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Hanbo Enrichment

The past few weeks I have been teaching stick drills to a couple of neighbours.

It all started when one of them (who has a son in the same school as my boys) was complaining about pain and numbness in her arms and wrist. I taught her a few simple arm exercises, and after a week of them she didn’t need to go for surgery anymore. Some surgeon somewhere is probably hating my guts right now…

The results got her hooked and she kept asking me for even more exercises. The grandmother of another kid going to the same school joined in, and after I taught them the various rehab-type exercises I knew I started teaching them those that involved the jo (4-foot staff). And now in the mornings they meet me to work on stick spinning and striking drills.

I’m already used to weird stares from my other neighbours by now, haven’t you guessed?

The end goal of what I was teaching them is rehab, joint mobility and some coordination, so I wasn’t being that fussy about the details that would give them effective fighting skills with the staff. Even then they still ended up having lots of fun working through the frustration of making the same mistakes over and over again. We laugh it off and keep going. Just keep going.

The main thought: the finer points of coordination are quite hard to grasp for people who do not have previous martial arts training. They would, as I said, make the same mistakes over and over again. I’ll tell them that the left foot steps forward with the left hand, and they would end up with the left foot and RIGHT hand moving, while muttering “Left hand with left foot”. Then turn to me and ask “Is this correct?”

You can imagine how frustrating it was for them!

Why did they keep turning up then? Because 1) it is interesting; AND 2) it worked their brains more than their usual lifestyle would. Moving and coordinating a stick between your left and right arms, then coordinating that with footwork gives you a mental workout you won’t get with Sudoku. And this is certainly much healthier than sitting down behind the computer or jabbing the iPad screen for hours on end.

When I was taught all those stick drills, they were for studying historical Japanese combat. Any health or brain benefits were incidental; my sensei never made mention of those. But after these few weeks of playing with sticks every weekday morning and explaining stuff to my neighbours, I realized that the sticks really helped enrich their lives. It’s quite humbling to consider the sheer value of what my sensei taught years ago. These ladies will probably never have to use sticks to defend themselves (fingers crossed), but this traditional Japanese art has already made their lives better. As a compulsive teacher, this is pretty much what I live for!

Junjie 俊傑
Bujinkan Ninjutsu

Preventing Terrorist Attacks in Singapore

“If you see any suspicious-looking person or article, please inform our staff.” – MRT station announcement

When it comes to preventing terrorism, that’s a pretty useless reminder, since most of us Singaporeans have no clue what to actually look out for anyway. We don’t know what kind of suspicious behavior are hints of an upcoming terrorist attack. All we are currently good at is noticing perverts trying to take upskirt pictures of women…

And in light of the attacks in Paris, we in Singapore need to raise up our level of vigilance. This Newsweek article ( put it very directly:

“Each [terrorist group] … once believed that grandiose, complicated plots such as blowing up major bridges or national landmarks would win them more members. But the more intricate the plots and the more predictable the targets, the more likely it is that Western intel officials can thwart them.

Not anymore. The Paris attacks show that global jihadists have realized what counterterrorism specialists have long feared: strikes on soft targets such as restaurants, concerts and sports venues – using small arms and easy-to-assemble bombs – are harder to stop and can inflict massive damage.”

In plain English, Singapore, with soft targets aplenty, with an unarmed citizenry, IS a viable target for terrorist attacks. As common citizens, we CANNOT say “Preventing this is the government’s job” and just ignore the issue. We have to begin to educate ourselves on what sort of activity is suspicious and ought to be reported to the authorities.

The link below brings us to an article on foiling terrorist attacks. It is written by security professionals to other professionals, but I have highlighted some important lessons we can use.

First, a terrorist attack has three stages: choosing a target, spying on the target to get information (surveillance) and then the actual attack itself. If we can spot terrorists spying on their chosen target it is much easier to foil it then than when the bullets are flying and people are dying.

The article says:

“At its heart, surveillance is watching someone while attempting not to be caught doing so. As such, it is an unnatural activity, and a person doing it must deal with strong feelings of self-consciousness and of being out of place. People conducting surveillance frequently suffer from what is called “burn syndrome,” the belief that the people they are watching have spotted them. Feeling “burned” will cause surveillants to do unnatural things, such as hiding their faces or suddenly ducking back into a doorway or turning around abruptly when they unexpectedly come face to face with the person they are watching.”

