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My Teaching Philosophy

February 20, 2011

There is a myriad of teaching methods, concepts and methodologies in the Bujinkan. Some might even work… The problem is, skill in performing Bujinkan techniques and having an encyclopedic knowledge of the syllabus does NOT necessarily mean that person is an effective teacher of Hatsumi Soke‘s art.

This means that you cannot look at the person’s belt rank as an indication of teaching ability. Some people are just better at executing the techniques than transmitting skill to others!

So that people who attend my classes have a good idea of what to expect, I’ve listed the elements of my teaching philosophy below. To me, teaching Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu is about delicately balancing:

1)      Repetition

There is no way to escape this. To get a technique into muscle memory you have to drill it over and over and over again. For me I believe a thousand reps is about the time when a movement begins to be ingrained into your body’s habits. Muay Thai fighters training in Thailand can do 500-1000 reps a day of techniques and combos.  If you want that same kind of don’t-mess-with-me standard in Budo Taijutsu, you better be prepared to put in that same amount of work!

The reps build you up in two areas: precision (being able to kick exactly the same spot on your opponent every time, for example) and smoothness. Did you ever see someone who can step into the right place smoothly, without hesitation or jerkiness? He/she has put in the reps…

2)      Isolation

You can start teaching the beginners Omote Gyaku, which needs them to get:

  • Correct footwork (for angling)
  • Correct distance (to stay safe and have the most leverage)
  • Correct kamae (or they have no balance and power)
  • Correct technique (the grab and twist)

… in order to work. But experience tells me that a total newbie trying to get 4 things right at the same time usually gets nothing right. If you want them to have some results in the first lesson, you have to isolate each factor, let the newbie work on it until he or she has got it, and then add on another. Geniuses can work on a few things at the same time and get them right, but how many of the students you get are going to be geniuses?

3)      Tangible

Blitz magazine once interviewed Roy Ron (of the Genbukan) and asked him about the self-defence/fighting applications of Genbukan. His reply was that at the very first lesson the beginner learns how to block, punch and kick, and those are what the newbie can use immediately if necessary.

I read that article in passing years ago, and it still sticks in my mind. At the end of the first few lessons, what does the newbie have under his/her belt? Any technique or moves that he or she can immediately use? Or will the newbie still be struggling to do Omote Gyaku as he gets clouted repeatedly in the face?

4)      Progressiveness

Once you agree with the first three values, making things progressive is a logical conclusion. Start with the simple stuff, isolate and drill it if necessary, and then add on more stuff. Returning to Omote Gyaku as an example, I was taught it with the angling footwork which keeps me safer, takes the opponent’s balance and buys me time to execute the grab/twist/lock. That means that if the newbies have some practice in the footwork, kamae and distancing, they are ready to put those factors together and add on the grab/twist/lock.

So what can you teach that would be both tangible (useful) and lay the groundwork for moving on to the more complex techniques? I won’t tell, why give away all my teaching secrets for free? If you are a teacher, go figure it out yourself!

5)      Principles

So far, all that I have shared above is common sense. It’s obvious to anyone with any teaching ability. But when we move on to principles, that’s when things get more complicated. That’s when teaching Bujinkan moves from a science to an art.

Here’s my working definition of principles – what stays constant when other things change. For example, the Ka No Kata has a set of factors, such as kamae, angling, distance and movements. What happens when you change one factor and keep the rest the same? What does that do to the recipient’s body? That’s how you teach principles.

In order to teach principles, you need to be aware of them in the first place. Then you have to know what other Bujinkan techniques share the same principles, or at least a majority of principles in common. This allows you to show the same principles with different illustrations, so that your students have the opportunity for their bodies to learn the various principles of movement embodied in Budo Taijutsu.


My teaching philosophy is catered towards getting the average beginner skilled enough in the basics as quickly as possible. There is no way to escape the need for hard work, but focused effort directed by clear teaching will save the student loads of wasted time and bring about the best results possible for that student within that same period of time.

I don’t believe in throwing students into the deep end of the pool, letting them sink or swim by themselves, and letting them struggle unnecessarily just for the sake of proving something to you or because you derive a perverse pleasure in other people’s frustrations. This type of ‘teaching’ only works in cheesy martial arts movies!

In the end, my attitude of catering to the average beginner in my teaching, rather than just the most talented, springs from what I believe the ancient warrior clans would do. Would they save all their best training for the best students, devil take the hindmost? Or would they see every member of their clan as important, and work like nuts to train up every person born to their clan, so that everyone can contribute to the clan’s survival and prosperity?


Junjie (Shunketsu)

From → bujinkan

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