Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Ki Ken Tai Ichi





Ki ken tai ichi. A student recently asked me about the relationship of ki ken tai ichi to seitei iai and jo. It’s a fundamental concept in Japanese budo but it’s not difficult to be confused by it. It breaks down as:

  • Ki : Yes, that ki. The one that folks argue about endlessly. In this case it is will, intent and energy.

  • Ken : This ken is read tsurugi when it stands alone. It’s the same ken found in “kendo”, and it traditionally refers to a straight, double-edged sword common in Japan from about 450 to 950 c.e. that was superseded by the curved tachi. In this usage it represents any weapon you might use. 

  • Tai : This character is read karada when it stands alone, and it means body.

  • Ichi 一致: Ichi is the difficult bit in this little 5 character phrase. It means “to agree, to conform, to be congruent, to be in concert, to be united, to cooperate, to be in accord”.

Intent, sword and body as one. Ki ken tai ichi.

Will, sword and body in accord. Ki ken tai ichi.

Intent, sword and body in agreement. Ki ken tai ichi.

Because the English and Japanese words only overlap as very poor Venn diagrams, there are  numerous translations. None of them are 100% right, but each captures some of the spirit of the Japanese. There is no fragmentation;here can be no divisions. Your kokoro (heart/mind), your body and your weapon must be combined into a single unit. 

When you move, do you do it with hesitation or doubt? Is the sword a tool in your hand, or is it an extension of your body? Can you feel what is going on in your partner’s body when you cross swords? Does your body move as a coordinated whole? Does your will and intent express itself instantly in your body and the sword?

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My student is quite familiar with ki ken tai ichi from his deep experience with koryu. However the Kendo Federation has ki ken tai ichi broken down almost to a science. There are particular markers to look for when someone does seitei iai or jo that indicate whether or not the will, the body and the sword are in accord. 

Does the whole unit reach the conclusion of the movement together without any separation? This is the central clue. Teaching this concept to students starts with the mechanics of how to swing the sword. From there teachers have to backward engineer the timing from the point where mind, body and sword all arrive at the completion of the movement together and become as one.

Moving backwards, the student has to consider that the hands are faster than the body, but for a sword cut the hands and sword have further to travel than the body. If the body and the hands begin their movement together, the body will finish its movement and come to rest followed by the sword. If the body and the sword are united, the full power of the body will be transmitted through the sword. If they are not united then the sword has only the power of the hands when it makes contact. For the full power of the body to be transmitted through the sword, the sword tip has to begin moving first and the body begins moving next so they will complete their action together, united in power and timing. 

Breaking down the timing of a sword cut into fine segments makes it a little easier to explain and teach the outer aspects of ki ken tai ichi. A little. Students can start work on training their hands and body to move in accordance with the timing of the sword to transmit the maximum power through the blade. However, just because a student has mastered the timing of their movements doesn’t mean they’ve achieved ki ken tai ichi. This is much harder than simply copying the timing. 

One thing you may have noticed that is missing in the above description is the intent, the will, the ki. Even after you train yourself to move hands first, then body when cutting,, you still haven’t achieved ki ken tai ichi. You’ve got the sword and the body, but the intent, the heart/mind is much more difficult. This is a lot more like achieving mushin. You can’t be thinking about anything else if you want to achieve ki ken tai ichi. Your mind has to be quiet and still so that your intent comes naturally in the situation and your body moves as the intention occurs in the heart/mind, so there is no separation such as thinking and acting. Intention and action become one as body and sword are one.

Combining intention and action into one is much more difficult than bringing body and sword into accord. After you’ve got your body and weapon acting as one, it takes a great deal of additional, focused practice to unite the mind with the body. This is an ongoing effort. Any little thing can disrupt the unity of will, sword and body. A bad day at work. A fight with a friend. Worry over someone’s health. All of these and an endless list of other things can knock your mind out of sync with your body. Mental stillness is difficult to achieve, and that much more difficult to maintain.

