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Bujinkan Footwork

I remember my very first introduction to the Filipino martial arts. At one point, a very skilled practitioner was explaining to me, “We have two types of stepping. This here,” (step-step-step) “is the defensive triangle. And this here,” (step-step-step) “is the offensive triangle. Everything else we do is built on top of this two types of footwork.”

When everything is simplified to such a point and spelled out so clearly, it is easy for a beginner to pick it up, get the hang of it and immediately begin using it. My first reaction was, “there is absolutely no way I could do that with Bujinkan footwork. There are just too many variables; I cannot possibly codify the footwork in such a clear, organized and usable manner that still accurately represents Hatsumi Sensei’s Budo, right?”

But my mind just could not let go of this issue. I found myself scribbling notes and drawing crappy stick figures and footwork charts on bus and train trips. Insights and ideas came, I guess because I really wanted them. And from that point on, isolating and explaining the footwork behind every technique became an established part of how I teach.

Now I am laying out the basics, the foundations of Bujinkan footwork. And more importantly, when to use such footwork. If you have been training in this art long enough, what I share here may not be anything new or earthshaking, but I hope it is at least clearly organized…

1) Straight-stepping

From Shizen no Kamae, you step directly back, and then forward again. This is the footwork shown in chi no kata, used in Ganseki Nage & Hicho no Kata and comes out every time we step forward with a fudoken tsuki in class.

This is the most foundational of the footwork, because it teaches us to use our hips and legs to power our movement. It is easy to do all kinds of funky stepping and float around in class, but can your stepping support whole body force generation and delivery? If not, it is not usable for us in this art.

2) 45 degree back-step (Naname ushiro)

Stepping back 45 degrees is the next step to practice. We use this in our sanshin no kata with the jodan uke movement.

3) Switch-stepping

If you are standing with your right side forward and weight on the right leg, you do the switch-step by bringing your left foot next to your right then bringing your right foot back to 180 degrees behind you. Make sure your hips and shoulders are coordinated with your legs and your back heel does not go beyond 180 degrees.

We use this with onikudaki and in our sanshin no kata when we move in to strike (especially with the shuto). This allows us to use our hips and legs for force generation even when in close range.

4) Triangle-step

We step back at an approximately 22.5 degree angle with one leg, draw the base of the triangle with the other, and then put the foot of the first leg where we were standing. Hips turn accordingly, of course. We use this in our omote gyaku and ura gyaku, and is a safer way to get out of infighting if we discover that the opponent is too strong for us there.

A variation comes out in the kata Kappi (Koto Ryu). You ura shuto on one side, and assuming it fails you draw your back foot next to your front and ura shuto him with your other hand as you angle yourself 45 degrees away. If the second shuto works you stay there and finish him off; if not you jump back along the 45 degree line you just established. Then throw shuriken and run.

5) Naname Mae Ura Waki Uchi (stepping forward 45 degrees)

This is shown in Hatsumi Sensei’s first book on hanbo. It can be used as a set-up for Koshi Ori or Tsuki Iri when done on the other side. It can also be used in unarmed movement as well, even to set up cross punches that are difficult for the opponents to block. Watch out for your spinal alignment through out. That is what makes full-powered cross punches challenging to master.

6) Arc-step (Kote Uchi Omote/Ura)

This is used in our Musha Dori to move into place. It also comes out in the hanbo book mentioned earlier. and if you stare at the diagrams in that book long enough, you realize it is a position for a full-powered hook punch too. Some people use this for omote shuto, like doing sui no kata but skipping the jodan uke and just striking first. Can be done, but watch your foot positioning and hip movement. Otherwise you are just developing bad habits.

7) Yoko Aruki

To show you how to apply this, I use these two kata as examples.



Yoko Aruki becomes useful when you are in close, you need to step in further, but your opponent still has a decent level of kamae. In Setto, for example, if the opponent has grabbed your sleeve, your strike to his arm might not be enough to break his grip, and his  grab can still jam your boshiken from landing properly. Yoko Aruki in for the boshiken.

Normal stepping could get you thrown or tackled to the ground, or the opponent could kick you in the groin. Yoko Aruki allows you to use one side to maintain pressure on the opponent as you close in, whether with the boshiken or for Ganseki Nage.


is there more I have missed? Possible. Until I know all the kata of the 6 ryu Hatsumi Soke has taught, there is always the chance I missed something important. So I still keep my eyes and ears open, and my mind alert.

