Terminal Ballistics or What Sundome Doesn’t Teach Us

Tameshigiri (test cutting), not Sundome

Training with your partner in the Dojo and maintaining participant safety uses an important concept critical to your martial arts study, but also has some drawbacks.

Stopping Just in Time

(Sundome) means stopping your punch, kick or strike just before impact. You need partners. Failure to control your technique results in injury and then people do not want to train with you. Simply put, proper control and trust in your partner extends your ability to train with them.

Sundome is also important as a method of self-control. By practicing to stop your technique before full expression you learn to focus your level of effect on the opponent. The focus spectrum  ranges from not touching your opponent (as in pulling a punch) to striking with all the force you can generate. From a budo aspect this type of training has value.  Controlling technique gives you confidence in your ability and it is safe to practice with partners in a learning atmosphere. And there lies the trap—if you are serious about the Bujutsu application of technique in actual combat.

For me, the Sundome concept has some serious implications in my Budo study. To recap:

  • I recognize the value of Sundome training in the dojo. It allows me to train and learn technique with others in a relatively safe environment where I can concentrate on learning.
  • I recognize the value of Sundome for a sport competition venue which provides safety for all competitors.
  • I value Sundome training for developing control in my technique. To be able to apply it from stopping just before application to complete application.

The last point above gives me the tool I need to explore and understand Sundome is not complete application of technique—it is only the start.

What Sundome Doesn’t Teach

From an application perspective (I’m talking a bujutsu perspective here), Sundome can’t answer some important questions.

To use an analogy, in shooting a rifle, there are three important phases of ballistics:

Internal Ballistics – everything that happens up to the point where the bullet leaves the barrel. This includes everything you do while holding the rifle, pulling the trigger, the firing mechanism resulting in the firing pin hitting the cartridge, the primer exploding and igniting the gunpowder and the expansion of gases that push the bullet down the barrel of the rifle, and even includes the rifling that spins the bullet and stabilizes its flight.

We can think of this as how we generate force and movement in our technique.

External Ballistics – This is what happens between the rifle and the target. How the bullet travels through the air, effects of moisture, wind, distance to target, and even the corriolis effect of the earth’s rotation.

We can liken this to timing and distance concepts used in the martial arts.

Terminal Ballistics – the effect of the bullet when it hits the target, penetration, energy transfer, fragmentation etc., and most importantly, the effects it has on the target’s ability to continue to function. In other words, how our technique imparts force to the opponent and the results of that force on the ability of the opponent to continue fighting. Does the bullet impart all its force on the surface of the target, in the target or through the target?

Sundome training doesn’t allow you to study or explore the effects of impact on your opponent. Sundome doesn’t teach you about terminal ballistics. In addition, because you are physically linked to your fist or kick (unlike a bullet), those impacts can also have effects on you (Newton’ s third law – for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction).

Let’s look at a few simple examples:

Recoil – If I hit with 100 pounds of force, the same amount of force travels back through my body.  Just like shooting a rifle, if I have a poor stance, wrong position of the butt stock on my shoulder, etc., my technique is likely to suffer in both penetration and effectiveness. You may be first in with a technique, but if you can’t penetrate because of a lack of understanding how impact affects your body—you better be prepared for the counter.

In fact, many times you can effectively weather an attack (blocking or not) because your opponent has no clue about how his body transmits force from the ground. If you understand this, you can overwhelm an opponent quickly by continuing your attack.

Range – If your technique is too extended or not extended enough, the effect of your technique is diminished when you hit the target, and also has effects on your body and the ability to move subsequently to the impact.

Target – If you hit effectively, but hit the wrong target, the effect on your opponent may be different than you expect. While Sundome training can teach precision and accuracy in technique, it does not help if your technique is not precise or accurate in its effects.  An example might be how much pressure is needed to exert control of a joint versus breaking it, or hitting the deltoid muscle on the upper arm versus the acromion process of the shoulder blade.

Impact as a way to create tactical control – Hitting an opponent can stop or change their forward movement during an attack and can lead to Collapsing Structure (Kuzushi) and further Gaps (Suki) that can then be exploited.

There are a number of other examples of how impact application effects further technical application. An example might be slapping the face (Kaze Uchi) or using a pressure point (Kyusho Uchi) to cause a reaction in the opponent that creates a bigger Gap (Suki) or Collapse in Structure (Kuzushi).

Sundome Does Not Teach Decisiveness in Combat

Sakki - Dangerous intentThere is one more concept that is very much related to Sundome training that many do not consider. I discussed with my Sensei a number of years ago about a concept I’m going to translate as Dangerous Intent (Sakki). A person in a highly emotional state because of anger, rage or influence by drugs may continue to be dangerous even after being struck with a well executed disabling or even lethal technique.  When the adrenaline is pumping in a highly dangerous moment or a person is lost in rage, you can strike him with a blow that would normally disable him, but because of his excited state, he is still able to function and strike back.

As an example, imagine a charging African water buffalo intent on impaling or trampling you. Even a well-placed shot may not be enough to drop the animal immediately, and you may be still in a very dangerous situation.  I have personally witnessed a white-tailed deer struck lethally with a well-placed bullet run two hundred yards before dropping. In tournaments one competitor is struck in the face as he attacks, continues his attack, sweeps, throws, and finishes his opponent before he turns away and the effects of his injury become apparent.

Impact that takes the momentum away from such an opponent or disables his ability to continue is the only sure way to stop them decisively other than retreating and letting them wear themselves out.

So how do we train to study the effects of impact on the opponent and ourselves? For karate, I cannot stress the importance of using the Striking Post (Makiwara). The makiwara teaches how to strike solidly and how force is transmitted through your body as a result of impact.  For the sword, an old tire stuck over a fence post, allows you to strike without fear of hurting anyone and at the same time, learn how to cut.  Using the makiwara is not about blasting it with your kicks and punches or hitting with your bokken. Using a makiwara inefficiently is probably just as bad as not using one (But that’s maybe for another article).

Some styles of karate use armor (Bogu) similar to kendo. This is not license to full use of your technique, but allows study of hitting effects with a partner in relative safety. Kendo with the use of the shinai and Bogu gives you opportunity to feel and experience the difference between playing tag or cutting.

Test cutting (Tameshigiri) with a sword and Test Striking (Tameshiware) using your body are two other methods. My own experience with test cutting taught me how to hold the sword properly and to make sure the blade aligned with the arc of the cut. Test striking has been less instructive for me. My opinion is that it’s not about how many boards, bricks, etc., I can break in a static application, it is about consistent ability to strike and create the effects in my target I wish to create—which is not always destruction.  The makiwara , shinai and bogu were the tools that gave me confidence in terminal ballistics.

Sundome safely teaches confidence in accuracy and timing, but you still have to understand the effects of impact to both you and your opponent. There is a lot more here to see if you look deeper.

Budotheory.ca

by Rick Rowell

 

Shinogi

“Peeling the Shinogi” – or – How the Sword Ridge Can Teach us to Block

Blocking - taking a deeper look

What is Blocking?

Have you ever considered what blocking is?  I mean really considered what you are trying to accomplish. Is there something beyond the obvious of not getting hit? Are there some common principles or logic that can help us appreciate all those blocks that we see in martial arts such as Karate, Aikido, Kendo, and Iaido.

I’m going start by using three analogies to look at the spectrum of blocking.

Blocking - static defenceWe’ll start with an asymmetrical engagement between a man with a bow and you being a strong castle with thick walls and high ramparts. Your walls can block the opponent’s attacks through sheer mass. An arrow hitting your stone walls will be lucky to make a small chip. In this case, your ability to take punishment is greater than the opponent’s ability to strike. This is one kind of block. This is attrition in military terms – the ability to take more punishment than the opponent. It is combat paid in full. In other words, you block with mass and then counterattack with your weapon. Mobility is not important.

Let’s move down the spectrum and place two opponents with equal offensive and defensive ability against each other. If each is capable of injuring the other with a punch or sword strike, then avoiding the opponent’s attack becomes more critical. Mobility and the approach to blocking become important.

