Showing posts with label Kano Jigoro. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Kano Jigoro. Show all posts

Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Most Essential Principles In Budo: Structure

A question came up in a budo group I’m part of asking what the 3 most important concepts in budo are. It’s an interesting question. What ideas are most fundamental in the art you practice? These concepts undergird and direct your training. They direct the focus of your training and what sort of things you are practicing. People offered quite a few ideas, including:

Keep your body relaxed.
Always keep your center (or be centered).
Keep your elbows down, and close to your body
Always try to control the first move

Many of the ideas offered were specific to Aikido, which is the point of that group. My thoughts are more general and apply to any form of budo.  My list  is structure/stance, spacing and timing, in that order.  Each builds on where the previous concept is, and without effective use of the previous concept the next cannot be employed effectively.  All apply regardless of whether you are doing kung fu, judo, boxing, aikido, swords, staves or scary stuff like kusarigama. This my list, and I make no claim that it is definitive.  I offer it in the hope of sparking good conversation and consideration of the most important elements of practice and application.   I’d thought to do these all in one post, but it looks like it’s I’m going to have to give each one it’s own post.  

My first principle is structure/stance.  Without a solid, connected, supported structure you can’t accomplish anything.  This why I’m only partly joking when I say that the only thing I really teach is how to walk and how to breath.  Good structure is what allows the fastest, most effective, stable and strong movement.  If you are slouching and rolling your shoulders, tipping your head at the ground and not supporting yourself, you can’t breathe deeply or efficiently.  Slouching and poor posture compress the torso so it cannot hold as much air.  You will get tired more quickly just because you can’t get enough oxygen into your body fast enough.  

Slouching also robs the body of it’s natural structural integrity.  If you slouch, you’re off balance already.  Judo folks stand or fall based on their balance, but this is true for anyone in any art.  If you’re not balanced, you’re not stable in at least one direction.  

slouch alexander technique.gif

In the picture above (from this site) the two diagrams on the right show what our structure looks like when we slouch.   Can you imagine trying to do any physical activity with that sort of compromised structure?

With good structure, loads and forces can easily be absorbed and handled, movement is quick, light and easy, and changes can be adapted to readily.  Without it we can’t carry or absorb loads or force, movement is difficult, slow and tiring, and it is difficult to adapt to changes in the situation.

I’ve been showing this to my sword and jo students for years with a simple exercise.  I let them hold a jo against my solar plexus whatever way they like holding the jo, and I can push the jo back into them and them across the room without any effort at all.  They can’t do a thing to slow me down and I can reach them with a weapon or my hands before they can do anything about it.  If the structure of the wrist is off it’s optimal angle even a little, it will collapse under pressure and be useless.  

Wrist structure Bad.JPG
With the structure of the wrist compromised like this (particularly clear in the left wrist) a push on the end of the jo will make the wrists collapse into the body and allow an attacker to easily drive in.

On the other hand, if the wrist is at the proper angle, I can stick a 140 kg goon on the other end of the stick and he can’t push into me, or even into someone half my size.  How can it be that just changing the angle of the wrist where you hold the stick can impact so much?  I’ll let the mechanical engineers and the physics boys explain the details, because I don’t have a deep enough background there to do it anything like accurate justice.

Wrist Structure good.JPG
With properly aligned wrists, you can support far more than your own weight pressing into the end of the jo, and push from the hips with more energy than the arms can generate.

This split between weak structural configurations and strong ones carries over to every joint in the body, and to the way the body as whole is arranged.  If the wrist structure is good, but another joint such as the hip, knee or ankle is not aligned properly, the whole body structure is still weak and will collapse even if pressured only slightly.  

Structure gives the body the ability to move, and when that structure is taken away, there isn’t much anyone can do.  Over the weekend Howard Popkin impressed that upon me anew.  He can, by simply moving around the force and structure of the body, completely undermine the power of people bigger and stronger than I am, and throw them casually, without so much as taking a deep breath.  He simply maintained his structure and went around the lines of strength in mine.  

You can push all you want on someone who keeps their structure aligned so your force is directed into the floor.  It takes very little strength to maintain your structure under this kind of attack.  The attacker’s force actually pushes your body to maintain good structure without the addition of much energy on your part.  If you decide to push back, it’s actually easy to do because your structure is already supporting and negating their power.  When you push back, they fly.