But in the meantime, if we want to be skilled at Hatsumi Sensei’s Budo, it is important to master these foundational methods of stepping. Now that I have spelled them out for you, you can work on them in your solo practice. I hope my students eventually surpass my level of skill in them. That way this art will grow stronger and stronger as time goes by, right?

Enjoy your training!


Junjie 俊傑
Bujinkan Ninjutsu


Class Notes 16 Nov 2017

Ichimonji no Kata

Every time I revisit the kihon (basics) I try to add more depth for my long term students to study. Sometimes the insights are prepared (sometimes in lesson plans done weeks ahead) and sometimes the good stuff comes from following the inspiration of a spur-of-the-moment comment or movement.

This lesson was one of the spur-of-the-moment things. I wanted to work on how to deal with people blocking omote shuto, but ended up working more on how to block the omote shuto better in the first place.

Confessions of an #ADHDteacher

1) Timing of the step

You know by now I do not believe in stepping first then moving the arm for jodan uke. You get the best results by timing them together. Once you have the coordination in place, work on moving only when the opponent has committed himself, instead of the instant he starts moving.

We started working on this with uke feeding us a standard o tsuki (lunge punch). This makes it easier for us to begin catching the correct timing. We will refine our grasp of this later on, when we get better!

2) Kyojitsu in the jodan uke

For senior students: after the jodan uke, move the hand back towards the centre. Not a large movement, just a small one. It just has to be big enough to disturb the opponent subtly, to give his mind something to pay attention to. The more you can flood his perceptions, the less he is able to actually handle what you do.

I showed you the timing by using my punching arm to nudge your jodan uke. This not only makes the timing clearer for my students, this also simultaneously wires into my brain the tactile and visual cues I need to defend against a jumonji style/range strike.

Side Point

In the tori-uke training method, we often see the uke mentally drift during training, because they think “this is my turn to lose”. Tori also knows that this is not realistic, therefore will usually freeze when they need to apply the techniques under some form of pressure. Many instructors only know to say “Uke is training too!” but don’t give any details or specifics after that.

Me using my punching arm to nudge the jodan uke is an example of uke getting training also. The more of these little tips I can learn or create, the more I overcome the inherent problems of the tori-uke system.

3) Using doko no kamae to block the omote shuto

Blocking the omote shuto is not as easy as one might think. Without thinking hard I know of two of our kihon we can flow into if the omote shuto is blocked. Therefore it behooves us to train our shuto defense in a way that keeps us safer.

One such way is to position our rear arm in a doko no kamae (putting that hand on our head for more structure if necessary) and to rotate a split second before the omote shuto lands. The rotation is what I suspect Hatsumi Soke means when he talks about Chihayaburu (千早振) and done correctly will cause the shuto to just bounce off our arms.

Basically we are forming a crab shell against the opponent’s attack.

Adopting this during training gives us two huge benefits.

i) Tori is able to train using taijutsu to properly generate and apply force via the omote shuto. Being able to effectively generate force is not something to take for granted. Train, and use the training to discover where you are making mistakes in your force generation. Because if you mess up even in class, what are the odds of you getting it correct when your life depends on it?

ii) Uke does not develop the unnatural habit of just letting the omote shuto land. Attacks along the omote shuto vector could also include a swinging arm (a la my epic slap of doom) or even a knife slash to the throat. In my opinion, it is foolish to train without keeping such possibilities in mind. Critics of the Tori-Uke training method have said that at least half the time the student is training to lose. Not guarding your neck and throat against shuto is not training to lose, it is training to die at the hands of an armed opponent…

4) Handling a crabby opponent

The crab shell is remarkable versatile; when done with a spinning movement to deflect incoming strikes, it can deflect MANY types of attacks. Some people make it a core part of their strategy: they do double crabs when you try to strike them. Or they use it to protect their heads as they close the distance for a wrestling/groundfighting take-down.

So if the opponent does a double crab, close the distance, pry the shell aside (switch from omote shuto to ura shuto) and strike with elbows. You need to get very close to the opponent to do this effectively, but when your opponent goes double crab he is not able to attack you during that moment. Make good use of that opportunity.

