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Class Notes 30 Nov 2017

Hicho No Kata

1) Basic Form – essentially it is a one-legged squat with a kick added on the way up. A good way to warm up for this is to do a simple squat, then rise up on one leg and kick with the other, alternating the legs. Remember to place the heel of the kicking foot next to the other heel at the end of the kick. This helps you to get the correct distance for the ura shuto that follows.

2) Link to muso dori – After the ura shuto, we can move on to muso dori or other related torite waza. Make sure you use the legs for force generation, instead of depending on arm strength alone. Direct the force at a 90 degree angle to the opponent’s arm to maintain control. This is less of a take-down and more a restraint-control type move.

3) Ashi Barai – You can also do hicho on the outside; that means you stand in a left hicho no kamae and the opponent attacks with a left tsuki. Everything proceeds as before, except that after you shift your weight forward with the ura shuto, you can then shift your weight back with ashi barai. You can also keep your shuto on the opponent’s shoulder to further disrupt his balance, by applying force in the opposite direction of the ashi barai. The ashi barai still works even if your ura shuto is blocked.

4) You can also capture the arm in an arm bar if you go outside. In the rare instance that he steps forward with the other side as you arm bar, do the signature flip of Renyo to bring the arm into ura onikudaki.

5) Ujaku (Gyokko Ryu). This is like hicho no kata, but with jodan uke. If the opponent does not kick, then you kick to control the space. If the opponent kicks use hicho no kamae to deflect the kick (going into keri gaeshi). Use boshiken to control the space and then:

  1. a) step in with hira ichimonji, katate nage – the throw is a tricky one. If you struggle with it check to see your angle and distance to the opponent is correct.
  2. b) gyaku nage
  3. c) a spiraling omote gyaku – this allows us to stretch out the opponent’s arm (makes omote gyaku a lot safer) and yet stay closer to the opponent. If the technique fails change the direction to scoop the arm out and then down (like Iki Chigae from Takagi Yoshin Ryu)

Musings:

The notes for this class is really very late, because I have been busy, sick and had other stuff to type (such as my posts on what kind of instructors to avoid). But I still try to get all these notes out because it helps my students to learn, and helps them to teach should they ever decide to.

It is universally believed that a black belt in most martial arts is able to teach. But having loads of experience both with teaching and with watching others teach, I realize that not all skilled practitioners are able to teach properly. Nor are they always interested in teaching; some just want to keep improving their own abilities rather than have to explain again to noobs where to align the knees for ichimonji no kamae. I believe that is a choice best left to the practitioner.

But for those who have no choice but to teach (for example, they are the only black belts in their own home country) or for those who want to teach, how and what to teach is often a headache. Some martial arts have strong teaching cultures; skilled practitioners are often competent teachers. BJJ is one such art, the various styles of Arnis & Escrima are another. But for the Chinese and Japanese arts often do not have strong teaching cultures. Someone can have skill and yet little ability to transmit that skill to others.

Bujinkan ninjutsu has a very weak teaching culture; reasons include the history of the organization and the people involved. That means finding a good teacher in this art is much harder than finding a good teacher in other arts. So I put up my notes, my lesson plans, to help other teachers. That’s my way of giving back to the international Bujinkan community. Are my notes and lesson plans useful to the rest of the Bujinkan world? Only time will tell!

 

Junjie 俊傑
(Shunketsu)
Bujinkan Ninjutsu
Singapore

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Training Values (3) – Reality

A few years ago, I wrote about my encounter with an instructor who was either dishonest or stupid.

At the moment I wrote that post I was pissed off at the crap he was peddling to his students. Having had a couple of years to cool down, however, I realized that at a practical level, it was harmless. Yes, he taught his students the wrong distancing and dynamics for using a Chinese sabre against a Japanese katana. But frankly, how likely were his students to be attacked by someone wielding a katana? And while they were armed with an unusual Chinese sabre?

Odds are, his students would never ever have to bleed or die for the error he taught them in this area. So I could let that pass, I guess.

But when it comes to unarmed combat or situations that are more likely to occur, it is very important that the instructor keep things real. No matter what style you teach, if you claim to teach anything that has practical application in the real world, you owe your students to teach according to what does happen, not according to your own limited understanding or wishful thinking about how things ought to be in real life.

