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Haibu Yori – Teaching

March 15, 2018

You can teach martial arts for a variety of reasons. You can teach them as personal development, for sports and competition, for historical and cultural study (art for art’s sake) or for self-defense. I generally teach Bujinkan Taijutsu as art for art’s sake, not self-defense. When people grasp the universal principles of good movement, they can, with a few hints here and there, apply those principles in many situations, including self-defense. As long as there is no urgency to develop ability within a short time frame, that is my preferred way to teach.

But once you teach Haibu Yori (背部より), things are different. This group of kata are more oriented towards self-defense than battlefield combat or use in a sports-type competition. Since that is the case, there are more considerations to look into when teaching these kata. I just taught these kata a few Thursdays back.

Sakketsu (殺締)

Teiken (蹄拳)

Yubi Kudaki (指砕)

During the lesson, yes, I gave a lot of pointers about getting the techniques correct. Off the top of my head: bear-hugs can be for either holding you in place for other opponents to attack, or they can be used to wrestle you to the ground for a group stomping. The Full Nelson is a neck crank attack, usually from people strong enough to make it count. I taught you the best angle I know to position your elbows to release the pressure on your neck, but it is so much easier to escape if you start moving before the crank is fully locked on. The rear collar grab in a self-defense situation means you need to check who is grabbing you first. The last thing you want to do is go ballistic on your future mother-in-law when she is just trying to pull you back from stepping on the family cat, for example.

Big Picture – To Teach Effectively

I am usually careful when teaching my material, but with haibu yori I am even more careful. These kata involve the element of surprise, and can therefore trigger overreactions. Sakketsu and Teiken involve head strikes to the rear, stomping on shins and feet of the grabber to set up the main escape move. If a student panics with those moves the training partner can be injured.

For kata to be usable, for the student to acquire skill in executing the ideal movement shown, the student needs to drill them enough reps, and with resistance, but at the correct pacing. First the student has to get the basic movement correct. For example, in Sakketsu the first move, moving the hips back to create space, has to be done with a firm snap, not muscling into position. If the student does not get this movement correct, there is not much point adding resistance. If you add resistance before the student is ready, he/she very quickly gets into the habit of using brute force to muscle out of a firm grab. When the student finds that he/she cannot muscle out of a firm grab, the student usually resorts to cheap shots (grabbing the groin, etc) and such to escape. In theory that sounds suitable for self-defense; but what if the student encounters a determined opponent and is caught by surprise? If the student’s first instinct is to try muscling out, then by the time the student realizes that it has failed the opponent could have already wrestled the student to ground, or the rest of the attackers have already moved into place. Kind of late for the cheap shots then.

Once the basic movement is in place, then more resistance has to be gradually added so that the student develops the habit of using correct movement, based on firm structure and coordinated limb usage, even under stress. The training partner has to carefully pace the resistance; too much at one shot and the student loses the presence of mind to use good taijutsu.

In other words, I need to strike a balance between:

  1. just enough stress to enable you to function under panic and the adrenaline dump; but
  2. not bringing a student into blind, frenzied thrashing because he/she was in fear for his/her life in training. I have to bring you to the edge, but not push you off the cliff. Once you open that can of worms too quickly, all kinds of problems come out.

What I fear is some instructor blindly copying ideas from reality-based self-defense training, without understanding ALL the elements that they put into place to keep things under control. It is easy to see only that the professionals add scenario role play, resistance and other elements to add pressure to the training, but miss other important details, such as the pacing and other safeguards they put in. Remember, the organizers and the facilitators are afraid of trainees going bonkers during the classes and bringing a lawsuit against them after that. We don’t want to discover the hard way that things can go horribly wrong when we add in stuff others do without fully understanding it.


My lessons have shifted away from solely getting techniques correct to dealing with problems and situations. That is when we start to discover that the real world is more complicated than we think.

The kata give us a framework to study. They are only a framework, but if you have taught Budo (or music, language or anything like that, for that matter), you will soon realize that it is pretty much impossible to teach any complicated topic without one. Hatsumi Soke has been talking a lot about moving beyond the kata; but to understand what he means you need to know who he is talking to. He is talking to the senior foreign practitioners who have been training with him for decades. They know the kata a lot better than most of us do. They are capable of moving beyond the kata, I am not, at least not yet. Check with me again on this in another decade or two. In the meantime, see you at training!


Junjie 俊傑
Bujinkan Ninjutsu

From → bujinkan

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