But let’s change the scenario once more. Let’s give the opponent a very strong weapon, in this case, a high powered rifle. And let’s give you a shield made of thin plate steel that if hit squarely by your opponent’s bullet will penetrate and kill you. How do you block now? Mobility and approach to blocking become critical.

In the first scenario, we absorb the punishment and then counter with our own strike.
With the other two scenarios, we can take several approaches to blocking our opponent’s attack.

Understanding Dislocation

One approach is to make the opponent’s attack be in the wrong place or wrong direction. This is called in military science Positional Dislocation. By Shifting (Sabaki) out of the line of the attack, you dislocate the opponent’s attack.

A second approach is called Temporal Dislocation. This approach uses timing to pre-empt or change the tempo of the engagement and manipulates the time dimension to make the opponent’s strength irrelevant. In the martial arts, there are several timing types we use to create temporal dislocation including Initiative After the Intitiative (Go no Sen), Against the Initiative (Tai no Sen) and Initiative before the Initiative (Sen no Sen).

Typically we use both approaches in combination (body shifting and timing techniques). Nothing I have said so far is anything new. In fact, this is a classic example of how our understanding of Hard and Soft Methods (Juho and Goho) change as we increase our experience. In unarmed combat, blocking with a Hard approach tends to give us bruises on the arms and legs, the opponent’s technique bounces off our block only to be free to attack again. Using the Softer approaches of Shifting (Sabaki) and Timing (Hyoshi) we can dislocate the opponent’s attack and position ourselves in both space and time for a strong counterattack. This is the essence of Combining Hard and Soft (Ju Go Awase).

There is a third type of dislocation we can look at and that is Functional Dislocation – rendering the opponent’s strength dysfunctional by blocking or guiding the opponent’s attack. In the third scenario above, you could change the angle of your shield to deflect the bullet. Even though the shield would not take a direct hit, a glancing blow may deflect the bullet and allow you to survive and counter.

Blocking – Putting it All Together

So, what are we really trying to do when we block?  My answer:  we want to avoid getting hit, but equally important, gain tactical superiority by using all three dislocation methods were possible. I remember Sensei explaining that moving out of the line of the attack is blocking (positional dislocation), attacking can be blocking (in this case hastening contact with the opponent before he is ready e.g. Sen no Sen or Tai no Sen = temporal dislocation), and finally physical blocks that guide or trap the opponent and put him at disadvantage is also blocking (functional dislocation).

And this brings me to the concept of Shinogi.

Shinogi

Blocking - ShinogiThe word Shinogi has two Japanese homonyms (words sounding the same but with different meanings) that can give us an avenue to further explore the concept of blocking.

  • Shinogi can mean the ridgeline of a sword or blade.
  • Shinogi can also mean to endure, stave off, or pull thru—even to survive bad times.

So how do these two words allow us to explore the concept of blocking?

Blocking - ShinogiTo a beginner, a block is a reactive thing. Your opponent strikes and you react. We stick our sword out to meet his attack with little consideration of the blade—we just don’t want to get hit. If you use the cutting edge to block, your blade is going to become chipped and dull in very short order. As we gain experience, we learn to use the side of the blade (the Ridgeline or Shinogi) to deflect the opponent’s strike. Not only does it provide more surface area to catch an opponent’s strike, but it also preserves the offensive capability of your sword (the cutting edge).

Using the Shinogi

Leaving Positional and Temporal Dislocation to the side for now. Let’s examine aspects of Functional Dislocation using a block.

Catching the Attack

Blocking - different types

For a block to work we have to intercept the strike or attack somehow. So let’s look at an example that is the opposite of catching an attack. A modern fighter pilot does not want to “catch” an all aspect air-to-air missile. It will ruin his whole day. So what does he do?

When an enemy fighter fires a missile (think of this as the opponent punching or striking with a sword), the defending pilot immediately has to make it difficult for the attacker’s missile to hit him. The best way to do this is to make the tracking solution for the missile to be as complicated as possible. This means pulling as hard as you can into the missile so that you are at ninety degrees to the missile flight path (A). This makes it harder for the missile to hit. The pilot is using positional dislocation to defend against the missile. If you are familiar with Body Shifting (Tai Sabaki) this is a great example.

With blocking, you want to do the opposite. You want your arm or sword to intercept and make contact with the attack before it hits you. One way is to let it hit you or your blocking arm, surviving the hit, and then countering (B). Like our castle example above.

Another way is to cushion the attack (C). If you are a hockey player, one of the first things you learn in receiving a pass is that if you put your stick out stiffly, the puck hits your stick and bounces off, thereby making it more difficult to control the puck. You learn to give a little and cushion the pass in order to catch and control the puck. Another example would be tossing a water balloon up in the air and catching it. If you do not want the balloon to break, you catch the balloon more gently—giving in as you make contact.

A third approach would be to hit the attack as you sweep your block in front of you, making contact and deflecting it (D). Sweeping your arm across in front of you perpendicular to the attack is precisely the wrong approach because it maximizes the chance that you will miss contact (like our fighter pilot trying to avoid a missile A). Any miscalculation in timing results in you being hit. Most beginners try to hit the punch or strike out of the way in this manner, and may even be successful, but this approach does not ensure tactical control of our opponent. In unarmed forms of fighting such as Karate, this is no different. Our blocks meet the opponent’s punch with the aim of hitting the opponent’s arm out of the way, but as we learn rather quickly, if the opponent bounces off our block he is still free to continue his attack, sometimes with the same arm.

By angling the blocking surface as it sweeps across (or is stationed) in front of you maximizes the chance of you intercepting the attack and deflecting it (E) and gives longer control of the deflection.

Another approach is to use the width of the blocking object like the prow of a boat or wedge and force the water to either side allowing the boat to move forward with as little drag as possible (F). Using the Shinogi is like this.

There is a Japanese term “Shinogi o kezuru” to “peel the shinogi.” The phrase describes a closely fought contest between two opponents, but the idea is to use your sword so that the attacker’s sword glances alongside the Shinogi rather than meeting it straight on. The nice thing about using this type of thinking during blocking is that it can be done within the full spectrum between defense and offense. You can receive a strike completely defensively and let the strike angle off like rain hitting a roof and running down the eaves. It can also be used to deflect an attack as you attack. Like rowing your boat upstream—the water is deflected as you move forward.

Thinking about Shinogi gives you whole new ways to explore Kata and understanding of blocking beside avoiding being hit, such as:

  • Dislocating your opponent (positionally, temporally, or functionally),
  • How blocking can be used defensively and offensively,
  • Using blocks in combination with Shifting (Sabaki) and Timing (Hyoshi),
  • How Shinogi can be used to increase tactical control of the engagement, and finally,
  • How blocking be applied using both Hard and Soft Methods (Ju Go Awase).

Exploring the concept of Shinogi and learning to ‘Peel the Ridgeline” teaches us how to endure, pull through and tide over in many ways in and out of the Dojo.

Budotheory.ca

by Rick Rowell

One Inch Distance

?

Life And Death in the Thickness of Paper.

by Rick Rowell

Distance - Life and death in the thickness of paper

In the duel between Miyamoto Musashi and Sasaki Kojiro made famous in the novel Musashi by Eji Yoshikawa, Musashi’s headband (hachimaki) was cut by Kojiro’s sword the same instant he killed Kojiro.

Kojiro may have died smiling, thinking he had cut Musashi.

Musashi, however, fully understood the concept of distance or Interval (Ma-ai) and its relation to time. Kojiro’s sword was a fraction of an inch too far away, but Musashi’s was not. As Kojiro was famous for the use of a longer sword, Musashi used a wooden sword carved from a boat oar—just a little bit longer.

The ability to judge the distance between your opponent within one inch or less can mean the difference between life and death.

There are a number of distance concepts used in the martial arts, but I am going to focus on two that are essentially the same principle and related:

    • Issun no Ma-ai – literally “One Sun Interval”. A sun is an old Distance - definition of SunJapanese unit of measurment a little over an inch long (1 sun = 3.03 cm). For the sake of clarity let’s translate it as “One Inch Interval”

 

  • Kami Shitoe – can be variously translated as “The difference in the thickness of a piece of paper,” hair’s breath, razor’s edge, paper thin, or nick of time.