It’s interesting that according to Kano Jigoro, founder of Kodokan Judo, one of the two great secrets of great Judo is kuzushi 崩し.  Kuzushi comes from a verb in Japanese that means tearing down, knocking down, breaking things into smaller parts.  Sometimes it implies undermining and destroying a foundation.  This is one of the great realizations of Kano’s that he put into his Judo.  If you destroy the foundation of someone’s structure, take them off their foundation and remove the support from their structure, they become incredibly weak and a small woman can throw a large man.  

This is true for whatever art you are practicing, whether it is armed or unarmed, jujutsu, karate, sword or chain, staff or rope.  You maintain your posture and then you destroy your opponents.

The first step in mastering budo is learning to properly maintain your own structure.   If you can’t do that, nothing else is possible.  Once you’ve got that you have a powerful base to work from.  Then you learn to manipulate and undermine your opponents structure.  Once you destroy the integrity of their structure, throws and joint locks are easy.  The key is that destroying the integrity of someone’s structure doesn’t involve harming them.  It just means making them slump or slouch or come away from a balanced stance.  Once you’ve done that, the actual technique isn’t terribly important because without a solid, balanced structure, it’s nearly impossible to defend oneself, even from a very poor attack.

Judoka spend an immense amount of time practicing off-balancing techniques to accomplish this.  Aikido folks work on movements to draw someone out of good physical alignment.  Daito Ryu folks work on doing it with the smallest movements possible.  It all comes down to the same thing.  Destroy the ability of the body’s structure to support it, and the person can’t resist anything.

There are the two sides of structure in budo.  Create and maintain a solid, efficient, mobile structure in yourself while undermining your opponents structure and making it unable to support him and his movements.  Mastery of structure is absolutely to everything we do in budo.  We can’t begin to move and breath properly until we learn to do so with good structure.   We can’t defend against anything without good structure.  Effective attacks are impossible with an unstable structure.  

Good structure is at the root of all good budo, whether it is a striking art, a grappling art, or a weapons art.  Without good structure, you have nothing.  That’s why it’s the first of my essential principles of budo.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

There Are No Advanced Techniques

There are no advanced techniques.  Really.  Early in my budo career, I was looking for the secret techniques and mysterious skills that would make me able to do the things my teachers did that seemed like magic. But what looks like magic is really just the basics done phenomenally well. It was hard to convince myself that Kano Jigoro's famous answer to the question of “What is the secret of Judo?” was entirely truthful. When asked about the secret of Judo, Kano replied simply “Practice, practice, practice.” This is not an inspiring answer for a kid who wants to be able to effortlessly throw people across the room.  

Sadly for all of us who are seeking the magic, it seems to be true. Whether I'm working on Judo or kenjutsu or iai or jo or my current nemesis kusarigama, careful, considered, focused and aware practice seems to be the real secret. More and more often, my own students look at something I've done with them like it's impossible, which is something I fondly remember thinking about my own teachers. It's a reaction I never have anymore though. Even when I can't begin to do what my teachers are doing, I can see how they are doing it and I can see the path to being able to do it myself.

Last week I was working on some taijutsu with an Aikido teacher and friend. Jim can do incredible things to your balance and make you fall down with the subtlest of movements. It's a very different technique than what I do in Judo, but I can feel what he's doing. The principle of what he does is clear. He is taking my balance (in Judo we call this kuzushi) and then drawing me in a direction where I can't support myself. I have to fall down. What makes it magic is that Jim does this with the least amount of movement possible. My Judo techniques have long been built on very large movements, but the principle is the same. Now I'm working on bringing a little bit of Jim's magic into my Judo.

It won't happen with mindless repetitions of techniques though. You can repeat a technique as often as you like, and you won't learn anything from the repetitions or get any better. You have to be fully engaged in your practice, and mentally looking for slight differences in your technique that will make you better. That's practice. Just doing something a hundred or a thousand times won't make you better. It will make whatever you are doing more solidly anchored in your body. If you are repeating poor technique, it will make it that much more difficult to change and improve your technique.

To get better at Jim's throws from a wrist grab, I didn't repeat what I already knew. I didn't repeat the big movement Judo techniques that I have been doing. I slowed down and focused on exactly what was happening to my partner when I moved just a little bit. I focused on feeling exactly when my partner's balance shifted from being supported by his frame to relying on me to keep from falling over. It was just a tiny bit of weight that was transferred to me, so little that I doubt my partner even realized he was using me to stay up. Once that happened though, all I had to do was turn my wrist over and he fell down, because I was withdrawing my support of his body. Jim can do this at full speed. It takes me several slow seconds to do it. By being aware of what is going on and practicing it slowly, I can develop the sensitivity to do this faster and faster over time.

