Showing posts with label kuzushi. Show all posts
Showing posts with label kuzushi. Show all posts

Monday, April 11, 2016

Budo Isn't About Technique

Budo is about traveling a path.  It’s not about being stuck in one place.  The road is always there, time is always moving and the world is always changing, even when we are still.  Budo is about maintaining balance and integrity (physical, mental and emotional) whether we are in movement or stillness, and having a calm, imperturbable center whatever is happening around us and however we are moving.

The world is dynamic, so attempts to remain perfectly still are doomed, rather like trying to stand perfectly still on a sailboat in a storm.  You can be stable, quiet and calm, but these must be within a dynamic world where you are constantly making adjustments, and sometimes your overall and ongoing stability is only maintained through large, dynamic movements on your part.

Budo is not static. A lot of people seem to think that great budo has already achieved perfection in some previous age. Whether it’s classical judo, or Ueshiba’s aikido, a great koryu like Takenouchi Ryu or Yagyu Shinkage Ryu, or one of the famous iai styles like Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu or Muso Shinden Ryu, people craft an image of a budo that was perfect when the founder or great teacher lived, and that they are trying to recreate the perfection that is contained in the kata and teachings.

I’ve run into aikido practitioners who look back on Ueshiba or Shioda or Tomiki as having achieved budo perfection. For many years of my judo practice I felt that way about Mifune’s judo.  Among koryu budo people, the idea that the founder of their ryuha was the paragon of ideal budo is common.  The thought that there was one, perfect budo that we are trying to emulate or recreate is an attractive one.

It’s also a trap. Budo is a way, a path. In Japanese, the styles are called “ryu” 流. It comes from the word 流れる meaning “to flow, to stream, to run (as a river)”. The road we travel is always changing. Every step we take along the way takes us to a different place. Rivers and streams flow through space and time and are even more dynamic, transforming the world as they move through it.  Even if Ueshiba or Shioda or Tomiki or Mifune or Yagyu or Hayashizaki achieved budo perfection, it was perfect for that point in time and space.

Budo isn’t a technique or even a collection of techniques.  It’s a Way. As we travel the path, as the world moves through the ages, budo has to adapt to new times and places in which it is practiced.  What was great budo in one situation may be completely unsuited to another. The thing about any great budoka is that their budo is always fresh.  They don’t try to force the same response, the same solution, onto different situations. They apply the principles of their budo afresh to each situation.

Budo can only ever be perfect for the moment it’s expressed in. What made the great founders and teachers of budo truly great was not only their ability to manifest budo that perfectly suited the situations they found themselves in.  What made them great was that they could also pass along a way to learn the same principles that they applied.

Budo is something that is practiced without end. It’s a path that doesn’t stop. If we’re doing it right, we’re not really learning techniques. We’re learning the fundamental principles that make the myriad techniques work.  Great budoka reach up and find a way to manifest those principles in training, in conflict, and in life. The greatest figure out a way for others to learn to manifest those principles.

The ideal is that anyone can reach up and touch perfect budo. With practice, I’m convinced we can. That thing about budo being a path and a stream is important though. I think I may have touched perfect budo a few times over the decades I’ve been training. These are times when I somehow manage to perfectly express the principles of budo that I study and practice spontaneously in life.

It happens and then it’s past. It never lasts. For a moment you manage to express your budo perfectly. It’s not a continuous condition though. We reach that peak moment, and it passes. As we get better, so does the chance that we will touch that perfect budo. For judoka, the first time we come close to perfect judo is that day we’re standing there, staring down at some poor uke as we demand “Why did you jump! Don’t jump for me! I want to earn my throws!” The poor uke looks up at us and says something along the lines of “Jump? You buried me with that throw. There was no way I was stopping it!”  When we did that throw, the universe aligned in our favor. The timing and kuzushi were perfect. Uke had no choice and no chance to do anything but fly, and because the timing and kuzushi were perfect, it felt like we didn’t do anything. For a moment we touched perfect judo.

Unfortunately, those moments don’t last. As soon as the moment happens it’s over. Uke stands up, randori continues and uke feels like a boulder every time we try a technique. Nothing seems to work. Touching perfection is momentary, but those moments are wonderful and inspire everything else we do. Once we’ve touched perfection we want it again. Then we try to force it, and the more we try to force the further away perfection becomes.

Those moments of perfection feel incredible, but they are moments. We’re not perfect. We can’t maintain a state of perfection. Any time we touch perfection it’s wonderful and incredible and momentary. It doesn’t last. It can’t.