The two ideas are essentially the same principle. To illustrate the principle, the figure below is a stylized overhead view of an attacker and defender. The person attacking is the black circle.

A. Shows two opponents facing each other from a slightly Toma (Far Interval ) distance—the starting position of the engagement.

B. Shows the defender maintaining the same distance from the attacker by shifting back at the same rate the attacker moves forward. Tactically this gains no advantage because it maintains the distance the defender will have to cross in order to counterattack. Any counterattack takes longer—because you have to cross a larger gap, and that takes time. A large spatial gap also gives your opponent the opportunity to re-take the initiative (Go no Sen) from you, or at the very least to strike you at the same time you strike him (Aiuchi, mutual striking). This type of movement (maintaining distance) can be useful if you are not ready to engage and want to remain at a safe distance outside the opponent’s Hitting Distance (Uchi no Ma-ai).

C. Shows the principle of “One Inch Interval” or “Difference in the Thickness of Paper.” Reducing distance by controlling movement backward to just outside the attacker’s range, means you are still a hair’s breadth out of range—in other words, safe. Tactically, you gain advantage because your counterattack does not have as far to go to reach the opponent and is hence faster.

D. Shows the same concept only by Shifting to the side or Entering (Sabaki or Irimi) and actually moving toward the attacker and just evading the attack by the “thickness of a piece of paper.” Tactically this makes the counterattack faster yet again.

Distance Concepts

The Issun no Ma-ai/Kami Shitoe concept can be used with any timing concept (Go no Sen, Tai no Sen, Sen no Sen) whether you block or not. The important aspect of this principle is that it is used to tactically retake initiative and make it very hard for your opponent to deal with a counterattack that is both compressed in time and space.

One Inch Distance (Issun no Ma-ai) is a critical concept in combat. It is not wasteful of time or distance, can be used with all timing approaches, and—no matter how strongly an opponent attacks, a miss is a still a miss. A miss by only one inch leaves you alive just as much as a miss by two feet, but the smaller miss leaves you in position to immediately exploit the opponent’s weakness (Kyo) that inevitably follows his missed attack.

Kami Shitoe is sometimes referred to as life on one side of the paper and death on the other and hence the idea of a razor’s edge between life and death.

Miyamoto Musashi in his book the book of five rings (Go Rin no Sho), written in the seventeenth century uses a very similar concept when he discusses the Spark of Flint Hit (Sekka no Atari to iu Koto).

“The ‘Spark of Flint’ means to strike with a great deal of force when the opponent’s long sword and yours are close enough to be barely touching, but without raising your long sword in the slightest. This means cutting quickly with hands, body and legs—all three cutting strongly. If you train enough you will be able to strike strongly.”

Musashi’s example shows how by lifting the hands the sword moves away from the opponent and increases the distance away from the opponent. Cutting immediately reduces time and distance, but you have to practice to become sufficiently strong enough to cut with force.

In unarmed martial arts such as Karate, the principle is no different. Moving just out of range of a punch or kick, then immediately countering is a common tactic in more experienced Budoka than in beginners.

The principle of minimizing or closing distance is as old as warfare, but you can challenge yourself to use this concept in other ways. Can you find examples in negotiation, hockey, formula one racing, or baseball?

The principle of “One Inch Interval”  or “The Difference in the Thickness of a Piece of Paper” can produce tactical advantage by manipulating time and space to stay just out of range of your opponents attack, and hastening contact with a counterattack.

There are many other distance and timing principles used in the martial arts.

Consider Budo Theory: Exploring Martial Arts Principles as a reference to learn more.

Exploring Kata Horizons: Tools to Change Your Perspective

Kata - Ways to Study

You study Kata diligently, for years, and just when you feel we are getting a handle on it, your Sensei shows you one little thing that gives you that slap in the forehead feeling. “Why didn’t I see that?” Suddenly your understanding of the Kata expands into a whole new world of possibility. Your perspective changes as if you climbed to the top of a tower and abruptly the horizon is much further away than before. You can see new vista’s that were not apparent from the bottom of the tower.

We can learn two important lessons from the horizon analogy:

1. The horizon is a point we cannot see beyond, but hints that there is something beyond its limits.

2. What limits our ability to see is that the horizon is always relative to view. If you are in a hole, your horizon is going to be close. You might want to change perspective and climb a hill.

You can sit at the bottom of the hill and listen to Kata - Kasushi - hidden techniquessomeone else describe what they see, or you can walk up yourself. Nothing compares to the feeling when you discover a principle or Hidden Technique (Kakushi Waza) through your own effort—when your Sensei smiles as you both recognize that you have ‘glimpsed the Ox.’

My Sensei always stressed that you had to look at Kata in more than one dimension. He showed me that there were many dimensions to Kata. So the first thing to remember about Kata is that one dimensional minds have a hard time comprehending that there may be more than one dimension.

There are many types of horizons.

Some Common Dimensions of Kata

Sequence – The obvious first dimension. When you Kata - expanding horizonslearn a Kata realize that you are receiving only a small portion of the Kata by learning its sequence—your first horizon. For the beginner, just understanding sequence is the challenge.

Bilateral Symmetry – Using both sides of the body equally. To develop bilateral ability. Many Kata only show one side or exhibit a decided “handedness.” Don’t fall into the trap of limiting your technique to one side, or your strong side. Expand your horizon. In the military, I learned to shoot my rifle on both my strong side and weak side, so I could adapt to circumstances and use cover effectively. Loading a magazine with your weak hand and reloading a gun with only one hand are modern expressions of Kata. What if you were injured? Kata is no different, being able to adapt to circumstance during a throw is a sign of a well-balanced budoka.

Obvious Technique – The obvious movements such as a block, punch, kick, etc. You can spend a lot of training time getting this right. Depending on your horizon, this can be the extent of your understanding. But is there something beyond your horizon that may add to these techniques?

Timing – What kind of timing can be used with each technique or group to techniques in your Kata?

Analysis (Bunkai) – This is the systematic exploration of the application of the movements in the Kata.

Variation (Henka) – This expansion in horizon is related to considering how you might vary the outcome of a technique. Some examples might be Compression (putting two techiques together, e.g. where a punch also becomes a block), Expansion (creating two techniques from one movement. e.g. I remember my Sensei showing me one movement that became three blocks instead of one. ), varying direction, severity of technique, consideration against multiple opponents. These are just a few ways that variation can be looked at.

Reverse Techniques (Gyaku Waza) – For every technique in your Kata is there a counter or several? It would be wise to understand these in case the techniques are applied to you.

Transitions – between movements can hold Throws (Nage), Finishing Techniques (Todome) and many beautiful Shifting (Sabaki) movements to avoid your opponent’s strength.

These are only a few ways that you can elevate you perspective and gain new horizons with your Kata.

Tools to Gain Meaning

There are a number of tools at your disposal to expand your horizons as you research your Kata:
Interpretation – Narrow or broad. Interpreting Kata is largely based on how the Kata was transmitted from teacher to student, experience, and inference of movement and technique from other sources of information. Don’t let your horizon be too narrow. “This is the way I learned it and there is no other way.” We have all done this, and many can stay stuck with this limited horizon.

Inference – is a hugely important aspect of martial arts. “Ichi o Kiite, Ju o Shiru”—hear one but understand ten. Inference means to arrive at a conclusion by reasoning from evidence. There are two main methods of inference—inductive and deductive reasoning.

Inductive Reasoning – works from observation toward generalizations and theories, and is called a “bottom-up” approach.  Inductive reason starts from specific observations, looks for patterns and regularities, and formulates a hypothesis that is developed into a general theory or conclusion. In other words, we observe a number of specific instances and from them infer a general principle or law. Inductive reasoning tends to be open-ended and exploratory, especially during the observation phase.

A concrete example of inductive processes could be looking at a specific Engagement Posture (Kamae) and noting certain features that could be used in other postures, or how it could be used in a different context. Another would be learning to use your hips in a punch and then using the same approach to other techniques. At the small scale of an Engagement Posture or Punch, you develop principles or theories that aggregate into more encompassing principles and these continue to aggregate. In the case of Jigoro Kano’s principle of maximum efficient use of mind and body, his principle is the culmination of an inductive approach in which many technical observations led him to infer this single principle that encompassed Judo. The principle of Duality (Kyo-Jitsu) is also inferred using inductive reasoning.

