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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


Wisdom from Traditions

The reason why I look smarter than I actually am – I read material from people who are actually smarter than I am. One such person is Dan Djurdjevic. Here is one of the posts that really resonates with me, on why he studies the traditional martial arts. Go give his post a read and come back when you’re done.

For the record, I train in Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu (which comprises of traditions that go back for centuries) as well as Traditional Yang-style Taiji (with elements of Xingyi and Bagua thrown in). These arts are traditional arts and include many elements that are not immediately practical to modern day living (when was the last time you had to use a spear in combat? Exactly).

Because they are traditional arts and I want to learn them as such, I spend time training in things a modern martial artist doesn’t pay attention to. And because my attention is dispersed among so many things (traditional weapons, striking, grappling and such) I end up taking a lot more time to get good at any particular area. Odds are, a karateka with a quarter of my training time can probably beat me in a striking match. *shrug. That’s the trade-off I accept for training in a broad-based collection of skills. And the reason I am drawn to such training is very brilliantly articulated by Mr Djurdjevic’s post in the above link.

He refers to traditional martial arts as “a knowledge and skill database progressively developed over at least 1,000 (probably more like 2-4,000 years) unbroken years – years when this knowledge was actually relied upon by ordinary people in everyday life.”

In this day and age, people usually don’t get into that many fights, or kill that many other people, to be able to recreate the same kind of knowledge traditional arts are supposed to convey. The martial traditions of the Bujinkan were used in the battlefields of Japan during the many years of civil war and military conflict that made up Japanese history. The official history of Taiji may not include being used as a battlefield art, but since the founder of Yang-style Taiji had a teaching stint with the royal guards of that era (besides extensive dueling experience), he was very likely to have been exposed to genuine weapon work and skill (such as the sabre and the spear), and then be able to fit in those weapons to the Taiji paradigm and OS (Operating System).

Conversely, I am skeptical of modern creations, people who train in a little bit of this and a little bit of that, put them all together in their own hybrid style, and then call it a martial art. How many people did they kill to test those skills, I wonder? If they don’t get things horribly wrong, they might end up re-inventing the wheel, calling it some hyped-up macho name, and rake in loads of money from impatient and gullible people who want a quick fix. Sometimes I am tempted to do the same thing myself, but a conscience is such an inconvenient thing… *sigh

Of course I am not saying that every traditional martial art, or every teacher of such arts is good. I am fully aware of the various problems that might occur within traditional martial arts.

First and foremost, a martial art can be limited. For example, a civilian martial art may not be that developed in its understanding of battlefield weapons, a battlefield art may probably not be suitable for dealing with a civilian-style ambush attack. A traditional art may be developed within the confines of a particular historical period (certain geographical environment, certain clothing and attire) and may not be suitable for a different time frame. An art developed for close-range assassination and ambush might not do just as well in a regular dueling match.

Or certain arts may just be overhyped. I’m not going to name any particular art here (I still enjoy living without crippling injuries), but if you take a trainee from even just 100 years back, subject him to hours and hours of physical conditioning every day for months or years, he will get good at fighting even if the system he studies is somewhat flawed. Strength and aggression play a HUGE part in fighting successfully, and that is all fine and dandy until you teach the same techniques to people who cannot commit pretty much their entire lives to training, for at least a few years. Suddenly flaws in technical understanding, or areas where strength and speed are used to patch up gaps in skill, start coming up.

It gets worse when a student without the crazy levels of conditioning thinks he or she can make the same flawed techniques work…

When looking at Chinese martial arts, by the way, you also need to consider this bit of history. Since the time China started modernization attempts in the 1800’s, the introduction of Western military technology meant that many martial artists were no longer wanted for military work or as security guards. Some became street performers and travelled the country putting up shows for the general (uneducated) populace. If you study a Chinese art that was used for this, be aware that there may be elements in it that are NOT martial but meant only to impress the peasants into forking out a few more coins. Your teacher isn’t going to admit that of course…

So you can see, I have issues with martial arts used for performing. Don’t get me wrong, I can appreciate a good show like anybody else (I am a musician) but once you start mixing martial arts with performances things can get confused. There was a guy who used clip from a Shaw Brothers kung fu movie to support his line of argument on how to train for real fighting. I facepalmed myself so hard I nearly injured myself!


The core of traditional martial arts, whether Japanese or Chinese, lies in transmission. The hard-earned wisdom, insights and techniques have to be passed successfully to following generations of practitioners, or else the benefits of studying that particular art are diminished or lost.  This transmission also includes teaching methodology; hopefully someone in the earlier generations of that art was a proper teacher, who could implement into the system the most optimal ways of teaching students the techniques and principles of the art.

Because I am a teacher by nature, I value the teaching methodology as much as the actual martial techniques themselves. In my opinion, it will take at least 3 generations of transmission before the system can be quite sure it has worked out the best, most ideal ways to teach the next generation of practitioners.

