Friday, March 14, 2008

The Second Top Ten Principles Of Yachigusa Ryu Aiki Bugei - #7 Coupling Principle

Since I first stated that the techniques taught at my school were based on principles, and that we focus more on understanding the principles that makes things work than the techniques themselves, people have e-mailed me asking me if I could explain these principles in more detail.

Last year I spent several months writing about the “Top Ten Principles of Yachigusa Ryu Aiki Bugei.” Now it is time to cover the next ten most important principles. Of course, one must keep in mind that while these principles are officially less important than first ten, in actuality they are just as important. The truth is that in many cases understanding and executing them properly is essential in order to make the “top ten” fully effective. In other words, they are just another piece of a very complex puzzle illustrating how sceintific martial techniques really are.

Unfortunately, trying to explain many of these principals in writing is very difficult, since many can’t be explained in words alone. However, I will try my best to describe these principles for the “blog” readers, using words, charts and pictures.

Keep in mind though, that in order to sometimes fully understand a principle you have to also understand other principles that relate to it. Most principles aren’t fully useable on their own, and have to be integrated with others.

COUPLING PRINCIPLE

Generally, coupling means a mechanical connection between two things. In physics, two systems are coupled if they mutually interact. There is another definition from computer programming that also seems appropriate to the art I teach: coupling is a linkage between two parts of a program such that if one part of the program is modified, the behavior of the other part may also be affected.

Basically, the coupling principle is the concept that once a connection is made between two or more bodies, whatever action one body makes will have a direct effect on the other bodies.

In other words, one plus one equals one.

For example, the square and circle below represent two individual objects:
If you move the circle, that movement has absolutely no effect on the square:

Now, let's say you drive a stick into both the square and circle so they are connected to each other. They are now “coupled.”


If you push the circle down, the square will move also. In this example, the movement will be in the opposite direction as the objects rotate around their common center of mass.


Because they are “coupled,” whatever movement one object makes will affect the other. This is even more apparent when the connection point is rigid, as it is here. Needless to say, this is a crude example of a much more complex principle; but it explains the science that makes this principle work better than any other I can think of, at least in this format.

Maybe a simpler way of thinking about the “Coupling Principle,” is something many of us do outside the dojo--walking a dog on leash.

When I take my dog for a walk on the street we are “coupled” by his leash. Although there is no direct physical connection between our bodies--my hand is not touching the dog--by moving my end of his six foot leash in the proper direction, I can make my dog go left, right, or forward. Or I can make him stop and sit, down.

I don’t have to use verbal commands. If I adjust the tension on the leash the right way, because of proper training my dog knows what he is suppose to do--unless of course he sees a squirrel or a cat, then I’m on the receiving end of the commands and being dragged down the street.


What’s important to understand with this example is that I’m not using verbal commands.  He is responding to non-verbal communication through our couple. My dog reacts to the movements I make that affect the leash.

In this example, my dog he has been trained to respond a certain way to specific movements. But if I don’t move the leash correctly he gets confused and does not know what to do. My movements must be right to get him to behave the way I desire him to.

This is an important factor to remember because one’s opponent in a fight has received no training at all. This means when you use the “Coupling Principle,” your non-verbal communication--in this case “body language”--has to be specific, otherwise the other person’s body won't know how to respond to your directions.

The basic rule one needs to remember about this principle is that once you’re coupled, any movement, no matter how subtle, has a direct impact on your opponent. Even rotating the head at the wrong moment can move one’s opponent inches off their original position. This is one reason why so many martial art styles emphasize the theory of “no wasted motion.”

Avoiding wasted motion is even more important when practitioners try to execute projections (throws), especially projections that rely on exacting alignments. Sometimes even the slightest, almost imperceptible movement can have drastic consequences.

This of course means that in order to execute the “Coupling” Principle at the higher levels one must learn “cause and effect.” In other words, one must know exactly what wll happen when any given part of the body is moved.

Example: Rear Shoulder Projection



Photo 1 – Two individuals with no connection to each other.


Photo 2 – As the uke (attacker) grabs the tori (defender) they become coupled. Even though the point of contact is small (tip of shoulder) a connection is made and tori can affect the ukes’ centerline.


Photo 3 – The tori lifts his shoulder (the shoulder only) and rotates slightly to the rear by rotating at the waist. Since both subjects are coupled, the lift and rotation pushes the uke off balance to his rear. If done correctly, uke’s hips come forward, creating a hole for the uke to fall into.


Photo 4 – The tori continues his rotation to the rear until the uke is totally off balance.
The shoulder is then quickly dropped straight downward causing the uke to fall into the space that was created during photo #3.

In addition, one must also learn the differences such things as turning the hand versus turning the forearm versus rotating the upper arm can cause. Try it; you’ll be surprised at the results.

Example


Photo 1 – Uke grabs tori by the wrist.


2. Tori rotates his forearm (forearm only) towards the ukes’ arm. Since the tori and uke are coupled at the wrist, the rotation of the forearm causes the uke to come forward and downward. Note how the uke’s wrist has rotated around the forearm. (See below photos.) Also note that nothing has moved from the original position. The only movement was the rotation, everything else remained the same.


Learning all of these intricacies of controlling an opponent through coupling can take years, if not a lifetime to fully master. Add this complexity to the fact that in a real life or death fight numerous movements are taking place within milliseconds, each with the potential to change how one must apply the “coupling principle,” and one can start to see how difficult utilizing this principle actually is.

Fortunately, many of these issues are addressed in the techniques most of us are taught, though one must keep in mind that techniques taught in class often tend to illustrate ideal situations. That’s not a bad thing; it just means it pays to experiment. Nothing beats trial and error.

Oh, and if all of that isn’t difficult enough: how about coupling techniques that involve weaponry? Yes, even that sword on sword blocking action observed in so many styles is a form of coupling, which if the practitioner is skilled enough can be used to create a projection.

Just one more facet to think about.

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Monday, January 28, 2008

The Second Top Ten Principles Of Yachigusa Ryu Aiki Bugei - #6 Marriage to Gravity

Since I first stated that the techniques taught at my school were based on principles, and that we focus more on understanding the principles that makes things work than the techniques themselves, people have e-mailed me asking me if I could explain these principles in more detail.

Last year I spent several months writing about the “Top Ten Principles of Yachigusa Ryu Aiki Bugei.” Now it is time to cover the next ten most important principles. Of course, one must keep in mind that while these principles are officially less important than first ten, in actuality they are just as important. The truth is that in many cases understanding and executing them properly is essential in order to make the “top ten” fully effective. In other words, they are just another piece of a very complex puzzle illustrating how sceintific martial techniques really are.

Unfortunately, trying to explain many of these principals in writing is very difficult, since many can’t be explained in words alone. However, I will try my best to describe these principles for the “blog” readers, using words, charts and pictures.

Keep in mind though, that in order to sometimes fully understand a principle you have to also understand other principles that relate to it. Most principles aren’t fully useable on their own, and have to be integrated with others.

MARRIAGE TO GRAVITY

When I started training with Yachigusa Sensei, 30 plus years ago, he would yell at me all the time about my posture. I was always either too slouchy or too rigid, too soft, or too hard. I leaned too much this way or that way. It seemed no matter what I did, or how hard I tried, my posture was never good enough.

Yachigusa Sensei would yell, he would scream, and he would even forcibly move me into the proper position--and I mean forcibly, with whatever he happened to have in his hands at the time, which was often a wooden cane.

Unfortunately for me no matter what he did to correct my posture during my first years, none of it seemed to work, at least from his perspective.

Now, I don’t know if my problems with posture were due to my age, the fact I didn’t understand Japanese and he spoke terrible English, my poor coordination, or if Yachigusa Sensei expected instant perfection; but things must have really gotten bad because the next thing I knew I was doing all my solo techniques with a book balanced on my head.

If you’ve never tried this, it can become quite frustrating very quickly-especially if there are consequences when the book falls. These consequences were usually harsh and unpleasant. However, balancing a book on your head is a great training tool, and after several long months of “book learning” the frequency of posture related yelling decreased.

I had slowly, unwittingly, been introduced to the principle of “Marriage to Gravity.”

After my teacher’s death, I started to attend various seminars where numerous Aikido, Jujutsu, and Judo practitioners often accused me of being extremely rigid. In other words they couldn’t capture my center, displace me, or project me. Of course, instead of examining their technical ability, they just assumed I was countering them. In a way they were partially right, but I didn’t do it intentionally. Without even realizing it, I had learned to spontaneously apply the principle of “Marriage to Gravity.”

I guess all of Yachigusa Sensei’s lambasting paid off.

Over the years I have heard this principle described in numerous ways, ranging the gamut from the supernatural to the scientific. Its been called things such as sticking, grounding, rooting, sinking, and even body dropping.

It is clear that this principle is done in numerous martial art styles, and from my experience every teacher who tries to explain it does so in a distinct, often stylistic manner. Unfortunately, these stylistic approaches often perpetuate myths and tricks over true technique.



This is a trick often used to show one’s ability to “root.”
I won't explain here how it is done, but it has to do with physics, not Chi.
My student had five minutes of instruction before he posed for the photo, and was able to do the technique fairly well. With some practice he could fool a lot of people with his “mystical powers.”





Another famous trick to show one’s rooting ability.
Once again it’s all about physics, not Chi.
This technique is a little harder to learn than the one above.


Often the ancient mystical explanations for this principle, especially those propagated in Chinese arts, are exquisite and definitely appeal to many people’s desire to transcend normality via some ancient “secret.”

However, as much as I can respect these peoples’ desires and beliefs, I’ll forgo the usual metaphysical explanation--which normally relates to externalizing ones’ Chi and projecting said energy into he ground thus rooting a person to the earth--for something a little more tangible.

Basically, the principle of “Marriage to Gravity” refers to a postural alignment that unifies one with their centerline. It is nothing more than having the skill to align the feet and torso in a manner were force is transferred efficiently into the ground, allowing for maximum balance and stability.

Yes, you guessed it…. It’s all related to posture.

A major difference between the principle of Marriage to Gravity,” and methods often referred to as “Rooting,” is that “Marriage to Gravity” is not static. The principle applies to both bodies at rest, and bodies moving at full speed. Though I’ll be the first to admit, one is easier to do than the other.

To be honest teaching this principle is not easy. It takes a lot of time, and one on one interaction. Having taught for over fifteen years now, I can clearly see how frustrating it must have been for Yachigusa Sensei to teach me this, especially with the language barrier between us.

