Friday, November 30, 2018

Martial Arts Flow Drill

The idea and concept of flow in the martial arts. Transitioning from one technique (waza) to another in a fluid manner, while in balance, and without creating any openings in your movement. 

When something changes with your training partner you flow into a new waza. 

If an opening presents itself you change into another waza.

In this post I'd like to share with you one of the flow drills that we use to practice this concept AND polish our kihon/ukemi skills at the same time.

The flow drill goes like this...

You and your training partner stand across from each other and they take hold of your lapel. You apply omote gyaku (a wrist twist) which takes them down to the ground, as they fall to the ground they take ukemi (back roll), rolling over and up with the technique, followed by taking hold of your hand and now applying omote gyaku to you, which you roll out of and apply to them.

This back and forth trains many things beyond the "flow": like also being able to take hold of the hand and be in a position to apply omote gyaku as you are not only being taken down, but also as you are rolling over backwards. The drill also teaches you to be relaxed when moving since tension held in the body, especially the shoulders, will quickly slow you down making it hard to roll.  

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Bujinkan Jodan Uke

Spots coaches and analysis have determined that it takes 10,000 hours to achieve proficiency in a given skill set.

So how far along are we with jodan uke?

Jodan uke is one of those budo taijutsu skill sets that we practice a ton of in training, but never enough.

Jodan uke, gedan uke, ken kudaki- punch the incoming attack.

We find it in the san shin no kata, kihon happo, and many of the kata in the jin ryaku no maki section of training.

What are some jodan uke points to keep in mind- or for all of uke negashi?

First is to use your footwork to get out of the way of the attack and set the correct distance.

Everything else is secondary to this as the waza won't go any further if we get tagged right out of the gate. As we stand across from our training partner, they initiate into our space (kukan) with a punch.

They are looking to change the distance, and we need to set it back- footwork does this, angles does this, and getting out of the way of the strike does this.

Power generation from the hips and sinking weight is next, rotating the arm, and striking kyusho on the arm.

Certainly the aim is to crush (kudaki) the arm, but the movement of the waza is also to shift balance, force our training partner to move all the weight on one foot- prevent them from moving for a moment in time...

...along with opening up all the kyusho on the core of the body.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Kenjutsu Kamae

Looking beyond the mountains…

There is a saying in kenjutsu to look beyond the mountains often accompanied by a calligraphy picture to both inspire and remind the student. When looking at a mountain range we tend to focus on a single mountain- often the biggest and tallest to the point that after a few moments we miss the surrounding mountains.

In kenjutsu while we spend time focusing on the very smallest and exacting details to perfect ourselves without compromise, we need to know when to pull back and see where and how all the pieces fit into the big picture.

When using the sword it’s not enough to just cut with the sword, but rather to not only cut with it effectively, but also protect yourself from being cut back in the process from your training partner.

In kenjutsu there are a number of body postures (kamae) that both serve to lead into the various cuts, but also protect your body’s vulnerable spots from being cut in return.

 Think of them as strategic starting points that you shift in and out of as you navigate the sword in conjunction with your training partner. In this course we are going to look at three of the basic postures used in kenjutsu. In actuality there are dozens of them in general, and even more used by specific schools (ryu). Some kamae further refine the strategy, while others are used for very specific functions like safely deflecting something being thrown at you.

In learning the kamae you want to first begin by assuming the position and getting used to holding your body and the sword correctly. Hold it for a bit as best you can and then stand back normally. Later on as you become more comfortable with them you will want to practice shifting from one posture to the next in a fluid manner and in different directions moving more like a dance to get used to shifting in and out of them as needed without thinking about them.

Regardless of the posture at all times you want to be aware of where your sword is in relation to you and your training partner, in addition to making sure your back is straight, your hips are tucked under your spine, and that you have good balance and are able to move smoothly.

Kenjutsu: Japanese Sword Training

Knowledge and the sharing of it begins with the understanding of language. The building blocks of letters, words, and composition allow people to communicate ideas and for other to understand them, and that is where we are going to begin with this course. 

There is a culture to the katana, a basic way of “how things are done” not only for safety reasons, but also so that all the students understand the format of learning by having a similar basic cultural understanding, similar to rules in a classroom, or the culture of a corporate entity on how people act and dress. 

