner. Our feet should face and move in the same direction as the wrist lock.

Looking down at your feet as you move,are they facing in the same direction that you are walking in?

Or is one, or both feet facing in a different direction, or out of alignment as you walk?

What this means, if your feet are not moving in the same direction as your hips, is that part of the momentum that you are generating is not in alignment and is being wasted. 

Depending on how far out of alignment your feet are you could also be out of balance, or opening up weak points (kyusho) in your legs and hips. 

Taking a step back from all the stuff that looks like martial arts- punching, kicking, throws, etc. it is these little points of alignment and ways of moving the body (taijutsu), that really power the effectiveness of the techniques.  

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Everything Wrong With The Martial Arts

This past Tuesday was an interesting class studying aspects from Gyokko ryu, aspects which I was fortunate to learn in 1995- the year being important in the context of this lesson.

At the time when these movements were introduced to me they were very important- I spent a good amount of time (shu) drilling them over and over again making sure I didn't deviate on step from the form. 

Over the years in practicing, I can close my eyes and see those first times they were introduced to me.

Last Tuesday we again explores some of these forms, and for me personally everything was off. I did them well, they looked good, but my distance and timing didn't quite match my teacher's movement. 

Something was a bit out of sync.

The entire class was like this for me.

Now, sometimes in training you just have a bad class. It could be the events of the day before training have you down a bit, it could be physically related in terms of being tired or hurt. You do the best you can, but sometimes success in class is just making it to the end no matter how poorly you are moving.

Certainly lessons and expression in Fudoshin from this.

But for this class, it wasn't that, I wasn't moving poorly. 

It was only towards the end of class that I figured out why. 

I was operating under incorrect assumptions, assumptions that I should have seen, but we all make mistakes. Mistakes in the dojo are the best kind, because of the protection in the dojo, mistakes made there are not lethal.

When you are newer to training, everything is naturally new- every movement, drill, kata, philosophy. Train for a while, and you develop ways of moving and viewing things, that might not be correct for the movement in that moment.

The kata being shows, I have done before, so many times, in that when I saw it being demonstrated, I fell back on the form I knew- vs. not just assuming, but working to catch the feeling of what was being taught. 

How a slight variation in footwork, changed the distance and timing. 

How it was there the entire time, quite visible, IF I had approached the lessons from a new perceptive as if I had never seen the kata before, vs. just assuming it was the one we always do.

I've made this mistake before, we all make this mistake from time to time, so it is a good reminder when it happens. 

When shown something in training practice and drill it not stop without variation to build up the lessons of the movement. Once one has a good baseline with that, moving ahead, every time one sees it again- look at as if it is the first time you are seeing it, so none of the subtle changes (either henka or ura waza) are missed.

Or at the very least realize we are studying ninjutsu, and subtle change is always working in everything we do. 

See you on the mat. 

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Using Totoku Hyoushi no Kamae

There is always the concept of the visible and invisible in class, the perception of what one would see if they were just watching class off to the side, vs. training or being part of a training group.

In this way, we can openly talk about the training, and sharing ideas to help those searching for the martial arts, yet at the same time preserve many of the "secrets" of the martial arts.

Not that there are any secrets in the martial arts, secrets imply learning something and having complete enlightenment. In this way martial arts is the easiest skill and disciple to learn in the world- just show up and train, and over time everything will be understood.

In watching a class one would see various martial arts skills in practice- ukemi, striking methods, grappling methods, footwork drills, training tools, etc.

BUT there is much that happens both before and after these budo taijuts movements. As an example of this let's explore the totoku hyoushi no kamae.

This is a traditional sword posture where the blade is turned flat facing the target, as a shield, and with your body as flat as possible.

From a historical perspective it was used against shuriken- hand held darts and throwing plates- bo and hira shuriken. The sword is used to deflect the incoming object with the flat of the sword, sending it off and away from you.

One is both hiding and protecting with the sword, using it to defeat another training tool of distance, where the sword does not have a similar distance.

Outside of kenjutsu (Japanese sword), this also has movement, strategy (heiho), and philosophical applications to be found in all of our other budo taijutsu movement. It is about using the sword, but it is also knowledge above and beyond the sword.

An encounter with another person does not begin the moment they move to punch or grab you. It begins way before that, and by being aware of distance and timing, one sets themselves up with superior distance and timing before an attack.

Through training, this setting of a superior position at all times just becomes conditioned and natural to the point where it is not consciously though of, it just happens.

So, if something does happen, one is automatically in a superior position and advantage before the "martial arts" has even happened.

We are crossing the street in the above picture, and in waiting for the light to turn, where are we standing? Many of us stand as close to the edge of the crosswalk as possible, waiting for the light to turn, or for a break in traffic so we can cross.

As the cars pass, what happens if one jumps the curb, or has to swerve to avoid another card? If that happens all you have is ukemi to protect you- rolling, leaping, or side evading depending on what is happening.

Can we see totoku hyoushi no kamae?

Can we use totoku hyoushi no kamae?

While waiting to cross, what about moving away from the curb and standing with the pole and barriers in-front of you?

A car jumps the curve and it has to pass through that before hitting you. Natural objects for totoku hyoushi no kamae are everywhere. Imagine again in the picture above that we are walking on the right sidewalk and a group of people are walking behind us, perhaps closing and approaching us.

We have a gut feeling about danger- one that we should ALWAYS listen to immediately.

Can we see totoku hyoushi no kamae?

Can we use totoku hyoushi no kamae?

Right away, cross the street, using the street itself as  totoku hyoushi no kamae.

Crossing puts distance between you and the group so you can see their actions better, and it also forces them to reveal the intent they may have against you- do they also cross the street?

Do they openly shift to follow you?

...in our weekly training classes we practice strikes, throws, and all that "martial arts" stuff, but it is also these hidden actions that are in play at all times, hidden movement, that helps prevent a situation, and in the worst case scenario, give you many advantages of distance and timing before something starts.

See you on the mat!  

Monday, October 1, 2018

Bujinkan Nagare

Training in class is an organic process.

While we cover the kihon and foundations of taijutsu movement in every class- ukemi, kamae, kihon happo, san shin no kata, etc. it is the questions, perspectives, and unique talents of the people training in our group which often open up unique directions in each class based on questions that naturally arrive...

In  our movement there is this idea of flow- being able to not only move smoothly, but also to be relaxed enough to not only switch techniques, but also be able to feel how our training partner is influencing our movement so we can go with the flow of movement so to speak.

How do we develop flow was the question.

The easy answer is to just keep training.

Keep showing up for class, train as best you can, continue to practice and polish the kihon at home.

Time is a great equalizer as it advances.

That said, there are a few points we can focus on to help out.

Relaxation is the first.

The ability to move and remain relaxed.

Setting up and following a daily stretching routine that focus not only on all the joints of the body, but also specifically on the hips and legs- the center and focus of what  moves us. Add supporting exercises to increase flexibility in the hips such as walking or hiking.

Alignment is also important, making sure of the direction of your feet and where they are pointing as you move. Making sure that your feet and knees are facing in the direction of where you are moving as you move using techniques. It's hard to develop flow if you are moving in one direction with your hips, but your feet are taking you in a different direction as you move.

Keeping these two points in mind, as you drill the kihon at home, and work through the lessons in class will help you develop good flow.