It is perfect in that instant, under those precise conditions. We express the principles of our art in a way that suits that moment. If we try to cling to it, whatever it was we were doing will cease to be appropriate as the moment passes and the situation changes. The goal of training is to become better and better at expressing the principles of what we study in a way that suits the moment.

The journey of life never ceases. Every step is new. The real lessons in budo are not static techniques, but the principles that animate the techniques. It’s ironic that the main way we learn budo is through repetition of prescribed exercises when the goal is to be able to spontaneously express the principles in any situation.

We practice a limited set of techniques and kata that are like the finger pointing at the moon in the story from Chuang Tzu. The finger points to the moon, but if you remain fixed upon the finger you’ll never see the moon. The techniques and kata are the finger pointing to the fundamental principles. If you cling tightly to exactly the way a past teacher did the kata, you’ll never get to the principles beyond the kata. If you insist there there is only one way to do a technique, you’ll miss the million other ways and situations that technique can be used to express the principle.  I have books of judo technique in which the entire book examines just one technique, but looks for as many ways to express that technique as possible. Each technique is animated by underlying principles. Our job is to figure out what the principles are and learn to apply them.
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If we only study the technique, it becomes a matter of chance that we will pick a technique that is perfectly appropriate for the moment. If we follow the direction of the techniques we study, we begin to understand principles, and when we follow the principles, the technique will develop naturally out of the action of the principles. No two techniques will ever be exactly the same when they flow from the principles, but they will be appropriate to the moment. It’s like the judoka in randori who does a beautiful throw, then comes off the mat and asks the spectators “What technique did I do?” The judoka was working with the flow of energy from her partner and worked something that smoothly flowed with that energy. Working with their partner’s energy and letting the principles guide her, she ends up with a technique based on the principle.

That’s the ideal. It doesn’t happen as often as any of us would like. If we cling to techniques it will never happen. Go into a situation with the intent to do a particular technique and you have to force the moment to fit the technique. Go in with principles of movement, balance and flow, and the moment will guide you to the appropriate technique.

The more we practice, the more we internalize the principles, the easier it is to touch perfection. We can never hold on to it, but we can learn to get out of our own way and let perfect budo happen more and more often. We progress along the Way one step at a time. We learn to breath and to walk. Then we start learning some techniques. It’s only when we begin to understand what animates the techniques and makes them effective that we get close enough to touch perfection from time to time.

Perfect budo is a constantly moving target though. What worked yesterday won’t work at all tomorrow. Each step along the Way takes us to a different place. Each morning we awake and the world has changed a little. We can’t force the world to stay still any more than we can force the sun to stop in the sky. If we cling to things as they were our budo cannot advance.

Each day we have to find new ways to apply the lessons of the Way that we learn from studying the kata. The better we get at it, the easier it is to adapt to the whirling of the world around us. A novice sailor leaps and tumbles and is thrown around the deck of the boat by the gyrations of the waves. A seasoned sailor calmly walks the same deck, adjusting to each shift and jump of the boat calmly and smoothly. A master can sit calmly meditating on the deck while the ship pitches wildly, adjusting with muscle changes so small no can see them. The master is calm when the seas are calm, and when the seas seem to be enraged.

The world keeps changing, but the principles don’t. Budo gives us a Way to continually adapt. Classical iaido ryuha would be worthless relics if their techniques were what they are really teaching. No one has carried swords like that in 150 years. The principles that classical ryuha teach haven’t changed though, and learning to express those principles in life is what gives classical ryuha their value.

Photo Copyright 2013 Peter Boylan

We don’t study techniques and kata in order to learn techniques and kata. We study techniques and kata to learn the principles that animate them. The conditions under which a judoka can do uchimata are limited. The conditions under which they can apply the principles of kuzushi, timing and movement that they learn from studying uchimata are endless.

When teachers talk about forgetting technique, this what they are getting at. The Way is infinite and no one can learn a separate technique for every set of conditions. Each place along the way, every new morning, presents new conditions. We have to learn to see beyond the techniques we study to the principles. Then we can apply the principles in ways that work with the conditions we have rather than try to find conditions that suit the technique we want to do.