This is a dead giveaway. When we see such behavior we ought to report that person immediately. Be on the alert especially at shopping malls, famous, popular eateries and government buildings. Taking a phone picture of the suspicious person may not be any help (he may be wearing a disguise) but it can’t hurt. Remember, however, that reporting the matter to a member of the security staff is crucial.

The terrorist may lose his nerve and just totally give up on the planned attack if he knows he was spotted. That makes life much easier for everyone!

“… another very common mistake made by amateurs when conducting surveillance is the failure to get into proper “character” for the job or, when in character, appearing in places or carrying out activities that are incongruent with the character’s “costume.” The terms used to describe these role-playing aspects of surveillance are “cover for status” and “cover for action.” Cover for status is a person’s purported identity — his costume. A person can pretend to be a student, a businessman, a repairman, etc. Cover for action explains why the person is doing what he or she is doing — why that guy has been standing on that street corner for half an hour.

In addition to plain old lurking, other giveaways include a person moving when the target moves, communicating when the target moves, avoiding eye contact with the target, making sudden turns or stops, or even using hand signals to communicate with other members of a surveillance team or criminal gang. Surveillants also can tip off the person they are watching by entering or leaving a building immediately after the person they are watching or simply by running in street clothes.

Sometimes, people who are experiencing the burn syndrome exhibit almost imperceptible behaviors that the target can sense more than observe. It may not be something that can be articulated, but the target just gets the gut feeling that there is something wrong or odd about the way a certain person is behaving toward them.”

In plain English, someone who is there when he/she has no good reason to be and looks unhappy at being noticed, warrants a second look. Should you report that person to the security staff? Go with your gut feel. Frankly, if that person has honest reasons to be there, being questioned by a security guard isn’t going to hurt, right?

But this requires us to be more alert. We cannot go through the day with our eyes glued to our mobile phones, checking Facebook or our Whatsapp chats, all the time. We should not let our minds be so preoccupied by the ticking off we got from our boss that morning or our kids’ atrocious exam grades that we don’t even notice the people around us. This kind of alertness and awareness is basic for preventing regular crime, how much more a terrorist attack!

Before you dismiss me as being a paranoid freak, let me say that being that aware of the people around you is enriching. You get to see life in the flesh, rather than through the lens of other people’s social media posts or Youtube videos. You appreciate more of the rhythm of life if you actually listen around you, rather than distract yourself by blasting your favourite MP3s over the earphones. Try it!

What if the terrorists are already there and you find yourself at the wrong place, at the wrong time, when the bullets start flying?

Granted, there are many variables: are you in an open or enclosed place? Are there many shooters or just a lone wolf? How near are you to the shooter? Unless the shooter somehow appears a few of steps away from you, the odds are that you won’t be able to reach the shooter in time to do any martial arts heroics, neutralize the attacker and save the day. As long as you aren’t trapped (in some enclosed room with no way out), you are better off trying to escape.

I know this isn’t what you’d expect to hear from my martial arts blog, but that is reality. Marc MacYoung has said before:

“It’s — technically speaking — a lot easier and safer to close and just kill the guy (and failing that, break him so bad that he’s either unconscious or crippled). But most people can’t do that — including most martial artists and so-called combative trained people. They lack the commitment and understanding how to. So instead — and this is another way to eat multiple bullets — they’ll try to ‘fight’ the guy.”

In another post, Mr MacYoung explains why escaping is usually the best option, how to do it and what mistakes to avoid. But to help us sum it up, we need to:

  • Run away, because it makes so much harder for the bullets to hit us (see the explanation of the pie slice diagram);
  • Crouch down to make yourself a smaller target;
  • Cover is better than concealment – cover will block the bullets while concealment only keep you from being seen.
  • Don’t Prairie Dog – i.e. stand up and out to look around when you hear repeated gunfire. We Singaporean guys have already gone through our Basic Military Training; we KNOW what gunfire sounds like. Get yourself to safety, and bring others with you!
  • Don’t hide behind something the gunman can walk up to and shoot you. Keep escaping till you get somewhere the gunman cannot hit you even by shooting out a window.