But life happens. Things can go wrong. Sometimes the teaching is cut short: the student leaves the teacher or the teacher passes away before transmission is complete. The student may leave because he thinks he knows everything there is to know (Dunning-Kruger effect) or the teacher may have deliberately left out important details because he didn’t trust the student yet. Sometimes the teacher leaves out material or exercises that he doesn’t need (for example, it doesn’t fit his body type) but other students would, and because his successor did not come across such material he could not teach it to his own students.

Yup, so tradition wasn’t a guarantee of quality…

I’ve rambled quite long enough for this post. Over some time I hope to put up what I know about the ways martial artists from China and Japan tried to deal with the problems of transmission. They handled them quite differently, and looking at it will show quite clearly the differences between Chinese and Japanese martial arts.

Junjie 俊傑
Bujinkan Ninjutsu

Class Notes – Omote Gyaku 2

We spent the first quarter of this year doing muto dori (unarmed vs sword), after which we went on to look at striking. The striking quarter was a mixed bag, switching between the basics (sanshin no kata and kosshi kihon sanpo) and other stuff. It was a matter of who turned up – if beginners came we would go in depth into the basics, and if only the advanced practitioners were there we did things like looping drills or various ways to seize the initiative, to attack (and win).

By the way, I wonder how many martial arts instructors can demo impressive defence techniques against their own students because they never taught their students to attack properly?

In this quarter we went back to grappling basics again. We started off with ganseki nage and then ura gyaku, as I see them as fundamentally the same technique done at different distances. Those lessons culminated in the session recorded in my Facebook photo album. And by now we have had two lessons on omote gyaku.

So I read and thought through my previous blog posts on omote gyaku, especially these.


What has remained the same from those days?

I still see omote gyaku as essentially taking the wrist away from the hip. I am still not going for what I call the cheap shot, immediately blasting body weight or force into the uke’s wrist and getting a cheap power trip over inflicting pain upon a cooperative training partner. If I am willing to settle for that, there are many vicious tricks and short cuts that can be used.

The problems with the cheap shot approach are:

  1. That doesn’t work very well against people who have trained themselves to not be hurt by omote gyaku or kote gaeshi (the similar looking technique from aikido). I had one such person in my first class, and now I have yet another who is well on the way to getting to that point.
  2. That approach also does not deal with the possibility that the opponent is holding a knife or some other hidden weapons in the other hand. We looked into all this in the quarter we did knife defences, when we trained against some of the sneakier knife attacks used to ambush people. When you realize how easy it is to conceal a knife to attack someone, you realize that your only hope is to ALWAYS move as if your opponent has a knife. No point dramatically dumping an opponent on the ground if he leaves his knife sticking out of your kidneys…
  3. Most importantly, it increases the danger of injuring your training partners in class. I’ve seen it happen so often; when someone can’t get the omote gyaku to work they just do it harder and faster. The kind of force generated in a traditional omote gyaku don’t just break the wrist, they can shatter the bones and rip apart tendons and ligaments. The last thing I want is to have people crippling one another by accident. Of course people who cripple their training partners on purpose are ultra-bastards and don’t deserve any respect or mercy from me…

Question – ever since I did those posts, what has changed?

  • I’ve grown in my understanding of the kukan.

I teach omote gyaku with what I call triangle stepping. After a couple of training sessions with the good people from the Bujinkan Shingin Dojo I learned that when I draw the base of the triangle (as I call it) I create a kind of vacuum, something like a whirlpool current that sucks the opponent into falling there. If you imagine doing that step vigorously while standing in knee-deep water, you’ll be able to see the direction of the force quite clearly.

Imagining that you are wading in knee-deep water also encourages you to step with your legs driven by your hips also, by the way.

By the way, I recently discover that drawing the base of the triangle is what boxers call “crossing the T”. Yes, I’ve been watching videos of boxing matches recently. I am trying to learn how boxers see movement, there is a lot to learn from there!

  • I’ve grown in my understanding of kamae.

We brought out the training knives again, and used them first to check our basic kata. If it is correct the opponent does not have the opportunity to stab or cut you with the knife during the technique. Then we did ken nagare (opponent does the lunging stab and we omote gyaku the knife hand). This time we emphasized pushing the knife towards the opponent’s face; he will naturally shove his knife away from his own face. We then take that movement and re-direct it into helping him omote gyaku himself.

We really saw the importance of kamae however when we moved on using omote gyaku against low slashes to the abs and high stabs to the throat (the arm travels in a scooping movement, with the opponent’s right hand stabbing towards the right side of your throat, the palm of his hand is facing upwards) . The natural reaction to those attacks is to block those from as far off as possible, with the blocking arm stiff and fully extended to keep the knife far away. That, however, allows the knifer to immediately switch his attack to something else once you block his first one.