気検体一致 Ki ken tai ichi. Intent, sword and body in accord. First practice until the sword is an extension of your body. Then teach your body to move so the power of body and sword are united at the instant of contact and they finish moving together at the bottom of the cut. At that point  you have the outer form. Now learn to still your mind so that nothing separates intention and action. When intent, body and sword are united, that’s ki ken tai ichi.


Special thanks to Deborah Klens-Bigman for editing.

Sunday, October 10, 2021

Is Budo For Everyone?


Is budo for everyone? I don’t know. Some of the great proselytizers of budo certainly seemed to think so. Kano Jigoro worked hard to get his Kodokan Judo into the national educational curriculum in Japan, and sent teachers all over the world to popularize it. Funakoshi Gichin brought Ryukyu Te to the main islands of Japan and created modern karatedo. Ueshiba Morihei wanted to spread his art of peace all over the world, and sent out teachers wherever there was interest. Kendo has a regular world championship. 

Is budo for everyone? Should it be for everyone? I and an army of others have written endlessly about the benefits of martial arts training and often suggest that some sort of martial arts training would be good for pretty much everyone. Besides the arts above, there are countless commercial martial arts schools that are premised on the assumption that everyone can, and should, do martial arts. I started out in a Kodokan Judo club at a university. We never considered that judo wasn’t for everyone.

After a few decades of practice, as well as having encountered many other budo forms, I have begun to wonder about this assumption. Classical budo were clearly not for everyone. Many ryuha had requirements that students bring recommendations, and then if the teacher accepted them, they still had to prove themselves. Students who couldn’t follow the rules or didn’t fit the particular budo culture were out. Students often had to sign lengthy pledges, keppan, promising to follow the rules of the school (see the chapter on keppan in Ellis Amdur’s Old School). These arts had, and still have, an innate assumption that they are not for anyone who walks up with tuition money.

Classical ryuha exist for themselves. A few were otome ryu, schools that were officially attached to local daimyo and were tied to the political scene, but most were not officially linked with any political organization and flourished or perished on their own merits and the ability of the teacher(s) to bring in enough students. The Bugei Ryuha Daijiten lists thousands of individual ryuha that existed over the centuries in Japan. Most didn’t survive any great length of time.  The ones that have survived the longest are famous; Kashima Shinto Ryu, Katori Shinto Ryu, Kashima Shinryu, Maniwa Nen Ryu. 

They are also famous for their pickiness when accepting new students.Their founders and members have never dreamed that these arts are meant for everyone. Just the opposite. These arts are treasures to be guarded jealously and not just shared with anyone. Until the end of the Tokugawa Shogunate in 1868, a person’s martial skills could be drawn upon in duels and fights. For the samurai classes, this was a matter of honor and legitimacy. With the very real possibility that they might have to use what their ryuha taught them, it became  vital that not everyone knew its secrets. A samurai might have had to rely on those secrets to survive. 

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 Keppan are serious business. A potential student is swearing allegiance to a social organization based around a deadly serious practice. Even though keppan are no longer required for most koryu, a potential member still has to respect the traditions and social norms of a specialized group.  The organization does not exist for your benefit or the benefit of any student or teacher. The ryuha is a body of knowledge, behaviours and skills. These are rare and terrible treasures, and their existence doesn’t require you. The teachers have the responsibility of deciding who is taught and who isn’t. You aren’t likely to be accepted as a student because of what the art will do for you. If you are accepted, it will be to find out if it's worthwhile sharing the ryu’s treasures with you. This can take a long time.  I knew one of my teachers for 20 years before he decided I was worth teaching and entrusting with the knowledge of the ryuha. 