Or else your students could bleed or die because of what you have taught them…

In my earlier post I talked about instructors with too large an ego, more concerned about face in their own eyes rather than acting with honour. The following satire accurately describes what can happen in such an instructor’s class.

Firstly, he presents himself as an authority on a particular topic, such as self-defense against knife attacks.

Reality – even if his qualification is real, having certification in a martial art does not automatically mean he knows how to apply that art in self-defense. And that applies to everyone, including me. Just because I am a Bujinkan Shidoshi (5th dan) does not mean I know everything there is to know about Bujinkan Taijutsu. It certainly doesn’t mean I am qualified to talk about topics I have not been properly trained in.

Secondly, when his techniques fail, he makes excuses.

In the video, it was, “Like a lot of beginning students, you attacked me wrong”. They might say “Don’t worry, that will never happen in real life”, or blame the student or just simply dismiss any questions as being irrelevant.

For me, I like to keep things real. I appreciate it when people correct my wrong ideas. And that is a value I teach to my students in class. When they train omote gyaku, for example, they know the other hand is a real threat. To help each other get things correct and stay safe, they will point out in training if they are able to hit with the other hand. Students who have been with me long enough know enough modern knife to help us tell if a knife defense we try in class has a chance of working or if we would die instantly at the hands of a trained fighter. They know where the next stab or slash will go after you block the first attack. That is how my students keep things real for each other (and me) and help each other improve.

(By the way, ever since I met the student who was crippled by his teacher through an omote gyaku, I teach my students how to hit someone hard in order to escape the omote gyaku. They work on what I call the epic slap of doom in my class. I also teach them exercises that help increase their resistance to wristlocks. They won’t get total immunity, but they will get that extra split second of time to react, as well as some overall conditioning that reduces the damage they may take.)

Teachers who care more about their ego than about being real hate being corrected. They feel threatened when they receive such feedback. Since in their minds they cannot possibly be wrong, they blame the student or anyone else who gives them such feedback. They can keep coming up with excuses about why they were not in the wrong, when they ought to just stick to teaching things that they already know or grab the opportunity to learn something new.

Thirdly, they seek to punish those who threaten their ego.

In the video, the karate instructor went berserk on his new student. In the Chinese martial arts meet up I described in the previous post, the wannabe king gouged the eyes of the person who exposed his utter lack of skill in grappling, and by that action exposed his own character flaws as well.

Most of the time it isn’t that obvious. More often than not it comes out as cranking on the locks or techniques with more force or speed than is necessary. Or extra enthusiasm in applying pain compliance techniques. It may not be as obvious shown in the video, but it will be there. And it can be hard for the student receiving or the students watching to be sure if the pain inflicted was inherently part of the technique or if the teacher was deliberately going out of the way to punish or intimidate.

That is why such behaviour can continue, at least until someone is obviously injured or crippled.

Big Picture:

When students are injured by the teachers, it could be because of:

1) The teacher having flawed technique, and therefore compensating with brute force;

2) The teacher’s deliberate decision to go further than necessary; OR

3) The student flinches in unexpected ways, in ways that the teacher did not anticipate, and the teacher is unable to retain control.

Out of all the above, only the student flinching in unexpected ways is somewhat excusable. All the other reasons aren’t. So if you are new to the art and you are evaluating an instructor, you need to see if

a) his/her movement is sloppy or coarse, especially when applying locks, throws and the like. Such a person could injure you entirely by accident.

b) he enjoys bullying people or condones bullying behavior in his class (*cough hentai couple *cough)

c) he makes excuses or pushes blame to others when his techniques fail.

Conclusion:

Any instructor in the Bujinkan can easily talk up a storm. Hatsumi Soke has always been a philosophical person, but over the past few years even more so. He talks about very big picture concepts, using puns and homophones to expand or redefine ideas he taught before. He has the skills to back up all his talk. I don’t, so I don’t talk about all that kind of stuff in my class. I am in the Bujinkan to train budo. If I wanted to spend my time talking and hearing others talk, I would have joined the Toastmasters instead.