I know I’ve experienced times where students have simply driven me crazy, and I’ve felt I must be explaining things in some foreign language they can’t comprehend. While I’ve never resorted to striking any of them, (okay, one or two), many have endured the ancient “Yachigusa Ryu Book” method of training.

Unfortunately, I can’t think of any way to teach this principle in this medium. Like I said, it takes a lot of one on one interaction to get people to do it right. Even practicing this principle in front of a mirror is inadvisable since moving the head to see oneself can often change alignments.

While I can’t teach this principle in writing, I can give some anatomical background, guidelines, and a few things for readers to try.

1. Basic Posture Rules

Standing – Normal Posture

  1. Always hold your head straight with your chin in. The head should never tilt in any direction.
  2. Keep your shoulder blades back.
  3. Keep your knees straight.
  4. Tuck your stomach in but do not tilt your pelvis forward.
  5. The arches of your feet should always be supported.

Martial Posture

  1. Always hold your head straight with your chin in. The head should never tilt in any direction. The head only moves split seconds before any turning action.
  2. Keep your shoulder blades back, yet relaxed.
  3. Keep your knees straight. Straight does not mean locked-out. There should actually be some give, an almost sinking sensation towards the ground. Just make sure your knee never ever passes the toes when moving; that puts a lot of strain in your knees.
  4. Tuck your stomach in but do not tilt your pelvis forward. Hips and waist should always be over the weight bearing foot.
  5. The arches of your feet should always be supported. One method I employ which is related to the principle of Marriage to Gravity, is placing my weight on three points of each foot. These points are the base of the big toe, the inner part of the ball of the foot, and the inside side of the heal portion of the foot. I then think about pushing the ground with these three points, concentrating my focus on the ball of the foot area.
At first, when this is done correctly one should feel their thigh muscles doing a substantial amount of work to maintain stability. That feeling should go away with training. However once this is learned, one’s stability should feel stronger.

Another benefit with this type of stance is that one will be able to execute stronger and faster turning motions. This has to do with the nature of the stance itself, which controls the action of the thigh muscles, which in turn control the upper torso.

A point to remember is that the thigh muscles don’t really have the ability to rotate without moving a least one foot. If you don’t believe that try executing a proper round kick without shifting the foot.

2. Balance

Balance is something we humans use all the time, but literally take for granted until we lose it. After all, good balance is necessary in order to independently perform acts of daily living and to avoid constantly falling down and injuring ourselves.

The definition of “balance,” is "the ability to maintain and control the position and motion of the total center of body mass relative to the base of support."

Sound familiar?

It should. However, in martial arts, this is often described more metaphysically. From a martial arts perspective, this center of mass is normally located three finger widths down from the belly button, and referred to as the tanden in Japanese and dantian in Chinese, and is the equivalent to the Hara of Buddhism.


This point is regarded as the spiritual center of man, where all psychic and physical forces are centered. The Hara is the point where “Chi” (life energy) is located--“Chi” being the essential energy to perform martial art techniques quickly and efficiently.

The importantce of the human balance system is that it helps your body maintain equilibrium on an automatic basis. Keep in mind that the human frame is inherently unstable since 2/3 of our mass is located 2/3 of our body height above the ground. Even the normal act of walking is a constant state of falling and regaining balance.

In order to maintain balance the “Human Balance System” consists of three parts. They are:
  • Vestibular System (inner ear) – This is the most important element of human balance. The main function of the vestibular system is maintaining balance (posture and equilibrium) by monitoring the motion of the head and stabilizing the eyes relative to the surround environment.

    Within the inner ear are three canals that contain a gel-like liquid called endolymph and tiny hair cells. When both inner ears are working properly they give the brain information through the central nervous system about linear and angular positions of the body with respect to gravity.


  • Visual system (depth, velocity, and motion perception) – Input from the eyes sends the brain information about the position of the body relative to other objects, their depth, velocity and motion. In addition, the eyes work in conjunction with the ears to maintain balance, as well as maintain clear vision during movements. The inner ear continuously sends impulses that adjust your eyes in coordination to the smallest movement of the body.

  • Somatic Sensory or Somatosensory System) – This system provides the brain with two valuable pieces of internal and external spatial information that helps maintain balance. These two systems are called, proprioception and exteroception.
    • Proprioception – Propriceptors are internal sensors in the body that give the central nervous system information about the movement of body parts in relation to other parts of the body. With out such a system it would be impossible to put food in your mouth without visually watching your hand move from the plate to your mouth.
    • Exteroception - Exteroceptors are pressure sensors located in your feet and hands that provide external spatial information about the topography of the ground or support surface.


Evaluating Your Balance

This is a basic test to see what your current state of balance is. Start by standing upright, arms to your side. Now while looking forward raise one foot up without touching the supporting leg. Hold this position for as long as you can without tilting or losing stability. Failure occurs when your upper body starts tilting, your foot drops, your raised foot touches supporting leg, you hop, or your drop your foot to the ground.



Now repeat this test with your eyes closed. To make this test a little more complicated, try extending your arms to the side and touching your nose with your index finger--sort of like the field sobriety tests police officers give to see if you’re driving under the influence.



The importance of this simple exercise is manifold. First of all, being on one leg is less stable than two, thus requiring precise body mechanics to remain upright without tilting or swaying. Secondly, one must learn to properly align the base foot in order to press against the ground and provide the strength to remain stable (the Marriage to Gravity element). Lastly, a clear focus and concentration is required to maintain control over the body, and its natural instinct to fall over.



Remember the movie “The Karate Kid?”
Well Mr. Miyagi had a reason to make Daniel-san do that silly crane stance.
It was all about improving Daniel-san’s balance.


3. Stance (Static Posture)

Any stance refers to a method of “placement.” “Placement” is an orientation based on the flex of the feet, knees and hips, as well as associated body weight distribution. A simple rule to follow is that one should always point their hips and waist in the same direction as the toes of their weight-bearing leg.

This rule is simple to test. Start by assuming a long stance, a common stance found in many martial art styles where 40% of the weight is on the back leg and 60% is on the front leg.

Once in long-stance rotate your hips and waist in the direction of your back leg. How stable do you feel? If you think you have sufficient stability, try having someone push you backwards. Do not have them push hard, just enough to see if you lose stability.



Now do another long-stance, and this time rotate your hips and waist over the front leg. How stable do you feel? You should be able to feel a difference. Once again after you feel you are stable, have someone push you with the same power as before. There should be a major difference in how quickly and easily you can be pushed off balance.



Now try this same test with other postures (stances) for your particular style. You should get the same results.

4. Movement / Force

The first guideline has to do with body mechanics. Body mechanics are essentially posture in motion used to gain power. The purpose of utilizing proper body mechanics is to maximize applicable forces by taking advantage of the principles of physics as it relates to the structure of the human body.

When I teach my students I look for specific things. I look to see what muscles they utilize to accomplish a particular movement. Are they tense, or are they too relaxed? Is their weight distributed correctly, allowing for ease of movement? I check to see what muscles are utilized, over utilized, or under utilized.

In order to use the “Marriage to Gravity” principle when moving, one must first learn to use it statically. The next step is to learn to move one step at a time, utilizing the static form between each step. This progression is continued until the practitioner can make a series of movements and instantly stop with out having to make any adjustments in their posture. It can be a tedious process.

Of course, it is essential when learning this that one pays careful attention to their movements, and learns to feel how their body shifts. Maintaining complete control of ones body’s movements is also essential since one must learn override their body’s natural instincts. This means training the body to do what you want it to do, not what it wants to do, or what feels the most comfortable.

Remember we humans are basically lazy creatures and if given the choice are bodies will normally do what’s easiest. This means our bodies slouch rather than stand erect. We sit instead of stand. We walk instead of run. You get the idea.

Keep in mind that fighting is motion, and that having the ability to maintain one’s body mechanics is essential. Without proper body mechanics, it is impossible to deliver full force strikes, project one’s opponents, and maintain stability against the incoming force from one’s attacker.

Hopefully, the above four items aid anyone in examining this topic further. For the most part all of the components are fairly basic. The difficulty is putting them all together. But nothing worth doing is ever easy.

Just keep in mind that the basic tenet of the principle “Marriage to Gravity,” is to instill proper body posture. With proper body posture martial techniques can be executed with more power and speed. A martial arts practitioner is more stable making them harder to unbalance and project. Most of all overall effectiveness and efficiency are greatly increased.

Learning this principle is not easy, but it worth all of the effort.

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Sunday, October 28, 2007

Hands always push...an iaito

The Electronic Journal of Martial Arts and Sciences recently published a very well written article about the distinction between "pushing" and "pulling" when drawing a sword in the art of iaido. The article is available here.

While sword drawing is a very different facet of martial arts from jujutsu, this article sheds a lot of light on the aiki principle of "hands always push" that we often talk about in our art.

Often times, we will perform an arm movement during a technique that seems like a pull, but is better described as a push. This article does an excellent job of clarifying how the mechanics can be different when one visualizes a push instead of a pull.

[I've been meaning to put this up for a while now. To apologize to our readership, both Gary and I have had hectic lives recently, leaving writing and editing unattended.]

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Thursday, July 26, 2007

The Second Top Ten Principles Of Yachigusa Ryu Aiki Bugei - #5 Push When Pulled/ Pull When Pushed, Enter When Pulled/ Turn When Pushed

Since I first stated that the techniques taught at my school were based on principles, and that we focus more on understanding the principles that makes things work than the techniques themselves, people have e-mailed me asking me if I could explain these principles in more detail.

Last year I spent several months writing about the “Top Ten Principles of Yachigusa Ryu Aiki Bugei.” Now it is time to cover the next ten most important principles. Of course, one must keep in mind that while these principles are officially less important than first ten, in actuality they are just as important. The truth is that in many cases understanding and executing them properly is essential in order to make the “top ten” fully effective. In other words, they are just another piece of a very complex puzzle illustrating how sceintific martial techniques really are.

Unfortunately, trying to explain many of these principals in writing is very difficult, since many can’t be explained in words alone. However, I will try my best to describe these principles for the “blog” readers, using words, charts and pictures.

Keep in mind though, that in order to sometimes fully understand a principle you have to also understand other principles that relate to it. Most principles aren’t fully useable on their own, and have to be integrated with others.