As much as arts such as judo, kendo, karate, and aikido assume that they are meant for everyone, the classical arts begin with the certainty that they are not. In an age of firearms, and with CQC classes available in every city, it can seem strange that the secrets of an art that is hundreds of years old need to be kept secret. After all, what kind of secret can any of these ryuha have that are so precious that they must be jealously guarded? I will be the first to admit that what they contain are not uniquely secret methods of fighting. Each ryuha has its particular way of doing things, but the techniques aren’t the secret. 

The ryuha as a whole is the secret. The number of ways you can throw a person, apply a joint lock, or swing a sword are pretty limited, and the possible techniques are all known. There are a myriad of places to learn strikes, joint locks, throws and weapons. Training in the ryuha teaches you how to organize your body and mind to be effective in any conditions.

That mind-body organization is what a classical ryuha is teaching. Each ryuha is a way of training and molding bodies and minds. The secret treasure of any ryuha is the person it creates. How do you organize your body? How do you think and act under stress? How does your body react? These are the secrets of classical ryuha. Classical ryuha are organized around the practice of kata, not individual techniques. It is the whole of the kata that teaches both movement and stillness. The trained body/mind of the practitioner is the goal and treasure. How do you move, respond, and preempt? This is what all those kata are about. Not simple techniques but melding a single body/mind unit. No Western mind-body dualism here. 

Are these for everyone? I have arrived at the position that budo training is not for everyone. The teachings of classical budo ryuha are effective, and students should have the maturity and discretion to know when to use them, and when not to. I have known many people who are middle-aged or older, but have the maturity of an adolescent. As a teacher of a classical ryuha, it is my responsibility not to put the ryu’s treasures in the hands of anyone who will misuse or abuse them. We often hear about what people deserve. There is no mandate that anyone deserves to learn a koryu bugei ryuha. Even in the 21st century these arts are precious and should be treated as such. 

Thursday, August 19, 2021

Why I Still Train

A guest post by  

Richard Riehle, PhD 
Judo Godan

Judo — Why I still Train
People are sometimes surprised that, at 85 years old, I am still in my judogi in the dojo, still enjoying Judo. Of course, my competition days are in the past. My last tournament was a little over ten years ago at 74 competing with guys my own age.
I was never a star competitor. Starting my life in Judo at age 16, I lost far more matches than I ever won, mostly to newaza. I was never an athlete, but I loved learning and participating in Judo.
When I was still a nidan, during one of my many annual visits to the Kodokan, I said to one of the high-dan instructors, “I have been in Judo for many years, but I have never been a champion.” He replied, “I have never been a champion either. That is not the purpose of Judo.”
And there we have it! 
I have learned that Judo, at its fundamental level, is not about defeating another person. It is not about scoring an ippon against another person. I also enjoy chess, but have been put in checkmate hundreds of times during my lifetime, just a few weeks ago by one of my three sons.
True, that there is some ego gratification in scoring a win in a Judo, but as we grow older, we score fewer and fewer ippons in competition. With Judo we eventually learn that our training is not about ego gratification. It is more about learning about ourselves in a unique way, even as we learn more about Judo.
Chess is much the same. There is never an end to our learning in either activity
Too many of those I knew when I was younger have “retired” from Judo because they believed they were too old to be good competitors, too old to even have a chance to become champions.
“Why bother to continue now that I can longer have a shot at winning a medal or trophy?” or “My best days are behind me!” or “I’m too out-of-shape.” In reality, it's usually about ego: “I will look ridiculous because I can’t do what I used to be able to do!”
And with that, they acknowledge that they never learned the real lessons of Judo. They have learned only about victory and defeat. There is so much more to learn.
Jigoro Kano once remarked that it was not important that you are better than someone else. It is more important that you are better today than you were yesterday.
This raises the question, “Better in what way?” We each will have our own answer to that question.
For me, “better” means many things. One of them is good physical feeling. Sometimes, better is because I have learned something new. Better might even be because I have been able to help someone else overcome a difficulty of their own. Better will different for each of us.
As an older Judo practitioner, I can work at imposing waza that were not my best during my long ago, and brief, competition days. I am working on sumi-otoshi and some other difficult techniques I could never execute successfully in a shiai. I have experimented with Mifune’s tama-guruma. I know of no one who has ever attempted tama-guruma in a contest.
We can all learn the deeper lessons from the kata. There are a lot of techniques we would not have attempted in a shiai that we can improve when we no longer need to focus on winning.
There is also the fellowship with other “old timers” and the opportunity to share experiences with the youngsters. In the dojo, there is no politics, no religion, no ethnic biases — nothing but improving ourselves through good Judo training. Training, even light randori, after 40, after 50, or even into the 80’s, can be satisfying — even rewarding — when we are no longer worried about earning trinkets for the trophy shelf at home or in the dojo.
Finally, I still train because I can. There are things I cannot do: no kata-guruma, no sitting in seiza, no hard falls. Our lifetime of occasional health issues such as weaker bones, injured knees, slower reflexes are all part of that training, but while we can still don a judogi and still train, there will still be benefits in that training.
Why do I still train? A life in Judo has enriched my life in so many ways, and my continued training continues to enrich my life. I cannot, at my age, defeat anyone, but there is still the chance to be better tomorrow than I am today using my own ideas of what it means to be “better.”