Deduction – works from the more general to the more specific—sometimes called a “top-down” approach. For example, we might see and understand the basic idea of a punch from a technical point of view, but we may be able to deduce greater efficiency by testing a specific hypothesis we make, e.g. will my punch be stronger if I keep my elbow in, or if I use my hips in a slightly different manner? You can then test this hypothesis in training and determine for yourself whether it is true or not.

Independent Research – If you rely on someone else to provide the information about a movement, you will never get a complete picture. You can certainly learn from them, but you need to integrate understanding with application, and then induce your own principles that satisfy your level of experience. A single Kata may have evolved through different styles and teachers, and may appear very different from what you have been taught. Looking at the differences can lead you to new bunkai, but also give you a feeling for why movements diverged, or create new questions worth exploring.

Paradigm Evaluation – Re-evaluating your paradigms is always useful when studying Kata. As an example, when I first learned a Kata as a less experienced Budoka, I thought that offensive movements were followed sequentially with defensive movements, followed by offensive movements, etc. You blocked then you punched, or vice versa.  As my experience increased, I realized offence and defence were part of a spectrum of Duality and that spectrum was one and the same thing. My understanding of offense and defense changed. A block could be used to attack and a punch could be used in defence. Suddenly my paradigm shifted from one of offence and defence to offence can be defence and defence can be offence. This led me to new discoveries in my Kata.

As a more concrete example, in one Kata I was studying there was a movement using an Upper Body Shifting (Jo Tai Sabaki). The Kata showed no outward indication of attack and I thought it was just a rotation to avoid a punch. When my Sensei showed me that the body rotation could not only evade the punch, but also break the opponent’s elbow using my shoulder, I suddenly realized that all techniques had elements of both attack and defence in them at the same time. I then correctly inferred through induction that there were many other examples of these types of techniques in my Kata that I had not seen before.

Getting into a habit of re-evaluating your understanding of a Kata, or even a single movement within one, is a good habit to fall into. If you are aware that your horizon is limited, that you are fallible in your opinions, biased in your thinking and probably weigh evidence based on personal preference; that is the first step in being open to new revelations.

Frustration – This is personally my favorite. It can include technical frustration (I can’t seem to get the movement right), to application (it doesn’t feel right or I can’t make it work against an opponent), to even understanding why a particular movement is done (that makes no sense). If you are satisfied with your first interpretation of a movement in a Kata, I would say you are missing 99 percent of what it can teach you. Frustration motivates you to dig deeper.

Outside and Inside – Omote and Ura

There are several terms used in the Japanese martial arts that describe Hidden Techniques (Kakushi Waza). Kata can be arranged by level of complexity and understanding. Some styles divide their teachings into Shoden, Chuden, and Okuden (Beginning Teaching, Middle Teaching and the Interior or Secret Teachings).

When studying Bunkai, be aware that there are the Kata - Omote Uraobvious applications of a technique, and others that take some searching to find. The Outside (Omote) surface of the Kata may look simple and seem not worth looking at in any more depth, but beware—you can be missing some of the most interesting and challenging aspects of the Kata.

Some of the seemingly simplest Kata are by far the deepest. The unobvious is far and away the largest aspect of Kata to study, not the obvious outer surface. As your sphere of knowledge about your martial art increases, penetrating into the Inside (Ura) can explode your understanding.

Many Kata have elements of animals and symbolic meanings. For example, one Kata may emulate a heron, bird, or a certain technique like a dragon tongue. As a biologist, watching herons gave me insight to the person who had a flash of inspiration watching these birds and developed the Kata Rohai. There are a number of famous stories of sudden insight. The crescent spear used in Hozoin Ryu was conceived in a flash of insight when its founder Hozoin Kakuzenbo In’ei is said to have seen the reflection of the crescent moon shining on a pond.  He imagined a spear with a cross blade (Kama Yari) would be more effective in fighting.

Symbolic meanings can represent salutation to the four cardinal directions, flying birds, clouds, thunder, lightning and the list goes on. Sometime these are literal, but many times they are used to impart a feeling or understanding to the technique. The important thing here is to gain an understanding of the symbol and use it to understand the technique, its origin, and its application.

No matter what martial art you study, the single most important thing to explore is Kata. It has been handed down from generation to generation. Both winners and losers—the people that survived combat and those that died in it—have helped develop the ideas found in Kata. Kata is the root of all the transmission from generation to generation. It is the seed or model  (See Article Kata – Looking at it two Ways) by which we can grow a great tree, apply a useful tool, or create a beautiful sculpture.

It is not important to know a great number of Kata. Learn to penetrate one or two deeply. This procedure will enable you to develop Insight (Kan) into the Kata you research. It will also give you the tools to penetrate the Inside (Ura) of others not only in your martial art, but outside it as well.

Some advocate gathering as much information about as many different martial arts as possible, by learning as many Kata as possible. I firmly believe this is a fundamentally wrong approach in the study of Budo, and results in a person with only a superficial understanding about many subjects. He is a master of nothing. By studying hard and penetrating as deeply as you can, you attain the freedom you are seeking.

Make sure you are learning real Kata and not rubbish someone has thrown together from limited horizons. Trace your Kata back to the Meijin who developed them, and understand their evolution to when it was given to you. Search for the Logic (Ronri) of the Kata. It is a tragedy wasting precious time in meaningless pursuit (Muda – See Article Without Reason, Inconsistent and a Man Without a Horse ).

Challenge your ability, understanding, and realization Kata - find meaninghorizons by changing the way you think about Kata. Changing your perspective by looking at different dimensions of Kata will never lead to boredom. Doubling the size of your horizon, means that you have four times the area to explore.

by Rick Rowell

If you would like to read more about Budo Concepts, consider purchasing Budo Theory: Exploring Martial Arts Principles.

 

Judo Meijin

Judo Meijin

Fortunately for us there is historical film footage of both Jigoro Kano and Kyozu Mifune that are a joy to watch and learn from. These visual references offer the serious student a wealth of quality information if they are diligent, particularily if they explore Variation (Henka) related to their martial art. Look them up on Youtube

While following the footage there are many avenues of exploration in techniques that can be used in your own study. They have definitely expanded my understanding of Technique (Waza), Collapsing Structure (Kuzushi), Timing (Hyoshi), and helped me understand my own Kata.

Engagement Posture – Kamae

Kamae

I read a great little piece of translation at Kenshi247.net attributed to Nakayama Hakudo, founder of Muso Shinden Ryu Iaido, on the subject of Kakashi Jodan, and it got me thinking about Engagement Postures (Kamae) in general. Read this short article and then continue reading here.

“Kakashi’ means someone who takes the outward form of something for the sake of status or pride despite their lack of ability to do the thing they say or attempt to do. It can also refers to scarecrows – they look human, but they aren’t.” 1

Kamae (Engagement Posture) is a term with a broad meaning that includes physical posture, readiness, deception, and attitude. Engagement Postures are related to Timing (Hyoshi), Distance (Ma-ai), and Stillness (Tomari); can be used to produce confusion and to deceive; and can be related to the number of opponents you face. Kamae is definitely related to mental status and can even cause an opponent to hesitate or give up attacking.

There are hundreds of Engagement Postures used by various Budo disciplines. Understanding them is a study unto itself, but all are related to a position that is equally ready for attack, defend, or both. Many have specific applications and have wonderful names. Here are some examples from the Chito Ryu Karate Kata:

  • Earth Posture (Chi no Kamae)
  • Peaceful Bird Posture (Chinpi no Kamae)
  • Expanding/Tension Cloud Posture (Choun no Kamae)
  • Cannon Ball Posture (Hoken no Kamae)
  • Open Hands at Eye Level Posture (Kaishu Ganzen no Kamae)
  • Both Hands Invitation Posture (Kaishuho Sasoi no Kamae)
  • Cloud Fist Posture (Kenun No Kamae)
  • Bow Power Posture (Kyusei no Kamae)
  • Heron Wing Posture (Ranchu no Kamae)
  • Dragon Tongue Posture (Ryuzetsu no Kamae)
  • Heron Posture (Sagi Kamae)
  • Heaven and Earth Posture (Tenchi no Kamae)
  • Horned Posture (Tsuno Gamae)

Some names above are descriptive of an animal, bird, or the offensive and defensive strategies they resemble. Others imply deception or purposely show an opening that is really a trap for the unwary. Some Engagement Postures hide the length of a weapon whether it is a sword or staff.