Push When Pulled/ Pull When Pushed, Enter When Pulled/ Turn When Pushed

“Softness triumphs over hardness, feebleness over strength. What is more malleable is always superior over that which is immoveable. This is the principle of controlling things by going along with them, of mastery through adaptation.”
Laozi (Lao-tzu) Taoist Philosopher

Clearly, these four principles are not unique to the Yachigusa Ryu Aiki Bugei system. In fact these four principles are utilized in numerous martial art systems, and they form the foundation of the techniques utilized in the arts of Judo and Aikido.

The same can be said for the system I teach, though these principles are often only associated to methods of projecting one's opponent. When it comes to striking, or the use of weaponry, we often do the opposite. For example, when an attacker punches or cuts at us with a sword (a forward push like motion), we will enter. Of course, this is done for specific strategic reasons I wont go into here.

For the most part though, we utilize these four principles in the same manner as the other styles listed above, simply because they are the best method to instill and teach practitioners the proper way to react to specific forces that can occur when one is attacked.

Basically, these four principles teach the concept of embracing and accepting an attacker’s energy to use it against them. Instead of opposing the attacker’s force (their “flow of energy”), one increases it by entering, or extends it by pulling away. By doing so, the attacker’s balance and focus is disrupted making follow-up attacks almost impossible to achieve.

Many years ago during a seminar with Don Angier, he made the statement that “every fight is a contest to control the centerline.” At first, this statement didn’t completely resonate in my brain, but with further explanation on his part, and some introspection I believe I have a better grasp on what he meant. (Although putting it into actual application is another thing.)

Furthermore, I’ve come to discover that when I employ any of the above four principles, I am in fact controlling the centerline. By moving with the force of my opponent, I prevent him from placing himself where he intended to be. This makes it hard for him to properly step and/or maintain his equilibrium. I have taken him off the centerline; and because I have accomplished that, he is in a weakened state. He is in a state where I can now launch my counter attack with relative safety

Since there is so much information on these four principles on the Internet I don’t feel the necessity to explain them any further. Furthermore, the principles themselves are pretty self-descriptive.

All one has to remember is that these four principles are intended to teach a martial arts practitioner how to react and move when facing force. Instead of moving in the opposite direction--the ways our bodies are hardwired to behave--one must allow themselves to flow with it.

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Sunday, July 22, 2007

The Second Top Ten Principles Of Yachigusa Ryu Aiki Bugei - #4 Giving An Out

Since I first stated that the techniques taught at my school were based on principles, and that we focus more on understanding the principles that makes things work than the techniques themselves, people have e-mailed me asking me if I could explain these principles in more detail.

Last year I spent several months writing about the “Top Ten Principles of Yachigusa Ryu Aiki Bugei.” Now it is time to cover the next ten most important principles. Of course, one must keep in mind that while these principles are officially less important than first ten, in actuality they are just as important. The truth is that in many cases understanding and executing them properly is essential in order to make the “top ten” fully effective. In other words, they are just another piece of a very complex puzzle illustrating how sceintific martial techniques really are.

Unfortunately, trying to explain many of these principals in writing is very difficult, since many can’t be explained in words alone. However, I will try my best to describe these principles for the “blog” readers, using words, charts and pictures.

Keep in mind though, that in order to sometimes fully understand a principle you have to also understand other principles that relate to it. Most principles aren’t fully useable on their own, and have to be integrated with others.

GIVING AN OUT

“Giving an Out,” is another one of those multifaceted principles, used in a variety of forms. Basically, “Giving an Out,” refers to a method where the practitioner creates an artificial route of escape/retreat for the aggressor when applying a technique.

I call it an “artificial route” since the route is pre-determined and dictated by the practitioner. It’s a route intended to place the aggressor in a specific place, or state, so follow-up techniques can be easily employed.

These “outs” are based on science, especially the knowledge of physiology. For the most part they are based on innate reactions to specific stimuli and utilize the subconscious, hardwired, reactions of the nervous system.

Many of the best examples for clearly illustrating the principle of “Giving an Out,” are pain compliance techniques. A pain compliance technique is normally executed by applying a specific painful stimulus to a particular point on the body. This stimulus invokes an innate response via the reflex arch, and the body reacts is a predictable repeatable manner.

The technique is predictable and repeatable because it capitalizes on the innate physiology of the human body. Since it is predictable and repeatable, it’s an example of the principle of “Giving an Out;” If one knows how the reflex arch operates, and what stimulus invokes what reactions, one can use these reflexes to their advantage and direct an opponent's body in specific directions.

While I have already written in detail about the reflex arch in my essay titled, “Pain and Pain Withdrawal Reflexes” and “The Top Ten Principles Of Yachigusa Ryu Aiki Bugei - #3 Reflex Action,” I think it’s important enough to once again explain in order to fully understand the principle of “Giving an Out.”

Example

A common technique used in numerous martial art systems, which utilizes the reflex arch, and the principle of “Giving an Out,” is Gokyu (5th Immobilization). This technique is nothing more than an arm bar, which is accomplished by applying pressure directly above the elbow, at a point where numerous receptors are located; one in particular is called the Golgi tendon organ.


This technique works because when muscles contract, they produce tension at the point where the muscle is connected to the tendon. The Golgi tendon organ is located at such a point. The function of Golgi tendon organ is to register changes in tension, and the rate of these changes. When properly stimulated, such as by downward pressure that exceeds a certain threshold, the Golgi tendon organ sends signals to the spine, which triggers the stretch reflex (lengthening reaction). This inhibits the muscles from contracting, causing them to relax.


However, because of the position of the arm in the technique, the arm cannot relax fully; the only way the body can neutralize the threat is by falling forward or downward--the direction away from the point of the threatening stimulus. That’s the “Out.”

Because the basic function of the Golgi tendon organ is to help protect the muscles, tendons, and ligaments from injury, and because the reaction is innate, Gokyu and other similar techniques are highly repeatable.

Done properly, these techniques can work every time, even if one’s uke is aware of what is about to happen and tries to counter the technique. The important factor is that the stimulus has to be applied properly so that the body’s (spinal cord's) command to fall will override their conscious will (brain) not to fall.

The Reflex Arch

If you read the above example carefully you will notice I said the Golgi tendon sends signals to the spinal cord, and not the brain. In actuality, signals are sent to both, but the spinal cord is responsible for the response.

With this in mind let’s break down the above technique and see what is actually occurring.
.
Initially, the attacker felt a stimulus of pain in his arm that was intended to make them believe their tendons were in danger of ripping/tearing. Reacting to the stimulus in the arm, messages were transmitted to the brain and spinal column. Milliseconds before this information ever reached the brain, the spinal column respond and caused two reactions; the arm went limp, and the person fell to his knees.

Milliseconds later, the brain received the same information as the spinal cord. This information was analyzed, and appropriate responses were signaled back to the source of the stimulus. Of course, by this time, the perceived threat was over.

It is important to fully understand that the initial responses occurred prior to the brain processing the information. Even though both processes take place within milliseconds of each other, if the body had waited for the brain to signal a response it could have been too late, and the arm could have been damaged.

This fact is important because the body [spinal cord] reacts without “consciously” processing what is really occurring. This allows the defender to use their opponent's innate body responses against himself. The defender causes a reaction their opponent can't control, and in many cases isn't even aware they are making. By the time their brain realizes what is going on it's too late.

When applying a technique such as Gokyu, the defender’s goal is to create an artificial stimulus that the tendons are about to be severely damaged. In actuality, the arm is never in such extreme danger of being injured. If the brain had been responsible for providing a response it would have realized no real danger existed, and there would be no reason that the at the arm would have to go limp, or the person should collapse to their knees.

This change in responses would definitely have major consequences. Since the brain is aware that no real danger exists, it would allow the attacker to react differently, possibly affording him a chance to escape and/or counter attack.

Other Ways

Of course pain compliance techniques are just one example of the principle of “Giving an Out.” Other methods are more subtle, and are often used to project an opponent. This is a little harder to explain in writing, but suffice it to say that most systems which teach projection (throwing) techniques utilize this method to one degree or another.

However, the group I’ve found that utilizes a lot of the principle of “Giving an Out”--without most likely even realizing that they are--are practitioners of Judo and Wrestling. Grapplers, who have the ability to direct their opponent’s actions, will create intentional gaps of attack or escape, or will pretend to attack one limb while actually focusing on another. In this way, they fully utilize this principle.

Clearly, the principle of “Giving an Out,” is a method to subconsciously manipulate the actions of one’s opponent. In many instances, this action is direct cause and effect (reflex arch), while in others the action is almost imperceptible and psychological.

In either case, this principle is extremely effective, and those that learn to utilize the various methods to apply it will discover a new dimension to what they already do.

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Monday, July 09, 2007

The Second Top Ten Principles Of Yachigusa Ryu Aiki Bugei - #3 Angle of Efficiency

Since I first stated that the techniques taught at my school were based on principles, and that we focus more on understanding the principles that makes things work than the techniques themselves, people have e-mailed me asking me if I could explain these principles in more detail.

Last year I spent several months writing about the “Top Ten Principles of Yachigusa Ryu Aiki Bugei.” Now it is time to cover the next ten most important principles. Of course, one must keep in mind that while these principles are officially less important than first ten, in actuality they are just as important. The truth is that in many cases understanding and executing them properly is essential in order to make the “top ten” fully effective. In other words, they are just another piece of a very complex puzzle illustrating how sceintific martial techniques really are.

Unfortunately, trying to explain many of these principals in writing is very difficult, since many can’t be explained in words alone. However, I will try my best to describe these principles for the “blog” readers, using words, charts and pictures.

Keep in mind though, that in order to sometimes fully understand a principle you have to also understand other principles that relate to it. Most principles aren’t fully useable on their own, and have to be integrated with others.

ANGLE OF EFFICIENCY

This principle is pretty much self-descriptive. Employing “Angle of Efficiency” is literally learning to use the proper angles in order to be more efficient, in both offense and defense. This principle basically refers to utilizing the old maxim that, “less is more.”

The American Kenpo dictionary defines “Angle of Efficiency,” as:
“Refers to (1) the positioning of your feet and/or body whereby the alternatives in terms of weapon availability are increased proportionately; (2) the positioning of one's body to make a particular attack more operative or effective.”

This is a good definition, but it's too limited. The principle as employed in the art I teach encompasses a lot more. The main difference being that we don’t restrict the principle to just striking or blocking.

