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Class Notes 09 Nov 2017

Ku No Kata (空の型)


1) Ku No Kata (basic form) – Opponent attacks with zenpo geri, we use gedan uke, shakoken at face level and then sokuyaku geri (足躍蹴)

It was not my initial intention, but I realized the shakoken at face level converts very easily to blocking ura shuto attacks and elbow strikes at the same level, since we already have the habit of blocking at the elbow. Such habits are essential for infighting (fighting at the jumonji range).

A few years ago I thought our taijutsu was unsuitable for fighting at that specific range, so we had to either stay outside of it or dive past it into grappling range. Now after a lot more training I realized I am not totally clueless at infighting. I would still get shredded by a wing chun practitioner if I stay at that range, but I won’t die immediately. Which is my end goal, buying time to shift the odds to my favour…

That is conditional, however, on doing the sanshin and kihon happo in the form I had been taught ages ago by my sensei. As I said before, in a henka-based martial art, the basic form has to be one that allows for the most adaptation. If I ever said that to my sensei he’d probably just say “Whatever…”, but the fact is, the basic form he taught me from the get-go is so far the form that has allowed for the most adaptation. And I have seen many versions ever since.

Yup, all these years teaching, add on years cross training and studying other arts, and I still think my sensei is cool…

2) Partnered Drill

Remember, whoever blocks on the inside remains on the inside for the duration of the drill, and whoever blocks on the outside remains on the outside. If there are any changes, that means someone somewhere cut corners on the full movement. Happens. Just continue on and get back to the full movements as soon as you can.

The physical proximity makes us all uncomfortable doing this drill. Even then, do not cheat. Follow the rhythm of the drill. Match your partner’s one move with one move of your own; don’t take two or three moves to his one move. That is an unrealistic rhythm, and your body will freeze in real combat because it knows the wrong rhythms you trained in won’t work in real life.

3) Tan Geki (擔撃 ) from Koto Ryu

If you’ve been with me awhile, you’ll know I taught this before. Key point this round: if you give the opponent three things to look at, there is a momentary brain freeze. This depends, of course, on your three things having enough substance to draw his attention. If not, a trained fighter will just carry on anyway, and continue bashing you. And that kinda hurts…

3) Shi Haku (指拍) from Koto Ryu

Muay Thai fighters like to launch their knee strikes from too close. People instinctively flinch back into the correct distance for the knee strike to cause maximum damage. Kyojitsu practiced in other arts, fascinating.

We can get a similar effect with this kata by pulling back the rear hand at the same time we raise the leg. We don’t compromise our structure or the long term health of our lower backs, but the contrast implied by the hand moving back and the knee moving forward is usually enough to trigger the gedan uke from the opponent. And we continue from there.

New Discovery!

Our follow-up gedan tsuki can be dealt with by a Wing Chun technique known as bong sao (膀手). It is a difficult technique to get correct, so you can be sure anyone who can pull it off properly (with kamae and taijutsu) has had serious Wing Chun training. I currently have no idea of how to handle that yet. So just don’t try Shi Haku if the opponent gives you any hint of knowing Wing Chun

4) Gekkan (月肝) from Shinden Fudo Ryu

We looked at this recently in our Ka No Kata lesson, because I wanted you to see how ura shuto can set up other moves. And some bright spark mentioned in that class, “Isn’t this Ku No Kata?” Yes, it is.

I don’t like my students standing around doing nothing when a kick comes up their groin direction. Very bad habit, that is training to lose. So in class, we practiced using the nearest knee to deflect the groin kick. Only a small movement necessary.

For Gekkan we often need the kick to kuzushi the opponent enough to go into O Gyaku. So if he deflects the kick and you know you cannot make O Gyaku work from there, carry on to use Osoto Gake instead. You’ll find that it is even more effective after the opponent has deflected the groin kick.

What if the person launching Gekkan against us is at an angle where we cannot use a simple knee movement to deflect the groin kick? Then the opponent is at an angle we can use all the other keri gaeshi (kick counters). Bear all that in mind.


One of the key principles to developing reliable skill is repetition. This undeniable. However, if we zone out while doing the reps, we lose some of the benefits from them. The purpose of all these henka is therefore to keep you all alert even as you clock in the reps. Your left brain is monitoring all the new details and changes, while your right brain is being drilled in the same movements while adapting to the shifting distance and angles.