Through great effort you might be able to hold your place in the world still and unchanging, but that won’t help. The world will continue changing around you. Even to stay still takes continuous adjustment, just like the master meditating on the deck of the ship. Walk the path. Learn the techniques. Transcend the techniques and learn the principles. Apply the principles and let the principles create new techniques to suit moment.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Ukemi Skills, Flow and Counters

In my last post I wrote about ukemi 受身, or receiving techniques. Proficiency in ukemi is important in arts like judo and aikido where practitioners are thrown around the room and have to be able to land safely. How you receive attacks is critical in arts like karate and kenjutsu as well.  

How you receive techniques is fundamental. When we start we are all a least a little stiff and scared. Whether it’s fear of falling and hurting ourselves, or the fear of getting hit with a stick or a fist, we react by tensing up. Relaxing when you know someone is going to pick you up over their head and throw you at the floor is tough.

The mental states of mushin  and fudoshin are essential for doing good budo. I’ve written about the mental states, but these are reflected in the body and impact how we deal with attacks.  If you’re afraid of getting hurt, if your mind is stuck on the possibility of pain, you’re not going to be able to respond properly. You’re going to be stiff and worried.  Your state of mind translates very directly to your body.

Basic ukemi, whether they be breakfalls, blocks, or other methods of receiving attacks, have to be practiced until they are smooth and until we are so sure of them that we can relax when our training partner attacks and just focus on our partner. Our bodies have to have to be emptied of anticipation in the same way our minds are in mushin. Only then can we really relax into whatever needs to happen to receive a throw or other attack.

If you wonder about the use of the word “relax” in the last sentence, I use it because you can’t stiffen up for an attack.  The Tao Te Ching nailed this one more than 2,500 years ago:

The living are soft and yielding;
the dead are rigid and stiff.
Living plants are flexible and tender;
the dead are brittle and dry.

Those who are stiff and rigid
are the disciple of death.
Those who are soft and yielding
are the disciples of life.

The rigid and stiff will be broken.
The soft and yielding will overcome.
Tao Te Ching Chapter 76

If you have any doubts, just try taking breakfall ukemi when you are tense and stiff.  It hurts, and you’re quite likely to break something.  Relax and be soft, yield to the energy instead of trying to resist it.  I’ve seen people in their 70s and 80s safely take big falls in judo and aikido because they know how to be soft and pliable instead of stiff and brittle.

Once you get comfortable with the fundamentals of receiving attacks, and learn to relax into them, you’re ready to begin working on the fun stuff. When you can take falls casually, easily and without thinking about them, then you can start working on interacting with the attackers energy.

In aikido, uke (the person receiving the technique) and tori (the person doing the technique) are always clearly defined.  In judo randori on the other hand, one of the things determined through the randori is who is uke and who is tori. Both people are working to destabilize and throw their partner. This is when the fun begins. There is nothing that states that because someone begins to throw you that you have to simply accept being thrown. I’m rather fond of kaeshiwaza, or counters.

The current rule in competitive judo is that for a counterattack to score a point, the initial attack must be clearly stopped before the counterattack occurs. Frankly, this is lousy judo. I cannot imagine a good reason why anyone would want to stop all that lovely attacking energy and then start from scratch. To me, the best counters flow seamlessly from the attack to the counter.

Nice kata of counters.  Shows the attack, then the counter slowly, then at speed.

Take the energy that is attacking you and flow with it. When you are confident you can handle fully receiving the attack, then you can start playing with it. Every attack has a counter. Some have several. I’m fond of a version of tani otoshi against big hip throws and yoko guruma is often available when receiving kote gaeshi and other popular aikido techniques.  The key is flowing with the attack and transforming tori into uke during their attack.

Tani otoshi is beautiful in its simplicity.  It’s little more than applied sitting down yet is wonderfully effective against big hip throws.  As tori attacks you drop your hips under their attack off-balancing them to the rear. At that moment, they cease to be tori and become uke. As you continue dropping your weight until you are on the floor you hold uke to you and turn a bit to make sure they land on the floor and not on you (OK, there might be more to it, but that’s what a good one looks like).

Not very fluid, but you get the idea.

Counters, kaeshiwaza, are advanced ukemi skills. Being able to do counters is a critical skill for anyone teaching budo. Students are stubborn. They will keep doing things wrong, giving away their balance and energy while attacking, unless there are consequences for doing so. Counters are the consequence. If tori sets up the technique properly then it’s not possible for me to counterattack. If tori leaves any sort of opening though, I’ll take it.

When a student gets to a level where their ukemi can handle an unexpected throw, they should start getting countered occasionally when they leave an opening. This avoids all arguments about whether or not an opening was real. If I attack, and I end up on my back, I know I left a juicy opening for someone. There’s no need to counter every time someone makes a mistake during practice.  Just the knowledge that counters can happen tends to make people stand a little better and pay attention to not bending over at the end of a technique.