In the art I teach, the principle of “Angle of Efficiency” is applied to all aspects of combat. This means knowing everything from the proper angles to attack joints, to the proper angles that will align a body to set up projections (throws).

However, all applications of this principle share one thing in common. These angles of efficiency are all based on the fact that martial art techniques are founded on specific mathematical formulas and geometry. Such formulas that can be diagramed and calculated to show specific body geometry, anatomical strengths and weaknesses, torques, points of balance, and stress points that help a martial artist be energy efficient (in terms of useful work per quantity of effort).

Unfortunately, attempting to describe every angle of efficiency possible, in every combat situation possible, would take too long. That would be something worthy of a book. It is also something one has to experience first-hand in order to fully comprehend and appreciate the nuisances.

My best advice for people, who wish to really learn to be more efficient in their fighting forms, is:
  1. Study anatomy, physics, and physiology. This means more than just a cursory glance at the material.
  2. Trial and error practice. Play around with techniques you know and see if changing an angle makes things work better or not.
  3. Ask your instructor specific questions relating to the application of techniques. (Note: some instructors are more open to such questions than others.) However, never settle for an answer that doesn’t make sense.
  4. If you’re learning a technique and you scratch your head in disbelief, or mutter the phrase you would never do that in “real life,” examine the technique in greater detail. Maybe a small change in angles will make the technique more effective, or at least justify the time it takes to learn it.
  5. Search out and read texts that are well researched--texts where the author has really studied the material they are discussing, and in which they display a very good understanding of the actual sciences that make them work. (Keep in mind that just because someone is labeled an expert or a master doesn’t mean they know a lot or have the ability to articulate what they do know.)
    For starters I recommend:
  6. The most important factor of all…. Practice, practice, practice!

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The Second Top Ten Principles Of Yachigusa Ryu Aiki Bugei - #2 Angle of Cancellation

Since I first stated that the techniques taught at my school were based on principles, and that we focus more on understanding the principles that makes things work than the techniques themselves, people have e-mailed me asking me if I could explain these principles in more detail.

Last year I spent several months writing about the “Top Ten Principles of Yachigusa Ryu Aiki Bugei.” Now it is time to cover the next ten most important principles. Of course, one must keep in mind that while these principles are officially less important than first ten, in actuality they are just as important. The truth is that in many cases understanding and executing them properly is essential in order to make the “top ten” fully effective. In other words, they are just another piece of a very complex puzzle illustrating how sceintific martial techniques really are.

Unfortunately, trying to explain many of these principals in writing is very difficult, since many can’t be explained in words alone. However, I will try my best to describe these principles for the “blog” readers, using words, charts and pictures.

Keep in mind though, that in order to sometimes fully understand a principle you have to also understand other principles that relate to it. Most principles aren’t fully useable on their own, and have to be integrated with others.

ANGLE OF CANCELLATION

The simple definition of this principle is: a “controlled” angle that places one’s opponent in a position that minimizes or even nullifies their ability to attack with weapons (hands, feet, etc.), use force, or launch a counter attack.

This “controlled” angle can be created in various ways. One can directly meet the force head-on, collide with the force at a point away from the apex, intercept/deflect the force, ride the force, elongate the force, or any combination of the above.

In a broader definition, "Angle of Cancellation" can also relate to kuzushi (breaking balance). In this case, "Angle of Cancellation" refers to the geometric angle one needs to apply in order to disrupt the opponent’s equilibrium and place them in a state where they cannot maintain or regain their stability/balance.

Basically, the principle of “Angle of Cancellation” is geometry combined with laws of physics. It is based on the presumption that all martial art techniques can be diagramed on graph paper and mathematically calculated.

Fortunately for those of us who lack mathematical skills to figure these calculations on their own, these formulas have been tried and tested throughout the ages via trail and error--trial and error that can’t be duplicated in the modern age.

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Friday, July 06, 2007

The Second Top Ten Principles of Yachigusa Ryu Aiki Bugeu - #1 Clocking The Room

Since I first stated that the techniques taught at my school were based on principles, and that we focus more on understanding the principles that makes things work than the techniques themselves, people have e-mailed me asking me if I could explain these principles in more detail.

Last year I spent several months writing about the “Top Ten Principles of Yachigusa Ryu Aiki Bugei.” Now it is time to cover the next ten most important principles. Of course, one must keep in mind that while these principles are officially less important than first ten, in actuality they are just as important. The truth is that in many cases understanding and executing them properly is essential in order to make the “top ten” fully effective. In other words, they are just another piece of a very complex puzzle illustrating how sceintific martial techniques really are.

Unfortunately, trying to explain many of these principals in writing is very difficult, since many can’t be explained in words alone. However, I will try my best to describe these principles for the “blog” readers, using words, charts and pictures.

Keep in mind though, that in order to sometimes fully understand a principle you have to also understand other principles that relate to it. Most principles aren’t fully useable on their own, and have to be integrated with others.

Clocking The Room


The principle of “Clocking the Room” is an easy concept to understand, but very hard to apply in real life, especially under stressful conditions. While it’s a principle discussed in numerous martial art styles, few practitioners ever try to develop the skill to its full potential.

In the Budo arts the principle of “Clocking the Room,” is often referred to as Metsuke, (Seeing Eye / Mind’s Eye), or more specifically "Enzan-no-metsuke" (Gazing at a Distant Mountain), an expression referring to a specific method of looking at one’s entire surroundings instead of focusing on just one aspect of it.

Essentially, the principle of “Clocking the Room” teaches and instills a method of “relaxed vision,” where the practitioner learns to rely on their peripheral vision instead of their centralized vision. Of course, in order to understand this fully one must first understand how our eyes work.

Lets start off with the presupposition that over 85% of the information relayed to the brain comes via the eyes, 9% via the ears, and 4% via the other senses. Let's also presuppose that the eyes can be fooled, or tricked into believing things that aren’t really true.

Take for example the below picture. Which line is longer? Measure them and find out.


Okay that example was simple, but how about the below illustration? What do you see?


Do you see a fish on a plate, or the head of a woman?

Clearly, these examples are intended to fool you. However, visual miscues often happen due to natural physical reactions, especially when one is under stress. One of the most common forms of a visual miscue is called “Tunnel Vision.”

“Tunnel Vision,” is a term that basically refers to s a state where one’s visual field is severely constricted, or to be more precise, “Tunnel Vision” is a state where one suffers a loss of peripheral vision resulting in a constricted circular tunnel-like field of vision.

For example, as a police officer I can’t tell you how many times I came across victims who could clearly describe the weapon they were threatened with, but couldn’t even start to describe the person wielding it. They focused so much on the wepom that was all they saw. In addition one would be surprised how often descriptions of these weapons are distorted. What often turns out to be a small pocket knife, is often perceived as a machete or a sword.

While "Tunnel Vision" can be caused by a variety of reasons (drugs, alcohol, glaucoma, etc), it is most often associated with extreme fear, distress, or intense physical fighting. Because of these common associations, learning a skill such as “Clocking the Room” is an absolute necessity to be an effective martial artist. Nothing is worse than reacting to a visual miscue, espicialy in a life or death situation.

At this point, and without trying to get two scientific, one has to understand how vision works, and the two components that make up the visual system.

Human eyes basically work in the same manner as a camera. The front parts of the eye (cornea, pupil, and lens) are clear and like a camera’s lenses allow light to enter to the back of the retina, which is like the film. When the focused light reaches the retina, a picture is taken and messages are sent to the brain through the optic nerve.


The retina has two parts, the peripheral retina and the macula. The macula is very small and located near the optic nerve. The macula is specialized for high acuity vision. This is often referred to as “Central Vision.”

The large area that surrounds the macula and makes up 95% of the retina is called the peripheral retina. The peripheral retina gives us vision to the side of the head, which is called “Peripheral Vision.”

Although central and peripheral vision are both components of the visual system, peripheral vision is a subconscious function, independent of central vision, whose primary responsibility is to orient an individual to one’s environment. That is to say, one could utilize central vision by reading, (a conscious action) while simultaneously obtaining sufficient cues with their peripheral vision to walk (a subconscious function).

Obviously, there is no argument that central vision is better suited for detailed vision. However, peripheral vision is better for detecting motion and is relatively strong in low light or the dark, when the lack of color cues and lighting make cone cells (receptors found in the macula) less useful. This feature of peripheral vision makes understanding and utilizing peripheral vision in combat a lot more important for reacting and avoiding attacks.

Central Vision

Central vision (Foveal vision) is the normal mode of vision during daylight conditions and can basically be described as straight-ahead vision, about 0 – 15 degrees from center.


Central vision is the work of the macula, which is a small area in the center of the retina that contains a high density of color-sensitive receptors known as cones. These cones are nerves cells that are sensitive to light, fine detail, and color. They are primarily responsible for object recognition, reading, watching TV, driving, and other activities where vision is of primary importance, (surgery for example).

In other words, central vision is sort of like seeing the world in high definition. However, because of its limited field a lot of surrounding information goes unnoticed.

In addition, the neural pathways associated with using central vision are associated with the arousal of the Sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight, and stress), which is in contrast to peripheral vision that is linked with the Parasympatheic nervous system (relaxation and calmness).

Peripheral Vision

Peripheral vision is the part of vision that occurs outside the center of our gaze. It accounts for 80% of the information that helps guide us through space. This region contains a mixture of cones and rods and does not provide as high a resolution as does the fovea.


The most important difference between central vision and peripheral vision is that peripheral vision emphasizes movement rather than form. Objects are less focused.

For example, as we walk, objects in our direction of motion seem to expand slowly from the center of view, while objects beside us (those in the peripheral field) pass us quickly. This rapid movement is difficult for a precise visual system to track accurately, and in order to make sense of the information gathered in the peripheral field, comparisons are made based on differences in movement.

These comparisons are then merged forming a conceptual picture of the world around us, based on clear concepts and memories of what we would see if we choose to look directly in that direction. In other words, a lot of peripheral vision is not truly visual but actually more conceptual.

The result of combining all of this with the information processed by central vision is that the mind creates a unified visual experience. Thus we have the ability to see the world all around us.

Clearly, using peripheral vision for the martial artists has benefits, since martial arts practitioners are taught to react to movement. One can’t block a punch or evade a kick if they don’t see it coming--or if they see it coming to late.

In addition, if one were to use only central vision to fight their opponent, they would not have the ability to see other potential threats since all their attention is fixed at one point. This is why topics about awareness of one’s surroundings are so often discussed in self-defense.