Moral of the story: the double crab isn’t a safe place to stay for long. Natural human instinct is to cower and hope the enemy eventually gets tired of bashing you. Remember, hope is NOT a strategy! Therefore we have to train and train diligently to overcome the natural human instincts that will not help us survive in a real life-or-death situation.

5) Enlarging your crab shell

In my class, we don’t look at techniques as only techniques per se. Training to block an omote shuto, for example, also inculcates in you some defensive response against arms wildly swinging down at you along the omote shuto vector.

If the opponent bashes you 2-4 times and realizes he cannot get through your crab shell, he may just change his attack from jodan (upper level) to gedan (lower level). At the arm-swing range it is too close to do a full gedan uke, so we practiced just dropping our weight to use the elbow to block his arm. After that you can follow up with your own shuto (more blessed to give than to receive, I always say).

6) Yui Gyaku (Takagi Yoshin Ryu)

Some people take this kata as a defense against omote shuto. The key points are the same as how we did it in the lesson on 02 Nov 2017, just that if the omote shuto is launched from very close (and the opponent did not need to step in for it) or if he drew his right leg back when you did ko uchi gari, attack his left leg with uchi mata.


My sensei used to do lessons like that. One question about a kata from the Tenchijin Ryaku No Maki would lead to an entire lesson that he structured logically, progressively, on the fly. Part of it was due to natural talent in teaching; he was always passionate about teaching in general, and that led to him trying to apply his pedagogical beliefs to teaching Hatsumi Soke’s Budo. But a huge part of it came from all the training he did. New insights and connections do not happen in a vacuum. To get to this point he needed to attend a lot of lessons and training, as well as ponder the material even outside of class.

My training and exposure has been nowhere as wide as that of my sensei, but I am starting to get glimpses of how he saw taijutsu. That kind of insight comes out during my teaching because I am a hardcore teacher; I look at movement (whether mine or from other people) and ask how it can improve my movement or how I teach my students. I also have been extremely fortunate to have had good teachers in every martial art I have trained in, and I learn teaching as well as martial arts from them too.

It also takes deliberate focus. Because I started out wanting to be the best teacher of the kihon happo I could be, I end up receiving more teaching insights for those than for other areas of Bujinkan Taijutsu. If I want to be good at teaching other aspects it will of course take me serious work. But maybe not as much as what I have put in so far, since the kihon happo are supposed to be the foundations of all budo, right?

See you at the next class!

Junjie 俊傑
Bujinkan Ninjutsu

Class Notes 09 Nov 2017

Ku No Kata (空の型)


1) Ku No Kata (basic form) – Opponent attacks with zenpo geri, we use gedan uke, shakoken at face level and then sokuyaku geri (足躍蹴)

It was not my initial intention, but I realized the shakoken at face level converts very easily to blocking ura shuto attacks and elbow strikes at the same level, since we already have the habit of blocking at the elbow. Such habits are essential for infighting (fighting at the jumonji range).

A few years ago I thought our taijutsu was unsuitable for fighting at that specific range, so we had to either stay outside of it or dive past it into grappling range. Now after a lot more training I realized I am not totally clueless at infighting. I would still get shredded by a wing chun practitioner if I stay at that range, but I won’t die immediately. Which is my end goal, buying time to shift the odds to my favour…

That is conditional, however, on doing the sanshin and kihon happo in the form I had been taught ages ago by my sensei. As I said before, in a henka-based martial art, the basic form has to be one that allows for the most adaptation. If I ever said that to my sensei he’d probably just say “Whatever…”, but the fact is, the basic form he taught me from the get-go is so far the form that has allowed for the most adaptation. And I have seen many versions ever since.

Yup, all these years teaching, add on years cross training and studying other arts, and I still think my sensei is cool…

2) Partnered Drill

Remember, whoever blocks on the inside remains on the inside for the duration of the drill, and whoever blocks on the outside remains on the outside. If there are any changes, that means someone somewhere cut corners on the full movement. Happens. Just continue on and get back to the full movements as soon as you can.

The physical proximity makes us all uncomfortable doing this drill. Even then, do not cheat. Follow the rhythm of the drill. Match your partner’s one move with one move of your own; don’t take two or three moves to his one move. That is an unrealistic rhythm, and your body will freeze in real combat because it knows the wrong rhythms you trained in won’t work in real life.