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Growth And Change In Budo


I was talking with a student and teacher of classical Japanese martial arts, and the all too-common myth - that the teachers and students of these centuries-old ryuha practice exactly as their creators taught them in the first generation - came up.  We both laughed. It’s a compelling story, but it’s a myth - one that is dangerous for the students, and for the arts themselves. Whether you do something called a way ( “do” ). An art (“jutsu” ), or a style or school (“ryu” )the story is the same.

These are all arts that have survived centuries of use and application. The thought that hundreds of years ago someone discovered a principle and created techniques for applying it that were perfectly formed and are still perfectly suited to the world they are in credits the founders with a level of genius that I cannot imagine. I can imagine them realizing principles that can be applied to an ever-changing environment, but I can’t stretch that to the founders also creating techniques that perfectly apply that principle no matter how the world has changed.

Principles don’t change. That’s the nature of principles. They are fundamental ways of understanding the world and how it operates. In budo, sometimes principles are expressed and learned through physical practice, such as that discovered by following the Shinto Muso Ryu directive “maruki wo motte suigetsu wo shire “丸木を持って水月を知れ””holding a round stick, know the solar plexus”. Others are clearly expressed philosophical concepts, such as Kano Jigoro Shihan’s “seiryoku zen’yo” 精力善用 (often translated as “maximum efficiency, minimum effort”), which is the short form for “seiryoku saizen katsuyo” 精力最善活用 “best use of energy”.Jigoro Kano, Mind Over Muscle, Kodansha, 2005). Usually shortened to “maximum efficiency minimum effort,” Kano’s maxim  refers to  a broader principle than just the physical technique. It’s about the best use and application of energy, mental and physical. These core principles of different arts haven’t changed since they were first expressed.

Principles, by their nature, are universal. If they can’t be applied universally, they aren’t principles. I can apply the principle implied by the jodo maxim maruki wo motte suigetsu wo shire in a variety of ways and situations. I can even apply this principle without a stick in judo randori, to pick an example outside of Shinto Muso Ryu. Kano Jigoro was an evangelist for the idea of seiryoku saizen katsuyo and its usefulness outside the constrained world of the dojo. He wrote extensively about the principle and why everyone should apply it, whether they practice judo or not. These principles haven’t changed since they were first understood.