One of the keys to making this work is to know what I'm looking for, and then focusing on developing that skill and sensitivity. If we just go to the dojo and quickly repeat the techniques we already know, we won't improve much. We have to be willing to slow down enough that we can focus on making changes to our technique. That's when practice really begins.

Up until last February, I had what is a fairly strong Hiki Otoshi Uchi strike in Shinto Muso Ryu. Then I had the chance to train with one of the senior teachers in our group. I was lucky enough to watch him correcting a junior and demonstrate his technique over and over for my fellow student. What a fantastic opportunity for me! As I watched, I could see small differences between how he was swinging the jo and meeting the sword and they way I was doing the technique.

The technique is the same one I’ve been working on for years.  There is no magic here, just a more subtle, smoother use of the jo that results in a powerful, inexorable technique requiring far less effort than what I’ve been doing.  It’s up to me to increase my understanding of this fundamental technique that I started learning on my first day of practice.  It’s not magic.  It’s not a special, advanced technique taught only to senior students.  It’s simply a fundamental technique done really, really well.

This is true of everything I have done in budo.  When I wrote about Hikkoshiso Sensei tossing me around the Judo mat by waving his hands, I wasn’t referring to any special, advanced technique.  What he does is an extremely effective application of the basic principle of kuzushi.   What Hikkoshiso Sensei did to me is very similar to what I’m beginning to understand in my friend Jim’s technique, and both are extensions of the first principle of technique in Judo, which has been referenced in every Judo practice I’ve ever attended in any of many different countries.  It’s not a secret.  Hikkoshiso Sensei and Jim are just applying a basic principle extremely well.  The same goes for that Shinto Muso Ryu teacher.  He wasn’t doing anything secret or arcane.  He was doing the third technique taught in Shinto Muso Ryu amazingly well.  

None of these people have any secrets.  In truth, they are doing exactly the opposite of keeping secrets.  They put what they have learned through practice out there for students and fellow budoka to see and learn from.  One of the first steps is to stop thinking of it as secret magics, and start thinking of it as an attainable skill.  Then it’s really all about the quality and quantity of your practice.  It’s easy to wish that Kano Sensei’s secret had been something beside “Practice, practice, practice.”  

There aren’t any special techniques only taught to advanced students.  We keep practicing and step by step the advanced techniques appear.  Except that they aren’t advanced techniques.  They are the basics done so well they seem advanced.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Budo Training and Budo Philosophy

There is a lot of philosophizing that goes on in budo circles.  I know that I am in the first rank of those guilty of it.  There is far too much of philosophizing about budo by a lot of people who don’t have the depth to do a good job of it.  This might be a symptom of the internet age though.  Everyone who trains should be thinking about the ethics and values of Budo, but not everyone’s thoughts are ready for prime time.  With the advent of the internet bulletin board and personal blogs (like this one) any fool (like me) can expound to the world.  That’s probably not a great thing.  However, budo without a philosophy of well considered ethics and honor is just another way of hurting people, so I’m glad to see there is so much time and effort being put into thinking about it.

Having said that, I think you need a ratio of at least 100 to 1 ratio of practice to philosophy, although it might need a lot more practice than that.   Consider that the Tao Te Ching can be read in an hour, and then you can spend years discovering new stuff from it.   All the good budo that I have encountered has been deeply thoughtful and filled with philosophical content, but the bulk of that content is written in the kata and application, not in words.  The kata and application are structured so they teach nearly everything about an art, whether it is a koryu bugei such as one of the branches of Yoshin Ryu jujutsu, or a modern art like Kodokan Judo or Aikido.

The kata and applications practiced don’t just teach how to do a technique.  They teach what the art values and thinks as well.  If you haven’t studied the kata and application of the art deeply, any written or spoken lessons about the art will be meaningless.  In Kodokan Judo there are 9 sets of kata, and they teach a full range of techniques for throwing, pinning, joint locking, choking and disarming.  But the techniques taught are just the beginning.  The kata teach how to apply them from a variety of ranges and attacks, so you can also learn something about when to apply the technique.  