Counters are also fun on the folks who like to replace good kuzushi and technique with raw strength. It’s a concrete way to demonstrate the weaknesses of raw strength. Take all that raw strength that’s making you twist or bend and go with it. If someone is pushing or pulling that much, a counter of some sort will be available.

Yoko wakare is a lovely, flowing counter.

Attacks have weaknesses. If those are never demonstrated students won’t know where they are. Teaching people counters and how to find them does something else. It teaches them to see the openings in their own techniques, which is the first step in closing them.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Kuzushi Is More Than Off Balancing

Kuzushi means “off-balancing.” Everyone knows that. It’s been translated that way for decades. Off-balancing must be an accurate translation of the word if everyone keeps using it. The truth is it’s a terrible translation.  Not the complete misdirection that is translating 柔道 as “the Gentle Way” but still pretty awful.

Kuzushi comes from the word “kuzusu 崩す” which according to the Kenkyusha Online Dictionary means “to break, pull down, tear down, knock down, whittle away at, break, change.” Judo is pretty clear about the process of throwing though, separating it into 3 steps that go kuzushi - tsukuri - kake. Tsukuri is roughly “making” and in this case is something like making the technique by getting in the right place. Kake is executing the technique. Kuzushi happens well in front of execution, so it can’t literally mean knocking something down in this case. We’re also not breaking our partner, so what are we doing?

My friend Michael Hacker likes to interpret kuzushi as “undermining the foundation.” For a long time, this was the best interpretation of kuzushi I had found. It’s quite a graphic and effective image. If you undermine the foundation of a building, it falls down under it’s own weight. If you can undermine the foundation of your partner, they will begin to fall down and all you have to do is direct your technique so they can’t recover.

I like this much better than the simple “off-balancing” that is the common translation. Getting someone off-balance is nice, but they can recover. From a tactical point, off-balancing is usually obvious to the person being attacked. If you subtly destroy the foundation of their stance though, they may not even notice that you are doing it. Often people can even be lead into compromising their own structure. If you can get someone to push or pull harder than can be supported by the foundation of their feet and legs, then you’ve undermined their foundation.

Undermining the foundation was my working concept for kuzushi for quite a while, and it helped me find the way to my current understanding. I’ve been working on a somewhat different way of thinking about kuzushi. I’ve found myself applying what I recognized as kuzushi not just when doing judo and aikido, but also when training in kenjutsu and jodo. At first it was just about getting someone off-balance or wrecking their foundation so they couldn’t resist my technique. In jodo, there are techniques where you attack your partner’s weapon, and if your attack doesn’t steal their balance for at least an instant and force them to take steps to recover, your technique has failed and you find a bokken uncomfortably close to your nose.

Then I started to envision the concept of kuzushi slightly differently. It was a combination of experiences from Aikido, Daito Ryu, Shinto Muso Ryu Jo, and several styles of kenjutsu. I found that kuzushi worked well in all of them. And not just the happo no kuzushi that is introduced in judo. Often what is happening is not the big movements described in judo classes where you are drawing, lifting or driving someone’s center of gravity away from the support of their feet and legs. It is much smaller and subtler.

That’s why I like Michael Hacker’s definition of “undermining the foundation” even as I look for something that is simpler and more generally applicable. An experience with Jim Baker, an amazing Aikido teacher, got me thinking about this more. What he does in standing kokyuho practice is lock up your body starting at your wrist when you grab him. Without any significant motion, he then locks your elbows, your shoulders, all the way down your spine, and then he makes your knee give way. I’m not sure how he does the last bit, because I can only lock someone up through the shoulders with any consistency, but he does it to me without effort. I tried to find a video of it, but there aren’t any where you can see what’s going on.

Jim isn’t attacking the foundation. He doesn’t even attack the support structure of the leg until after the upper body is completely locked up. I realized this is similar to something I do in judo to setup some throws. Often I don’t try to break my partner’s balance. For some techniques I try to set my partner up so they are well balanced, so well balanced that they can’t move to defend themselves because they’ll start to fall if they do. Then I attack.

What Jim Baker and I are both doing (though he does it much more elegantly than I) is not off-balancing our partner or undermining their foundation.. We’re destabilizing them. All the way along when I do this in judo, my partner is balanced. If I let go without throwing, she’ll stay upright because I haven’t unbalanced her.  What I have done is make her unstable, so she can’t move without starting to fall. Jim Baker does the same thing. He makes your body’s structure, the bones and joints, lock up and become unable to adjust to changes as they are designed to.