Another point, which is often not mentioned or discussed, is that using peripheral vision allows the martial arts practitioner to move their head less. That might not sound very important but it is. While many Karate practitioners are taught that the head always leads the body when doing kata, moving the head in a real fight can be hazardous.

First of all, many people aim for the head when striking. Just watch a real fight--like many of those posted on Youtube.com or any professional mixed martial arts match. If the head moves, that movement can be tracked.

This is especially true when applying evasion techniques or soft, “no-touch,” blocks.

Example:

This technique is one method taught to evade a midline attack or downward cut to the head. It is basically nothing more than a cross-step to the side. However, the lower torso does all the motion, and the head and shoulders remain fixed. By only moving the lower torso the evasion is almost impossible to perceive. Further more, since the upper torso remains fixed, there is no stimulus for reactive tracking from the aggressor.

The second reason why not moving the head is important is because things can remain in sharper focus if your head and eyes do not move. A lot of the flitching one witnesses in a martial arts class is not attributable to fear; it is simply a result of the eyes trying to maintain and/or focus on a fast moving object.

An example that illustrates this best, and that most of us have witnessed first hand, is when a fly buzzes around our head. As the fly approaches our face we pull our head back and away. Clearly, a fly is no threat, but the initial movement is often picked up peripherally and the head adjusts to focus on what the incoming object is. Since the fly is moving forward towards the face, the head moves back and away in direct relation to the speed of the incoming object in order to initially focus on the object and then to maintain focus. Basically, we flinch to focus.

The last reason why moving the head can be hazardous is because when one moves their head they also tend to move their body. That may not sound like much of an issue, but small movements of the torso can certainly change the effectiveness of a technique, especially a technique that relies on proper body alignment to be optimal.

Torso movement can also affect balance, which can be used against you offensively.

If these reasons are not enough to instill the benefits of using peripheral vision, maybe the fact that learning to rely on peripheral vision helps one relax during a stressful situation will. Clearly, a more relaxed demeanor allows a person to better actualize and respond to specific actions in a productive manner.

In addition, a relaxed demeanor, an almost lackadaisical gaze at one’s opponent, can have clear psychological advantages. Outwardly displaying a presence of indifference, even boredom at the events taking place, can either make one’s opponent become over confident or extremely weary. In either case, the attacker either does too much or to little, creating an advantageous situation for the defender.

To learn to access and optimize peripheral vision takes a lot of practice. One should start by looking a point directly in front of you, and without moving your head, or eyes, relax and let your vision spread out as wide as it can to both sides.

A drill we employ at the school to work on peripheral vision takes three students. One student stands in the middle and the other two stand approximately an arms length away on each side.

Once the center student relaxes his gaze he is asked if he can see the two other students. If the answer is yes, both of the other students take one step to the rear. If the student in the center still has some awareness of their location, the process is repeated until both students disappear completely.
Of course in order to do this drill properly, the center student cannot search (look for) the other two. The center student must maintain his head position as well as his relaxed state. The center student must always look forward, though focused on no particular object.

The advanced form of this drill starts off in the same manner. However, once the students on each side disappear from view things change. These students then take one more step to the rear at a 45-degree angle. After that they either throw an object at the student in the center or advance towards them in order to attack him.

The object here is to teach the person in the center to pick up the threatening movement peripherally and react properly to it. It sounds easy, but its not. Often the body wants to move in the wrong direction or hesitates while trying to completely process what it going on.

Over time, and with proper practice, one can increase their ability to pick things up peripherally. Sometimes the results can be dramatic. Of course along with learning how to pick things up visually comes a new heightened sense of awareness, precise coordinated body movement, and an increase in reaction time (less hesitation).

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Monday, March 05, 2007

Correction on the Principle of Back Pressure

The article on this blog on the Principle of Back Pressure recently caused controversy after it was (much to our surprise) featured on the front page of the Aikido Journal website. Part of the anger we received was due to the fact that nothing in the "Back Pressure" article gave credit to Don Angier of Yanagi ryu.

That was a mistake on our part, and we apologize.

We had intended to give Mr. Angier significant credit for the debt we owe him, but due to negligence during editing, that section of the original article was not included. Indeed, in the other "principles" essays, Mr. Angier was given significant credit for his help (e.g. the essay on #9 Chains of Motion/Commutive Locking).

Mr. Angier not only provided the name "Back Pressure," but he also really opened our eyes as to how to understand the subtleties. The way Gary has described it to me is that he had previously had an understanding of this principle on a less sophisticated level and had asked other instructors about it; most jujutsu instructors also had an intuitive understanding of Back Pressure, but no term to describe it. However, Mr. Angier was able to describe it in more detail and give us the language to describe it. So as a named principle, this is not something that was handed down to us from the ages, but we have adapted it because of its importance.

As has been pointed out, if one really wants to understand this principle more deeply, Mr. Angier would be a superior source of knowledge. Be we have found working on this article to be very educational for us and we hope that it has been helpful for others. Our intention has never been to try to take credit for Mr. Angier or anybody else's work; rather, we are trying to better understand these principles of how the human body moves and share with others our meager understanding.

We are sorry once again for the omission.

--Spencer Burns

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Friday, December 01, 2006

Some Thoughts on the Essays Regarding the Top 10 Principles of Yachigusa Ryu

Men give me credit for some genius. All the genius I have lies in this; when I have a subject in hand, I study it profoundly. Day and night it is before me. My mind becomes pervaded with it. Then the effort that I have made is what people are pleased to call the fruit of genius. It is the fruit of labor and thought.
Alexander Hamilton

Now that I’ve spent almost three months writing down the top ten principles of the Yachigusa Ryu martial art system I have to admit I’ve learned a lot. Yes, it’s true, I definitely learned a lot from this experience.

You see, it’s one thing to explain things orally or with physical demonstrations, and a totally different thing to describe the same things in writing. Writing clearly takes more effort and lucidity, since there is no opportunity to discuss the matter or answer questions that may arise during the explanation.

Because I finally made the effort to sit down and explain our principles in writing, I had to really examine the science within them, and figure out the best manner in which to explain them. This is something I had never really done before. I never felt I had to do it before.

In order to complete this project, I also had to do a lot of extra research. That is something I do routinely, but I normally have no set goal or motivating factors.

However, I didn’t have to do all of the research on my own this time. I had a lot of help from my students. Not only did we have a lot of discussions and debates about each principle and the best way to explain them, there was also a lot of discussion which techniques we should use to illustrate them.

In addition, many of my students aided my endeavor by sharing their expertise, and I really appreciate all their efforts and patience in taking the time to see that I fully comprehended the material they shared. I’ll be the first to admit that mathematics and physics were not my strong points in school.

To be honest, without the aid of my students, and their cooperation during a lot of physical trial and error, this project would still not be finished.

I also want to thank one “blog” reader from Texas who was the first to ask me to write about these principles, and kept e-mailing me with encouragement until I was done. It’s nice to know someone is actually reading this stuff, and appreciates the effort.

While I’m not totally satisfied with many of the essays I wrote (the perfectionist part of me always feels I could have done better no matter what others may think), and question how valuable the information really is, I know I did my best. At least I did my best with the information and transmission skills I have at this time. Hopefully, as I improve in the future, so will my abilities to explain these principles in more precise and intelligible detail.

For now, I know I’ve learned a lot of new information, and gained valuable insights into the intricacies within the principles themselves. That alone was worth the effort, and the insights I gained will definitely improve my skills as a student of the martial arts and as a teacher of life-protection skills.

While I know I benefited from this experience, one of my main goals when I decided to explain these principles was to get other people to share what they knew regarding them.

I know for a fact that these principles are not unique to the system of martial arts I teach. While we may call them by different names than other styles, everyone utilizes these principles to some degree or another. After all, science is science, and there are only so many ways the body can be manipulated and various forces applied.

Like I’ve said many times before, teaching martial arts was never something I thought about when I was young. The fact that I’m teaching today, and that people think I have something interesting to share still amazes me at times.

Of course once I started teaching, I made up my mind to be the best teacher I could be, and to never stop learning. There is an old Latin Proverb that states “By learning you will teach, by teaching you will learn,” and I can honestly say I’ve learned a lot by teaching and listening to what my students have to share. Furthermore, I’ve definitely learned that sometimes the simplest question can lead to so many new discoveries.

William Ward stated:
The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.
It is my hope that by sharing these principles I willinspire others to come forward and share what they know on these topics. I, for one, would really like to learn more about them, and I promise to investigate any leads, and/or share any and all information I think will help to clarify each topic.

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Thursday, November 30, 2006

The Top Ten Principles Of Yachigusa Ryu Aiki Bugei - #10 Back Pressure

Since I first stated that the techniques taught at my school were based on principles, and that we focus more on understanding the principles that makes things work than the techniques themselves, people have e-mailed me asking me if I could explain these principles in more detail.

Unfortunately, trying to explain many of these principals in writing is very difficult, since many can’t be explained in words alone. However, I will try my best to describe these principles for the “blog” readers, using words, charts and pictures.

Keep in mind though, that in order to sometimes fully understand a principle you have to also understand other principles that relate to it. Most principles aren’t fully useable on their own, and have to be integrated with others.

Back Pressure

Trying to explain the principle of Back Pressure in written words and illustrations is almost impossible. In fact, it’s hard to describe—period—even in the classroom. And in my experience, trying to explain “Back Pressure” often confuses people more than it helps them.

Of all the top ten principles in the Yachigusa martial art system, Back Pressure is most likely the hardest to teach. And it is definitely the hardest one to learn to utilize properly. However, once learned, properly executed Back Pressure will greatly increase a martial art practitioner’s efficiency and effectiveness at projecting others.

To be honest, even though we use Back Pressure in many of our techniques, to this day I still find it hard to come up with a concise description: what it is, why it works, or how to practice it. I am still looking for an easy method with which to teach my students how to learn to apply it properly.

The main reason why teaching the principle of Back Pressure is so difficult is that Back Pressure is basically an intangible force. It is intangible in the sense that Back Pressure cannot be seen, and when executed properly the movement that creates the force is relatively hard to perceive. This makes the movements hard for others to emulate.

Furthermore, Back Pressure is definitely one of those forces where “less is more.” Using too much torque/power actually makes techniques less effective. This means that Back Pressure is a principle that can’t be faked or forced; you either do it in the right way at the right moment, or it won’t work.