Essentially, Engagement Postures are ways of minimizing exposure of weak (Kyo) positions to our opponent on all three levels (physical, mental and spiritual), and prepare us to exploit any weakness in the opponent—a balance between offence and defence.

At the same time, with deeper Insight (Kan) into Kamae, an Engagement Posture is a symbol of your opponent’s thinking—of what he will do. How you present yourself to your opponent tells a lot about you and your level of experience. In addition, by observing how your opponent approaches you, you are seeing his reaction to how he perceives you.

Rigid adherence to a particular Engagement Posture shows a lack of flexibility and indicates likely reactions to attack. Adopting a posture to mentally dominate an opponent (such as Jodan Kamae) but lacking in credibility might appear on the surface as a solid Kamae, but in fact be a weakness (Kyo) that can be exploited. This is really what the article on Kakashi Jodan referenced above is all about.

The most basic, and arguably the most important, Engagement Posture is the Middle Engagement Posture (Chudan Kamae). Regardless of which martial art you study, I would even include modern military combat shooting and western fencing, this engagement posture is used in every combative art.  There are differences based on whether or not you hold a weapon, and the type and nature of the opponent’s threat, but there are some basic principles you can see right away.

“To understand Engagement Posture you must thoroughly understand Chudan Kamae. Chudan Kamae is the heart of the attitudes. If we look at strategy on a broad scale, Chudan Kamae is the seat of the commander, with the other Kamae following the commander. This should be examined carefully.”
Miyamoto Musashi, Go Rin No Sho

Examining the Middle Engagement Posture (Chudan Kamae) we can see many things:

• Stance is oriented to provide maximum stability toward direction of force or opponent.

• Knees aligned and bent toward opponent to protect them, provide protection from a kick to the groin, and maintains a strong hip position.

• Body is upright paying attention to the Vertical Axis (Seichusen), and center of gravity is stable. 

• Both legs aligned for kicking.

• Upper body turned into a Half Front Facing (Hanmi) position to minimize profile to opponent. Although modern Kendo Kamae is less so, older Bujutsu favored this.

• Forward hand or sword protecting the centerline of the body.  Makes it difficult for a direct hit and forces a glancing blow (like the glacis on the front of a tank.)

• Forward hand or sword tip points toward the opponent’s face, locked on target.

• Forward hand or sword in a central position so blocking movements whether inside or outside only have to travel half the width of the body. Up and down movements to block low and high are minimized.

• Rear hand is targeted toward opponent and ready to be used as circumstances permit.

• Chin is slightly down in case the face is struck. Still maintains eye contact even if hit. If the head is turned away then you cannot see what is going on.

• Teeth slightly together to help protect jaw if hit.

• Body weight distributed evenly between forward and back foot. Allows for movement in any direction easily, either foot to kick or otherwise use (e.g. for sweeping).

Studying the Middle Engagement Posture can give you Insight (Kan) into other Kamae and helps identify their strengths and weaknesses, and most importantly not to fall into the deception that many carry.

Natural State – Shizentai

Shizentai to a vast majority of people in the martial arts means “natural stance” and that is the end of their search for understanding. Shizentai is one of the highest expressions of Budo. Shizentai does not just mean to stand in a natural position, but it also means being prepared to deal with any situation.

While in Japan many years ago, I was given a small cast metal wall hanging by my instructor.  The piece depicted Miyamoto Musashi standing in a relatively relaxed position holding two swords. I had read Musashi’s book, the Book of Five Rings (Go Rin No Sho), and had visited the cave called Reigando near Kumamoto where Musashi lived for the last six years of his life and where he penned this work in the seventeenth century.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but my wall hanging was based on a famous portrait of Miyamoto Musashi (picture at right). To the less experienced, he looks less than impressive, but the man survived over sixty encounters with other able swordsmen, and was quite clearly a very experienced swordsman.

There had to be more to this picture.

The Engagement Posture Musashi is depicted in is known as Happo Biraki or “open on all eight sides.”

This type of Engagement Posture is sometimes termed the Engagement Posture of No Engagement Posture (Mu Kamae no Kamae), meaning that the concept of Engagement Posture now becomes irrelevant to combat, but that does not mean Kamae is not used. It means the person has reached a state in which he can adjust to his opponent in a fluid manner according to the situation. His mind is not attached, his body is not attached, yet both are integrated and completely ready to engage the opponent. In the words of a friend, “if I was the attacker I would have to pause and consider if he was just nuts, or like a coiled rattlesnake.”

In this case Musashi is obviously an integrated individual. His Kamae shows no Gaps (Suki), even though he looks innocuous.

Kamae is a reflection of thinking. You understand this, you begin to see Gaps (Structural, Movement, Execution and Mental) and understand what you will do from this posture—and that creates Gaps that can be anticipated. Having no Kamae makes you unpredictable and very hard to read.

Shizentai is actually the epitome I strive to find in my Budo. It encompasses not only the relaxed body that embodies Eye Position (Metsuke), Breathing (Kokyo Ho), Abdominal Convergence (Tanden), Stance (Dachi), Timing (Hyoshi), Distance (Ma-ai), Changing Speed (Johakyu), Coordinating and Expressing Ki (Kiai and Aiki), and Voice (Kake Goe), but also a mental state that we describe as Immovable (Fudoshin).

Shizentai is found in any stance—every stance has a Naturalness (Shizen). Shizentai is not just standing naturally, and yet, it is.

Recognizing Shizentai for what it is, has expanded my understanding well beyond Budo. I can see this Natural State (Shizentai) in artists, painters, gardeners, poets, authors, craftsmen, orators and philosophers. My search for truth by studying Budo has led me to a much broader understanding.

I have a question for you at the end of all this. Is the long-eared owl shown at the top of this article, showing Kakashi Jodan? Is he a scarecrow, or a Musashi of the night sky? How was he thinking of me when I photographed him? What was he telling me? And finally, can you see how your postures and those of others during everyday situations reflect a person’s thinking?

Engagment Posture (Kamae) is a reflection of thinking.

by Rick Rowell

Interested in delving deeper into many martial arts principles? Consider Budo Theory: Exploring Martial Arts Principles as a reference.

References:

1. Kakashi Jodan. 2011. http://kenshi247.net/blog/2011/11/09/kakashi-jodan/ accessed 10-Nov-11

The Essence of Iaido – Cutting the Carp’s Mouth (Koiguchi o Kiru)

Iaido = giant carp

I remember when I was preparing for my Iaido shodan exam in Kumamoto. After practice, I had a quiet moment with Tashiro Sensei. I asked him what he considered the essence of Iaido. His answer though seemingly simple was yet profound and made me think about my martial journey differently from then on.

Iaido is the Martial Way (Budo) of drawing and striking with Iaido - definition and Kanjithe sword. Iai means to “Reside in the Present” or to “Unite with the Present” and Do, means “path or “the way.” Combined, the term can loosely be described as “The way of residing in the present. I began my study of Iaido as a way to learn more about Karate

Tashiro Sensei looked at me and said “Koiguchi o Kiru,” which means to cut the carp’s mouth. For those of you not familiar with Iaido or the Japanese sword, the koiguchi is the mouth of the scabbard and it resembles the mouth of a carp.

Iaido - Cutting the carp's mouthCutting the Carp’s mouth is shown in the figure at right. It looks like a insignificant movement. Just pushing the sword guard (Tsuba) with the thumb to free the sword. And yet this is what Tashiro Sensei considered the true essence of Iaido. It wasn’t the cutting, it wasn’t the kata—it wasn’t the technical application of using the sword at all, and yet it was all of that. Tashiro Sensei said “Everything after cutting the carp’s mouth is just Kenjustsu (Sword art – or application of the sword). 