Read his original post here:

Conclusion: this is a heavy topic, one that is very far out from our normal Singaporean experience. It is a complicated topic, so my this post can only be the start. More of us need to get together and talk things through, to pool together expertise from veterans and professionals

I’m not the one to tell you everything you need to know to keep yourself safe from terrorism, I know too little. But we have to get started somewhere. Let’s start by acknowledging the danger and start practicing good habits that help reduce the risk. Let’s also have some idea of what we can do in the event, so that we have some hope of reacting properly instead of being caught off guard.

And if you found this post educational and useful, please share it with your friends. Let’s get the word out. Thanks!

Junjie 俊傑
Bujinkan Ninjutsu

Class Notes – Gaming the System

We have been working on Renyo, from Gyokko Ryu. Here are a couple of vids of how others have done this kata.

This is not a very complicated kata, but it does hold important lessons for our taijutsu. The elements, as I taught in class, are:

  • Jodan uke and ken kudaki
  • Geri gaeshi
  • Ura Shuto when grabbed
  • Ura Gyaku flipped over to Omote Gyaku with a kick

So we take time to drill the various elements.

Jodan uke and ken kudaki: We practiced these against formal Bujinkan punches, which mean the arm is left out for a while after the initial punch. Of course I know people don’t punch like that these days, but there ARE advantages to punching old style. They fit perfectly into a different strategic framework, one that is VERY appropriate for Koryu Budo. I won’t elaborate on them here, but those who attended the training know that if you do not fully strike my arm away with the ken kudaki, when I bring that arm back to strike you with my other arm I am attacking your balance also.

We also made sure we complete the first jodan uke movement before the ken kudaki. It is easy to forget or do it half-baked, but if we do the uke movement correctly, even if the opponent punches with a more modern punch his arm is dragged out just that split second longer. That confuses him if he isn’t used to it, as well as gives us a better opportunity to hit the attacking arm.

In a modern day context the jodan uke-ken kudaki combination is hard to pull off, but we train it anyway because: 1) it is in the kata; 2) it is easier to train this move but skip it in a real fight than to skip this in training and add it in during a real fight; 3) done correctly it doesn’t endanger us.

Geri gaeshi: We do this with the leg nearer to the opponent if he kicks Gyokko Ryu style. If he kicks with the other leg we should use our other leg instead. Remember, if he kicks with the other leg we have to gaeshi with the intent of moving him past us instead of 90 degrees to the side.

Ura Shuto when grabbed: By this point the opponent would have quite lost his balance and scrambling to regain it. We typically train against a lapel grab, but you guys have seen that it can be that, or an arm hooking around your neck, or even no grab at all (so you just switch over to doing Koku instead). If you totally spin him around with the geri gaeshi he can end up grabbing with either arm. That means you have to change your ura shuto side accordingly.

Changing the side the opponent kicks or grabs with is a great way to train adaptability!

Ura Gyaku-Omote Gyaku flip: This is just a continuation of the hip rotation changes we have been making prior. We turned one way for the jodan uke, another for the ken kudaki, yet another for the geri gaeshi and so on. So we rotated our hips again for the ura gyaku, and when it failed we rotated our hips the other way for the omote gyaku.

This requires that your partner actually do a lapel grab, of course. If his arm ended up hooking around your neck, a ganseki nage makes much more sense. And if it fails then the hip rotation within that distance (a la flipping the gyaku) makes osoto gake an appropriate technique to use.

Don’t Game the System

During training, we have certain restrictions. If we are working on a particular wristlock for example, it is understood that we concentrate on that lock. It is understood that we aren’t out to injure each other during training. All these factors make training safer for everyone, but can lead to bad habits if we are not aware.

Over the years I often see students try to game the system during training. When an ura gyaku is done on them, for example, they bend forward and their bodies pretty much go limp. That’s gaming the system. It immediately takes away the discomfort of the wrist lock, and makes it much harder for the person doing the lock to finish the technique and bring you to the ground. But it is a horrible habit. In real combat, if my opponent bends forward at that wrist lock I won’t struggle to find ways to bring him to the ground a la dojo technique; I’ll immediately kick him in the ribs that he has so kindly offered as a target. Then I can slam him to the ground immediately.