Now before I continue to try and explain what Back Pressure is let me start by stating what it is not. Back Pressure is NOT Chi, Ki, or some other mystical force. It is an application of science. However, I’ll be the first to say that one could easily con others into believing it is something else; and the truth is that many upper level martial art practitioners do.

However, while Back Pressure is not something mystical, when one is describing it or trying to understand it, one must think “outside of the box” in order to fully grasp the concept.

In the most simplistic language possible, Back Pressure is a specific force that is generated by rotating or sharply twisting the back/hips. This rotational force is used to accelerate one’s opponent— usually in a manner that projects them off balance and to the ground.

It is a circular force that basically moves in a semi-arching circle from point “A” to the centerline of the aggressor, point "B."


In this photo Subject "A" rotates his back creating pressure to Subject "B’s" centerline.

While the “force” can certainly be felt, this “force” has no real direct relationship to the connection points (arms in picture above) between tori and uke. In other words, while tori and uke might only be connected at the arm, the force that actually makes the technique feasible comes from Back Pressure attacking the centerline of one’s opponent.

Confused yet? If you are, you’re like most of my students when first introduced to this topic. In fact, when I initially discuss the topic with new students, I often get perplexed looks; I often wonder if they think I’m just babbling.

While I do indeed often babble, the truth is that in order to understand Back Pressure one must understand basic “Body Geometry,” and some basic physics.

I’ll get to the physics later, but let's start with the premise that human body exists on several planes. These planes are commonly referred to as the:
  • Coronal (Frontal) Plane – A vertical plane running from side to side; it divides the body or any of its parts into anterior and posterior portions.
  • Sagittal (Lateral) Plane – A vertical plane running from front to back; it divides the body or any of its parts into right and left sides.
  • Transverse (Horizontal) Plane - A horizontal plane; it divides the body or any of its parts into upper and lower parts.

As you will note, all of these planes share one common trait; they are all located along the midline of the body and intersect on the body’s axis. In addition, one can divide each of these planes into 45 degree sectors in a manner identical to the more familiar Happo No Kazushi (eight directions of breaking balance) diagram. I believe I’ve stated numerous times that Happo No Kazushi is an extremely important science to fully understand.


Thinking “outside of the box,” let's pretend that the lines dividing each of the three planes actually exist and extend away from the body as in the diagram. Imagine that these lines are rigid (like rods), fixed to the body, and move in direct correspondence to the movements of the body.

In other words, when the subject is standing still these lines are just as pictured. However, if the subject rotates his upper body, without moving his feet, those lines will also move the same distance.

Now, assuming these lines exist and are rigid like rods, they would push anything that may happen to be in their way as the person rotated. That would be Back Pressure.

Of course, in the real world there are no invisible lines that extend from our bodies. So the question I; if there is nothing there to actually “push” with, how can Back Pressure work?

As I was being taught the Aiki arts I was always told that one of the goals of proper Aiki technique was to learn to “blend/flow” with ones opponent. This often meant understanding the concept that when two individuals become connected together the truly become as one. They share a common point of center and any movement done by one person will create a direct resulting movement on the other.

Imagine there are two individuals sharing a common center of balance, which I’ll refer to as the "axis point." It’s easy to see that if Subject "A" rotates his upper body rearwards to his left side, his right side moves forward a corresponding 45 degrees.

Since both parties share a common axis point, as "A" moves he also pushes subject "B." The force may not come from the connection point, but since there is a direct relationship between the two subjects, whenever one moves so does the other. The torque of the body from Subject "A" produces the force that creates the movement, and that is Back Pressure.

Now for the more scientific explanation.

Fortunately for me, I have a student who majored in physics at Stanford University and has given the science of Back Pressure a lot of careful scrutiny. Due to his efforts, we actually have a working model we can demonstrate Back Pressure on at the school. Unfortunately, that model won't work in this format, though we hope to eventually film it and add that to the “blog.” Until then. I will defer to his written explanation.

* * *

A Simplistic Model for Understanding Back Pressure

By Spencer Burns

As is traditional in physics, we should simplify the problem until it is almost, but not quite, trivial. The basic model I'm going to talk about consists of two masses connected by a bar. These represent the tori (who applies the technique), the uke (who receives it), and their connection. We want to think about how force can be exerted on the "tori" to cause the "uke" to move in a direction perpendicular to the connection with minimal effort or disruption. The apparent force that causes that perpendicular motion is the "Back Pressure."

"Zeroth Order" Model

The simplest thing for thinking about the mechanics of Back Pressure is to imagine one of those "balancing man" toys.


Ignore the "man" in the center; he's just a fulcrum. Consider the two weights on the sides: these are the uke and the tori. When you push on tori, then uke also moves. This is the most basic model of Back Pressure: uke and tori rotate as one around their common center of mass (at the fulcrum).

"First Order" Model

The major failing of the "balancing man" model is that in the real world, there is no fixed fulcrum. So let's be more formal: the tori and uke are rectangles of width "w" and mass "m". They are connected by a massless rigid bar of length "2d-w"; that is, the distance from the center of the bar (which is the common center of mass of the system) to the center of mass of each rectangle is "d". This system has no fixed point and is free to move in any direction.


Naively, we push on the center of tori, perpendicular to the connection, with an impulse "I". This would make tori move in a line at a speed of "I/m" if he weren't attached to uke. However, the impulse moves the combined center of mass of uke + tori linearly forward at a speed of "I / 2m" while simultaneously inducing a rotational velocity of "I / 2md". The instantaneous effect of this is that tori moves forwards at speed "I/m" while uke twists but doesn't move laterally at all, as in the diagram below.

In a real world analogy, tori just applied back pressure incorrectly and has the feeling of having "bounced off" uke while uke just stands there well balanced.

This is the opposite of what we want; we would like to see tori stay stationary while uke moves. Consider instead what happens if we give impulse Ia backwards on the outer edge of tori and impults Ib forwards on the inner edge, with Ib<Ia. If we balance the forces exactly right, such that Ib = (2d+w)/(2d-w)*Ia, then we have the situation where tori is instantaneously motionless (but rotating), while uke is moving forwards at speed (Ib-Ia)/m—exactly the opposite of the naive case.


In a real word analogy, tori would be simultaneously moving both of his hips in opposite directions with a balance of force such that he can "hit" uke with Back Pressure without having to move or losing his balance.

In other words, the Back Pressure in this case involves balancing a translation motion of uke and tori perpendicular to their connection together with a rotation around their common center of mass in such a manner that tori remains stable while uke is displaced in a crisp fashion.

There are many other configurations in which Back Pressure can be applied, but they all involve similar physics. In each case, the "first order" issue is balancing rotational and translational impulses on the connected uke-tori "system" such that tori's center remains stationary while uke's center is displaced.

* * *

Like I said at the beginning, describing Back Pressure—especially in this format—is very difficult. Hopefully, between Spencer and I, we have at least started to transmit the core of what we know. Or, I should say, the parts that we have figured out how to explain in writing.

Fortunately, plans are in the works to film and post more details on this principle as well as the other nine already posted. While there is no projected date to complete this project, we should do it by the beginning of the New Year. At least, that’s what I’m hoping for.

Until then, please feel free to ask questions. Or, more importantly, if you have any clearer explanations please share them with me so I can continue my study of this principle.

I realize that almost every Aiki/Budo system utilizes this principle, whether explicitly or implicitly. I’m sure there are many instructors/students who have faced the perplexing problem of verbally passing on this principle. I, for one, would find it extremely interesting to see how others describe/explain this principle.

* * *
The article on this blog on the Principle of Back Pressure recently caused controversy after it was (much to our surprise) featured on the front page of the Aikido Journal website. Part of the anger we received was due to the fact that nothing in the "Back Pressure" article gave credit to Don Angier of Yanagi ryu.

That was a mistake on our part, and we apologize.

We had intended to give Mr. Angier significant credit for the debt we owe him, but due to negligence during editing, that section of the original article was not included. Indeed, in the other "principles" essays, Mr. Angier was given significant credit for his help (e.g. the essay on #9 Chains of Motion/Commutive Locking).

Mr. Angier not only provided the name "Back Pressure," but he also really opened our eyes as to how to understand the subtleties. The way Gary has described it to me is that he had previously had an understanding of this principle on a less sophisticated level and had asked other instructors about it; most jujutsu instructors also had an intuitive understanding of Back Pressure, but no term to describe it. However, Mr. Angier was able to describe it in more detail and give us the language to describe it. So as a named principle, this is not something that was handed down to us from the ages, but we have adapted it because of its importance.

As has been pointed out, if one really wants to understand this principle more deeply, Mr. Angier would be a superior source of knowledge. Be we have found working on this article to be very educational for us and we hope that it has been helpful for others. Our intention has never been to try to take credit for Mr. Angier or anybody else's work; rather, we are trying to better understand these principles of how the human body moves and share with others our meager understanding.

We are sorry once again for the omission.

--Spencer Burns
March 05, 2007

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Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The Top Ten Principles Of Yachigusa Ryu Aiki Bugei - #9 Chains Of Motion / Commutive Locking

Since I first stated that the techniques taught at my school were based on principles, and that we focus more on understanding the principles that makes things work than the techniques themselves, people have e-mailed me asking me if I could explain these principles in more detail.

Unfortunately, trying to explain many of these principals in writing is very difficult, since many can’t be explained in words alone. However, I will try my best to describe these principles for the “blog” readers, using words, charts and pictures.

Keep in mind though, that in order to sometimes fully understand a principle you have to also understand other principles that relate to it. Most principles aren’t fully useable on their own, and have to be integrated with others.

Commutive Locking

I originally called this principle "Chains Of Motion," which quite literally explains what the principle is all about.

However, I started using a different term about twelve years ago after hearing Don Angier, Soke of Yanagi Ryu, talk about this principle. He called it “Commutive Locking,” which I thought sounded a lot better. Since I often defer to his expertise on specific elements of the martial art I do, I switched to his terminology.

Recently it has been brought to my attention recently that Mr. Angier’s terminology might be inaccurate. "Commutive" is not a proper word, although there is something called a "commutator" that is used in the sequential “control of current to produce torque” in an electric motor. It is possible that Mr. Angier uses this term as a metaphor—referring to the sequential movement which is essential in this principle—but I have no first hand knowledge if this assertion is accurate. [See note below]

Chances are that a better term for this principle would be “Cumulative Locking,” which I’ve been informed is a better translation of a Japanese term (unfortunately, I do not know what that term is) that relates to this principle. In this instance, cumulative is defined as the act of following successively.