The sword is made from the application of intense heat and pounding, the steel is shaped and then tempered. Its formation evolves with much skill and perseverance of the sword smith.

We undergo a similar process through our study of Budo. All of us will be faced with life circumstances that will help forge our constitutions into good steel if we have faith.

And as we study the practical application of using the sword or our martial art (Bujutsu) we also forge in ourselves, fortitude, perseverance, resolution, and will. This means our steel develops Strength. The practice of Iaido develops good steel.

Developing skill with the sword is essential, but not the heart of Iaido.  

What is Cutting?

Using the sword means cutting, but have you ever considered what cutting is? Cutting is separating something from something else. It creates a boundary.  

We cut things figuratively every day.  We use words to cut. We use actions to cut. Sometimes we cut with purpose and at others we cut indiscriminately. We can cut to destroy, or create.

For example, when you scold a child, it is not to cut with the purpose to destroy, but to cut with the purpose of pruning. The hope is that better fruit (our children) will grow when we limit less desirable characteristics.

The act of cutting is one you should consider carefully. Your temperance and prudence is critical in the decision to cut. When you destroy one thing, you create new circumstances. There is an old saying – “Battles have long tails.” Killing your opponent may bring further misery, or liberation – depending on what or who your opponent is. Your opponent can even be yourself.

Negative self-talk (I am not good enough) cuts you away from self-fulfillment. Consider carefully what you wish to prune and so separate. Many cut indiscriminately, pruning pieces of happiness, love, empathy, and wonder from themselves and others. Before you cut the carp’s mouth consider what you may be cutting. Yelling at your son, daughter or spouse may only cut you away from intimacy, love and respect. If you cut happiness away from yourself, you weaken your steel.

Sometimes cutting is necessary to separate yourself away from negative relationship, practice or habits. Just like a surgeon prunes dead and diseased tissue, sometimes it is necessary to destroy in order to heal. The real test of wisdom is to know when to cut, and to cut with purpose and design.

This is not to say that you should hesitate in cutting. It means you have considered these things before you ever have to cut the carp’s mouth. To me this is a high level expression of Initiative Before the Initiative (Sen no Sen). It means you have decided the circumstances for which you are willing the cut the carp’s mouth. Once you have cut the carp’s mouth you are living in the moment of the action you have engaged in, whether it is combat or helping a friend.

This is the essence of Iaido.

Cut in the Positive Direction – Make Things Better

One wouldn’t think that using a sword could show beauty and yet when combined with the wisdom of positive purpose and the strength good steel, skill, and fortitude–beauty is the result.

There is the death giving sword and the life giving sword. The life giving sword stays in its scabbard the majority of the time. When it is employed it is honest, used for the benefit of others and cuts swiftly and cleanly. 

Iaido shows us a wise path – the wisdom to know when to use the sword. Practicing cutting (bujutsu) allows us to cut with strength when it is appropriate to apply our skill in different circumstances. Remember you can cut with a real sword, or figuratively with your words and actions. 

I am reminded of these things every time I see or touch a sword.

 When you have strength, wisdom and beauty inside – you become the sword.

The knights templar were charged to never draw the sword unless convinced of the justice of the cause in which it is engaged, nor sheath it until his enemies are subdued.

“Do not draw me without justice, Do not sheathe me without honor”.

In the west, the two edges of the blade signify right and law, that the poor are to be defended from the rich and the weak from the strong.

Iaido uses a sword with only one edge. It teaches that the edge is to cut in the right direction and the back is capable of showing compassion even after you have drawn the sword.

Iaido does not mean some esoteric fluff with the sword. It combines application of martial techniques (Bujutsu) with a consideration of both positive and negative purpose. We sometimes loose sight of the essence of Iai because we love to feel the technique when the sword slides from the scabard.

I have learned that the simple push of my thumb to cut the carp’s mouth has opened a whole new avenue to explore my understanding of not only Iaido but all Martial Ways (Budo.)

Ways to look at Budo – Great Way, Small Way

Different ways of looking at the Way

Big Things Can Come in Small Packages and Vice Versa

I reviewed some old notes scribbled down hastily after a lengthy conversation with Akutagawa Sensei, and I found a little gem to share. We were discussing the concept of Do or ‘Path’ as it relates to Budo. Sensei Akutagawa is no longer with us, but the echoes of his thoughts in my notes allowed me to reflect on these ideas after all these years, and he still teaches me.

Daido - Great RoadDaido can mean a main street or highway, but in our Budo context, it can mean a great principle. Sensei described Daido to me as the main stem, like the trunk of a tree, the spiritual or intangible truths, the core of our being and our martial journey.

He contrasted this with the Small Way – Shodo, by comparing it to a single branch tip—to a single technique, action, or experience.

We all start our training in martial arts by learning little truths; for example, how to make a fist, or hold a sword. That little branch tip of information that your Sensei shares with you, along with others, merge into a twig that encompasses how we use our fist.

Shodo - the branchEven though I learned these small ways from my teachers, there was always something about my teachers, something deeper that made me want to learn from them. Was it their knowledge, wisdom, ability, and confidence? Yes, all that, but there was something else. There were all these intangibles that I wanted to acquire—something deeper that I could somehow feel but not experience directly. I had to train.

But I saw that deeper intangible in their Shodo—their technique, the way they helped me learn, the way they were hard with me when I needed that too. Another interesting thing that Akutagawa Sensei said to me was that Shodo is always inspired from Daido. The beauty and strength we see and appreciate in a well-executed technique is created from something deeper in the individual. We see only the downy tip of that creation, and yet, as a beginner it was technique that inspired us to want to learn more. To capture that something is what drives us to train and strive.

As I think about these ideas, I realize that Shodo gives me the pathway I can use to understand larger principles in myself from a single technique. Will the pathway be exactly the same as my Sensei’s? No. It may merge with a different branch, just like all trees are different. But if I follow it back far enough, my branch will merge into a single trunk and then into the soil. That soil is the same soil my Sensei’s tree grew from.

We spend a lot of our time out in the branch tips seeking new technique, action and experience. As we struggle to integrate these into larger meanings in our life, we realize that our roots are embedded in the same matrix as everyone else.

The point of this essay is that our teachers show us only the tips of their branches—their Shodo—because we can never directly experience the deeper core of their being. When our tree touches theirs, a new twig emerges in our tree. That new downy branch tip can sometimes drive our understanding straight down to the trunk like a lightning bolt, can whither, stay dormant, swirl around for years in the high branches, or reach further down to something deeper—the core of our being.

We need to experience the Small Ways (Shodo) of our teachers to seek the Great Way (Daido) underneath, and we need the Great Way in us to inspire us to search for the techniques, actions, and experiences that shape who we are. When Shodo becomes Daido is something hard to figure out. One can’t exist without the other.

Our techniques, actions, and experiences (Shodo) are created from something deeper in us (Daido). At the same time the Great Way in us is inspired by the Small Ways of our teachers. And that is what we call the Way.

Budo Theory: Exploring Martial Arts Principles

by Rick Rowell

What is Budo Today?

Budo

Budo - definition and KnajiBudo, the ‘Martial Way’ or ‘Military Path’ is typically related to Japanese martial arts such as Karate-do, Judo, Kendo, and a number of others, but today the concept of Budo goes well beyond Japanese martial arts.

The term Budo is of relatively recent origin. Some even describe it as the Modern Military Way (Gendai Budo) to differentiate it from older forms of military arts (Old Form Military Arts – Koryu Bujutsu). We like to differentiate into ‘this’ or ‘that.’ There are wide paths, narrow paths, steep and rocky paths, career paths, and paths of least resistance.  Paths come in many flavours. Today Budo has evolved to encompass both old and new thinking—it is an inclusive concept.

Budo today includes the older Bujutsu—a deep, multi-dimensional, and a broad subject to study. On top of that base, Budo becomes more than the mere application of military principles on the battlefield. It is a path that has as its end goal a well-balanced and self-fulfilled person.  Studying Budo expands horizons physically, mentally, and in other disciplines such as art, music, science, philosophy and psychology; and if you want, it opens up a spiritual avenue to ponder.