Whole brain engagement.

The more engaged you are, the faster you learn. It is my job as a teacher to make engagement as easy as possible. That’s why I plan so much for my lessons!


Junjie 俊傑
Bujinkan Ninjutsu


Class Notes 02 Nov 2017

Fu No Kata

Because of the beginners that just recently joined my class, I decided to revisit the sanshin no kata and kihon happo again. The challenge is to ensure that every student, senior or beginner, gets appropriate material to work on. Every student should be exposed to AND allowed to work on material that gives them some challenge. And they should be able to rise up to that level of challenge, at least by the end of the lesson.

Easy? Of course not! I won’t say that I succeed in doing that most of the time, but I know I have a better chance of getting there if I at least try…


1) Fu No Kata (basic form) – Opponent attacks with gedan tsuki, we do gedan uke and gedan boshiken to attack the opponent’s balance.

Very Important: this kata is NOT for combat application. I already showed you all in class why this version is not practical for combat. It is a teaching tool, isolating this use of boshiken so that you can study it better.

2) Fu No Kata (two boshiken) – instead of stepping in with a gedan boshiken, we use a jodan boshiken instead. When the opponent blocks this we do gedan boshiken with the other hand.

Again, the goal is attacking the opponent’s balance.

3) Huko – against a front kick, we move either to the outside of the kick with gedan uke and go down on one knee to boshiken somewhere important, or we move to the outside of the kick with gedan uke, use a fudoken in the same style as the gedan boshiken in our basic form, and then kick his supporting leg with our rear leg.

This is essentially Fu No Kata used on a front kick rather than a gedan tsuki.

4) Yui Gyaku (Takagi Yoshin Ryu) – against a right Jodan Tsuki, we jodan uke with our left, attack opponent’s face with either fudoken or shakoken, attack his nearest leg with ko uchi gari. Remember to tap his guarding arm with your right hand first. This will trigger him to block your next strike, and then you can proceed to sweep the leg.

Notice that this is quite similar to Fu No Kata done with a jodan boshiken, except that we use a ko uchi gari rather than yet another boshiken.

Important note:

I showed two variations of this kata, both of which made the ko uchi gari easier to do. Both variations involved changing the angle we approach the opponent. The basic form angles exactly in between both variations. Why did I teach that instead of one of the two variations?

Hatsumi Soke’s Bujinkan Taijutsu is a henka-based martial art. It places less emphasis on the mastery of a perfect, idealized version of a kata or technique, and more emphasis on the practitioner being able to adapt the principles of the techniques to an ever changing and shifting combat situation. Knowing that, I taught the version that gives the most room for adaptation and change.

If I taught one of the henka first, it is harder for my students to see the other henka as related to the same technique. My basic form allowed them to understand both possibilities and go into either one if they thought it was appropriate.

Generally, I will teach a kihon kata (basic form) version that has more elements rather than less, because it is easier to leave stuff out of a technique in combat rather than to add stuff in. It should have a larger range of motion, as full a range as possible, because it is easier to contract a movement in combat rather than to expand it. The applications should be general rather than specific, because it is easier to move from the general to specific rather than vice versa.

The problem with this approach is that it takes a much longer time to give a student results. That is just how things are. If people want usable results within a shorter frame of time, Bujinkan Ninjutsu is just not suitable for them. They should go take 6-9 months of Krav Maga lessons instead. Bujinkan Ninjutsu is more an art for art’s sake, for people who have the interest to sustain them for a few years of study.

By the way, I can afford to tell potential students that. I don’t have crazy dojo rentals to cover, nor do I teach for the sake of paying for my sons’ education. I can afford to be honest to people, to tell them what this art truly involves, rather than selling them pipe dreams for the sake of grabbing their hard-earned money. Some day I might just do a post calling out marketing and advertising practices I disagree with. We see how that goes?


I have been pondering the issue of transmission a lot recently. My responsibility as a martial arts instructor is not only to create skilled practitioners but also to raise up competent teachers. That is why I am going back to posting my class notes (so my students can use them to teach if necessary) and why I explain more of my thought process and planning here in this post.