I wrote these posts on Training Values so that people can look past the certs and the talk of any Bujinkan instructor and decide for themselves who is worth training with. Coarse techniques, a bullying attitude (even shown in dismissive words) or blaming the students are signs that such an instructor isn’t worth training with. Ponder seriously what I said here, OK? It is YOUR health and safety at stake. 

Junjie 俊傑
(Shunketsu)
Bujinkan Ninjutsu
Singapore

 

Training Values (2) – Honour

A few years ago, a teacher in the Singapore Chinese martial arts community organized meet-ups and sparring sessions to raise the profile of his own classes and hopefully get more students. Of course he didn’t explicitly say that, so practitioners from other Chinese arts would respond to the invitations and turn up in the name of Chinese culture and martial brotherhood and the like.

Generally, traditional Chinese arts focused more on striking than on grappling. It’s a sociological and historical thing, Well, this teacher claimed to have been trained in grappling, wrestling and such through one of the Southern styles. During the meet up, he was sparring with someone much lighter than him, with much less muscular strength than him, and yet he was being out-grappled, quite easily. And because this teacher had no skill in dealing with basic grappling situations such as being clinched, he chose instead to gouge the other person’s eyes.

That was a few years ago. Up till now the other guy still wakes up in the morning with blurred vision and eye pain from that vicious eye attack. Quickly rushing him to the hospital wasn’t much help. Bear in mind the motivation for that attack: this teacher did not want to admit he had no skilled options for dealing with someone who wasn’t out to kill him or injure him. The only parts of him that was under threat was his ego and his dreams of building his own martial arts kingdom. But to this wannabe king, that was enough justification for his viciousness. And the other person now has lasting eye injuries because of that.

It’s people like him that make me ashamed to say that I am ethnically Chinese, or that I also train in Chinese martial arts. Can you imagine what would happen if this wannabe king was ever hired by businesses to conduct team building activities for their staff? Any advanced certificate in training and assessment doesn’t matter. With such a person conducting the team building, there is always the chance that a manager will get his/her eyes clawed out if he/she gives any of the staff a lousy annual staff appraisal.

This teacher is a person without honour.

Honour in the Bujinkan

Because the main training system we use in the Bujinkan is the Tori-Uke system, which means we train in scripted situations and responses. honour is very important. It is essential that all the people involved have good reason to trust each other to follow the script. Anyone who significantly deviates from the script might seriously injure the other. And when the scripted technique is inherently dangerous (neck cranks or instantly damaging versions of onikudaki or mushadori) the person being demo-ed on needs to know that he/she is safe because it won’t be done at full speed or force.

It is an open secret that in arts that use the Tori-Uke system for training, there are sick people who enjoy taking the opportunities to inflict pain on other people. Of course that happens in other arts too. But in those other arts, such as Muay Thai, for example, the sicko needs to have a lot more skill in the first place, to set up the situation for inflicting pain and then doing it. In Tori-Uke arts, the set-up is done for them. They are given a bunch of trusting, unsuspecting, unresisting victims. If the sicko ever becomes the teacher (as described in this post (https://shunketsu.wordpress.com/2012/05/11/training-injuries-2/) then he dictates the set-up. So whether you’d be injured that day is a matter of chance and whim. Do you really want to bet your safety on chance and whim?

Of course such people won’t show their true colours straight away, or they’d scare away all their students. But you’ll see hints here and there if you care to look.

Years ago, I visited this class that had one guy paired up with this girl for training. And during the class that guy repeatedly cranked on the locks and all that and had the poor girl tapping away. Believe me, I was so pissed I wanted to change partners to train with him, to see if he dared to try such nonsense with someone more skilled and less forgiving. But a small still voice within my mind told me to just ignore it. So I did. Later on, after the class, I saw the two of them getting all lovey-dovey with each other. Oh, so they are a dating couple? Okay…

My point is not to comment on their relationship or speculate on what they might be doing to each other behind closed doors (“Hentai desu ka?” “Hai, hentai ne”). Whatever they do to each other in private is totally none of my business. But that the guy would do all this to a woman out in the open shows 1) his own tendencies, that he enjoys inflicting pain on others; AND 2) his teacher is totally fine with it. What does that imply about the teacher?