By doing these rather simple things in your own daily training you will be heightening the awareness of your training lessons, and linking yourself with the samurai tradition, in addition to “fitting in” at the dojo if you pursue further training.

In Japanese culture and the martial arts fitting in is VERY important. Knowing how to act and what is expected means the teacher (sensei) can spend the limited class time sharing valuable lessons rather than telling you how to stand or act appropriately.

Let’s star our exploration of this language by understanding the different types of swords used in studying kenjutsu….

Most of the training is done with a wooden sword made out of Japanese oak or a similar hardwood which represents the katana in size and approximate weight. The length of the sword is around three feet, but will change in size and shape depending on the school and tradition being studied. Formal training in the dojo will dictate this, and for the sake of this course it is not important but must be remembered.

This wooden training sword is known as a bokken, and despite it being wood, it MUST be treated as a REAL sword. Not only can it hurt somebody or yourself in training and thus needs to be respected, treating it as a real sword means you are also building proper handling skills that will carry over if you every pick up a real sword. Keep in mind that the most famous Japanese swordsman ever, Musashi, defeated many opponents in personal combat with a wooden sword while they used a real one.

This means never holding it by the “blade”, treating it carelessly, or tossing it about- it is not a piece of wood, but the spiritual representation of a real sword!

Keeping this in mind, just as one would care for a real sword, it is important to care for your bokken. Inspect it before and after each training session for any splits, cracks or splintering of the wood, so it does not hurt you or your training partner. If in doubt “retire” it and get a new bokken. Safety ALWAYS comes before tradition.

While most of your practice will be done with a bokken, there are times that another training sword is used for when contact is made between two training partners in class- a bokken should never be used for student to student contact.

This type of training sword is known as a fukuro shinai, or just plainly a shinai, and is a split bamboo sword often wrapped in leather or soft cotton to pad it. While not quite as heavy as a bokken it allows a degree of safety when making light contact in training.
Similarly there are times that an aluminum alloy sword is used into solo training (known as an iaito) which has the exact weight and length or a real sword, but being made out of unsharpened aluminum does not have an edge. That said, it still has a point, and the heft of a real sword and can be dangerous if not properly supervised under the direct real time supervision of a teacher.

Finally there is a real sword known as a shinken (live sword) which is the real deal- a fully sharpened and well built samurai sword used for what it was intended for. In martial arts training a shinken is used to practice cutting rolled up Japanese mats and other specialized targets. I mention this in the course as you will often see a shinken used in cutting videos on YouTube and other social media so knowledge of what you are watching (culture) is important.  

That said, there is VERY little reason to ever use a real sword in solo training, and a real sword is NEVER used in partnered training. The risks are just too great for life altering accidents. Please listen to this advice and NEVER use a real sword in practice. To help you understand this context in my dojo students use a bokken for at LEAST five years of training before they are allowed to use an iaito in solo practice. We never use a shinken in class for any reason, and I wouldn’t recommend my students even buying one till at least having ten years of practice under the belt...

Now that you are aware of the types of swords used in training, and what you should be using and not using we can move onto the basic etiquette of the sword and how to treat it when not in use.

The first thing to keep in mind is that the “blade” of the sword is always held facing up when not in use- this is both to protect the blade and to keep it ready for use if needed. Typically when the sword is in its sheath it is held with the left hand or tucked into the belt on the left and drawn with the right hand- this type of drawing and cutting with the sword is known as batto and is a sub skill or kenjutsu, just like grappling with the sword and armor is.  When holding the sword in this manner, while it is not in use, you are aware of how hast it could be, and this builds awareness of space and time without thinking (zanshin).

That said, there are times that the sword is not held this way based on what it symbolizes…

In class techniques are often demonstrated by the teacher while the group stands off to the side and watches what is being shown. Afterwards the teacher will comment on some of the finer points and then the group will break up into senior and junior (sempai and kohai) partners and practice. When a teacher is showing a technique or you are standing around waiting to being practice the sword (bokken) should be held in your right hand with the edge facing up.

By holding it in your right hand you are showing respect in carrying it, but not your intention to use it in batto. If we can use the analogy of a fire arm for illustration, imagine if an instructor was showing you how to shoot and during that you had your pistol out and drawn.

What would that convey vs. having the side arm with the safety on and in your side holster?  

