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Bujinkan Footwork

December 13, 2017

I remember my very first introduction to the Filipino martial arts. At one point, a very skilled practitioner was explaining to me, “We have two types of stepping. This here,” (step-step-step) “is the defensive triangle. And this here,” (step-step-step) “is the offensive triangle. Everything else we do is built on top of this two types of footwork.”

When everything is simplified to such a point and spelled out so clearly, it is easy for a beginner to pick it up, get the hang of it and immediately begin using it. My first reaction was, “there is absolutely no way I could do that with Bujinkan footwork. There are just too many variables; I cannot possibly codify the footwork in such a clear, organized and usable manner that still accurately represents Hatsumi Sensei’s Budo, right?”

But my mind just could not let go of this issue. I found myself scribbling notes and drawing crappy stick figures and footwork charts on bus and train trips. Insights and ideas came, I guess because I really wanted them. And from that point on, isolating and explaining the footwork behind every technique became an established part of how I teach.

Now I am laying out the basics, the foundations of Bujinkan footwork. And more importantly, when to use such footwork. If you have been training in this art long enough, what I share here may not be anything new or earthshaking, but I hope it is at least clearly organized…

1) Straight-stepping

From Shizen no Kamae, you step directly back, and then forward again. This is the footwork shown in chi no kata, used in Ganseki Nage & Hicho no Kata and comes out every time we step forward with a fudoken tsuki in class.

This is the most foundational of the footwork, because it teaches us to use our hips and legs to power our movement. It is easy to do all kinds of funky stepping and float around in class, but can your stepping support whole body force generation and delivery? If not, it is not usable for us in this art.

2) 45 degree back-step (Naname ushiro)

Stepping back 45 degrees is the next step to practice. We use this in our sanshin no kata with the jodan uke movement.

3) Switch-stepping

If you are standing with your right side forward and weight on the right leg, you do the switch-step by bringing your left foot next to your right then bringing your right foot back to 180 degrees behind you. Make sure your hips and shoulders are coordinated with your legs and your back heel does not go beyond 180 degrees.

We use this with onikudaki and in our sanshin no kata when we move in to strike (especially with the shuto). This allows us to use our hips and legs for force generation even when in close range.

4) Triangle-step

We step back at an approximately 22.5 degree angle with one leg, draw the base of the triangle with the other, and then put the foot of the first leg where we were standing. Hips turn accordingly, of course. We use this in our omote gyaku and ura gyaku, and is a safer way to get out of infighting if we discover that the opponent is too strong for us there.

A variation comes out in the kata Kappi (Koto Ryu). You ura shuto on one side, and assuming it fails you draw your back foot next to your front and ura shuto him with your other hand as you angle yourself 45 degrees away. If the second shuto works you stay there and finish him off; if not you jump back along the 45 degree line you just established. Then throw shuriken and run.

5) Naname Mae Ura Waki Uchi (stepping forward 45 degrees)

This is shown in Hatsumi Sensei’s first book on hanbo. It can be used as a set-up for Koshi Ori or Tsuki Iri when done on the other side. It can also be used in unarmed movement as well, even to set up cross punches that are difficult for the opponents to block. Watch out for your spinal alignment through out. That is what makes full-powered cross punches challenging to master.

6) Arc-step (Kote Uchi Omote/Ura)

This is used in our Musha Dori to move into place. It also comes out in the hanbo book mentioned earlier. and if you stare at the diagrams in that book long enough, you realize it is a position for a full-powered hook punch too. Some people use this for omote shuto, like doing sui no kata but skipping the jodan uke and just striking first. Can be done, but watch your foot positioning and hip movement. Otherwise you are just developing bad habits.

7) Yoko Aruki

To show you how to apply this, I use these two kata as examples.

Setto

Koyoku

Yoko Aruki becomes useful when you are in close, you need to step in further, but your opponent still has a decent level of kamae. In Setto, for example, if the opponent has grabbed your sleeve, your strike to his arm might not be enough to break his grip, and his  grab can still jam your boshiken from landing properly. Yoko Aruki in for the boshiken.

Normal stepping could get you thrown or tackled to the ground, or the opponent could kick you in the groin. Yoko Aruki allows you to use one side to maintain pressure on the opponent as you close in, whether with the boshiken or for Ganseki Nage.

Conclusion

is there more I have missed? Possible. Until I know all the kata of the 6 ryu Hatsumi Soke has taught, there is always the chance I missed something important. So I still keep my eyes and ears open, and my mind alert.

But in the meantime, if we want to be skilled at Hatsumi Sensei’s Budo, it is important to master these foundational methods of stepping. Now that I have spelled them out for you, you can work on them in your solo practice. I hope my students eventually surpass my level of skill in them. That way this art will grow stronger and stronger as time goes by, right?

Enjoy your training!

 

Junjie 俊傑
(Shunketsu)
Bujinkan Ninjutsu
Singapore

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