When you are the person receiving the technique, you don’t want to game the system by going limp. It teaches you to give up fighting for survival after you get locked. I’m not saying that you always have to try escaping the lock during training, since it is much easier to mess up your training partner’s technique than for him to finish it properly, but you should at least keep your kamae. Don’t bend your spine forward unless your partner actually moves you properly to affect your spine and your balance.

For Renyo, the kata of the season, it is actively resisting the ura gyaku that makes omote gyaku the appropriate response. When you are flipping the gyaku you are training to take the energy of the resistance and redirect it. Granted, the gyaku flip is a very rudimentary and coarse way to redirect the energy of the resistance, but we all have to start with baby steps before we can move on to advanced, more subtle methods.

In other words, if you go limp when the ura gyaku starts your partner does not get to learn how to deal with an opponent resisting that wristlock. And that defeats the main purpose of learning this kata.

Big Picture: I am focusing more on Renyo these lessons because it gives us a context for all the elements we have drilled in previous lessons, imprints into our minds the correct distancing for those elements and adds in the new element of redirecting energy. Once a student has some idea of the different techniques available at different distances, knowing how to redirect energy given by the training partner IS the key point. You can say redirecting energy becomes your own henka generator.

We’ll not be staying on this kata forever though. We’ll move on to yet another soon, one that has a different way of handling resistance. Want to find out more? Join us at training!

Junjie 俊傑
Bujinkan Ninjutsu

Basic Attack – Gyokko Ryu

“空手に先手なし” (karate ni sente nashi): There is no first attack in Karate – Gichin Funakoshi
“Good thing I don’t take karate, then!” – me

From an unarmed combat perspective, it is MUCH easier to defend than to attack. Think about it: an attacker has to move himself into range and commit to attacking with a specific limb, while a defender has a whole gamut of options and responses. Because of that, it is easy to spend more time learning all the various responses we can use in defence. They are much more interesting. We also get the feel-good, self-righteous sense of using our skills for self-defence. That takes away, for most of us at least, the uncertainty of wondering whether we are justified in using our martial abilities to inflict harm on other people.

But here is an unpleasant truth – sometimes it is necessary to take the offensive. If you are facing multiple opponents, for example, are pressed for time or you are interrupting an attack that is already underway, you’ll have to seize the initiative. I know that if I was in that situation, I’ll hesitate because

1) I haven’t worked that much on attacking effectively, AND

2) My usual training (under the Tori-Uke methodology) means when I punch, kick or grab first I get hurt. All that negative feedback does have an effect!

If my class is overall weaker at attacking than defending, that also means that in the long run our defence skill also drops, because we train only against attacks made with less and less skill. So in order to keep that from happening, and to make myself a more complete martial artist, I have been working on my attacks as well.

Here is a basic one from Gyokko Ryu that I have been working on: Step forward with the O-tsuki (lunge punch), pull the back leg in next to the front leg, then kick with the front leg. You can see the Uke in the following vid attacking in that way.

Important Points

1) At the end of the punch your front knee should be loaded up properly. Your weight should be on that knee, and the stored energy should be pushing you upward, not back. If it pushes you back that means you have taken either too big a step or your rear knee is too bent and you haven’t shifted your weight forward to the front leg as you punched.

This means a weak punch, with only arm power at best. It can get worse: imagine your arm punching forward but your leg pushing you back. That is going to reduce the force of your punch even more, right?

2) When you pull the back leg next to the front, keep your hips level during the movement. This makes you pulling in the back leg more difficult for your opponent to notice that you have changed your stance.

When you get the hang of this subtlety , you can use this in two ways: either you punch at your opponent at the proper range, then you use your front kick to hit him when he moves back slightly, thinking he is out of range of your next punch, OR you deliberately punch to just outside of his punching range but within your kicking range. So just when your opponent thinks he is safe because your punch fell short, you stomp him with your sokuyaku geri. Or he might just react to your punch, but because you are out of range he has to work harder to attack you, but you have already closed a lot of distance and confused his timing somewhat.