Hopefully this will inspire and help other Bujinkan teachers to teach Hatsumi Soke’s Taijutsu the best we know to!


Junjie 俊傑
Bujinkan Ninjutsu


Lessons From Chi No Kata

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



Menu of Resistance

Menu of Resistance

It’s very encouraging. I see that more and more Bujinkan practitioners are growing in their understanding of the Tori-Uke method of training. It used to be that many people thought it meant compliant training, just being jelly so that your partner doesn’t need to get the technique correct in every aspect before it works. Cooperation does not necessarily mean compliance, and these days teachers are encouraging their students to give each other increasing levels of resistance so that we grow in our understanding of how to make things work.

And that is great!

However, we still have to give some thought and guidelines into this. The last thing we need is to have a class descend into chaos, or students injuring each other (or themselves) because they don’t actually have a clue as to what they are doing. So for the reference of other teachers, here is a menu of options a student can use to raise the level of resistance we train to deal with.

  1. Maintain kamae – if the partner does not deliberately disrupt our structure before attempting the technique, then we just keep our kamae on. Many techniques will fail just at this point alone.
  2. Use the other arm – if the partner tries a technique on one arm but stays in range of the other, use the other hand to tap him on the shoulder. This is a good reminder to get the distance and angling correct.
  3. Step – if you are pulled forward or pushed back too strongly, step to regain your balance. But please step appropriately. Don’t step into a position where you can get our arm broken within seconds.
  4. Changing angles – sometimes it just takes a small change in angle to not only make the technique useless but also begin your own counter.
  5. Antagonistic force – if you pull on one arm, your partner tries to pull that arm back. If you push him backward he steps forward. That’s the general idea. Please don’t try this one, or ANY of these ideas, for that matter, unless you really know what you are doing or your teacher has instructed you to do so.

IMPORTANT – what keeps this from becoming a free-for-all? Providing for your training partner just ONE type of resistance, just one move, just one factor, for him or her to deal with. And keep it the same until the teacher tells you to move on or until your partner understands how to deal with things.

Be especially wary of stepping or changing angles. Do so only with the teacher’s permission. Don’t get creative, you may just break your own arm, or you may just keep your partner from getting the whole point of the teacher’s teaching.

Example – Sometime back I attended a class that was working on Renyo, among other kata. One of the key points was flipping the gyaku, going from ura gyaku to omote gyaku. The teacher isolated that aspect and had us all working on it.

  • Tori ura gyaku, Uke steps to neutralize it;
  • Tori flips to omote gyaku, Uke steps a different way to neutralize it.
  • Tori then flips back to ura gyaku, and the whole cycle repeats.

I was paired up with a judoka who would rather do judo than what was taught (why did he turn up for the class then? I don’t really know). Instead of stepping to deal with the ura gyaku, he quickly retracted the grabbing hand and grabbed with the other. He could step to deal with omote gyaku easily, but he just kept changing his grabbing hand whenever I did ura gyaku.

To be honest, I was getting seriously pissed off, almost to the point of using an ura shuto instead. I felt as if he was just trying to embarrass me in front of someone else’s class. I could have wrenched out his shoulder with a vicious onikudaki (start the technique, let him step and twist the wrong way, and just when he thinks he has escaped, I use a Shinden Fudo Ryu approach to destroy the shoulder), but that would have made ME the aggressor, guilty of deliberately causing hurt. And it wasn’t justified, yet. Thank God I managed to keep my temper!

In the end I went for a big onikudaki to turn his elbow one direction, and when he twisted his elbow up in a huge movement to escape my movement, I captured that into a Te Makura throw. It seems that most judoka aren’t really that familiar with that one. That ended that round, we swapped roles and I kept my resistance to the gyaku to just stepping, as per the teacher’s instructions.

Yes, I am fifth dan and STILL follow a teacher’s instructions. Why? Because, maybe, just maybe, I don’t know everything there is to know? Or even if I did, I should be following instructions anyway to help my partner train, right?

The important point – the teacher is in charge of introducing all these different forms of resistance. If you want to try any of these out, check with your teacher first.

For us teachers, we need to always be aware that every one of our kihon waza leads to a number of predictable responses, and has certain inherent vulnerabilities. If we want our students to be capable of providing intelligent resistance, we have to look out for these ourselves and teach them to our students. Sometimes resistance is about making use of mistakes, such as an ura shuto done at the wrong distance. Sometimes resistance comes from countering, such as a cross punch when people step in with an omote shuto.