The same thing can happen with crossed weapons. A good partner can move you into an unstable structure so that you can’t do anything to respond to her. Many kata in koryu are designed to teach how to do just that, drive you into a position where you don’t have enough stability to be able to respond to your partner’s attack, create a moment where you cannot move into a safe position. This happens a lot in the higher level kata of many classical systems, although they don’t usually call what they are doing kuzushi. It’s a great term for what is happening though. They are destroying their partners stability, making it impossible to respond effectively. In Shinto Muso Ryu there a number of techniques that are only really effective when they disrupt not only your partner’s weapon, but also your partner’s stability. Maki otoshi is a good example.

Each technique by jo in the above video disrupts and momentarily destabilizes the swordsman. The first technique twists his structure to the left and off his center. The second technique, a stop strike, drives the swordsman’s head and upper body back and slightly off balance, giving jo time to attack the sword directly.  The attack on the sword is followed by maki otoshi. Maki otoshi is actually a very soft technique that done correctly, as it is here, completely disrupts the swordsman to the right. The technique destabilizes him so much that he must take a step to regain some stability. This is good kuzushi.

Our bodies are loaded with flexible joints. We maintain stability by flexing the joints and moving. In budo, good balance and stability are not about standing statically upright. Good balance and stability are dynamic. That’s why counters work so well in judo. If you attack but I retain or regain my stability I can go from being thrown to throwing you, even if I’m already in the air. In a situation like that, even without a foot on the ground, I have a stable center that I can use to destabilize you and get you airborne.  When facing a stick or sword, you can maneuver and manipulate your partner so they aren’t stable enough to resist you.

Kuzushi can be off-balancing your partner. That’s not all it is though. Kuzushi doesn’t have to be big and obvious, pulling someone off their center. It can be smaller, rearranging their posture just enough to make them unstable even while they are still balanced, and unable to respond to what is happening.  If you make someone unstable, they can’t respond to what you’re doing, and have lost. That’s kuzushi.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Tradition Is Tending The Flame. It's Not Worshiping The Ashes

I’ve been thinking lately about how pointless the study of koryu budo would be if we were just preserving the way people trained 200 or 300 or 400 or 500 years ago.  We would all be maintaining museum pieces good for nothing more than taking out and displaying for people along with other artifacts.  While dwelling on this, I ran across this quote from Gustav Mahler, a 19th century conductor and composer.

"Tradition is tending the flame, it's not worshipping the ashes"

This quite nicely  encapsulates my feelings about studying koryu budo.  Many classical arts, not just koryu budo, can wither and die under the pressure from those who want to maintain them in an unchanging form.  Mahler, although now remembered as a great composer, was known primarily as a orchestra conductor during his lifetime.  As a both a conductor and a composer, Mahler ran into people who resisted change and innovation in both the creation of new music, and in the interpretation of classical works. Anything outside what had been done before risked  resistance and criticism as a departure from tradition.

For many, there was only the classical way to perform Bach and other revered composers. The traditional way of performing music, and the established rules for writing new music were difficult to escape.  

This sort of adherence to past precedence is all too common in both koryu and gendai budo. It’s
easy to become so focused on what has come before that we forget to use the past as a platform from which to approach the future. Yes, the great ones of the past were great. This is true whether we are talking about music or art or budo. 

Blindly worshipping what the great individuals achieved though is to forget that they were innovators themselves. They took the traditions they received, and didn’t just accept it as the way things must be done.. Those great geniuses took what they had and moved a step forward.

They avoided the trap of focussing so much on the way things have been that they forgot about the present and the future.  In something like budo, this is a particularly easy trap to fall into. Especially with arts that have storied histories, it’s easy get lost in that rich history and forget to turn and face the future. Too much time spent on an art’s past slowly dries it out and robs it of the vitality of a living art.

The past is the foundation of the future. If all you do is focus on the past, eventually there will be no future.  Spend much time at all moving in budo circles and you will encounter people who want their art to be done exactly the same as the founder of the art did a hundred, two hundred or even five hundred years ago.  This seems as likely and as interesting and worthwhile as trying to do every performance of Swan Lake exactly as it was performed at it’s debut.