When you are ready to actually practice a technique with a training partner, pass the sword to your left hand, take the handle with your right, assume the staring posture (kamae) and begin the lesson- finish by reversing the process and bowing to your training partner.

Going back for a moment and understanding what a bokken represents, it goes without saying that during training your bokken should never just be left on the floor, held or used like a walking stick in-between lessons or while the teacher is demonstrating. Likewise it should never hit a wall, be dropped on the floor, of bumped into another bokken as you move about.

Always be aware of where the sword is in relation to where you are, your surroundings, the other students, and the other swords in the class. There is a HUGE lesson in this understanding.

Are you ready for the first lesson?

Taking your bokken in your left hand while holding it edge up by your side practice just simply walking around with it. Be aware of where it is and work on implanting in your mind that you are NOT just carrying a piece of wood, but rather a real sword.  

The first step in building awareness of the sword begins with how you care for your bokken and hold your bokken during training- the aim is to have no difference between steel and wood in your mind and ultimately attitude.

When you are done training with your bokken, either alone or perhaps in martial arts class in moving onto bojutsu (stick training) or unarmed training take the time to put away your bokken. 

Many students have a simple cloth bag they store it in- kind of like putting a large sized sock over it and then tying it down and laying it next to their training bag.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Taijutsu & The Ninja

Taijutsu & The Ninja

From The Way of the Ninja by Massaki Hatsumi

“In theory no ninja should lack skill in ninpo taijutsu, but the actual training differs from school to school. Having said this, all ninja have to be equally agile and light in their movements. They also need to be excellent leapers…” P. 104

One of the first skills that is shown and practiced in our training is called taihenjutsu- the art of changing the body, which involved ways of landing on the ground (rolling), avoiding attacks and leaping.

The ability to leap six feet is a good start, and a good goals to strive for, but ultimately one wants to cultivate the ability to leap at least nine feet or even more.

Why is leaping so important?

From the perspective of ninjutsu and our training there are two reasons why it is important-

The first is that is quickly takes you out of the path of danger- something falling at you, or coming at you, clear the distance and leap away. Once you are away and have some distance between you, one can then assess the situation and escape.

The second reason is that leaping is a way to control the distance, and ninpo taijutsu is ALL about manipulating the distance.

Physical conditioning is very important in the martial arts, and we want to be the best that we can in terms of strength, speed, and flexibility for our age and life situation, but we don’t want to rely on these attributes in ninjutsu.


What if you find yourself in a situation where somebody else is bigger, faster, or stronger then you?

You can’t control how big, fast, or strong another person or situation is, but you CAN control the distance.

Distance negates these attributes.

If a person or situation suddenly gets too close to you, and you need to expand the distance to a safe place, leaping is the way to do it in one quick and efficient movement.

In this way, leaping is related to the martial arts in that it is a concept skill that allows the student to see how other techniques that they learn over time work.

When you understand the distance you can manipulate the distance, while keeping yourself safe.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Zanshin: Martial Arts Awareness

The dojo is actually probably one of the safest places in the world. In such a place you are learning how to protect and take care of your body while your fellow students and teacher look out for your well being and safety. The dojo is the time and place to make mistakes, and to be made aware of their corrections so when you exit the dojo and enter the “real world” you won’t make those mistakes. Zanshin “awareness” exists on many levels.

When training at the dojo how aware are you of the other students around you? Even knowing 100% that they are not going to attack you, you still have to be aware of more then just the interaction between you and your current training partner. What if another student falls over and into your training area. Weapons often come loose in the hand and go flying. You need to be both aware of the here and now where you are training, but also have an awareness of what could happen- so if it does happen you won’t be taken by surprise.

Another common mistake made during training is when the technique is over. For example, lets say I’m practicing defending myself from a punch. In the dojo, because I’m trying to learn a specific lesson there is often only one punch to which I apply x action. Even though I know it is a training exercise and that there will be only one punch, I need to keep my awareness up just in case another punch is thrown. You never want to get into the habit that “all is safe now”.   

Westchester New York Martial Arts Classes & Instruction

Westchester New York martial arts classes & instruction in unarmed movement (taijutsu), sword (kenjutsu), and stick (bojutsu) as transmitted through the Japanese martial arts.

Our group offers small class instruction in the arts, with a focus on both self-defense, discovery of movement, and personal development.