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How they are applied and expressed changes all the time however.  Not because the principles change at all, but because the environment in which they are being applied changes. Judo is nearly 140 years old. Shinto Muso Ryu has been around for more than 400 years. For all of these arts, the world has changed dramatically since they were founded. The world of combat in Japan slowly changed as weapons and tactics evolved, and then was transformed by the introduction of firearms in the 1500’s, followed by the enforcement of peace by the Tokugawa Shogunate in 1603. Shinto Muso Ryu, essentially military police tactics, was born into the first years of unsteady peace during the Tokugawa Era. The samurai class was still on a war footing, with the Tokugawa victory only a few years earlier. Weapons of war and people skilled with them were everywhere.

A little over 250 years later the wearing of swords in public was banned. Clothing styles in Japan changed from traditional kimono and hakama to European dress. The tools of combat increased in number and power. People still study Kodokan Judo and Shinto Muso Ryu and other koryu arts. The arts are still seen as relevant to this age that would have been unimaginable when they were created. 

The people who study Kodokan Judo still practice many things that Kano Jigoro laid down as part of his art. They do a lot of things that he didn’t include in his pedagogy for the art. I find Kodokan Judo principles being applied not just in competitive matches with people wearing traditional dogi, but in no-gi matches and even professional MMA fights. More interesting to me is the way Kodokan Judo’s principles continue to be applied in and out of the dojo. It’s still seen as an effective form of physical education, and the principle of seiryoku zen’yo, along with the principle of yawara (softness, pliancy, flexibility, suppleness), is taught as having far more than just martial applications. The whole of Kodokan Judo manages to offer a very complete set of principles for interacting with the world physically and intellectually nearly 140 years after its founding. It hasn’t stopped growing and adapting. In addition to the official kata of Kodokan Judo, many practitioners develop their own, unofficial, kata to practice and explore the principles in situations that are not focused on in the official curriculum.

The proportion of waza practice versus randori practice versu kata practice is something judoka never stop arguing about, and every judo dojo has a different answer to what the proportions should be. I see people working out new techniques based on the classical principles, and practicing in new ways. It’s not uncommon now to see judoka train without dogi so they can prepare for no-gi tournaments. Do they stop doing judo because they take off their dogi and fight in competitions that aren’t using IJF rules? If you're applying judo principles it’s still judo, regardless of what you're wearing or what you’re doing. Judo is, after all, yawara. It’s soft and pliant. It can change its shape to fit the situation.

Shinto Muso Ryu reaches further back for its origin, another 270 odd years past Judo. The relevance of a stick that was intended to be used to subdue people with swords in a world of guns and IEDs is difficult to imagine, especially when you see the people studying it wearing clothes that have been out of date for centuries and practicing against people armed with swords. Relevant in the 21st century? It looks more like Live Action Role-Playing to most people. However, the principles haven’t changed, even if the practical applications have had to evolve. 

Throughout its history Shinto Muso Ryu’s students haven’t been afraid to add new lessons to the art. Kata were added steadily over the centuries, and tools were added to the practitioner’s kit. An art that started out with just a stick and a sword now teaches students to apply the principles to sticks of nearly any length, as well as chains (and in some lines even bayonet length blades!). The real principles about movement, timing, spacing and rhythm are still useful not just in combat situations, but everywhere in life. I’ve only been doing Shinto Muso Ryu for 28 years, but in that time I’ve watched teachers tweak kata and change what they emphasize. Looking back before my time, to the films that survive from the last 90 years or so, it’s clear that people have been tweaking and playing with the kata since long before I showed up. Considering all the recorded changes that have been made to Shinto Muso Ryu over the centuries, no one can seriously claim that they do Shinto Muso Ryu just like Muso Gonosuke Katsuyoshi did it.  It’s been changing and adapting from the day he started figuring it out for himself.

Budo practices are paths to follow, not fossils.  You have to adapt to the terrain. If you never change anything, and never learn anything beyond where the founder began, you would be preserving an artifact that has no relationship to the age you live in. I fully expect the arts I practice and teach to grow and change. The principles will still be there, but I sincerely hope my students learn new ways to train, new ways to teach the principles, and new ways to express the principles. Anything less than that is a discredit to everyone who has gone before us.