Budo can apply to all martial traditions—Budo transcends one culture. Budo concepts cut across physical, mental, and spiritual boundaries.  There are many tangible aspects of Budo and yet the real heart of Budo is intangible.

The unique Japanese flavor of Budo came from systematic study of martial arts endemic to that region of the world, but many concepts derived from this path have also been discovered by other cultures and continue to be used in current military science.

Budo Has Evolved

Budo - evolutionJust like Einstein who generalized Maxwell’s equations to a higher dimension to give us a new era of physics, principles of military science have been generalized on a number of levels and have evolved to give us Budo.

Budo as we know it today evolved from something quite different. Warfare is very old. Weapons, fighting techniques and strategies that worked became codified and relied upon for both offensive and defensive roles on both micro and macro scales; rulers fought for control of empires, and the common man protected his life and property.

Budo - Bujutsu definition and KnajiBujutsu: The application of technique—first appeared out of necessity. The ability to fight and the techniques that evolved were based on the pragmatic realities of survival.  During these early eras, the military arts were studied with the sole purpose of destroying the enemy. Bujutsu is the application of military science and art to defending and attacking an opponent—Bujutsu is the pragmatic application of violence.

Power was consolidated (in Japan this happened after the battle of Sekigahara 1600 A.D.) by Tokugawa Ieyasu as Shogun who founded the peaceful Tokugawa era. This parallel can be seen in many cultures, the warrior class began to pursue interest in other aspects of military thought to fill a void and justify its own existence during peace times.

Budo - Bushido definition and kanjiBushido: The ruling Tokugawa Shoguns also needed to control the military class and gave them an outlet for their energy by educating them. This was a code of conduct expected of a warrior stressing the concept of never pausing to consider the nature, significance, or effects of a superior’s command. The concept today has been romanticized to the extent that many do not distinguish it from Budo.

Bushido was standardized, strictly adhered to, and formulated by those in authority to maintain control. Those who stressed the role of Bushido in reality espoused the role of the soldier, a blind obedience to orders, and not that of a warrior—someone who made up his own determination of whether to act or not. Bushido still is and has in the past been prone to fanaticism. During World War II, Bushido was used to create national fervor and military fanaticism that kept some Japanese hiding in jungles long after the conflict was over.

The ideals of Bushido, however, do have a place in our study of Budo. It is through Bushido’s sometimes harsh self-discipline that the realizations of Budo bear fruit. This is a seeming paradox. To gain freedom (in technique) you must enslave yourself to rigid discipline (training). Like a concert pianist, the Budoka must practice with dedication to enjoy the freedom and fluidity needed in both combat and music.

Despite its potential for misuse and fanaticism, major tenets of Bushido include what are known as the seven virtues:

• Rectitude
• Courage
• Benevolence
• Respect
• Honesty
• Honor
• Loyalty

These attributes are worthy of any Budoka. Today, Bushido alone is considered an incomplete way to achieve self-realization, but the discipline and training demanded by Bushido puts one into position to have a better understanding of Budo.

Budo: The term Do comes from Buddhist, Confucian, and Taoist (Tao is the Chinese equivalent of Japanese Do [Way]) philosophies. All suggest implicitly or explicitly that the pursuit of any worthy endeavor leads to spiritual liberation.

The pursuit can be anything: dancing, garden designing, tea ceremony, swordsmanship, etc. Once something is taken up and becomes a serious undertaking, it is called Do. In the case of Budo, the serious undertaking is the study of the Military Way.

Dreager’s Classical Budo (1973), an excellent reference to the historical origins of Budo, states:

“The creation of the classical Budo was indicated by the nominal change of the ideogram for Jutsu, ‘art,’ in the word ‘Bujutsu to Do, ‘way.’  This change heralded men’s desire to cultivate an awareness of their spiritual nature through the exercise of disciplines that would bring them to a state of self-realization. It is this goal that underlies the major difference between a classical martial discipline labeled ‘Jutsu and one termed ‘Do.'”

After examining Bujutsu, Bushido and Budo, we can see that the first two are subsets of the last—Budo has evolved to include the former.

We love the technical art of Bujutsu, finding better and more efficient ways of improving our technique. We understand the dedication and commitment required to become proficient, and have to overcome our fear through the discipline of Bushido. Budo allows us to find and understand, in a deeper sense, our relationship with our path in life.  Budo is a ‘Way’ of life.

Budo Today

Today’s concept of Budo evolved in part from precursors such as Bujutsu and Bushido. Budo however, is not static, but rather dynamic, and constantly evolves. Kata change as each generation learns them. In some paths, the knowledge is enhanced, in others it is degraded. On top of all this, your understanding of Budo changes as you travel on your martial journey.

So how do you find the path that is right for you?

There are some guiding principles that can help you answer this.

Respecting the Past

Consider tradition with some respect for the hard lessons learned by actual combat. The past offers clues to your study to help you determine if you are on the right path.

Does the path you follow respect the study of solid Bujutsu?

As an example, modern sport while very important is still a sport. Too much focus on sport only narrows your path. While this may be an important aspect for you at certain times in your journey, there are other areas to study as well. Don’t get me wrong here. Sport is critical for developing many positive attributes in youth and elite athletes. My point here is are you learning combat or sparring? And what do you want to learn?

Does your Kata have depth?

Is there history in your Kata that gives you room to study. Make sure you are studying something that has not been distorted or creatively made up with no meaning. Dig into your Kata, its history, origin, geography, its variations among different styles of martial art. Assess your Kata critically.

Does the path you are following demand discipline and study?

Is your dojo a social place or a place for disciplined training? It should be both, in a balance that fosters personal improvement. If too skewed one way or another, why? What effect will this have on your personal development?

Value pragmatic and well-executed Bujutsu. Value the discipline and commitment it takes to do it well. Improve on it when possible without changing it into an esoteric art that has little real meaning.

Understanding the Present

It is easy to think of the enemy as being outside of yourself.  Today’s Budo has given you an even more worthy opponent—Yourself—and if you dig deeper you realize that there is no enemy or self, there is just what some have called Tao.

Is your path only one dimensional?

Are you locked in only technical modes of thinking? Budo has a depth and breadth that can challenge anyone at multiple levels.  Some specialize in unarmed or armed technical disciplines; others expand their study to calligraphy and the tea ceremony. Some can practice a lifetime and still feel like they haven’t penetrated very deep; others manage to pierce the very core of Budo. As you study you realize that Budo expands into other areas

To give you some perspective, there is a saying “Ken Zen Ichi Ryo,” which means “the sword and Zen are the same”—that through the study of the sword (Ken) one can achieve the same level of enlightenment as the study of Zen. This statement indicates that there are many dimensions that can be considered and explored. In this case, the link between Zen and Budo

Can you apply what you learn in different contexts?

Can you take fighting principles and apply them to other aspects of your life? Most of us live in relatively peaceful societies. Learning to apply martial concepts in different contexts makes us grow. For example, learning to apply pre-emptive, and reactive timing concepts (pre-emptive – Sen no Sen, reactive – Tai no Sen and Go no Sen) to other situations.

“A stitch in time saves nine” is really using a pre-emptive (Sen no Sen) approach to avoid a bigger tear in your clothes. This mundane example if considered carefully should give you many ways to lever this principle in many more interesting and complex ways.

Does you path make you a better person?

Are you focused only on winning by beating another person at his expense?—a zero sum game—or are you winning by creating a partner in the Dojo that can help you learn? What is winning?

Careful what you think here, you can have a tactical victory and a strategic loss at the same time. It all depends on what you set out to achieve. For example if my goal is to protect my family from an assault by two opponents, you can completely kill one (a decisive tactical victory) while letting the other assault your family (a strategic loss). Considering subjects such as what winning is can’t help but make you grow. I’ve only used the concept of winning here as an illustration.

Thinking about these things allows you to utilize these concepts in the boardroom and family life. Sometimes letting student throw you or your young son beat you at something is the surest way to create confidence and desire to learn, a strategy build on success not failure.