Please us the links below to find out more about our training, and we welcome any feedback, questions, or comments. 

Martial Arts Fundamentals

What are the fundamentals of your martial art?

What are the core skills of your training outline?

Martial arts is naturally all about movement- movement in the martial arts.

Every martial arts style has a way of moving. Particular insights from the masters that have been passed down as ways of using the human body. This "language" of movement is what we as students need to focus on.

In the Japanese martial arts, this is known as the kihon: fundamental movement patterns.

Learning the building blocks of your martial art allows one to receive higher transmissions and nuances of movement strategy from teachers and those with more experience. 

If you have the basics, you have the methods needed to quickly pick up other training concepts in the style.

You will always be one step ahead.

So in your martial arts, building a checklist, what are those basics and fundamental movements?

Martial Arts Distance Training

In our Movement in the Martial Arts PDF we talk about the different ranges of distance in the martial arts, and how we want to operate at a “third” distance. Just close enough that we appear in range, yet far enough out so our training partner has to take a step to reach us. In turn this gives us time to move and forces our training partner to commit all of their movement into one action.
But even with this “third” distance things are always changing and fluid.

Sometimes the distance needs to expand a bit more based on terrain or where you are in the moment.
Maybe you can’t move as quickly, and knowing where you are with personal movement in the moment, you add a few inches for distance and push it a bit out further.

Perhaps your training partner is quite fast, and covering the distance is quick- push the distance out.
When understanding distance we first learn by locking in the distance, so we can see it, taste it, and explore it.

Understanding it after that starting point has us dynamically changing it as needed- before and without our training partner knowing.  

Monday, November 19, 2018

Shinobi Iri Ninja Stealth Methods

During this time of year we have a two week or so window in our training- with the leaves on the ground, a chance to explore the walking methods of shinobi iri.

Walking and moving silently. 

Walk around in the leaves and don't make any noise. 

When noise happens, immediately side or back drop with ukemi to get out of the line of sight.

While the aim of these methods are walking silently, there are other aspects of taijutsu in them that help you become a better martial artist. Being able to control balance, being able to flow and take ukemi, being able to shift weight and control both your legs at the same time or independent of each other. 

Shinobi iri helps to teach balance really fast.

If one observed out training cycle for the year, it would be easy to think this type of training isn't important- as we only "practice" it once a year in the fall. There is a reason for this and how it relates to time in training.

There are certain skills in our training- shinobi iri being one of them, that don't make the best use of class time in training. Shinobi iri is the type of training that you can see, practice, and once guided, work on at home or outside of class- which one should be.  

Spending hours in class, when there are training partners to throw around and interact with takes precedence since class training is only a few times each week vs. hours each week training outside of class. 

The training points covered a few times each year, are no less important vs. the drills and training covered in each class, it is just making best use of the transmission time for each class. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Fudoshin: Immovable Heart

This ability to keep going is so important in the martial arts and in your own training. As long as you keep moving you are alive, the moment you stop, you are dead. In the safety of the dojo you want to cultivate good lasting habits so that is what comes out in spirit should you ever have to defend yourself. When you practice, if you do something wrong, or get hit, keep going and finish out the technique each and every time. DON’T stop and do it over, EVER! The message you are cultivating is that when something goes wrong, stop what you are doing. In a situation things will go wrong, so you want to keep going.

The very act of showing up each week for class develops fudoshin.

Bojutsu, Jojutsu, Hanbojutsu Training

As recently asked, a brief overview and categorization of the stick training found in our training.

Bojutsu, jojutsu, hanbojutsu.

6 foot stick, 5 foot stick, 3 foot stick.

In our training we approach the use of the stick in two ways- the first as a vehicle to understand distance and timing, and second as the actual application of the stick in the martial arts.

Sticks, depending on the length, have a very exact distance and timing to them- if you are off, you miss. If you are close, your training partner can enter the distance, bypass the stick, and get to you. If you are spot on, there is nothing they can do.

Angles with the stick are also important- striking the right angles and making sure the stick is fluid.

As a way to teach taijutsu movement, if you can "see" these principals in the stick you can see it in unarmed movement and in other training tools.

The stick is a way to see movement.

Sorry Mike...

On the other side of training, a stick is just that- a stick. How can we use the attributes of it- length, size, both ends being active, in the martial arts. Ways of holding the stick, moving it around, using it to strike, or with the hanbo lock joints.