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

It All Comes Back To How You Stand And How You Breathe


Your shoulders aren’t over your hips.”

Don’t forget to breathe.”

As martial artists we chase strong, powerful techniques, and we strive to use our muscles effectively. Many of us spend time in the gym lifting weights and doing physical conditioning. I do squats and curls and sit-ups and push-ups. For all that, I can’t think of any time I’ve heard someone say “Use more muscle.”  Instead we hear people talk about things like relaxation and kokyuroku 呼吸力 (breath power). 

Muscle is great, but no muscle works in isolation. Weight training often is about isolating specific muscles to develop them. Budo is about integrating muscles and bone and sinew, and that all comes back to how you stand and how you breathe. What we’re doing in the dojo, whether it’s kata training or randori, is movement. All that movement, though, starts in stillness. 

Standing there, doing nothing, what are you doing? You’re standing and breathing. So obvious it feels foolish to say, but most of us don’t do a very good job of doing nothing. Standing still is difficult to do right. I was surprised as a beginning judo student to learn that one of the skills on the first rank test I ever took was standing still. Oh, it got a neat Japanese name, shizen hontai, but that just breaks down to “natural, basic body.”

   It didn’t take too much practice to be balanced and relaxed enough to pass the shinzen hontai item on that 6th kyu test. What experience keeps teaching me is how important everything on the 6th kyu test is. If it’s on the first test you take, it’s because that will be essential to everything you do after that test. I’m still working to get shizen hontai right. What passed on the 6th kyu test, however, failed to be good enough for me not long after the test.

That natural, basic body is the body with no unnecessary tension; no muscles tensing when they aren’t needed. Everything as natural and loose as a small child. Small children fall down and bounce back up in part because they are so loose and natural. They don’t tense up or freeze when they start to fall. They just go with it. Getting back to something like that natural state without unnecessary tension is part of shizen hontai.

Unnecessary tension impacts how you breathe. If  you carry stress and tension in your shoulders or chest it constricts how well you can expand your chest and take in air. Babies have incredible lung power, as anyone who was holding an infant when they started screaming can attest. A large part of that is the fact that there is no tension inhibiting their breathing, so they use all of their lung capacity. 


To breathe well you have to use all of your natural capacity. At this moment, I’m doing two things in particular that inhibit that natural capacity. The first is my lousy posture while sitting at the computer. My shoulders are slumped forward, my chin is sticking out, my back is slouching. To use all of my natural capacity I have to free my body to work at its best. That means I have to sit up straight and let my shoulders fall back instead of rounding them forward. This opens my chest and stomach so my lungs can expand to their full capacity.

The second thing I’m doing wrong is carrying all the tension from a lousy day at work in my shoulders and chest. I drain the tension out of my shoulders and they settle down where they belong, instead of being up near my ears. My chest and back are tight and constricted from sitting in front of a computer all day. Not getting enough activity to loosen the muscles won’t  allow my breathing to flow naturally. Those tense muscles fight to keep my chest tight and restricted, preventing me from taking a full breath. When I get rid of the unnecessary tension and breathe using my diaphragm to expand my lungs and pull air into my lungs to their fullest, I get the best breath I can take, allowing my lungs to function at their optimum exchanging carbon dioxide and oxygen.

Good breathing circles around and impacts how you stand. You can’t stand properly if you’re breathing wrong. If you’re breathing with your shoulders instead of your diaphragm you are throwing your balance back and forth with every breath. It’s a small thing, but I’ve seen people take advantage of poor breathing in judo regularly. Breathe from your diaphragm and your balance remains stable. You can drop your weight through your hips to the floor and let your body’s natural structure carry your weight for you. Instead of having to work at staying balanced, you just are.