The point is that we need to be aware of the core of each technique. For me, omote gyaku is about moving the opponent’s wrist away from the hip. Onikudaki and musha dori are about drawing a circle with the opponent’s elbow, and there are ways to both do that better and to counter it. When you take this approach to everything you teach, you are the one actively bringing up the menu of resistance for your students. And that way they get to understand any specific waza at a deeper level.

If you want a more specific example, take a look at how I explained ganseki nage in this older blog post. This is something you can apply to other basic techniques and see what you come up with. Of course, always be aware of everyone’s safety, right? Enjoy!

Junjie 俊傑
Bujinkan Ninjutsu


Settling Things Chinese Style

A friend of mine (let’s call him A) used to be involved with the Chinese martial arts tournaments in Singapore, both as a spectator and participant. One day, during a break in a tournament, he was commenting privately to his friend that the students of another teacher did not possess 六合劲 (Six Harmonies Force). By the standards of Chinese martial arts, Six Harmonies Force is supposed to be the hallmark of proper martial arts skill, especially for the internal schools. And since those students from the other teacher were supposed to be practicing an internal martial art, that was as good as saying they were clueless and poorly taught.

It just happened, however, that A’s comments were overheard by other students of the same teacher (they were catching a smoke nearby at the parking lot, if I remember the story correctly). They reported the matter to their teacher, who pretty much went ballistic over the insult and confronted A’s teacher. A’s teacher at that time had phenomenal levels of 功力 (martial power). For those of us unfamiliar with that concept, 功力 is not just plain old vanilla muscular strength. It speaks of a fighter’s ability to generate and deliver force to the opponent, to shed off or nullify strikes from the opponent, to retain balance even when grappled and resistance to joint locks and such.

(By the way, 功力 is a concept that many Bujinkan practitioners are not familiar with. I’ve seen high dan grades switch over to other martial arts when they encountered practitioners with real 功力, because those people just totally bowled them over. Our locks don’t work, their strikes are much more powerful than they are supposed to be and they usually laugh at us when we try to throw them. One thing you need to understand though: 功力 allows a person to do things “wrong” and still get results. You can study under people with high levels of 功力, but if they do not bring you through their journey of cultivating it you can end up practicing flawed technique without the necessary power to back it up… )

The other teacher was no slouch either – he came from a rough province in China and had the brawling experience (and scars) that came with it. What do you think happened next – a death match between two teachers? A duel between my friend A and the other teacher’s top student, to see who had the true understanding of 六合劲? A low-key but persistent feud between the students of the two schools, with hostile glares during tournaments and brawls in the streets?

No. The meeting between the two teachers was made up of A’s teacher listening to the other teacher rant about A’s rudeness while A’s teacher kept offering Chinese tea to him as a sign of apology. What were you expecting, the duels and drama you see in Hong Kong Kung-fu movies???

Martial Arts in Community

The incident I described was not an exception to how disputes were settled in China during the old days. Very seldom will disagreements between teachers lead to all out fights between the teachers, duels between the students or brawling in the streets. If you stop and think about it, it totally makes sense. Teachers don’t want to die or be crippled battling another teacher. They don’t want their students dying or getting crippled battling students from another school (that means the teachers themselves have less paying customers). And the community frowns on feuds between schools leading to brawls on the streets, because that depletes the community’s limited supply of young, able-bodied men. In case we have forgotten, even within the last one hundred years communities still needed able-bodied young men for farming and for defending the community from bandits, marauders and foreign invaders. World War II is still firmly in the Chinese collective memory…

Sometimes of course things go haywire. A newcomer sometimes arrives out of nowhere and starts challenging the teachers in the town, in a desperate bid to establish himself as a teacher. We call it 踢场, the Chinese equivalent of 道場荒らし(challenge matches between dojos). When that happens, the teachers would send someone of about the same rank and status to deal with the upstart (like the newly arrived Wong Jack Man sent to face off Bruce Lee back in San Francisco).