A person without honour is the greatest threat to your safety during training.

Of course, some people will think that such tendencies can be forgiven or ignored if the teacher has real skills. What many people do not understand, however, is that real skills need to be based on reality. Someone without honour may not be grounded in reality. Their ego may not allow them to even consider that they do not know everything there is to know. How will can they teach real skills if that is the case?

I’ll explain more about being grounded in reality in my next post. But for now, if you start seeing hints of what I describe in this post in the training you attend, don’t just brush it off and ignore it. Pay attention. Talk with other instructors, even from other martial arts, and see what they think. In the meantime, train safe, train well. See you at the next class!

 

Junjie 俊傑
(Shunketsu)
Bujinkan Ninjutsu
Singapore

 

Training Values – Safety

If you have attended my classes, you’ll know I am a stickler for details. Why? Because I know that while there is no one definite, correct way of doing a move or technique, there are certainly many wrong ways.

So I help you all work on details especially for the kihon happo. You don’t need to observe all the details in order to make the kihon happo work in real life, those kata actually have a decent margin for error. That’s great because under actual combat stress your technique level will drop. You will most likely miss out important details in your movement. Training seriously in class gives you a better chance to retain more details when your life and your safety depends on them.

The details are also important, because when you get the details correct in class, you are able to get the kata to work without having to muscle your way through the movements. The correct distance, angle, kamae and taijutsu help you to get results AND keep your training partner safe from injury at the same time. As I said before in an old blog post:

In the end, I’d just like to say: if you want to get Bujinkan type of results (certain things happening to your opponents), either you get them by skill or by brute force. Whatever you lack in skill, you WILL compensate for with brute force. So which will you choose? If you choose brute force then

1. Don’t call what you do martial arts, it’s not;
2. Don’t teach it to other people as martial arts, that would be false advertising;
3. Don’t come train with me unless you want to learn things right; I want to practice martial arts, not brawling!

from https://shunketsu.wordpress.com/2011/03/20/wrenching-wrists-defending-drills/

Not saying that muscling your way through techniques is always wrong. In real combat, sometimes that is all you are able to do in the moment. It is the very last resort. In class, your last resort should NEVER be your first reaction. In class, you should be concentrating on getting things correct rather than getting in a cheap shot at your training partner’s expense.

And as an instructor, it is MY responsibility to watch out for the safety of the students who honour me with their time and attention. It is wrong for instructors to neglect safety issues during the class, putting students at risk of injury from each other. It is even more wrong for instructors themselves to injure a student to prove a point, just to feed their egos or because they think they already know everything there is to know about Hatsumi Soke’s Budo.

As I said before in another previous blog post:

I am totally committed to the safety of the people who attend my class and those I am training with. I’d rather look like an incompetent than use injuries to intimidate trusting students. And I expect the same thing from my students. I expect them to watch out for the safety of their training partners.

https://shunketsu.wordpress.com/2012/05/11/training-injuries-2/

But you students have a responsibility too. It is your responsibility to watch out for the safety of your training partner. That also includes getting me to help fix whatever you people may be getting wrong. If your training partner is doing anything risky to anyone, it is your responsibility to bring it up to either the instructor or the sempai (senior students).

And if the instructor himself is the one putting students at risk of injury, it is your responsibility to leave. Don’t risk getting yourself crippled at the hands of an instructor who derives a sick pleasure from inflicting pain on others or who is too incompetent  to make techniques work without muscling through with brute force. You do not owe anything to the instructor. If any instructor (including me, of course) isn’t adding value to your life, either go find another one or even switch to another martial art if necessary. Because you truly benefit from studying martial arts only if your instructor is a person of honour.

What does being a person of honour mean? I’ll tell you more in my next post. In the meantime, train safe, train well. See you at the next class!

 

Junjie 俊傑
(Shunketsu)
Bujinkan Ninjutsu
Singapore

Class Notes 23 Nov 2017

Jumonji no Kata

1) Basic Form

My thoughts on the basic form – https://shunketsu.wordpress.com/2012/03/08/class-notes-jumonji/

2) Jumonji Drill from Goju Ryu Karate

This is a partnered drill that I got from a Goju Ryu practitioner via his youtube channel, but for some weird reason I cannot find that video again. Important: like our Ku No Kata drill, if you start on the outside you remain on the outside with your uke and boshiken. And vice versa.