Sorry again...

With bo at six feet we have the ability to reach out and strike at a little over six feet when accounting for body position and hand/arm position. Using footwork, and leaping, along with some very specific hand work, the area that the bo can strike can be extended out to twelve feet. Imagine a radius of 12 feet and anything that comes into that circle gets whacked.

Bo, jo, and hanbo all have particular movements inherent to the range of the stick, all powered by the footwork of taijutsu to make them unique.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Junan Taiso Stretching

We all begin our martial arts journey at different points in our life and with a unique body situation. Age, experience, health, and possible past injuries are all a part of being a human being. Junan Taiso is the starting point with learning and then expanding your capability. Think of it as a health method for preventing injury and expanding your capacity over time.

Begin your stretching routine by loosening up- go for a walk or move around a bit. The idea is to get your blood flowing and start limbering up. From there start from the top and work your way down loosening up your major joins and pivot points- neck, shoulders, arms/wrists, hips, legs, knees, and ankles.

Throughout your training, and it will change over time and at different points, you want to keep track of where you are tense or not as limber- slowly work on these areas  to increase your range of flexibility.  Also, pay special attention to your hips, wrists, and shoulders as there are points often rotated/used in class.

After your stretching routine your body should be in a relaxed and warmed up state. Take a few seconds to exist in the moment and feel what your body is like in this state- natural relaxation is important to good taijutsu, and later as you practice in class/at home this is the state of body that you want to try and remain in. 

Keep in mind that there is no “rush” to get limber! Over the course of your martial arts journey you will have months and years to slowly improve yourself!

Training Tools In Budo Taijutsu (Hidden Weapons)

Class this past Saturday had us exploring the use of the knife as a training tool in taijutsu, how do we use such a training tool in our movement and does it really change anything? 

The challenge with using training tools is that it is easy to have an illusion of how one thinks they should be used- in this case a knife. When you pick it up, you start using it like a knife in your movement.

But how is a knife used?

Can you even be sure you are using it correctly?

And if you are using it correctly as a knife, if compared with a training partner that knows how a knife is used in the martial arts they will be aware of what you are trying to do.

Our taijutsu philosophy is perhaps a bit different when it comes to these training tools- in this case one does not use a knife, but rather uses a knife powered by taijutsu.

As an example for us, and as a way to catch the feeling, we explored all of our class movements on Saturday with a knife in hand, or ready to deploy. Using the unique properties of it, combined with the movement of our taijutsu.

We started off with the kihon happo and san shin no kata movements, only using training tool. 

How did it change distance and timing? 

How did it change the movement and perception of our training partners as they interacted with the blade? 

How can we keep the tool hidden during the entire movement. If one has such a training tool, why would they ever show it or allow it to be seen?

Ukemi was next- forward, side, and back rolls. Start a roll and have the knife tossed at you. Sometimes you grab it, other times avoid it. Have the knife tossed on the ground and grab it as you roll and take ukemi. Avoid grabbing the knife blade, as it is taken, get it into a ready position or hidden position as you are rolling, coming up in correct kamae and ready to go. 

Tehodoki and taihodoki up next. Using the tool for leverage against the joints and weak points on the body. Using it to create unfamiliar movements that your training partner can't see, so it messes with the ability for them to take ukemi. From there exploring kata from the jin ryaku no maki section of training.

Aspects of keeping the training tool hidden. 

In our kenjutsu (Japanese sword) training there is a posture called seigan no kamae. In this posture you hold the sword so the tip of the blade faces your training partner. When done correctly in this way, the length of the sword is concealed since they are looking down the blade. Knowing the length of the sword and its relationship to where you are is key.

