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Class Notes – Omote Gyaku 2

August 9, 2016

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

From → bujinkan

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