Even if the upstart wins, the community will usually turn upon him. The upstart is an unpredictable element, while the established teachers in town have already shown themselves a part of the community, so to speak. So the town will just ignore that new “teacher” and leave him alone. Think about it, how long can a martial arts school survive if all the people in that town boycott that school and send their kids to the other teachers instead?

But normally the furthest things will go will be a match between the two top students of opposing schools. And that was it. We Chinese are by nature an orderly people, and the difficulty of day-to-day survival over the past one hundred years (famine, battles between warlord factions, the Japanese invasion and all that) and made it such that we would seek cooperation rather than conflict, for the sake of the community. And this shows even in how martial arts schools relate with each other within the Chinese communities around the world.

Is it the best way of doing things? I’m ethnically Chinese, I am too involved with this culture to be able to judge it without bias. But I can talk about it, and explain some of the thinking behind it, so that people from different cultures can actually understand why we do what we do, and so that you can sort of sense if some non-Chinese teaching a kung-fu class is telling you BS about how things were done back in China.


Junjie 俊傑
Bujinkan Ninjutsu


Wisdom from Traditions

The reason why I look smarter than I actually am – I read material from people who are actually smarter than I am. One such person is Dan Djurdjevic. Here is one of the posts that really resonates with me, on why he studies the traditional martial arts. Go give his post a read and come back when you’re done.

For the record, I train in Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu (which comprises of traditions that go back for centuries) as well as Traditional Yang-style Taiji (with elements of Xingyi and Bagua thrown in). These arts are traditional arts and include many elements that are not immediately practical to modern day living (when was the last time you had to use a spear in combat? Exactly).

Because they are traditional arts and I want to learn them as such, I spend time training in things a modern martial artist doesn’t pay attention to. And because my attention is dispersed among so many things (traditional weapons, striking, grappling and such) I end up taking a lot more time to get good at any particular area. Odds are, a karateka with a quarter of my training time can probably beat me in a striking match. *shrug. That’s the trade-off I accept for training in a broad-based collection of skills. And the reason I am drawn to such training is very brilliantly articulated by Mr Djurdjevic’s post in the above link.

He refers to traditional martial arts as “a knowledge and skill database progressively developed over at least 1,000 (probably more like 2-4,000 years) unbroken years – years when this knowledge was actually relied upon by ordinary people in everyday life.”

In this day and age, people usually don’t get into that many fights, or kill that many other people, to be able to recreate the same kind of knowledge traditional arts are supposed to convey. The martial traditions of the Bujinkan were used in the battlefields of Japan during the many years of civil war and military conflict that made up Japanese history. The official history of Taiji may not include being used as a battlefield art, but since the founder of Yang-style Taiji had a teaching stint with the royal guards of that era (besides extensive dueling experience), he was very likely to have been exposed to genuine weapon work and skill (such as the sabre and the spear), and then be able to fit in those weapons to the Taiji paradigm and OS (Operating System).

Conversely, I am skeptical of modern creations, people who train in a little bit of this and a little bit of that, put them all together in their own hybrid style, and then call it a martial art. How many people did they kill to test those skills, I wonder? If they don’t get things horribly wrong, they might end up re-inventing the wheel, calling it some hyped-up macho name, and rake in loads of money from impatient and gullible people who want a quick fix. Sometimes I am tempted to do the same thing myself, but a conscience is such an inconvenient thing… *sigh

Of course I am not saying that every traditional martial art, or every teacher of such arts is good. I am fully aware of the various problems that might occur within traditional martial arts.

First and foremost, a martial art can be limited. For example, a civilian martial art may not be that developed in its understanding of battlefield weapons, a battlefield art may probably not be suitable for dealing with a civilian-style ambush attack. A traditional art may be developed within the confines of a particular historical period (certain geographical environment, certain clothing and attire) and may not be suitable for a different time frame. An art developed for close-range assassination and ambush might not do just as well in a regular dueling match.

Or certain arts may just be overhyped. I’m not going to name any particular art here (I still enjoy living without crippling injuries), but if you take a trainee from even just 100 years back, subject him to hours and hours of physical conditioning every day for months or years, he will get good at fighting even if the system he studies is somewhat flawed. Strength and aggression play a HUGE part in fighting successfully, and that is all fine and dandy until you teach the same techniques to people who cannot commit pretty much their entire lives to training, for at least a few years. Suddenly flaws in technical understanding, or areas where strength and speed are used to patch up gaps in skill, start coming up.