However, the name of this principle really isn’t as important as understanding it fully, or realizing its importance. To be very honest, understanding this principle is absolutely critical in any art that utilizes joint locks, projections (throws), and/or restraining holds.

The simplest explanation of Chains Of Motion is: One joint locks up another joint which locks up another joint. It is sort of like taking a length of chain and twisting it until it become all knotted up.

In other words one starts twisting at point “A,” which ultimately effects part “B,” and so on and so on until there is so much tension that the chain can no longer twist either B must let go or the chain will break.


To illustrate this concept in a martial art context I like to use a commonly done technique called kotegaeshi. kotegaeshi clearly demonstrates how the bones, muscles, tendons, and joints of the body are rotated to the point where they lock up and become “knotted” like the chain.


In the first picture, the arm is in its natural state. As the hand and wrist are rotated outwards the ulna and radius bones lock at the elbow: thus rotating the humerus, which in turn ultimately locks at the shoulder joint. The end result is that the uke either falls with the rotating force or his arm/shoulder joint is injured—often at multiple points.

While the above is a very simplified explanation of the process, it clearly shows the progressions from the point of applied force (the hand) to the shoulder. In order to fully understand the specific body mechanics involved in this technique and others like it, I strongly suggest that one reads an anatomy book.

The whole concept behind the principle of Chains of Motion is that he human skeleton can be divided into two parts.

I refer to the first part as those joints that form “Open Chains.” By this I mean joints that that can move independently without causing other joints to move in reaction.

The second division is called “Closed Chains,” which I use to describe joints that when moved cause other joints to move through reactive motion.

These “Chains” are further divided as follows:
  • Chain #1 – Torso (head, neck, and trunk)
  • Chain #2 – Upper Extremities (shoulders and arms)
    This chain is determined by the movement and structure of the collarbone, scapula, and the connection of the arm to the trunk.
    Upper extremities have the greatest range of motion.
  • Chain #3 - Lower Extremities (pelvis and legs)
    This chain is determined by the connections of the upper leg to the torso from the hips to the femur to the knees to the fibula and tibia down through the ankles to the feet.

In the example of kotegaeshi, "Chain #2 Upper Extremities" is being manipulated in a specific, sequential order. As a result, a predetermined and repeatable reaction occurs. It requires very little force, and pain is not necessary to make the technique work.

However, as previously stated, this is just a superficial description of what is occurring and what the principle of Chains of Motion is all about. Unfortunately, in many styles of martial arts, kotegaeshi is simply completed by torquing the wrist to the point where it hurts so much that the person falls in order to prevent the wrist from breaking. In this case, kotegaeshi becomes nothing more than a joint lock—a joint lock designed to attack the wrist.

From a martial arts perspective, where a technique's merits must be judged on effectiveness, simply doing kotegaeshi as a joint lock misses the point. There is a big difference between doing simple “Joint Locks” and doing “Chains Of Motion”/"Commutive Locking" even though both methods are often referred to as kansetsu waza.

Kansetsu Waza

When I was younger, my teacher often referred to all joint locks as kansetsu waza (literally, "joint technique"). However, specific kansetsu waza were often categorized by the joint used and/or the technique(s) used to manipulate them. For example, wrist techniques were kote waza, finger locks were yubi waza, and arm locks were ude waza.

According to my teacher, kansetsu waza, was a generic term that referred to exploiting mechanical weak points of the body by applying force at one specific point, or by manipulating a joint (or joints) to their limit (past their normal range of motion). These kansetsu waza could be used as a means to project an opponent (break their balance), restrain an opponent, or injure/break a specific part of the body.

However, since my teacher’s death in 1989, I have come to discover that there are two main types of kansetsu waza applications. The first is the easiest to teach, and is the most often seen method. This method basically involves twisting, rotating, or bending a specific joint in a manner that moves the joint either past its normal range of motion or directly opposed to its direction of motion.

The second method is subtler and often only demonstrated by senior practitioners who have transcended the first type or locks. In this form, joints are manipulated precisely using proper sequential movement and alignment, thus locking the entire skeletal frame.

Clearly, the first method is easier to accomplish, yet often requires more strength in order to be effective. The main drawback to these methods is that while one is applying such techniques, the opponent can often feel the lock being applied, giving him a greater chance of launching a counter-defense.

The second method, however, requires a lot of practice and finesse to do properly. It also requires proper comprehension of human anatomy, physics, and physiology. Yet, while more difficult to accomplish, when done properly these methods require little or no strength. And by the time one’s opponent realizes what is happening it is too late to launch a counter-defense.

In addition, during the application of these second methods, the stimulus of pain is not required. It is not even necessarily an objective. It may be a welcome byproduct, but it is not the primary goal, since pain can be subjective. (Note: no real martial art technique, in any martial art system, should ever rely on pain in order to be effective. NEVER!)

Originally, I was going to spend a lot of time writing about anatomy and physiology in order to explain the principle of Chains of Motion to the fullest of my ability. However, that would require pages and pages of text, and I would still have to leave a ton of material out. That would not be fair to those individuals who seriously want to learn.

To be honest, I am often shocked at how few martial artists, even extremely highly ranked ones, ever bother to pick up and read an anatomy book. And if they do, they rarely study it in depth. It’s a fact that never ceases to amaze me.

I mean, I realized that understanding human anatomy was essential to fully understand my martial art techniques in my early teens. That was long before teaching others was something I ever considered. For me, understanding how the body works—its structure and its limitations—was crucial in order for me to be more effective with less effort.

Sure, my teacher covered the various applicable sciences in depth—to the best of his ability and with a serious language barrier between us. But seeking out even more information and studying different sciences in detail is what truly separates martial artists from martial hobbyists.

Okay, I’m getting preachy and off topic. My point is that if you study anatomy, you will understand how to do the principle of Chains of Motion. The simple truth is that compared to all of the principles I have covered so far, this is one of the easiest to understand and—with some serious trial and error—to learn.

[Editors note (for the terminologically inclined): There seems to be a lot of confusion in the Aikido and Jujutsu worlds as to exactly what Mr. Angier calls this principle. This is presumably because "commutive" is not a word in the dictionary.

One most often sees this principle referred to as "Commutative Locking," even though that is not very appropriate in a literal sense (it would imply you can do the lock in any order). I have also heard "Communicative Locking," which sounds quite nice. It has been speculated that "Cumulative Locking" would be closest to the original concept.

It is possible Mr. Angier intended to use the term "cumulative." He also might have purposely created a new word to make a metaphor with "commutator" or some other concept. See this thread for reference and details.]

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Monday, August 28, 2006

The Top Ten Principles Of Yachigusa Ryu Aiki Bugei - #7 Feet Always Pull and #8 Hands Always Push

Since I first stated that the techniques taught at my school were based on principles, and that we focus more on understanding the principles that makes things work than the techniques themselves, people have e-mailed me asking me if I could explain these principles in more detail.

Unfortunately, trying to explain many of these principals in writing is very difficult, since many can’t be explained in words alone. However, I will try my best to describe these principles for the “blog” readers, using words, charts and pictures.

Keep in mind though, that in order to sometimes fully understand a principle you have to also understand other principles that relate to it. Most principles aren’t fully useable on their own, and have to be integrated with others.

Feet Always Pull / Hands Always Push

(Aka: Feet Never Push / Hands Never Pull)

To be honest, when I started to write explanations for the top ten principles I had no idea how to properly explain this one. I also knew that photographs would basically be useless since on a static image a push can look like a pull, and a pull can look like a push.

In addition, the terminology used to describe these principles may just be a matter of linguistics. Many arm movements that we consider a "push" could reasonably be called a "pull" from other points of view. I speculate that many martial art practitioners, especially those involved with older Budo arts that have a multitude of joint locks and projections, already utilize these principles even if they are unaware of whether the movement they make is a push or a pull—or even why it matters.

I know that in my case, I had never thought about it until I heard Don Angier, Soke of Yanagi Ryu, explain this principle at a seminar. Then it dawned on me why my teacher was so “fanatic” about moving my arms and feet in such a specific manner. Thus, while I knew these principles already, I credit Mr. Angier for the terminology, since prior to him I had no word/phrase to explain these concepts.

Of course, it still took me a few years more of examination before I discovered that these principles were always applicable and yet more years to start to explain them properly. My explanations are often made with physical demonstrations showing the different reactions pushing and/or pulling make on one’s uke (person receiving the technique) during a technique.

Fortunately, while I may lack the skills to adequately explain these two principles in writing on my own, I have some very intelligent senior students (one of whom has a degree in physics) who were patient enough to discuss the best way to explain these two principles based on their personal insights.

Basically, and most importantly, both principles mean exactly what they say. In any given martial arts technique involving a throw or projection, one's feet always pull, and one's hands always push. If you push with your feet or pull with your arms the technique will be more difficult.

According to Spencer, (my student with the physics degree) when you push you increase pressure and make yourself bigger. When you pull you decrease pressure and make yourself smaller.

Per Spencer:
“With Aiki techniques it is vital that you don’t let the pressure you have on the uke’s body with your hands slip, if it does you will lose kazushi. If you pull your arms, you will reduce that pressure and create space inside the technique that the uke can wiggle around in and readjust. Thus you must always push to keep your uke tied up with no space.

With your feet (which are only connected to the uke via your hands) on the other hand, pressure is created by decreasing the space between your bodies, which is accomplished by pulling. In addition, for the same direction of motion, pulling with the front leg is smoother than pushing with the back leg; if you push you risk bumping the uke’s hip away from you.”

Now I’ll be honest, I never thought of it the way Spencer explained it above, but it makes sense.

As for me, I’ve always found that pulling with the arms usually requires too much strength, and that my opponent rarely moves into the position I want him to go to. In fact, in most instances my opponent either falls on me, becomes too heavy for me to move, twists around me, or crowds me so much that I don’t have enough space to position myself correctly. In a life or death confrontation, none of these mistakes, even if they are minor, are acceptable.

When it comes to using my feet, I notice that if I use them to push my opponent, my opponent rarely if ever becomes weighted (grounded to the floor); all I end up doing is either bouncing off him or making him step away, neither direction being good for much. In fact, if I’m bouncing backwards my instability can certainly be used against me, and clearly it makes it hard to recover my momentum. In addition, by not pulling with the legs I certainly need to use more power to be effective.

