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Lessons From Chi No Kata

November 14, 2017

Traditionally, Asian martial arts were more taught through doing than through talking. Not all important details were explained. That could be because the teacher himself did not know or fully understand them, or because they were deliberately kept secret to protect the secrets of the school. Especially within the Chinese arena, disciples killing their teachers after they felt they had learned the secrets they wanted did happen. Some teachers felt the need to preserve secrets for their own safety.

But in this day and age, when martial arts are more a matter of personal enrichment rather than life and death, we can afford to be a little more forthcoming with our secrets to success. And one of my core secrets to building up beginners in good taijutsu is through teaching Chi No Kata (from the Sanshin No Kata). That one exercise holds many lessons and points I want my students to watch out for from day one in their Bujinkan training.

Chi No Kata

a) Begin in Shizen no Kamae

Kamae: spine held straight, with

1) neck muscles holding the head erect – hard to maintain in this era when many people drop their heads forward to stare at their mobile phones;

2) tailbone of the spine tucked in – this takes deliberate effort. I discovered early that if I do not observe this detail, my kamae is unable to support force generation. All the power generated from my hips and legs do not carry over to the arms, but stay stuck around my lower back. This is bad if you do intensive training in unarmed combat. It is even worse if you train extensively with heavier weapons such as katana or the rokushako bo. This one detail is vital for me staying free from injury when I train more.

3) weight on the heels – This is a kamae issue that affects our taijutsu (coordinated movement) later on. When our weight is on our heels rather than on the balls of our feet, we are more rooted. And we are more able to change directions in our stepping without telegraphing our intent to the opponent.

b) Step back into Shoshin no Kamae

Taijutsu: never mind all kinds of fancy, funky footwork. If you cannot step back properly, anything more complicated will mess you up even more. For beginners, it is essential that they learn how to use their legs and hips to power their movement. Therefore they need to be taught full weight transfer and full hip rotation. I teach that through Chi no Kata.

That means they do Shoshin no Kamae with their heels in a straight line back from their starting point. Therefore their hips would have rotated 90 degrees from their Shizen no Kamae. The weight is more on the back leg than the front: they should be able to lift up the front leg (go into Hicho no Kamae) without any further weight shifting

Feel the burn in your thigh muscles yet? Many people dislike the feeling and try to avoid it, until I tell them that burn is the potential energy for their strikes and other movements. It’s a good thing!

Important point: arms are to end movement by the time the back knee has ended. Many people have their back knee complete its movement first, and the arm moves into place a little bit later. Such a lag is bad both for your kamae (structure) and your taijutsu (coordination). When we tie together the front arm/hand with the back knee/foot, that coordination is then what we bring into all our other movements.

Kamae: how far apart are the feet? In order to be able to move freely into Hicho no Kamae at any time, the feet cannot be too wide apart. Neither can they be too near together, or else you do not get the full range of motion possible from the weight transfer, and you will not get the full power generation the legs are able to contribute.

The front arm – you want to maintain structure in two directions: your hand reaching out as far as possible, and your elbow sinking down as much as possible. When you maintain the structure in these two directions, there will come a point when the arm kind of locks into place, a position where you compromise between the two. That locking into place is the feeling of correct kamae for that arm. That is the structure you want in that arm at the moment you strike a target.

c) Step forward with the San-shitan Ken

Taijutsu turn the front foot, bend the front knee and straighten the back leg, all at once. This brings the weight from the back leg to the front leg in a firm, decisive movement. This is part 1 of force generation, the weight transfer and the beginning of the hip rotation.

Kamae: keep the tailbone tucked in. Many forget this detail here. You can’t really see the difference in movement yet, but it becomes very obvious when they move on to learn the sokuyaku geri later on. If the tailbone is not tucked in the hips will lag behind when they try to kick.

Taijutsu: Stepping forward: bring the back leg past the front in a straight line, keeping the bent knee bent, tailbone tucked in. Then reach out to put the heel of the moving leg in front as far as possible without shifting the supporting leg. Do not lean your torso or head forward at this point (common mistake).

By this point your hip rotation should be three-quarters complete. Your striking arm then should be three-quarters towards the end point (force generation part 2).

Kamae: the weight being still on the supporting leg and reaching out with the heel means you can go into Hicho no Kamae (change your mind about stepping forward or add in a kick) at this point still. It also means you will not step forward into too wide a stance for the next stage.

Taijutsu: Finally, straighten the supporting leg to transfer the weight to the new front leg and complete the rest of the arm movement. The striking hand should arrive at the target at the same time the back knee is fully straightened and your front knee has bent into place (force generation part 3, movement complete). The hips would have rotated 180 degrees from the previous position. Anything less cheats you of the force generation, anything more messes up your kamae.

Kamae: tailbone is still tucked in. Do not lean your torso or head forward. Point the front knee to the front. Hold the intent of hitting your target with your front knee.


A lot of details? Of course! These are important points for beginners to watch out for. The kamae and taijutsu taught here must be trained until they are habit, that we do all of them even while our conscious minds are occupied with other details from whatever we are training at the moment. Yes, it will take some time to get the hang of all these details. Because they are important, I think it best that beginners start working on them from day one.

When we isolate all these details and focus on them in Chi no Kata, the beginner then has some hope of watching out for them when we do anything more complicated. And I myself have to keep looking out for them too. The details from this kata and the others from the Sanshin are about refining the control over our own body movement. I regularly get sloppy in this and need to work on this all over again!

Marc MacYoung has written before about the hallway of mastery in martial arts. This post is my intro to one of the doors within the Bujinkan Taijutsu hallway. There are of course many other doors to explore. When should you move on from this door and begin exploring the others? Ask your teacher!

Junjie 俊傑
Bujinkan Ninjutsu




From → bujinkan

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