Take this concept over to smaller hand held training tools like the knife- there are ways of holding it out in the view that conceal the length of the blade or where it is. From a self defense perspective, understanding how this works and how people can do this, is KEY.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

The Role Of Uke In The Martial Arts

In learning the Japanese martial arts we have both the role of uke and tori- often though of as the attacker, and the defender in practicing a technique.
Uke is the one who initiates an attack, and tori is the one who does the technique to them.
Seems simple enough, and on a surface level it is, but taken a bit deeper the role of uke is VERY important.
Being a good uke will not only improve your training, it will help push the class and group forward so we can all learn more advanced stuff.
Ideas on being a good uke?
A checklist?
The first is to deliver a good attack.
Often as uke, you know what the technique is going to be and what is going to happen- having watched the teacher or class instructor introduce the technique.
Even knowing this, uke needs to attack with commitment and determination. Giving your training partner a good, strong, committed attack will allow them to properly respond and execute the technique.
A good attack *forces* them to respond- or else get hit, grabbed, thrown, etc.
When tori applies the technique (waza), uke needs to be adaptive- not resisting the technique full force, but at the same time not going down for the sake of going down.
Just taking a fall prevents the feedback of the waza working, and fully resisting means, in a full on situation tori would have to shift to another technique- using the idea of nagare (flow).
This heavy resisting is fine for randori (free form sparring/movement), but not in learning martial arts techniques in practice, as tori will have to shift to something else, and then is not practicing what the instructor is trying to have the group master.
When uke has the technique done to them, being relaxed and open to the experience is KEY. 
FEEL what it is like to be thrown, see how it shuts down your ability to move, how does it make your body comply? This feedback as uke shows you what happens when a technique is done- feedback you are going to use in your own training.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Martial Arts Multiple Attackers

In our training as we work out with our partner, while the practice is one on one, we always assume and want to prepare for multiple attackers in a given situation.
Everything is always one vs. many.
During the past few classes we have been exploring specific points regarding one vs. many in training so once identified we can always keep them in mind and practice them in all our class training movements.
An example from last class, as it relates to movement, posture, and balance:
You and your training partner stand in the middle of a circle surrounded by other training partners. Ahead of time, and unknown to you a second attacker/partner is selected for the drill.
We begin by having the first training partner grab you, and you apply hajutsu (escape methods) to break the hold and free yourself. As soon as that happens the second attacking training partner moves in on you.
Naturally in addition to the unknown they will be moving in on you approaching your blind spot, or behind you, closing very quickly.
In that brief moment you may hear movement, feel a sense of approach, or even see something moving towards you from a blind angle. 
The "natural" non martial arts action is to turn you head to see it.
In your day-to-day when you need to see something you turn your head.
With regard to martial arts movement we don't want to just turn our head- this is not integrated movement, and is not moving the entire body at the same time, facing the threat. 
Kamae- postures and ways of moving in the martial arts.
We want to move the body with the head- everything in alignment so not only are we not out of balance, but as soon as we identify (see) our new training partner, we are ready to move and act on them.
Little, tiny, specific points like this are BIG when it comes to one vs. many.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Martial Arts Intuition

The martial arts are physical arts.
Certainly there are spiritual and philosophical lessons and points to explore.
But a good 99% of training is discovering movement on the mat in the dojo.
One of the points that we aim for- a philosophy in motion is the idea of "mushin"- no mind.
We drill the martial arts, teach our bodies how to move (taijutsu), and move when needed, as needed for the correct situation, and without thinking.
The same way an athlete or performer just "does".
This also help build our intuition- the ability to pick up on small cues and hidden things before the happen so we can respond.
When you get a "feeling" in the martial arts you act on it.
The human mind, even before any martial arts training, processes so much, much more vs. what we can understand.
If you get a feeling to move, move.
If you get a feeling not to be in a certain place, leave.
If something tells you to take the next train, you take the next train.
Don't debate, don't reason, just act.
Just move.
Even if you are not a "martial artist".

Martial Arts Training In Nature

In a previous post we explored some training ideas regarding practice outside of class- focusing on the basics of your martial art system, drilling this "kihon" so your body can learn the movement mechanics of the art. This allows the transmission of the movements in class to take hold and gives us a chance to catch the feeling. In our training group, all of us, work on the lessons of the ten ryaku no maki every day. Developing a training routine and rhythm is important in building a foundation of movement, but every now and then it is important to break that routine...

Training in nature is an important concept in the training philosophy, especially around the changing times of nature- a chance to get our in the woods and practice the martial arts.

An example of training- ukemi & taisabaki, pulled right from the ten ryaku no maki section of training. In the woods, we pick a direction and start moving. As we come across trees, rocks, and other natural obstacles, we use ukemi and taihenjutsu to move past them. Rolling over fallen trees, side stepping around trees, leaping (tobi) over rocks. No cheating once you start moving! Sometimes a bit of shoten no jutsu (climbing to heaven) is even needed. 