When studied properly the kata teach a student to see how close someone has to be before they are dangerous.  The kata also teach an arts philosophy on how strongly to respond and what level of damage to inflict on an assailant.  Some arts believe in preemptive strikes (Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu and Muso Shinden Ryu share the same assassination kata Tana No Shita. One of the first kata in Araki Ryu is an assassination kata).  Other arts don’t include surprise attacks but are willing to strike first once they have been threatened (Shinto Muso Ryu’s Tachi Otoshi).  Still others refrain from action until actually attacked (Kodokan Judo).  This is philosophy at a fundamental level that is embedded in the kata of the particular systems.  These kata all make an ethical statement about what is acceptable behavior in the eyes of the people who crafted the system.  

Studying an art’s kata teach you what the system approves of and disapproves of.  It also teaches about things such as how strongly to respond to a given situation or provocation.  Some systems always respond with lethal force (see pretty much any koryu bugei from before 1604 c.e.).  Others have a variety of responses that range from killing or crippling an attacker down to simple restraint.  Shinto Muso Ryu has a variety of responses in the kill, cripple or seriously injure range, while arts like Kodokan Judo and Aikido tend to focus on the range from causing injury down to simple restraint.  These are all philosophical statements, but without deep practice of the art, the philosophy of the arts cannot truly be understood.

Most arts also have written or verbal teachings that supplement the physical training, but the physical training is the core of the system and really teaches what they system believes.  The associated writings help one to better understand the art, and provide some guidance in the form of things to think about while practicing. However, without intensive training in the systems kata and application, the writings and verbal teachings are nearly meaningless because they lack the proper context for understanding their intent.

Kano Jigoro Shihan, the founder of Kodokan Judo famously crafted two guiding principles for his art:
自他共栄   Jita Kyoei often translated as Mutual Benefit And Welfare
精力善用 Seiryoku Zenyo often translated as Maximum Efficiency Minimum Effort

These are simple statements, but the true depth of their meaning and intent can only really be understood through intensive practice of the system that embodies their meaning.   Mutual Benefit And Welfare sounds very nice, but actually practicing it in the dojo while you train is much more difficult that the simple phrase suggests.  The dedicated student has to learn how to do this even when they don’t like their training partner, even when they are tired, angry or annoyed, and even when a partner may have actually harmed them in some way.  The principle is not easy to implement, and it isn’t meant to be applied just during keiko.  

Seiryoku Zenyo is even more difficult to understand, though perhaps it less emotionally difficult to implement.  It starts out in technique, but grows quickly after that.   All Kodokan Judo students soon realize how important the principle is for doing the techniques of the system properly and effectively.  That is quickly obvious when you see a 60 year old judoka doing randori with a 20 year old, and you notice that the 60 year old is relaxed and breathing easily while the 20 year old is stressed, stiff and gasping for air.  Same techniques, same art, but the 60 year old is doing a much better job of applying Sieryoku Zenyo.  While the 20 year old tries to use strength and youthful energy, the 60 year old is doing only as much as is really necessary, resulting in the 60 year old being fresh and relaxed after a few minutes of randori while the 20 year stands next to him exhausted and panting for breath.  The difficult secret is that you are supposed to be able to scale the application of Seiryoku Zenyo to everything else you do in your life. It’s not meant just to be hidden in the dojo.  Without dedicated practice in the dojo though, the real depth of the concept will never be revealed though.  There are lots of things that seem efficient at first but that the trial and error of practice reveal to be mistakes.

As a student advances deeper and deeper into a budo school, they slowly discover more and more depth to the teachings, both the practical, physical teachings of the system and the written teachings.  The core of any budo system is the physical teachings of the art, the kata.  The writings associated with the art help a student to understand what is embodied in the kata, but without extensive practice of the kata and deep appreciation for their contents, the writings will just be so many scratches on paper.  This is true whether they are Kano Jigoro’s writings about mutual benefit and maximum efficiency, Ueshiba Morihei’s writings about the circle, square and triangle, Shinto Muso Ryu’s shiteki bunsho about the nature of the jo, or some of the esoteric teachings of other styles like Yagyu Shinkage Ryu or Araki Ryu or Miyamoto Musashi’s writings for Niten Ichi Ryu.  If you haven’t studied the physical portion of the curriculum deeply, the philosophy will be meaningless.

Now get out there in the dojo and study your art’s philosophy.