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Togakure Ryu – Lessons from Kata

February 26, 2018

I was just teaching Kata Ude Tonso No Kata, from Togakure Ryu (demonstrated in the video at 0:24 onwards)

And the topic of the kata’s unusual beginning came up. Yes, the first three of the Tonso no Kata from Togakure Ryu start off with these three weird, dance-like, shuffle steps. Yes, it is weird. Yes, no one fights like that in real life. What then is the point of starting off the kata in that way?

Firstly, the people who train the kata in that way are not incorrect. This is how the kata is taught by Hatsumi Soke AND his Japanese Shihan. Any Bujinkan instructor who insinuates that this is incorrect is implying he understands Togakure Ryu more than Hatsumi does. Such people should just leave the Bujinkan and set up their own organizations. You cannot have it both ways; you cannot claim authority to teach Togakure Ryu from the Bujinkan organization and yet claim to know Togakure Ryu better than the head and founder of the organization. If Hatsumi thinks you understand Togakure Ryu at least as well as he does, he’d have issued you Menkyo Kaiden (License of Full Transmission) by now. If he hasn’t done so yet, maybe you still have some more learning to do. And if you disagree with that, you can just leave and set up your own group where you can do and claim whatever you wish.

Next, we need to remember that the ryuha not only transmit actual techniques for combat, they also transmit how to teach lessons to the next generation. And that means, within the densho kata are embedded the necessary elements for the next generation of practitioners to grasp the combat paradigm Togakure Ryu wants to inculcate. Based on my low level of understanding, here are three of the lessons embedded within the three shuffle steps.

1) Rhythm of three

This is the most basic and simplistic mind hack ever. Do a movement twice to establish a rhythm in the opponent’s mind, and on your third move you break that rhythm. The opponent usually will have a brief mental lag, and that is when your third move has a better chance of success than if you were to do that move at the very beginning. Boxers use that mind hack with the elemental jab-jab-cross combo, and there are many other examples from the realm of combat sports.

And those who sneer at me talking about combat sports, such as boxing, are welcome to try their luck against a boxer who has trained at least half the time they have spent in Bujinkan training. If they have never experienced having the rhythm of three actively used against them, the only one laughing will be their dentist, raking in loads of money trying to fix their broken teeth.

The three shuffle steps allow the kicks or strikes the best chance to succeed. This rhythm of three is something I have yet to come across in the kata from the other Bujinkan ryuha, and so I was thrilled when I understood what this was for!

2) Basics of Taijutsu

There are two types of force most basic to grappling and wrestling: push and pull. When untrained people try to pull, they usually plant their feet in place and tug frantically with their arms. The dance-like shuffle steps of the Togakure Ryu Tonso no Kata teaches us to pull using our entire body in movement, not just the arms. In fact, when properly done, Uke does not move the arms at all, only the legs and feet.

3) Basics of Ukemi

In the kata, Tori shuffles along in rhythm with Uke. In real life, Tori is stumbling, staggering, frantically trying to regain balance while being dragged away. Normal human instinct when being pulled: to dig in one’s heels and pull back (with only arm strength). The better, more intelligent response is to step forward to dissipate some of the pulling force; but yet not too much (or else you would step into the opponent’s next attack and end up funding your dentist’s downpayment on his second condominium purchase). The three shuffle steps of Tori train us in how to regain our balance in such a situation.

And such a situation is VERY applicable even in this day and age. Women and children are still being kidnapped and abducted. When out of nowhere an arm appears, grabs, and starts dragging the intended victim towards a nearby van, that is when knowing how to react intelligently to a superior pulling force will make all the difference.

Foundational Truth

Normal human instinct does not serve us when under genuine danger. If totally untrained, we will struggle ineffectually against such threats. Hatsumi Soke recently redefined “Muto Dori” as “to capture without fighting”. It sounds too woo-hoo, but it isn’t, if you understand that to fight is to struggle, to match strength versus strength to determine which side is stronger. True martial arts is about going beyond the need for such struggle, to intelligently generate and apply force where the opponent is not able to receive, disperse or otherwise handle.

Yes, it is THAT simple. But it is not easy, in fact, very difficult, because we are fighting against our own instincts and impulses. For example, the sui no kata movement of moving offline at a 45 degree angle while blocking or deflecting the opponent’s attack requires years and years of training to inculcate. Moving with kamae and taijutsu (maintaining body structure and coordination) is so counter-intuitive that any martial art that does not emphasize those two elements can easily get their students to a basic level of fighting ability, fast. Of course, the trade off is that you replace using kamae and taijutsu with using, muscular strength, speed, aggression and cheap tricks.


I can see three important lessons from the shuffle steps, and I am not even an expert on Togakure Ryu. How much more can we learn from those kata if they are taught by a good teacher? But the important point I want to make: I could figure out all this so far because I did not try to change the kata to fit my impressions of what proper training ought to be. Instead, I chose to preserve it and hope that eventually I or the students I have taught will figure out what the odd parts of the kata are for.

And that is what I urge upon any other Bujinkan instructors reading this post. Ask your sensei, ask your sensei’s sensei, check with people who train in Japan or ask the Shihan yourself if you ever train in Japan at Hombu Dojo. But don’t change the kata to fit your own limited understanding. As Someya-Sensei said during my Japan training trip, “These techniques have been passed down for a thousand years, it is not for YOU to change them…”

And if your students ask you about parts of the kata that you do not understand, it is perfectly fine to tell them honestly that you don’t really know. Don’t try making up some really funky tales for the sake of impressing your students. In the long run you’d be happier being real with those you train with!


Junjie 俊傑
Bujinkan Ninjutsu

From → bujinkan

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