Pick a technique that you are working to polish. Try doing it with your shoulders up by your ears, your back slouched and your chin stuck out, then correct your posture and try it again. Much easier to do right, isn’t it? After that, try doing the technique while exhaling. Quite possibly the most common mistake I see is people forgetting to breathe. Now that you’re breathing, take a moment and make sure you're doing it right, and then do the technique again while exhaling properly. It sounds easy. Stand and breathe, then do a technique. It becomes difficult when you add “properly” in front of “stand” and “breathe.” Standing and breathing are very complex activities to do correctly. Moreover, when we are learning anything new, the first thing we tend to do is hold our breath while we concentrate on the new stuff. I’ve done it, and every student I’ve ever had has done it. The more you practice good breathing and good standing, the less likely you will be to forget about those things when you have to focus on other things - like good technique.

It really doesn’t matter which budo you are doing. Koryu. Gendai. Western. Eastern. Good budo always comes back to how you breathe and how you stand. If these two elements aren’t right, nothing is. Take a moment and let yourself be aware of your body, of how you’re breathing and how you are sitting and standing. You don’t need a teacher to tell you when you are slouching or breathing with your shoulders. These are things you should figure out and start fixing on your own.  


Special thanks to Deborah Klens-Bigman for editorial support.

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Corallary To The Budo Law Of Conservation Of Movement


A while back I wrote a post about The Budo Law Of Conservation Of Movement. Effective budo systems don’t waste time and mental space teaching a hundred ways to do the same thing. Instead they teach one way to do a hundred things. There is a corollary to law which is

 The smallest movement that is effective is the best movement

 Budo is about conflict, fighting, combat. Do you want to waste any resource in a fight, including your energy?. Strength and stamina are finite resources; no matter who you are, they will run out. How long will the fight last? Is there likely to be another one soon? These are unknowables, so any wasted effort reduces what you’ve got to work with down the line. Don’t waste energy.

 Look at any classical budo. Koryu budo are almost dull in the way they do things; there’s nothing flashy or decorative in their movement.  All the fancy movement and dancing that you see in movies is notable for its absence in classical budo. Or even watch competitive judo - there’s no unnecessary movement. Really good judoka often make for rather boring matches to watch. The competitors are there to win and move on to the next match. 99% of the action is in movements so small you can’t really see them. High level judo matches have so little excitement in their 5 minute spans that the rules are juiced to make them more interesting. These matches require a serious attack to happen every few seconds or a penalty can be awarded by the referee for stalling. In a tournament, a judoka might end up fighting 6, 7, or more matches in one day. Skilled judoka know they can’t afford to waste any effort because they will need it later.

 Conserve your motion. Conserve your energy. Don’t make a big movement when a small one will do the job.

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 The other thing about using the smallest movement to do the job is that it protects you. It’s not good to throw your energy around unnecessarily. Any movement you make affects you as well as your opponent. Bigger movements mean committing more energy. Any energy you put out there can be used by your opponent against you. I love countering techniques in judo because they turn an opponent’s attack into their defeat. The more energy an opponent sends out the more I have to work with. The bigger the movement you commit to, the harder it is to change trajectory once it’s started.

 Overcommitment to a technique backfiring can happen whether it’s in an unarmed situation like a judo match, or weapon versus weapon. Learning to control your movement and take advantage of moments when your adversary is over-extended is fundamental. Watch a kendo match. The kendoka jockey for control of the center with just the tips of their shinai. Movements are just big enough to evade being controlled by the opponent and use just enough energy to do the job and no more. Openings are created when someone moves further than is needed or puts too much power into their shinai and can’t recover their position in time to prevent the attack.

 All good budo is efficient. Wasting energy is foolish. So is giving your adversary anything to work with. Any excess movement, any unnecessary movement, creates an opening for your opponent. Overextend an arm on an attack and it can be locked or used as a lever to throw you. Too big a movement leaves a window for a strike or an entry. Therefore

 The smallest movement that is effective is the best movement.


Special thanks to Deborah Klens-Bigman for her wonderful editing work.