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Why Are Kata Shown Differently In The Martial Arts?

If kata are the formal transmission in the martial arts, how can they be different every time? Are they static or evolving based on where your understanding is in the moment?

In our jin ryaku no maki section of training, we have a number of kata to learn, practice, and explore and why would they be shown different if they are supposed to all be done the same way?

Are they?

Perhaps kata need to be explored based on the needs of the moment, and when I was asked this question of "why", I responded with the following considerations.

The aim of a teacher is to give the student a feeling of the transmission of movement, layered with all the techniques in the art, the finesse of how to bring them alive, while at the same time navigating where the student is in the moment with their own personal movement and what is needed to get them to the next level.

I have been shown kata, and based on my own shortcomings of movement, been told to do a certain part one way, or focus on some aspect of the kata as a way to get the movement I am lacking. 

Essentially, practice the kata this way until I'm told otherwise. 

Sometimes this goes for a few months, other times much longer. 

Now imagine we are training in a group, and I'm called up to demonstrate one of these kata- my teacher has told me that until other-wise do the kata in a certain way- so that is what I'm going to do, which may be a bit out of turn with what is the standard shown.

On the opposite side, when a teach is teaching from a kata, the composition of the group needs to be carefully considered. What is the level of experience- in some of the more complex movements, where strong solid ukemi is needed, perhaps chaining some of the throws to a bit easier is warranted because the class in not at that level yet. 

In this way the kata can still be explored, but it is challenging enough to push growth in movement. 

Maybe the instructor is showing it a certain way, to try and focus on a type of movement in the art- to isolate and transmit that movement to the students.

There are many reasons why a kata might be shown differently. 

In class, one should do it, and perform it as shown by the teacher- capture the feeling in that moment, and later after class one can figure out the how and why it was shown that way.

Martial Arts Balance

Martial arts is all about manipulating balance- keeping yours and disrupting your attackers. How can you hope to defend yourself if your own balance is out of whack and you are falling over or tripping all the time? You need to be able to experience and control your balance throughout a wide range of motions on your way to understanding motion. Exercises that work and promote learning balance is the starting point.  

Start off by balancing on one leg and then slowly move on to leaning your upper body forward and backwards while keeping your back straight. Bend your base leg to help compensate- starting out, feel free to use your arms to help balance yourself.

From that try the same exercise with your eyes closed. Without your eyes to compensate for the equilibrium you are going to have to rely on the “feeling” of your leg/body in contact with the earth to adjust your balance. If you go off balance do your best to recover!

Feel comfortable with that? Move on to adding some height, perhaps balancing on a beam or bench. We all have a tendency to rely on our “eyes” for balance and as a martial artist you want to reply on your body feeling for balance as your eyes can deceive you depending on height/light.

Work on some balancing “games” along with stretching.

Types Of Swords In Kenjutsu Practice

Studying the sword isn’t that simple when so many different types of swords are used throughout a variety of books, videos, and direct instruction. Why are some swords made out of wood and used in certain exercises and at other times live steel being used? Let’s take a look at the various training tools used in kenjutsu…
Most of the training is undertaken with what is called a bokken- a wooden sword approximating the size and shape of the sword used in ones tradition. Normally they are carved out of a hard wood like oak, ash, or something exotic like purple heart, etc. so they can stand up to daily practice over the years. Soft wood like pine or compressed wood used by the mass market martial arts swords is a danger- splinters, cracking, and breaking during training can cause serious injury.
It goes without saying that while wooden swords have the appearance of being “safe”, in the mind of the student there is no difference between the wooden sword and a real sword (shinken). One is reminded to remember the sword saint Musashi  who frequently used a wooden sword to the same effect as a steel one.
Used alongside this is a shinai which is a split bamboo sword sometimes covered with leather and cord which allows a greater degree of interaction with a training partner often used in competitions (kendo). Just like the bokken care and diligence has to be maintained to check for splintering and wear on the bamboo.
After a few years of training a student might be instructed to buy a mogito (alloy sword) which has the blade being made out of an alloy type steel that is unsharpened taking a step up in the training from the bokken. Often use to practice drawing cuts this is as close as one can get to a real sword without practicing with one.
Which then leads to a fully sharpened sword known as a shinken (live blade) which one might obtain after a decade of practice. Sometimes used in cutting practice, a real sword is NEVER used in solo or partnered practice as the risk of permanent injury of death is just not worth it. Safety is always the number one focus.