This drill gets us used to tactile cues. At that kind of range you discover that depending on sight is too slow. Using touch is faster and a more accurate way to read the opponent’s energy and force. That is also connected to the next point, which is…

3) Choking off the rear punch

I was taught to raise my boshiken arm towards the opponent’s face, metsubushi . At this kind of range, if the opponent starts his next punch, the metsubushi movement can be launched at his other shoulder. Or it can be a fudoken/shakoken towards the centre of his chest to jolt him back and choke the next punch. Which move works for you depends largely on your personal physique, your level of kamae and your distancing. It’s best to get enough experience in this during class, rather than experiment when you really need it…

4) Jumonji (happo geri henka)

I am not sure which ryu-ha this is from, but it came out in my copy of the Chi Ryaku No Maki. It is jodan uke, ken kudaki (the same spot) then two boshikens, alternate hands, to the ribs. Aim for the same spot also. So instead of doing one block and one reply strike, we are doing two of each. The key point is the rotation of the hips to power all the movements; make sure you do not twist the hips so far that your spine is twisted out of kamae.

5 Hosoku (Koto Ryu) – The opponent comes in with two jodan tsuki. Block them with the usual offline-stepping, and after the second one rock forward to boshiken into the hip/upper thigh.

We looked at this one here as a henka of Jumonji, since for the second punch the jodan uke and boshiken are done by the same arm. And that is the core of Jumonji, is it not? Note also that the boshiken jams up the third punch if done correctly. So this confuses the opponent, especially if your boshiken is done casually.

6) Danshi (Gyokko Ryu)

Maybe I am slow, but only recently did I realize this kata is essentially doing Jumonji against a grab and punch. The kick and the migi te gyaku jime follow-up are interesting but the Jumonji movement is what saves you in the first place.

Big Picture Thoughts:

I know most people do not think Jumonji no Kata is meant for infighting. That is OK with me. Just make sure, however, that you know that infighting exists and you recognize how dangerous it is. Some people think they can use Jumonji to bait an attack and deal with it from there. I won’t try that myself, because if my opponent is an infighter, he will launch his attack only when he is close enough to attack me from all the 4 basic angles (upper left, upper right, lower left, lower right). He will not start from far away and give you enough time to react; he starts from close in. That gives him:

1) speed – a basic jab is fast, if the opponent is trained in Jeet Kune Do his straight lead is fast AND powerful. You cannot deal with this unless you think like an infighter, that anything that crosses into your airspace will be shot down or punished.

2) options – before his brain can even consciously note that his first movement has failed his body has already started on the second, and along a different angle. If you by any chance negate the second his third movement has begun before even he can plan it, much less you.

Why do I put in so much thought into using Bujinkan taijutsu to deal with infighting? Because many practitioners I have met do not fully grasp the threat, and because I realized that we have kata that can be used effectively thus. One of the most basic concepts from Gyokko Ryu is banpen fugyo (萬変不鷔) which is literally “ten thousand changes, no surprise”. The idea behind it is adaptability; the principles taught in Gyokko Ryu kata are meant to be universal. They are applicable to the battlefield, modern combat, combat sports and even weapons.

If that is so, then truly understanding Gyokko Ryu kata means I am able to apply them in a wide range of situations. Of course I have barely scratched the surface in my understanding of Gyokko Ryu. I have not reached the level when I can use the teachings of that ryuha in such wide-ranging ways. But knowing the potential is there drives me to keep seeking deeper understanding and higher levels of skill in the same kata. My training then has more momentum than that of people who think they already understand the kata and thus have to seek out new kata to entertain themselves and their students.

See you at the next class!

Junjie 俊傑
(Shunketsu)
Bujinkan Ninjutsu
Singapore

 

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.

Setto

Koyoku

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.

Conclusion

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
(Shunketsu)
Bujinkan Ninjutsu
Singapore

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.

Conclusion

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
(Shunketsu)
Bujinkan Ninjutsu
Singapore