3) Tan Geki (擔撃 ) from Koto Ryu

If you’ve been with me awhile, you’ll know I taught this before. Key point this round: if you give the opponent three things to look at, there is a momentary brain freeze. This depends, of course, on your three things having enough substance to draw his attention. If not, a trained fighter will just carry on anyway, and continue bashing you. And that kinda hurts…

3) Shi Haku (指拍) from Koto Ryu

Muay Thai fighters like to launch their knee strikes from too close. People instinctively flinch back into the correct distance for the knee strike to cause maximum damage. Kyojitsu practiced in other arts, fascinating.

We can get a similar effect with this kata by pulling back the rear hand at the same time we raise the leg. We don’t compromise our structure or the long term health of our lower backs, but the contrast implied by the hand moving back and the knee moving forward is usually enough to trigger the gedan uke from the opponent. And we continue from there.

New Discovery!

Our follow-up gedan tsuki can be dealt with by a Wing Chun technique known as bong sao (膀手). It is a difficult technique to get correct, so you can be sure anyone who can pull it off properly (with kamae and taijutsu) has had serious Wing Chun training. I currently have no idea of how to handle that yet. So just don’t try Shi Haku if the opponent gives you any hint of knowing Wing Chun

4) Gekkan (月肝) from Shinden Fudo Ryu

We looked at this recently in our Ka No Kata lesson, because I wanted you to see how ura shuto can set up other moves. And some bright spark mentioned in that class, “Isn’t this Ku No Kata?” Yes, it is.

I don’t like my students standing around doing nothing when a kick comes up their groin direction. Very bad habit, that is training to lose. So in class, we practiced using the nearest knee to deflect the groin kick. Only a small movement necessary.

For Gekkan we often need the kick to kuzushi the opponent enough to go into O Gyaku. So if he deflects the kick and you know you cannot make O Gyaku work from there, carry on to use Osoto Gake instead. You’ll find that it is even more effective after the opponent has deflected the groin kick.

What if the person launching Gekkan against us is at an angle where we cannot use a simple knee movement to deflect the groin kick? Then the opponent is at an angle we can use all the other keri gaeshi (kick counters). Bear all that in mind.


One of the key principles to developing reliable skill is repetition. This undeniable. However, if we zone out while doing the reps, we lose some of the benefits from them. The purpose of all these henka is therefore to keep you all alert even as you clock in the reps. Your left brain is monitoring all the new details and changes, while your right brain is being drilled in the same movements while adapting to the shifting distance and angles.

Whole brain engagement.

The more engaged you are, the faster you learn. It is my job as a teacher to make engagement as easy as possible. That’s why I plan so much for my lessons!


Junjie 俊傑
Bujinkan Ninjutsu

Class Notes 02 Nov 2017

Fu No Kata

Because of the beginners that just recently joined my class, I decided to revisit the sanshin no kata and kihon happo again. The challenge is to ensure that every student, senior or beginner, gets appropriate material to work on. Every student should be exposed to AND allowed to work on material that gives them some challenge. And they should be able to rise up to that level of challenge, at least by the end of the lesson.

Easy? Of course not! I won’t say that I succeed in doing that most of the time, but I know I have a better chance of getting there if I at least try…


1) Fu No Kata (basic form) – Opponent attacks with gedan tsuki, we do gedan uke and gedan boshiken to attack the opponent’s balance.

Very Important: this kata is NOT for combat application. I already showed you all in class why this version is not practical for combat. It is a teaching tool, isolating this use of boshiken so that you can study it better.

2) Fu No Kata (two boshiken) – instead of stepping in with a gedan boshiken, we use a jodan boshiken instead. When the opponent blocks this we do gedan boshiken with the other hand.

Again, the goal is attacking the opponent’s balance.

3) Huko – against a front kick, we move either to the outside of the kick with gedan uke and go down on one knee to boshiken somewhere important, or we move to the outside of the kick with gedan uke, use a fudoken in the same style as the gedan boshiken in our basic form, and then kick his supporting leg with our rear leg.

This is essentially Fu No Kata used on a front kick rather than a gedan tsuki.

4) Yui Gyaku (Takagi Yoshin Ryu) – against a right Jodan Tsuki, we jodan uke with our left, attack opponent’s face with either fudoken or shakoken, attack his nearest leg with ko uchi gari. Remember to tap his guarding arm with your right hand first. This will trigger him to block your next strike, and then you can proceed to sweep the leg.