It gets worse when a student without the crazy levels of conditioning thinks he or she can make the same flawed techniques work…

When looking at Chinese martial arts, by the way, you also need to consider this bit of history. Since the time China started modernization attempts in the 1800’s, the introduction of Western military technology meant that many martial artists were no longer wanted for military work or as security guards. Some became street performers and travelled the country putting up shows for the general (uneducated) populace. If you study a Chinese art that was used for this, be aware that there may be elements in it that are NOT martial but meant only to impress the peasants into forking out a few more coins. Your teacher isn’t going to admit that of course…

So you can see, I have issues with martial arts used for performing. Don’t get me wrong, I can appreciate a good show like anybody else (I am a musician) but once you start mixing martial arts with performances things can get confused. There was a guy who used clip from a Shaw Brothers kung fu movie to support his line of argument on how to train for real fighting. I facepalmed myself so hard I nearly injured myself!


The core of traditional martial arts, whether Japanese or Chinese, lies in transmission. The hard-earned wisdom, insights and techniques have to be passed successfully to following generations of practitioners, or else the benefits of studying that particular art are diminished or lost.  This transmission also includes teaching methodology; hopefully someone in the earlier generations of that art was a proper teacher, who could implement into the system the most optimal ways of teaching students the techniques and principles of the art.

Because I am a teacher by nature, I value the teaching methodology as much as the actual martial techniques themselves. In my opinion, it will take at least 3 generations of transmission before the system can be quite sure it has worked out the best, most ideal ways to teach the next generation of practitioners.

But life happens. Things can go wrong. Sometimes the teaching is cut short: the student leaves the teacher or the teacher passes away before transmission is complete. The student may leave because he thinks he knows everything there is to know (Dunning-Kruger effect) or the teacher may have deliberately left out important details because he didn’t trust the student yet. Sometimes the teacher leaves out material or exercises that he doesn’t need (for example, it doesn’t fit his body type) but other students would, and because his successor did not come across such material he could not teach it to his own students.

Yup, so tradition wasn’t a guarantee of quality…

I’ve rambled quite long enough for this post. Over some time I hope to put up what I know about the ways martial artists from China and Japan tried to deal with the problems of transmission. They handled them quite differently, and looking at it will show quite clearly the differences between Chinese and Japanese martial arts.

Junjie 俊傑
Bujinkan Ninjutsu

Class Notes – Omote Gyaku 2

We spent the first quarter of this year doing muto dori (unarmed vs sword), after which we went on to look at striking. The striking quarter was a mixed bag, switching between the basics (sanshin no kata and kosshi kihon sanpo) and other stuff. It was a matter of who turned up – if beginners came we would go in depth into the basics, and if only the advanced practitioners were there we did things like looping drills or various ways to seize the initiative, to attack (and win).

By the way, I wonder how many martial arts instructors can demo impressive defence techniques against their own students because they never taught their students to attack properly?

In this quarter we went back to grappling basics again. We started off with ganseki nage and then ura gyaku, as I see them as fundamentally the same technique done at different distances. Those lessons culminated in the session recorded in my Facebook photo album. And by now we have had two lessons on omote gyaku.

So I read and thought through my previous blog posts on omote gyaku, especially these.


What has remained the same from those days?

I still see omote gyaku as essentially taking the wrist away from the hip. I am still not going for what I call the cheap shot, immediately blasting body weight or force into the uke’s wrist and getting a cheap power trip over inflicting pain upon a cooperative training partner. If I am willing to settle for that, there are many vicious tricks and short cuts that can be used.

The problems with the cheap shot approach are:

  1. That doesn’t work very well against people who have trained themselves to not be hurt by omote gyaku or kote gaeshi (the similar looking technique from aikido). I had one such person in my first class, and now I have yet another who is well on the way to getting to that point.
  2. That approach also does not deal with the possibility that the opponent is holding a knife or some other hidden weapons in the other hand. We looked into all this in the quarter we did knife defences, when we trained against some of the sneakier knife attacks used to ambush people. When you realize how easy it is to conceal a knife to attack someone, you realize that your only hope is to ALWAYS move as if your opponent has a knife. No point dramatically dumping an opponent on the ground if he leaves his knife sticking out of your kidneys…
  3. Most importantly, it increases the danger of injuring your training partners in class. I’ve seen it happen so often; when someone can’t get the omote gyaku to work they just do it harder and faster. The kind of force generated in a traditional omote gyaku don’t just break the wrist, they can shatter the bones and rip apart tendons and ligaments. The last thing I want is to have people crippling one another by accident. Of course people who cripple their training partners on purpose are ultra-bastards and don’t deserve any respect or mercy from me…

Question – ever since I did those posts, what has changed?