The Future of Budo

I have no idea what the future of Budo will be like. My own thinking is that Budo is a subset of Strategy (Heiho) and that is the avenue I am pursuing. Others will no doubt have other avenues to explore. Most importantly, I think the ideal of Budo—that of becoming a better person—involves a well rounded approach to the multiple facets of Budo, and to minimize distortions caused by focusing too tightly on single facets (i.e. Bujutsu only, or sport only, or meditation only).

Budo - Enso conceptI’ll end this article using the concept of the circle or Roundness (Enso) found in many Zen paintings. If you focus only on a few strengths (left figure shown below), when you face your opponent, he will always attempt to evade your strengths and target your weakness. If you concentrate on building on your weaknesses to become less “pointy” as in the second figure, there will be much less for the opponent to exploit.

The Zen ideal of Enso symbolizes lacking nothing and nothing in excess—when the mind is free to let the body and spirit create whatever is needed under the circumstances you find yourself in. This ideal of a “well rounded” person that exposes little for the opponent to avoid or exploit is also the ideal of Budo.

Budo takes the points of Bujutsu, Bushido, Training, Mental Status, Psychology, etc. and rounds them into an ideal that we all strive for.

 

Budo - rounding out your path

 

by Rick Rowell

Comparative Kata – Swimming in Variation

and I Don’t Want to Get Out of the Water

Kata - variation

We rely on Variation for so many things. Variety in the way musical notes are put together to make music endlessly enjoyable. We rely on diversity and variation in biological systems from genetic diversity through species diversity.  We like to eat diverse foods given the choice. Can you imagine a world where there is only one song, one species, and one kind of food?

So why do we think there is only one way to do a Kata? Time to shake Newtonian (absolute time and space) views of Kata into a more Einsteinian (Spacetime and relativity) view.

With the explosion of video resources on the web these days there is great opportunity to do a meta-analysis of Kata. So I thought I would share my exploration of one Kata that is common to a number of styles of Karate—Seisan.

Below are three videos to show various forms of this Kata – there are plenty more – fill your boots. This kata has wide geographic distribution and illustrates many forms of Seisan. I am not interested in whether “one form is better than the other.” I am interested in what they can teach me about my understanding of the Kata. The three below are a good representative number without getting too big and messy.

These visual references offer the serious student a wealth of quality information if they are diligent, particularly if they explore Variation (Henka) related to their martial art.

My observations can be found after the  the vids.

1. Seisan – Shito Ryu

2. Seisan – Goju Ryu

3. Seisan – Uechi Ryu

 

Comparing Kata

Kata Evolves – So Get Over it

and

Use it to as a Tool

to Make You Stronger

First of all, there are no wrong kata. Kata evolves and changes, follows different pathways and personalities. Kata is Variable (over both time and geography). Picking apart a kata or the person doing it because you learned it different is a sign of immaturity. Comments of this nature can just be thrown in the dustbin and chalked up to inexperience.

Kata - Variation kanji HenkaTake the Variation (Henka) you see as a way to explore the meaning in your Kata—the facets of other types of thinking and emphasis.

Variation is the Key to Being Flexible in Combat

Imagine reacting the same way to every attack. It better work the first time because your opponent is going to adapt, sometimes faster than you would believe. Variation allows you to adapt to circumstance. Combat is fluid and circumstances change. Quickly adapting to conditions and even moving into predictive approaches to identify and exploit Gaps (Suki) in combat, place you ahead of the opponent.

Variation Doesn’t Mean Bad Thinking

Even badly performed or conceived kata can be instructive. Analyzing poor biomechanics, technique and bunkai can help you improve yours. What is important is that you consider what each has to offer to make your kata more complete in both understanding and application.

If you want to find a great kernel of information, sometimes you have to go through a lot of chaff.  You need to filter the information based on your level of understanding. Learn to identify the gems, but be careful, the gems can look just like any other rock see my article on Exploring Kata Horizons. Just remember, your level of understanding changes over time—what you might think as chaff might be a hidden kernel of truth that you discover later.

Exploring History and Origins

As we can see, the Kata Seisan has a number of incarnations that can be attributed to different people and even different areas of Okinawa, and if we look further we can see Seisan’s roots in China as Okinawans went to China at different times and brought back their version of this kata.

Researching a Kata, history and origins gives you a much broader understanding of the Kata, but it’s easy to get lost in all the ambiguity, half truths and forgotten history. There are great sources of the history of these Kata available if you search for them. I’m not even going to attempt to go there in this article. Don’t get me wrong, I think there is value in this research, because it gives you confidence that the kata you study has roots and depth, and is based on considerable thinking. It can also show how your learning has deviated from others.

This is an unfortunate aspect of the martial arts journey. There are many branches of kata that have lost depth and understanding. Tracing your Kata to pivotal personalities gives you confidence that the depth is there, or that you can rediscover it. These things are dependent on your teachers and organizations.

Similarity and Differences

These different versions of Seisan are interpretations made by different groups or individuals.  Each version has emphasized particular aspects and de-emphasized or lost meaning in others. This is the essence of style (Ryu)—a way of thinking about how to solve the problems of combat. Evolution in action with selective pressures both good and bad.  Can we say that a moth is worse than a butterfly, a hawk less magnificent than an eagle?

Let’s look at a few similarities and differences in Seisan and what they can teach us. Don’t even think this is exhaustive. The following are broad brush strokes used to illustrate:

1. What I find striking in all of these examples is the use of the arms like the wings of a bird, regardless of whether the hand is open or closed. This tells me that there is possible history related to white crane styles of Chinese martial arts, and has shown me several new ways of looking at bunkai in my Kata. 

2. Both arms are used in unison—blocking and striking. This tells me that there is much consideration to Against the Initiative (Tai no Sen) timing, where one wing blocks and the other strikes (with both open and closed hands).

3. Shito and Goju Versions use a low Joint Kick (Kansetsu Geri) whereas the other two emphasize front kick or knee kick. The kicking shown in this kata is very instructive. It has shown me that I can use my knee against an opponent, a front kick and a low sidekick all as Variation (Henka). It has also shown me several different locations in my own kata where these techniques can be used that are not overtly shown, especially in the turning movements.

4. Some blocking movements can be used as strikes—Unity of Offense and Defence (Kogeki Bobi).

5. Some blocking movements are different in height (Jodan, Chudan, Gedan). For example one version uses a middle block, while another uses a low block in the same movement. So why should I be fixed with one type of block when the condition of combat dictate another?

6. Some movements in other Seisan lineages I am not as familiar with, gives me the idea that similar meanings are found in other Kata that I know like Niseishi and Sanchin—a new avenue to explore those kata.

What Can We Conclude?

Looking at the Variation in Seisan (that I have studied for more than 40 years) makes it immensely more interesting.

Variation is the key to understanding your kata more fully.

The Variation between lineages of this kata provide new avenues to explore and new perspectives to your Kata’s bunkai.

Kata, like an Engagement Posture (Kamae) is a distillation and indication of thinking. Certain individuals were pivotal in developing these kata into something more mature or evolved. My conclusion is that I want look at these individuals in more detail, because the variation in their thinking led to the differences we see in these Kata.

Is the Seisan I learned the same as that learned by Chokuto Kyan, who taught Tsuyoshi Chitose, who taught it my teachers—I doubt it.  The question should be – Is it better, richer, deeper? 

Our generation has spent more time delineating and codifying kata than evolving it. For some it’s good enough just learning the sequence of movements.  For me it’s about evolution to something richer—because Kata is fighting. Understanding the richness in Variation is why I keep studying, and training, and dropping sweat on the dojo floor.

Variation makes my Seisan richer. By inference, Variation makes all my kata richer, in fact, variation makes much of my life richer.

Thanks to the people who make these type of resources available for someone like me to swim in variation. My eyes open a little more each time I stop to look.

As a homework exercise, take any movement from your Seisan and come up with five variations. If you don’t come up with ten you aren’t looking hard enough.

“Ichi o kiite ju o shiru” – Hear one understand ten.

If you are interested in these kind of topics consider Budo Theory: Exploring Martial Arts Principles.

by Rick Rowell