Notice that this is quite similar to Fu No Kata done with a jodan boshiken, except that we use a ko uchi gari rather than yet another boshiken.

Important note:

I showed two variations of this kata, both of which made the ko uchi gari easier to do. Both variations involved changing the angle we approach the opponent. The basic form angles exactly in between both variations. Why did I teach that instead of one of the two variations?

Hatsumi Soke’s Bujinkan Taijutsu is a henka-based martial art. It places less emphasis on the mastery of a perfect, idealized version of a kata or technique, and more emphasis on the practitioner being able to adapt the principles of the techniques to an ever changing and shifting combat situation. Knowing that, I taught the version that gives the most room for adaptation and change.

If I taught one of the henka first, it is harder for my students to see the other henka as related to the same technique. My basic form allowed them to understand both possibilities and go into either one if they thought it was appropriate.

Generally, I will teach a kihon kata (basic form) version that has more elements rather than less, because it is easier to leave stuff out of a technique in combat rather than to add stuff in. It should have a larger range of motion, as full a range as possible, because it is easier to contract a movement in combat rather than to expand it. The applications should be general rather than specific, because it is easier to move from the general to specific rather than vice versa.

The problem with this approach is that it takes a much longer time to give a student results. That is just how things are. If people want usable results within a shorter frame of time, Bujinkan Ninjutsu is just not suitable for them. They should go take 6-9 months of Krav Maga lessons instead. Bujinkan Ninjutsu is more an art for art’s sake, for people who have the interest to sustain them for a few years of study.

By the way, I can afford to tell potential students that. I don’t have crazy dojo rentals to cover, nor do I teach for the sake of paying for my sons’ education. I can afford to be honest to people, to tell them what this art truly involves, rather than selling them pipe dreams for the sake of grabbing their hard-earned money. Some day I might just do a post calling out marketing and advertising practices I disagree with. We see how that goes?


I have been pondering the issue of transmission a lot recently. My responsibility as a martial arts instructor is not only to create skilled practitioners but also to raise up competent teachers. That is why I am going back to posting my class notes (so my students can use them to teach if necessary) and why I explain more of my thought process and planning here in this post.

Hopefully this will inspire and help other Bujinkan teachers to teach Hatsumi Soke’s Taijutsu the best we know to!


Junjie 俊傑
Bujinkan Ninjutsu


Lessons From Chi No Kata

Traditionally, Asian martial arts were more taught through doing than through talking. Not all important details were explained. That could be because the teacher himself did not know or fully understand them, or because they were deliberately kept secret to protect the secrets of the school. Especially within the Chinese arena, disciples killing their teachers after they felt they had learned the secrets they wanted did happen. Some teachers felt the need to preserve secrets for their own safety.

But in this day and age, when martial arts are more a matter of personal enrichment rather than life and death, we can afford to be a little more forthcoming with our secrets to success. And one of my core secrets to building up beginners in good taijutsu is through teaching Chi No Kata (from the Sanshin No Kata). That one exercise holds many lessons and points I want my students to watch out for from day one in their Bujinkan training.

Chi No Kata

a) Begin in Shizen no Kamae

Kamae: spine held straight, with

1) neck muscles holding the head erect – hard to maintain in this era when many people drop their heads forward to stare at their mobile phones;

2) tailbone of the spine tucked in – this takes deliberate effort. I discovered early that if I do not observe this detail, my kamae is unable to support force generation. All the power generated from my hips and legs do not carry over to the arms, but stay stuck around my lower back. This is bad if you do intensive training in unarmed combat. It is even worse if you train extensively with heavier weapons such as katana or the rokushako bo. This one detail is vital for me staying free from injury when I train more.

3) weight on the heels – This is a kamae issue that affects our taijutsu (coordinated movement) later on. When our weight is on our heels rather than on the balls of our feet, we are more rooted. And we are more able to change directions in our stepping without telegraphing our intent to the opponent.

b) Step back into Shoshin no Kamae

Taijutsu: never mind all kinds of fancy, funky footwork. If you cannot step back properly, anything more complicated will mess you up even more. For beginners, it is essential that they learn how to use their legs and hips to power their movement. Therefore they need to be taught full weight transfer and full hip rotation. I teach that through Chi no Kata.

