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Class Musings – Body Integration

February 13, 2012

I’ve been remiss in posting my class notes. Why? Because it’s taking a while for me to figure out what’s actually happening during the teaching. Hopefully this post will atone for my lateness! 🙂

After the last session on ganseki nage, I looped back to sanshin no kata again. That’s how I ground my students in the basics and give them time to digest taijutsu concepts. When we went back to chi no kata and added ura gyaku and onikudaki after that, I found that they didn’t do that well in it. And I realized why; moving in with the san-shitan ken is supposed to set up the next move (whether lock, throw or strikes), but because my students tended not to move in boldly, they struggled to make it work.

When you aren’t bold in your entry, one common mistake is to keep your lead foot further behind and over-extend the striking arm. This leads to two problems:

  1. the strike has no power, because it is only an arm movement, not backed up by the rest of the body;
  2. the knee is put in an unnatural position, extended past the toes of the foot. This puts undue stress on the knee joint, not healthy in the long run.

All these were  symptoms of a deeper problem, a lack of integration within the body.

Body Integration

I first heard this concept expressed by Ben Cole. He said that one core concept of Bujinkan Taijutsu is that nothing moves unless everything moves, and nothing stops unless everything stops. The same concept also comes out in Chinese Internal Martial Arts too, you can use it to see if a Tai Chi practitioner on Youtube is good or not. Just slow down the playback to a third of its original speed and see if the whole body moves and stops together!

Now the Chinese take on this concept is very deep, and I’m not sure I can grasp even a tenth of the implications of it, much less express it. But for MY take of it, it also includes the body backing up any strike, lock or throw, to supply the necessary power and force, and to effectively deliver that force into the opponent.

So about two weeks ago, I realized that THIS was what was bugging me, what was missing in my students’ taijutsu. When I look at the lunge punch executed by the other blackbelts from Justyn, there are little differences between them, but one thing they have in common: the body backs up the punch. (I hope the same also applies to me…) I don’t see this at all in the kyu grades, even amongst my own students.

That bugs me!

So in the most recent lesson, I started to fix it, using the following elements:

1) Full-force San-shitan Ken Strikes.

Nothing like getting the students to really whack a target to expose to them any weaknesses in their structure and kamae. I held out a boxing glove a little ahead of my solar plexus and had the students swing their arms up to hit it at the end of chi no kata. By controlling the distance I coaxed out of them a more correct extention of the arm and the turning of the hip to back up the strike.

(keep watching out for the front knee, beginners tend to let that knee wobble at the end of the strike)

2) Shakoken Wall Exercise

After that I had the students isolate and focus on the body movement in the second part of the lunge punch. They started with their hands on the wall (shako ken position) as if they had just completed the punch, weight on the front leg. They then shifted their weight to the rear leg (ichimonji-style) , and then rocked forward again to hit the wall with the shako ken.

Some students have a slight twist in their bodies when they shift their weight back. They then twist the other way as they hit the wall. Eliminate this – it can cause the punch to glance off when it hits the target. Some may rise up when they pull back, it will lead to their punches having a upward or downward momentum. Ideally it should go straight forward into the target. Watch out also for a hyper-extended elbow, that can severely damage the arm when hitting a target full-force.

When you put these two elements together, that will make the lunge punch very much cleaner and more integrated. And that means more force with less effort. And that is ALWAYS good… 🙂

How About the Block?

Another move that really needs body integration to back it up is the jodan uke, the humble high-level block. If you want it to just keep yourself from getting hit, any deflection is good enough. But if you want it to disrupt your opponent’s balance, so that you can confidently move in and shuto, you will need body integration.

Breaking it down, it means:

1) Your hand drops down just a little bit as your back foot moves offline (with a falling motion). If you take a deliberate step offline, it’s slower and you leave your head where it can be hit just that little bit longer. If your hand moves before your foot, that’s even worse, now it can’t even guard your face from the opponent’s attack! And if your hand moves after your foot has dropped you away, it’s too late…

2) Your hand hits your opponent’s punching arm just as your back foot lands in place and your lead foot slides into kamae again. Your feet should be aligned in the usual ichimonji alignment, or you body will be choked up and your mobility lost.

It sounds complex in writing, but in actuality it is quite simple – you want your feet and your blocking hand to get into kamae at the same time. If you do, you’ll find that it takes very little force to nudge your opponent off-balance. So there’s no need to do a crazy, large wind-up before the block, it messes with your balance, slows you down and does NOT protect you. It doesn’t necessarily make your hit on the opponent’s arm any more effective either.


Of course it will take ages to get all these things right. But that’s the fun that comes with studying an art as deep as Hatsumi Soke’s Bujinkan Taijutsu. Hopefully, with all these scaffolding exercises and drills in place my students can get good at this art a little faster than I!

俊傑 (Shunketsu)


From → bujinkan

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