But if you maintain good kamae with the blocking arm, you’ll be able to follow his re-directed attack and keep it from hurting you. That is something that most people don’t know about good kamae: it allows you to adapt and still maintain structure. In the Chinese internal martial arts, that is called peng jin , and it is the first and most basic energy to be cultivated in taiji quan training. When it is expressed in the arms it keeps your opponent from being able to drag down your guard and strike your face/chest, or from just smashing through your blocking arms with a full body strike that blasts you into next week. When it comes out in your strikes, every time you hit your opponent he feels as if he ran himself against a set spear.

What’s the difference between proper kamae and just being totally stiff? Proper kamae allows you to adapt, to flow with your opponent’s changes of direction. This is vital should you ever encounter someone skilled in modern knife work, because once you block a knife attack in one direction it will immediately change to another.

Proper kamae, especially in your arms, gives you a better chance of dealing with that.


I was watching a teaching video from a Shifu from China. In it he explained that the various routines (kata) he taught were insufficient for combat readiness. There was SOME correlation between the kata (to use our terminology) and combat, but there were vital differences also. He wanted his students to use the kata for their intended purpose, to train up correct coordinated movement (what the Chinese call Six Harmonies Power).

The kata he was talking about were the solo drills ubiquitous to Chinese martial arts. We do partnered drills most of the time. Those help us develop timing and distancing, but are not that great for training kamae and taijutsu (which to me refers to coordinated body movement). But like the drills the Shifu taught, they still do not give us the entire picture of martial arts. There is some correlation but also vital differences too.

And that is what I want to say here. Our work on omote gyaku (and any other technique, kata or waza) in class teach us principles such as maintaining kamae, flowing with your opponent’s energy changes, maintaining an advantageous distance and such. If you think what we do in class is the be-all and end-all, that drilling omote gyaku (or any other technique) in class thousands of reps means you can pull it off during actual combat, you missed the whole point. Our training gives us options, and the more options you have the better you can adapt to whatever happens (whatever goes wrong) in actual combat.

Ok, enough for now. See you at training!

Junjie 俊傑
Bujinkan Ninjutsu

Photos from 14th July 2016

I’ve been remiss in writing my class notes this year, I know. 😛

To make up for it, I’ve put up an album on Facebook, with pics taken during my 14th July 2016 class. You can check it out here. Notice that I’ve put the pics in sequence, and the pic descriptions actually work as class notes for my guys. 🙂

The photographs were taken by Victor Draven Lee, of D & A Photography. His website is

I hope you enjoy the pics! 🙂

Junjie 俊傑
Bujinkan Ninjutsu


2015 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here's an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,300 times in 2015. If it were a cable car, it would take about 22 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Hanbo Enrichment

The past few weeks I have been teaching stick drills to a couple of neighbours.

It all started when one of them (who has a son in the same school as my boys) was complaining about pain and numbness in her arms and wrist. I taught her a few simple arm exercises, and after a week of them she didn’t need to go for surgery anymore. Some surgeon somewhere is probably hating my guts right now…

The results got her hooked and she kept asking me for even more exercises. The grandmother of another kid going to the same school joined in, and after I taught them the various rehab-type exercises I knew I started teaching them those that involved the jo (4-foot staff). And now in the mornings they meet me to work on stick spinning and striking drills.

I’m already used to weird stares from my other neighbours by now, haven’t you guessed?

The end goal of what I was teaching them is rehab, joint mobility and some coordination, so I wasn’t being that fussy about the details that would give them effective fighting skills with the staff. Even then they still ended up having lots of fun working through the frustration of making the same mistakes over and over again. We laugh it off and keep going. Just keep going.

The main thought: the finer points of coordination are quite hard to grasp for people who do not have previous martial arts training. They would, as I said, make the same mistakes over and over again. I’ll tell them that the left foot steps forward with the left hand, and they would end up with the left foot and RIGHT hand moving, while muttering “Left hand with left foot”. Then turn to me and ask “Is this correct?”

You can imagine how frustrating it was for them!

Why did they keep turning up then? Because 1) it is interesting; AND 2) it worked their brains more than their usual lifestyle would. Moving and coordinating a stick between your left and right arms, then coordinating that with footwork gives you a mental workout you won’t get with Sudoku. And this is certainly much healthier than sitting down behind the computer or jabbing the iPad screen for hours on end.

When I was taught all those stick drills, they were for studying historical Japanese combat. Any health or brain benefits were incidental; my sensei never made mention of those. But after these few weeks of playing with sticks every weekday morning and explaining stuff to my neighbours, I realized that the sticks really helped enrich their lives. It’s quite humbling to consider the sheer value of what my sensei taught years ago. These ladies will probably never have to use sticks to defend themselves (fingers crossed), but this traditional Japanese art has already made their lives better. As a compulsive teacher, this is pretty much what I live for!

Junjie 俊傑
Bujinkan Ninjutsu