That means they do Shoshin no Kamae with their heels in a straight line back from their starting point. Therefore their hips would have rotated 90 degrees from their Shizen no Kamae. The weight is more on the back leg than the front: they should be able to lift up the front leg (go into Hicho no Kamae) without any further weight shifting

Feel the burn in your thigh muscles yet? Many people dislike the feeling and try to avoid it, until I tell them that burn is the potential energy for their strikes and other movements. It’s a good thing!

Important point: arms are to end movement by the time the back knee has ended. Many people have their back knee complete its movement first, and the arm moves into place a little bit later. Such a lag is bad both for your kamae (structure) and your taijutsu (coordination). When we tie together the front arm/hand with the back knee/foot, that coordination is then what we bring into all our other movements.

Kamae: how far apart are the feet? In order to be able to move freely into Hicho no Kamae at any time, the feet cannot be too wide apart. Neither can they be too near together, or else you do not get the full range of motion possible from the weight transfer, and you will not get the full power generation the legs are able to contribute.

The front arm – you want to maintain structure in two directions: your hand reaching out as far as possible, and your elbow sinking down as much as possible. When you maintain the structure in these two directions, there will come a point when the arm kind of locks into place, a position where you compromise between the two. That locking into place is the feeling of correct kamae for that arm. That is the structure you want in that arm at the moment you strike a target.

c) Step forward with the San-shitan Ken

Taijutsu turn the front foot, bend the front knee and straighten the back leg, all at once. This brings the weight from the back leg to the front leg in a firm, decisive movement. This is part 1 of force generation, the weight transfer and the beginning of the hip rotation.

Kamae: keep the tailbone tucked in. Many forget this detail here. You can’t really see the difference in movement yet, but it becomes very obvious when they move on to learn the sokuyaku geri later on. If the tailbone is not tucked in the hips will lag behind when they try to kick.

Taijutsu: Stepping forward: bring the back leg past the front in a straight line, keeping the bent knee bent, tailbone tucked in. Then reach out to put the heel of the moving leg in front as far as possible without shifting the supporting leg. Do not lean your torso or head forward at this point (common mistake).

By this point your hip rotation should be three-quarters complete. Your striking arm then should be three-quarters towards the end point (force generation part 2).

Kamae: the weight being still on the supporting leg and reaching out with the heel means you can go into Hicho no Kamae (change your mind about stepping forward or add in a kick) at this point still. It also means you will not step forward into too wide a stance for the next stage.

Taijutsu: Finally, straighten the supporting leg to transfer the weight to the new front leg and complete the rest of the arm movement. The striking hand should arrive at the target at the same time the back knee is fully straightened and your front knee has bent into place (force generation part 3, movement complete). The hips would have rotated 180 degrees from the previous position. Anything less cheats you of the force generation, anything more messes up your kamae.

Kamae: tailbone is still tucked in. Do not lean your torso or head forward. Point the front knee to the front. Hold the intent of hitting your target with your front knee.


A lot of details? Of course! These are important points for beginners to watch out for. The kamae and taijutsu taught here must be trained until they are habit, that we do all of them even while our conscious minds are occupied with other details from whatever we are training at the moment. Yes, it will take some time to get the hang of all these details. Because they are important, I think it best that beginners start working on them from day one.

When we isolate all these details and focus on them in Chi no Kata, the beginner then has some hope of watching out for them when we do anything more complicated. And I myself have to keep looking out for them too. The details from this kata and the others from the Sanshin are about refining the control over our own body movement. I regularly get sloppy in this and need to work on this all over again!

Marc MacYoung has written before about the hallway of mastery in martial arts. This post is my intro to one of the doors within the Bujinkan Taijutsu hallway. There are of course many other doors to explore. When should you move on from this door and begin exploring the others? Ask your teacher!

Junjie 俊傑
Bujinkan Ninjutsu



Menu of Resistance

Menu of Resistance

It’s very encouraging. I see that more and more Bujinkan practitioners are growing in their understanding of the Tori-Uke method of training. It used to be that many people thought it meant compliant training, just being jelly so that your partner doesn’t need to get the technique correct in every aspect before it works. Cooperation does not necessarily mean compliance, and these days teachers are encouraging their students to give each other increasing levels of resistance so that we grow in our understanding of how to make things work.

And that is great!

However, we still have to give some thought and guidelines into this. The last thing we need is to have a class descend into chaos, or students injuring each other (or themselves) because they don’t actually have a clue as to what they are doing. So for the reference of other teachers, here is a menu of options a student can use to raise the level of resistance we train to deal with.