Learning The Martial Arts

Everything in our Bujinkan training is arranged to help one grow into a complete human being & marital artist: tatsujin. Visually some things in a dojo setting make sense, others require a bit of understanding- like how techniques are demonstrated.

What is the learning process?

Usually the head instructor or a junior instructor when asked shows a technique (waza). They may mention the name of it, or give a bit of background, but there is no explanation as to what is going on, which is done for a reason.

As you watch the technique one has to quickly figure it out and be able to replicate it using correct distance, timing, and rhythm. You need to see what is going on and immediate be able to understand the situation. Naturally this is hard, especially if it is the first time seeing the waza or if it is above your rank.

This is done, in order to train in an important skill outside of a dojo setting- the innate ability to see a situation unfolding and immediately know how to control it, and be aware of the movement being used. Trained correctly, you will begin to see patterns of movement, and how “martial arts” move- it’s easy to spot other martial artists based on how they move and use distance and timing.

After watching the waza a few times, one pairs up with a training partner and works on discovering the waza- distance, timing, rhythm, what it is trying to teach, etc. While this is happening the instructor may make corrections, or demonstrate some important points in the moment, but this is your chance in training to get it.

Eventually it will cycle around to being demonstrated again, only this time pointing out what makes it work and why, and how it is effecting both our movement and your training partner’s movement.

And of course at any time if one has a question, one should ask, as many movement opportunities only arise in that moment, so we want to explore them as they dynamically happen.

Which leads to uke and tori- “attacker” and “defender”.
In learning one student performs the martial arts attack, while the other student performs the waza or counter. Switch sides and the other is the attacker/defender.

Uke- the attacker, or the one who is having the waza done to them has a VERY important role. The most obvious is that it needs to be a good solid “attack”, so tori can execute the waza correctly. But, uke is also learning about the waza in a way that tori currently cannot, until it is their turn.

An example from class this past Saturday:

Practicing a throw that makes landing correctly very difficult, the natural reaction to being thrown in this certain way is to put our your arms to break the fall, which is very bad for your arms, it is better to not put out your arms and risk breaking them. But this is the natural reaction to the throw.

When we are uke, and being thrown, we want to concentrate on the feeling of the throw and see how it wants us to take ukemi, feel and see how we want to land and how we don’t want to land.

This example of a waza within a waza is an important hidden point in the training.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

The Most Important Martial Arts Skill

Many years ago, as part of my sempai-kohai interaction I was sent to train with each black belt in the dojo with the following condition: They had one hour to show me what they thought was the most important aspect of the martial arts. The thought-flow was that if I was stuck on my own, with nobody to train with, what are the skills I should be drilling aspects of importance that could keep me advancing till I got back to structured training in the dojo. Each black belt- three of them, shared very different and unique perspectives.

I was recently thinking of this type of uchi-deshi training exercise, and thought to turn it into a blog post here on our training blog...

In our own class training, in every class, we practice a simple form of taisabaki movement. It can be scaled down for beginning students, or scaled up for the appropriate skill level. The training drill looks like this:

You and your training partner stand across from each other with enough distance between both of you, so that your training partner has to take a step or two to reach you. When they are ready, they are going to reach out and grab you.

With correct timing, as this happens, you move off the angle of attack, and put yourself in a position so they can not continue on to grab you.

This teaches a VERY important martial arts skill- when something is coming at you, be it a grab, punch, kick, etc. get out of the way. 

Take yourself off the angle of attack, and using footwork, distance, and timing, put yourself in a place where you can not be attacked again.

Always keep moving.

This also has many advantages on a tacitcal level, in that a moving target (you) is harder to hit, and in always keeping moving, it allows one to use the leverage of the body (taijutsu) for effect, and proper kamae to control the situation.

That would be one of my most important martial arts skills.
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Located in Westchester, New York we are a martial arts training group dedicated to studying the Bujinkan dojo martial arts methods of Dr. Masaaki Hatsumi. As friends we come together to practice the martial arts. New members and visiting martial artists are always welcome, please contact us with any questions, feedback, or inquiries.