These people who imagine that is what studying an art with a long tradition is all about miss the essence of living traditions. These are people who worship those ashes Mahler is referring to. It’s as if no one since the founder of the art has had any insight or new understanding.  All that is left in their minds are the burned up and dried out ashes of what the founder was doing.

Uchi always does the attack in exactly one, and shite always responds in a precisely identical manner. The form and technique become about replicating exactly what someone is supposed to have done decades or centuries ago. In an effort to preserve things just as they saw them, these preservationists drain the life from what they are doing and leave it desiccated and empty of real value. Nothing more than those ashes Mahler refers to.

This can be seen when people start to value something simply because it is old.  There are ancient styles of music and dance in Japan such as Dengaku that have been preserved for 700 years and more. When they were young, this music and dance was a sensation and is said to have caused near riots in major cities. Now the only reason for performing what remains of these once lively and popular arts is that they are old.  There is no life left in them. The people who have preserved these arts have preserved even less than a flower dried and pressed in a book.  There may be be some bits left among the ashes, but there is nothing left that can even inspire the mind to imagine what the dance was like originally.  The only value remaining to it is that it’s old.

This is a danger for all budo, whether koryu art or gendai.  It’s relatively easy to see how the kata of ancient koryu bugei ryuha can be venerated and preserved to death. In an effort to do things exactly as their teacher did something, students can stop treating the kata as living lessons and start treating them as fossils, unchanging and dead. Sadly, if you attend some of the big koryu demonstrations in Japan, it is all too likely that you will see some groups that have succumbed to this temptation.

What might surprise people is that there are aspects of judo, kendo, aikido and karate that can fall into this trap. Even in modern organizations it’s all too common to see people elevating their idea of how a revered teacher did something, rather than seeking the principle and spirit of the practice. The shape of how even the greatest teachers do things will change and evolve over the course of their lives. Choosing one snapshot out of a teacher’s career and deciding that is only valid way of doing things is ridiculous. Which moment do you choose?  How do you know that iteration of the technique or kata was the greatest and is universally  applicable to every person and possible use?

I see this danger in some of the kata in judo.  Judo is somewhat saved because you always have a partner, so at least the surface point of the form is obvious. I’ve heard about karate kata though where people have learned all the motions, but not the bunkai. They don’t really know what the purpose of particular motions are anymore. Already within some lines, less than a lifetime since it was brought from Okinawa, the art has begun to dry out and die.

This sort of thing is more likely to happen with solo exercises such as karate or iai kata, but it’s possible with any system.  Even in paired kata, if both people are simple copying motions without learning and understanding the depth and reasons for the motions, then that too will dry out, burn up and die.

Tending the flame of a budo system, a ryuha, takes effort and thought. Like the Taoist parable of the finger and the moon, the kata and techniques that we practice are the finger. They point us at the principles and fundamental concepts that the founders and those who came after them discovered and developed.

When I study judo, I study all the parts of it, techniques, randori and kata.  Each part informs the other, and keeps them alive.  I know too many people in the judo world for whom the kata have already become museum pieces because they only learn enough to go through the motions without understanding the principles embodied there.  If we truly want to respect the genius of the founders and brilliant teachers who created these arts and passed them on to us, we have to do more.

Those who tend the flame of their art work at pulling the principles out of the forms and then feeding the forms with their understanding of the principles. I’m working on Ju No Kata in judo right now. This is a kata that is very susceptible to being nothing more than a burned out shell. There are no big throws or huge techniques. As I work at it though, I discover things about kuzushi that I feed back into my practice of the kata.  Each time I do it, the kata becomes more alive. Where at first my practice was just about “Uke pushes here and tori turns there, grabs uke’s arm and lifts.” Now my practice looks very much the same as before but it’s about uke pushing and tori creating instability destroying uke’s base with very subtle, almost unnoticeable movements and connections.

The insights that come for figuring out kuzushi in Ju No Kata then feed the flames of understanding and application when I practice individual techniques or do randori.  This exploration transforms what looks from the outside to be a boring, bland set of simple movements into a fascinating exploration of fundamental principle.

The more I understand those principles, the more they come alive outside the dojo and in areas other than randori.  There are all sorts of places and ways to apply lessons about kuzushi, timing, power generation, power dissipation and all the other principles and lessons that an art can teach.

Don’t focus on the outward form leached of all meaning and depth. Look for what the form is supposed to contain and bring that to life.  Don’t fall into the trap of worshiping the ashes of your founders teachings. Use your heart and mind to add fuel to fire their genius.

Special thanks to Deborah Klens-Bigman for the information on dengaku.