  1. Maintain kamae – if the partner does not deliberately disrupt our structure before attempting the technique, then we just keep our kamae on. Many techniques will fail just at this point alone.
  2. Use the other arm – if the partner tries a technique on one arm but stays in range of the other, use the other hand to tap him on the shoulder. This is a good reminder to get the distance and angling correct.
  3. Step – if you are pulled forward or pushed back too strongly, step to regain your balance. But please step appropriately. Don’t step into a position where you can get our arm broken within seconds.
  4. Changing angles – sometimes it just takes a small change in angle to not only make the technique useless but also begin your own counter.
  5. Antagonistic force – if you pull on one arm, your partner tries to pull that arm back. If you push him backward he steps forward. That’s the general idea. Please don’t try this one, or ANY of these ideas, for that matter, unless you really know what you are doing or your teacher has instructed you to do so.

IMPORTANT – what keeps this from becoming a free-for-all? Providing for your training partner just ONE type of resistance, just one move, just one factor, for him or her to deal with. And keep it the same until the teacher tells you to move on or until your partner understands how to deal with things.

Be especially wary of stepping or changing angles. Do so only with the teacher’s permission. Don’t get creative, you may just break your own arm, or you may just keep your partner from getting the whole point of the teacher’s teaching.

Example – Sometime back I attended a class that was working on Renyo, among other kata. One of the key points was flipping the gyaku, going from ura gyaku to omote gyaku. The teacher isolated that aspect and had us all working on it.

  • Tori ura gyaku, Uke steps to neutralize it;
  • Tori flips to omote gyaku, Uke steps a different way to neutralize it.
  • Tori then flips back to ura gyaku, and the whole cycle repeats.

I was paired up with a judoka who would rather do judo than what was taught (why did he turn up for the class then? I don’t really know). Instead of stepping to deal with the ura gyaku, he quickly retracted the grabbing hand and grabbed with the other. He could step to deal with omote gyaku easily, but he just kept changing his grabbing hand whenever I did ura gyaku.

To be honest, I was getting seriously pissed off, almost to the point of using an ura shuto instead. I felt as if he was just trying to embarrass me in front of someone else’s class. I could have wrenched out his shoulder with a vicious onikudaki (start the technique, let him step and twist the wrong way, and just when he thinks he has escaped, I use a Shinden Fudo Ryu approach to destroy the shoulder), but that would have made ME the aggressor, guilty of deliberately causing hurt. And it wasn’t justified, yet. Thank God I managed to keep my temper!

In the end I went for a big onikudaki to turn his elbow one direction, and when he twisted his elbow up in a huge movement to escape my movement, I captured that into a Te Makura throw. It seems that most judoka aren’t really that familiar with that one. That ended that round, we swapped roles and I kept my resistance to the gyaku to just stepping, as per the teacher’s instructions.

Yes, I am fifth dan and STILL follow a teacher’s instructions. Why? Because, maybe, just maybe, I don’t know everything there is to know? Or even if I did, I should be following instructions anyway to help my partner train, right?

The important point – the teacher is in charge of introducing all these different forms of resistance. If you want to try any of these out, check with your teacher first.

For us teachers, we need to always be aware that every one of our kihon waza leads to a number of predictable responses, and has certain inherent vulnerabilities. If we want our students to be capable of providing intelligent resistance, we have to look out for these ourselves and teach them to our students. Sometimes resistance is about making use of mistakes, such as an ura shuto done at the wrong distance. Sometimes resistance comes from countering, such as a cross punch when people step in with an omote shuto.

The point is that we need to be aware of the core of each technique. For me, omote gyaku is about moving the opponent’s wrist away from the hip. Onikudaki and musha dori are about drawing a circle with the opponent’s elbow, and there are ways to both do that better and to counter it. When you take this approach to everything you teach, you are the one actively bringing up the menu of resistance for your students. And that way they get to understand any specific waza at a deeper level.

If you want a more specific example, take a look at how I explained ganseki nage in this older blog post. This is something you can apply to other basic techniques and see what you come up with. Of course, always be aware of everyone’s safety, right? Enjoy!