3) When you pull your back leg in, make sure your knees are still bent. They should feel like loaded springs.

oguri kamae

Consider this: in this kamae, you have just punched with your front hand, but your rear hand and BOTH your legs are ready to attack. Your front leg can of course kick to the front, and so can your back leg, if you step forward. But the more important thing is the back leg is able to kick to the 45 degree angle.

Why is that important? Because most of the time in my class we train against a direct frontal attack. What if we meet someone who fights like us, who moves offline before countering? We punch, the opponent moves offline and blocks. We pull the back leg in, then kick that leg at the opponent. You don’t have to hit him in order to stop him; sometimes all it takes is us suddenly chambering the kick will cause him to hesitate in his attack. And that moment of hesitation will give us enough time to launch another punch, kick or some other move.

When all these fell into place in my mind, I realized that just getting proficient in a basic fudoken and sokuyaku geri will take a serious amount of effort. There are 24 combinations we can drill, and I have been trying to distil those combos to remove excessive repetition. But even more important than the physical skill, the actual muscle memory, is the awareness of all this potential in the first place. Then we can learn to seize such opportunities when they arise.

Conclusion – Simple stuff? Yes. But I’ve always believed that being faithful with the simple stuff will eventually allow me to learn even more. And that seems to work well enough for me!

Junjie 俊傑
Bujinkan Ninjutsu

Rant – Just because YOU don’t know

From another martial arts blog

“80% of fights go to the ground”

“70% of armed assaults involve a knife”

Did you believe these common self defence claims? If so you’ve been misled. We have no idea percentage of “fights” go to the ground or what percentage involves a knife (or any weapon) for that matter.

No, wait. Don’t give me that “we” stuff. Just because YOU don’t know what percentage of fights go to the ground or what percentage involve a knife doesn’t mean the information isn’t out there somewhere.

And the information IS out there. Police departments in major cities often have on hand staff who are educated enough in sociology, statistics and in making sense of the mountains of data they have on incidents of violence. In this day and age, CCTVs are pretty much everywhere. And there are people whose jobs are to watch footage of violence and make sense of it (for prosecution in court, for example). When those people have a large enough sample size, they can draw reasonable conclusions about percentages that would apply to similar environments.

Of course, trying to decide what are the factors that are relevant (population density, gender and age distribution, physical geography) is the hassle. That’s where the academics come in and argue about how valid the data is. But just because people MIGHT disagree about how to interpret the data, that doesn’t mean the data isn’t out there.

When it comes to the study of violence, I am a hobbyist. I run classes here and there, do my own training and interact with fellow hobbyists occasionally. Because I am not a professional in the security or law enforcement fields I don’t know the percentages. But if I need to know I can find out. I have NO excuse to say there is no way of knowing.

Maybe I am too demanding. The ninja ideal is my inspiration, and the ninja were legendary at intelligence gathering. If they had known they would have mortgaged off their homes and sold off their parents to get access to the modern information gathering methods and understanding we have these days. Holding the historical ninja as my ideal makes it hard for me to accept that anyone would dismiss claims of data and without any backing data of his own.

But not everyone is fit to be a ninja, I guess…

Junjie 俊傑
Bujinkan Ninjutsu


Class Notes – Knife Round Up

If you noticed, in my last post on knife training, I went through the gogyo no kata (also known as the sanshin no kata) in classifying knife attacks we trained around. But I left out ku no kata, the last one. That is where I classified the last three knife scenarios we worked on in class.

  1. The attacker punches with the left hand, and when you block he grabs the sleeve  of your gi, pulls it down as he steps forward, and does an upward stab to your side or ribs.
  2. You punch, the attacker hooks your arm down and past him. His left hand grabs your sleeve around the elbow and pulls you forward as he stabs upward with the knife in a reverse grip.
  3. The attacker steps forward and grabs the lapel of your gi with his left forearm across your upper chest. His forearm chokes the movement of your shoulders, while he is free to stab to your guts, chest or wherever.

All these scenarios were worked out while wearing a gi jacket. Immediately the dynamics change. First, slashes are no longer that great a threat, and stabs are more appropriate attacks. More importantly, the sleeve grabs are a real problem. If your opponent grabs your wrist, you can use  the usual te hodoki waza to disrupt his attack and buy space to respond. Those te hodoki waza no longer work so well when the gi sleeve is grabbed instead.