  • I’ve grown in my understanding of the kukan.

I teach omote gyaku with what I call triangle stepping. After a couple of training sessions with the good people from the Bujinkan Shingin Dojo I learned that when I draw the base of the triangle (as I call it) I create a kind of vacuum, something like a whirlpool current that sucks the opponent into falling there. If you imagine doing that step vigorously while standing in knee-deep water, you’ll be able to see the direction of the force quite clearly.

Imagining that you are wading in knee-deep water also encourages you to step with your legs driven by your hips also, by the way.

By the way, I recently discover that drawing the base of the triangle is what boxers call “crossing the T”. Yes, I’ve been watching videos of boxing matches recently. I am trying to learn how boxers see movement, there is a lot to learn from there!

  • I’ve grown in my understanding of kamae.

We brought out the training knives again, and used them first to check our basic kata. If it is correct the opponent does not have the opportunity to stab or cut you with the knife during the technique. Then we did ken nagare (opponent does the lunging stab and we omote gyaku the knife hand). This time we emphasized pushing the knife towards the opponent’s face; he will naturally shove his knife away from his own face. We then take that movement and re-direct it into helping him omote gyaku himself.

We really saw the importance of kamae however when we moved on using omote gyaku against low slashes to the abs and high stabs to the throat (the arm travels in a scooping movement, with the opponent’s right hand stabbing towards the right side of your throat, the palm of his hand is facing upwards) . The natural reaction to those attacks is to block those from as far off as possible, with the blocking arm stiff and fully extended to keep the knife far away. That, however, allows the knifer to immediately switch his attack to something else once you block his first one.

But if you maintain good kamae with the blocking arm, you’ll be able to follow his re-directed attack and keep it from hurting you. That is something that most people don’t know about good kamae: it allows you to adapt and still maintain structure. In the Chinese internal martial arts, that is called peng jin , and it is the first and most basic energy to be cultivated in taiji quan training. When it is expressed in the arms it keeps your opponent from being able to drag down your guard and strike your face/chest, or from just smashing through your blocking arms with a full body strike that blasts you into next week. When it comes out in your strikes, every time you hit your opponent he feels as if he ran himself against a set spear.

What’s the difference between proper kamae and just being totally stiff? Proper kamae allows you to adapt, to flow with your opponent’s changes of direction. This is vital should you ever encounter someone skilled in modern knife work, because once you block a knife attack in one direction it will immediately change to another.

Proper kamae, especially in your arms, gives you a better chance of dealing with that.


I was watching a teaching video from a Shifu from China. In it he explained that the various routines (kata) he taught were insufficient for combat readiness. There was SOME correlation between the kata (to use our terminology) and combat, but there were vital differences also. He wanted his students to use the kata for their intended purpose, to train up correct coordinated movement (what the Chinese call Six Harmonies Power).

The kata he was talking about were the solo drills ubiquitous to Chinese martial arts. We do partnered drills most of the time. Those help us develop timing and distancing, but are not that great for training kamae and taijutsu (which to me refers to coordinated body movement). But like the drills the Shifu taught, they still do not give us the entire picture of martial arts. There is some correlation but also vital differences too.

And that is what I want to say here. Our work on omote gyaku (and any other technique, kata or waza) in class teach us principles such as maintaining kamae, flowing with your opponent’s energy changes, maintaining an advantageous distance and such. If you think what we do in class is the be-all and end-all, that drilling omote gyaku (or any other technique) in class thousands of reps means you can pull it off during actual combat, you missed the whole point. Our training gives us options, and the more options you have the better you can adapt to whatever happens (whatever goes wrong) in actual combat.

Ok, enough for now. See you at training!

Junjie 俊傑
Bujinkan Ninjutsu