Junjie 俊傑
Bujinkan Ninjutsu


Settling Things Chinese Style

A friend of mine (let’s call him A) used to be involved with the Chinese martial arts tournaments in Singapore, both as a spectator and participant. One day, during a break in a tournament, he was commenting privately to his friend that the students of another teacher did not possess 六合劲 (Six Harmonies Force). By the standards of Chinese martial arts, Six Harmonies Force is supposed to be the hallmark of proper martial arts skill, especially for the internal schools. And since those students from the other teacher were supposed to be practicing an internal martial art, that was as good as saying they were clueless and poorly taught.

It just happened, however, that A’s comments were overheard by other students of the same teacher (they were catching a smoke nearby at the parking lot, if I remember the story correctly). They reported the matter to their teacher, who pretty much went ballistic over the insult and confronted A’s teacher. A’s teacher at that time had phenomenal levels of 功力 (martial power). For those of us unfamiliar with that concept, 功力 is not just plain old vanilla muscular strength. It speaks of a fighter’s ability to generate and deliver force to the opponent, to shed off or nullify strikes from the opponent, to retain balance even when grappled and resistance to joint locks and such.

(By the way, 功力 is a concept that many Bujinkan practitioners are not familiar with. I’ve seen high dan grades switch over to other martial arts when they encountered practitioners with real 功力, because those people just totally bowled them over. Our locks don’t work, their strikes are much more powerful than they are supposed to be and they usually laugh at us when we try to throw them. One thing you need to understand though: 功力 allows a person to do things “wrong” and still get results. You can study under people with high levels of 功力, but if they do not bring you through their journey of cultivating it you can end up practicing flawed technique without the necessary power to back it up… )

The other teacher was no slouch either – he came from a rough province in China and had the brawling experience (and scars) that came with it. What do you think happened next – a death match between two teachers? A duel between my friend A and the other teacher’s top student, to see who had the true understanding of 六合劲? A low-key but persistent feud between the students of the two schools, with hostile glares during tournaments and brawls in the streets?

No. The meeting between the two teachers was made up of A’s teacher listening to the other teacher rant about A’s rudeness while A’s teacher kept offering Chinese tea to him as a sign of apology. What were you expecting, the duels and drama you see in Hong Kong Kung-fu movies???

Martial Arts in Community

The incident I described was not an exception to how disputes were settled in China during the old days. Very seldom will disagreements between teachers lead to all out fights between the teachers, duels between the students or brawling in the streets. If you stop and think about it, it totally makes sense. Teachers don’t want to die or be crippled battling another teacher. They don’t want their students dying or getting crippled battling students from another school (that means the teachers themselves have less paying customers). And the community frowns on feuds between schools leading to brawls on the streets, because that depletes the community’s limited supply of young, able-bodied men. In case we have forgotten, even within the last one hundred years communities still needed able-bodied young men for farming and for defending the community from bandits, marauders and foreign invaders. World War II is still firmly in the Chinese collective memory…

Sometimes of course things go haywire. A newcomer sometimes arrives out of nowhere and starts challenging the teachers in the town, in a desperate bid to establish himself as a teacher. We call it 踢场, the Chinese equivalent of 道場荒らし(challenge matches between dojos). When that happens, the teachers would send someone of about the same rank and status to deal with the upstart (like the newly arrived Wong Jack Man sent to face off Bruce Lee back in San Francisco).

Even if the upstart wins, the community will usually turn upon him. The upstart is an unpredictable element, while the established teachers in town have already shown themselves a part of the community, so to speak. So the town will just ignore that new “teacher” and leave him alone. Think about it, how long can a martial arts school survive if all the people in that town boycott that school and send their kids to the other teachers instead?

But normally the furthest things will go will be a match between the two top students of opposing schools. And that was it. We Chinese are by nature an orderly people, and the difficulty of day-to-day survival over the past one hundred years (famine, battles between warlord factions, the Japanese invasion and all that) and made it such that we would seek cooperation rather than conflict, for the sake of the community. And this shows even in how martial arts schools relate with each other within the Chinese communities around the world.

Is it the best way of doing things? I’m ethnically Chinese, I am too involved with this culture to be able to judge it without bias. But I can talk about it, and explain some of the thinking behind it, so that people from different cultures can actually understand why we do what we do, and so that you can sort of sense if some non-Chinese teaching a kung-fu class is telling you BS about how things were done back in China.


Junjie 俊傑
Bujinkan Ninjutsu