For 1) and 2), we worked on blocking with the arm with the grabbed sleeve as well as with the other arm, since we can’t really anticipate which one we can actually get to use. If  your sleeve is grabbed nearer to the forearm you will need to block with the other hand, while if your sleeve is grabbed at the elbow you can actually block with the grabbed arm. 3)  is not very different from our usual ura gyaku starting from a conventional lapel grab. Now, even more than usual, the kuzushi is crucial. You can muscle your way into ura gyaku when there is no knife involved, but once there is a knife, you can be stabbed before you even know it. Then again, we can never really be sure that any opponent won’t have a knife, so it behoves us to use proper kuzushi at all times.

Side point – be careful when blocking the ura shuto slash. If you do not block at the elbow, your opponent can elbow down your blocking arm and resume the slash, or change the slash to the omote shuto vector.


2-3 lessons on the nastier side of knife work. Nowhere near enough, but better than nothing. I don’t know if I would ever return to this topic within the next 1-2 years (I still have loads to teach and work on in class), but what has been covered over the past 3 months of lessons is enough for you to 1) get a sense of what viable knife defence is like, and 2) give you some idea of what you may want to explore in this area.

The past 3 months have been spent on more practical material. The material, however, is more specific to knife defence. In this quarter we are going back to basics again, to learn general movements and habits that apply to a wider range of situations. For the beginners who turn up, the lessons will also build you in your conditioning and coordination. Keep turning up and keep training!

Junjie 俊傑
Bujinkan Ninjutsu


Class Musings – Knife, Knife, Knife

There are certain topics which are very weighty, and I have to pluck up a lot of courage to address them in class. One was Togakure Ryu Ninpo (the ninja stuff!). And another is knife.

Why? Because when I first started teaching, my understanding of knife was largely at the Japan Warring States level. If you assume battlefield conditions, you would use a knife only when your spear and katana were unavailable (life got really bad, very fast) and you had to get through an opponent’s armour. That meant a direct stab, with all your bodyweight and momentum, at the opponent’s midsection, hoping against hope you could get through the armour.

Modern knife work, modern knife attacks are much more varied now, since most of us don’t wear armour, or even the military webbing for hanging ammo, water bottles and other equipment. Our opponents can kill us easily even if they aren’t particularly skilled. Whether you die from 2-3 well placed slashes or 47 stabs, you are just as dead.

The only difference is how much work the cleaners have to do, mopping up after you!

The problem is, now there is a wider range of targets for the average knifer. And that means our defences have to be of a higher level of skill, to deal with that range of targets. One of the most systematic and comprehensive ways of categorizing and dealing with knife attacks comes from the Filipino Martial Arts, and I would recommend anyone to spend some time learning them (even a 6-9 month investment of time and effort is great). But what about in my class? My students do not want to learn Filipino Martial Arts, and even if they did they won’t want to learn them from me, since I am not even a proper student of those arts, much less a teacher!

The Approach

I needed a systematic approach to codify the possible angles of attack for a knifer. Here are the ones we have looked at so far

Chi No Kata – Sanshin Tsuki

The knife stab comes in directly.  The textbook response is to move to the outside of the knife arm, strike the back of the knife hand (shikan ken) to disarm, and then omote gyaku. We also explored moving to the inside of the knife arm and going straight back. Those directions are not ideal, but in real life we may not be able to move to the outside of an opponent’s attack. In fact, it becomes even more difficult in a modern setting, since the modern knifer is does not need to be totally committed to the knife stab these days. That means it becomes harder to move to the outside of the knife arm.

Sui No Kata – Omote Shuto

The knife comes in along an angle between your ten o’clock and eleven o’clock. We practiced this by first punching and letting the opponent do the Sui no Kata as a response. Why? Because this teaches us to continue even when we are already in a disadvantaged position. For the next variation we attacked with the Jeet Kun Do straight lead, and the opponent would do the Omote Shuto slash without stepping forward. And that makes our counter or defence much more difficult (as if it wasn’t tough enough already!).

Bear in mind, I taught you people an approximation of the JKD straight lead. Needless to say you won’t get it, not even 10% of it, because it is a complex  technique, with a lot of key factors that need to be coordinated together just right. But I taught you enough for you to begin working on it. This is one technique from outside Bujinkan that is well-worth your time and effort!

Ka No Kata – Ura Shuto

This knife slash comes at the other side, a mirror image of the Omote Shuto slash.

One VERY important point to remember: the knifer NEVER stops after the first attack. Either he pulls the knife back to stab again, doing an old-school sewing machine thing, or he will attack immediately along another direction. If he pulls back he will give you an opportunity to counter. Just flow with him on this. I have a decent ability to flow with this situation, and it comes from normal training. My sensei didn’t do any weird, funky flow drills, but because he taught well the ability just came.

Yeah, after all these years of training with other people and in other martial arts I still think my sensei is great!

If he attacks from another direction, remember that the other direction is predictable. If you block a low slash he will go up. If you block a high slash he will slash low. We will drill such knife attacks a bit more in class, because they are very important. We need to understand this fundamental principle in order to be able to defend properly against a knife attack. Our counters and responses against the knife slashes actually make use of the next slash to bring the opponent to a position of disadvantage.

Fu No Kata – Gedan Boshiken

I am taking horizontal slashes to the abs as a knife equivalent of the gedan boshiken. There are two directions for the slash, and the response for both is the same – we step forward with a gedan knife block AND an ura shuto at the same time. Then we do the most appropriate gyaku waza (omote gyaku, onikudaki, muso dori) and finish up.

Ura Shuto – This is VERY important: the ura shuto MUST be driven and powered by taijutsu.  I see too many videos of people trying to strike as part of their knife defence tactics, and those strikes are powered by mostly arm strength, with just a token attempt to use the hips. That will NOT do. You cannot think of trading blows with your opponent, hoping to wear him out over a few rounds before you finally deliver a knock-out blow. You need to do committed strikes. The ura shuto needs to have your taijutsu, your hip power and leg power behind it.

And why do we hesitate about putting our hip power and leg power behind our strikes? Two reasons: we don’t want to hurt each other in class; and, we have discovered that putting our hip power and leg power behind our strikes makes it easier to counter our strikes. Since we don’t want to hurt each other in class, I understand if we don’t strike at 100% speed and momentum. But we must use at least 80% of correct hip and leg movement, especially in the large movements, or else we will compromise our form and power generation even further in a real encounter.

And as for vulnerability, suck it up. We will use timing and distancing to protect ourselves, but the fact remains: we will NEVER be 100%, or even 70-80% safe. When you first start martial arts you will think that there are ways to make yourself safe all the time. But as you get better you realize that sense of safety was an illusion. Things could change in just an instant, with one variable. We have to learn how to recognize that uncertainty and have the courage to face up to it. Commitment in the face of danger is practicing that courage.

Another problem I keep seeing – kamae compromised when blocking. People tend to hunch up their shoulders when they block, whether it is against punches to the face or knife attacks, both high and low. Hunching shoulders is a boxing practice. It allows you some protection against a hook coming from the outside of your punch. However it compromises your kamae and makes it harder for you to block especially strong slashes and stabs. It doesn’t give you much problem against a conventional straight punch, because those are easier to deflect. But modern knife use also includes stabs along the omote shuto and ura shuto vectors. Those require you to have both the distance and structure created by lowering your shoulders into proper kamae rather than hunching them.

By the way, lowering your shoulders is fine when doing the gedan knife block. I know your neck is exposed for the opponent’s next slash, to your throat, but we want him to do that, remember? That is how he helps you to defeat him, when you are actually ready for it. 😉


A lot to keep track of? Of course! These are points and outlines of the lessons from beginning April up till now. You can see why I consider knife a very intricate topic, one that would require at least 3-5 months to do justice to. And that is already while lessons are at a slower pace than usual, maybe 2-3 techniques per lesson and lots of repetitive drilling. And I haven’t even looked at some of the nastier attacks that can occur. Those are particularly effective attacks, and there is little you can do against them except block the killing stab, strike to stun the opponent, and then carry from there with whatever you know to do. To make that work you need to have enough experience with them, and that is what I want to provide for you in class.

Sobering? Yeah, that’s the reality of knife. If I claimed otherwise I would be either incredibly stupid or incredibly dishonest!

Junjie 俊傑
Bujinkan Ninjutsu