Since I was taught that in order to be an effective fighter one must first be in control of themselves and their movements, I’ve adopted the principles of Hands Always Push/Feet Always Pull in to make sure that I consistently perform my techniques.

Back in the 80’s when I did judo in college, I rarely questioned my coaches when they said to “push and pull” my opponent to break his kazushi (balance). I always assumed they meant push with the hands, and pull with the feet. However, I once went to a judo seminar where “pulling” with the hands was actually how the instructor described the entry for the throw. Funny thing was the throw was Osoto-gari (major outside reaping throw), which if analyzed is a clear illustration of a push with the hands/pull with your feet technique—more so that almost any other judo throw one could name.

Of course, when discussing how to do osoto-gari, whether one thinks that either or both hands make a pushing and/or pulling motion is really a matter of perspective. I really have no intention of upsetting any judoka who wish to believe in their methodology, terminology, or explanations. If the techniques works, explain it anyway you want to.

However, let me take a moment to explain my assertion.

First of all, I don’t think anyone will argue that the feet pull in this throw. The sweeping motion is clearly pulling the opponent’s leg from underneath them.

As for the hands, I was always taught the hands moved in a sort of steering wheel motion. This is the kind of the motion one would make to avoid a sudden obstacle in the road while driving. It turns out that when we drive, we “push” the steering wheel, few if any of us pull the steering wheel. In fact in the police academy you are specifically taught to move the steering wheel in such a manner.

The fact is when it comes to the handwork used to complete osoto-gari, one hand pushes the uke back, while the other hand pushes the uke down and to the side. Neither hand movement is a pull. In addition, during the pull with the legs, the hands often continue pushing the uke to the ground adding even more force to the throw.


Example:

#1Osoto-gari done correctly using the push with the hands/pull with the feet principle.


#2Osoto-gari done incorrectly, using a pull with one hand and a push with the second. While the movement might look similar in the photo, in this case the "pull" of the left arm was done with the biceps while the "push" above was done with the triceps.


Note the difference of the uke’s body position in both sets of photos. When osoto-gari is done correctly the hands make room for the tori to pass and enter in. The uke is also leaning less to the side and more to the back, over the foot that is about to be swept. When done incorrectly the tori is forced to come around the uke completely changing the uke’s body position, and making the throw much harder to complete, if it’s even possible to complete at this point.

I could go on and describe several other judo throws in this same manner, but I won't. If you’re really interested you can test the difference pushing and pulling with your hands will make on your own. Chances are you’ve already experienced both results, without even realizing what went right or what went wrong when trying to do a specific technique.

However, I would be remiss if I didn’t give you one last technique to contemplate, which is another aspect of the hands always push principle. In this case it has to do with chokeholds. To illustrate my point I will discuss a commonly taught constriction technique called kata-juji-jime (half cross choke).


The above is an illustration of how most judoka are taught to do this technique, which is extremely effective. It is actually my favorite constriction, and this technique helped me win several matches during my college years.

However, before I did judo I was taught this same technique, the difference being I was never on the ground when I applied it. I was also never taught to pull my hands in order to apply pressure as I was told to do by my judo coach.

The way I was taught was to push/bring my elbows together, which brings my hands together sort of like the working ends of a vise grip. This method not only allowed me to use all of my arms muscles to apply pressure, in a very natural motion, but also placed my opponent in a position where he could be immediately brought to the ground.

Like I said it’s just something to think about, and experiment with. (** Constrictions techniques should never be attempted in practice without a qualified instructor present since they are extremely dangerous. **)

Other Examples

#1

The above photograph is an example of a projection done with a pull of the legs. While the hands form the connection and help direct the opponent to the side, it is the rear kneeling drop that takes the attacker past his triangulation point and to the ground.

If one were attempting this technique with the use of a pull with hands the results would be quite different. Sure, the person would still fall, but he would fall directly into the person doing the technique. Ouch! The technique would also require a lot more force to execute, force that could be felt, and countered.

The sudden rear drop is also unexpected, and allows the tori to use all their weight against the uke.

#2
The above is an example of a projection done with the push of the hands. The right hand is raised and pushes to the left. The left hand goes dead, allowing the uke’s weight to push it back. There is no pulling action, the left arm does nothing but go dead.

Once the uke’s stability is completely broken there is a slight body drop and back-pressure (see forthcoming essay on the principle of Back Pressure) is applied.

Whether the strict accuracy of "Hands Always Push and Feet Always Pull" is a case of linguistic quibbling or not is arguable. I use this terminology because it suits my needs, and I can show what happens in a given technique if I use one or the other method.

My intention in sharing our principles is not to tell others how they should train, or to say I’m so gifted and skilled that my way is right and the only way things should be done. These principles, and the way I apply them work for me, and my students. They are right for us.

Like Bruce Lee stated, his martial art system was all about whatever works for you. Whatever is right for you is how you should practice.

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Friday, August 25, 2006

The Top Ten Principles Of Yachigusa Ryu Aiki Bugei - #6 Indirect Pressure

Since I first stated that the techniques taught at my school were based on principles, and that we focus more on understanding the principles that makes things work than the techniques themselves, people have e-mailed me asking me if I could explain these principles in more detail.

Unfortunately, trying to explain many of these principals in writing is very difficult, since many can’t be explained in words alone. However, I will try my best to describe these principles for the “blog” readers, using words, charts and pictures.

Keep in mind though, that in order to sometimes fully understand a principle you have to also understand other principles that relate to it. Most principles aren’t fully useable on their own, and have to be integrated with others.

Indirect Pressure

This is another example of a principle that has both a tangible explanation and an intangible explanation depending on how it is used. In either case, both explanations have scientific corroboration to back them up and explain why they work. However, I’d be the first to argue that the intangible variation is better explained through physical demonstration than written description. But I will try my best in both cases.

Of all the top ten principles I teach, Indirect Pressure is most likely the one my students have heard the least about. It’s a principle we use a lot, but I rarely point out. I’m not exactly sure why that is the case, but it is. The only excuse I can think of is that we use Indirect Pressure so often I really don’t think about it, and take the principle for granted. So much so, that when trying to think of a specific technique to use for this “blog” I was at a definite loss.

The best analogy for Indirect Pressure I have ever found has nothing to do with the martial arts. However, it has a direct application to the aftermath of a bloody altercation when first aid may be required.

According to the American Red Cross indirect pressure is taught to stop arterial bleeding when other methods have not worked. According to the American Red Cross first aid book:
"When there is hemorrhaging, due to arterial bleeding, with blood gushing out in time with the rhythm of the heart, applying the direct pressure method may not be enough to stop the bleeding. In these cases, apply pressure with your fingers to the artery at a position closer to the heart than the wound itself."



In other words in order to affect one area of the body, pressure is applied somewhere else. That indirect pressure has a direct cause and affect on the other part of the body.

In essence that is exactly the way indirect pressure is used in the martial arts. We attack one part of the body in a specific way that has a direct effect on another part, or even on the entire skeletal frame.

Most martial art practitioner’s first introduction to the principle of Indirect Pressure happens when they are taught joint locking techniques. The principle is especially important for joint locks used for projecting/throwing an opponent. Consider, for example, a technique like kotegaeshi (wrist rotation).

In kotegaeshi direct pressure is applied to the wrist in order to rotate it. However, the actual technique works because it locks up the shoulder. The force applied to the wrist “indirectly” affects the shoulder.


However, while kotegaeshi is a good example of the principle of Indirect Pressure it should be noted that not all joint locking methods are. In many cases such as yubi waza (finger techniques) and certain ude waza (arm techniques/locks) they are clearly not.

Okay that’s an example of a “tangible” form of Indirect Pressure. Now let me explain an example of the “intangible” type.

First of all, when I use the word intangible, I’m not saying there is no physical connection between a person and their opponent, or there are not clear forces at work. I basically use the word intangible because there are no outwardly visible signs to show the observer what is happening. There is also no direct connection between point “A” where force is applied, and point “B” where the force is felt.

And no this has nothing to do with the application of chi, ki, or any other metaphysical force. It is nothing more than proper body geometry, and don’t let anyone fool you into thinking otherwise.

On the human body there are four specific pivot points, one on each shoulder, and one on each hip.


These points are used to rotate the body, and to destabilize a person’s balance. However, if they are pushed directly, little if anything will happen unless a tremendously high amount of force is used (diagram #1 below). The chances are that one will never be able to rotate an opponent with direct force on the pivot points.

However if attacked indirectly (diagram #2) the body will rotate very easily, and the person will not even realize what is happening until it is too late.


To test the above-diagramed techniques try the following:
  • First test – Grab one hand and pull the arm as depicted in diagram #1. When that doesn’t work, start pushing the hand to the rear of the person and see how far you have to move it until the body moves. Carefully watch how the body moves. Is it pivoting, twisted, or collapsing onto itself?
  • Second Test – Grab the other hand and push it towards the pivot point, the closer against the body the better. Actually it needs to be close to the body to work. Keep extending the hand forward as depicted in diagram #2. If you do this correctly, the body will rotate with almost no force. The person will actually twist around one leg.
  • Third Test – Follow all of the instructions for test two, except instead of using the pivot point move the arm somewhere below the chest. Did you get the same results? If you did this test, you’ll discover the person will not rotate, or that it takes a lot more force, and I mean a lot more force, to rotate them.

Example


  1. The uke has punched at the tori who has stepped to evade. As the punch passes the tori it is “checked” by both hands.
  2. The tori drops his right hand over the uke’s attacking arm, and pushes downward back towards the uke.
  3. The tori continues the downward push placing the arm next to the pivot point of the uke’s hip. (The hand and the hip never touch)
  4. The tori continues pushing the uke’s arm across his body. Notice how the uke is rotating around his back leg. (The picture makes it look like there is a lot of space between the uke’s arm and body, but this photo shows a point after the rotation is almost complete, not the actual moment when the rotation starts. When the rotation starts the uke’s hand is almost near his back leg.)
  5. The uke is now fully rotated 180-degrees and so off balance making him fall requires no effort.


Of course the principle of Indirect Pressure can be used in other ways, such as moving around the point of force. For example while you are standing minding your own business a guy grabs your wrist. The guy holding you is 6 foot 7 inches, 450lbs, and is built like a tank. There is no way you can out-muscle this guy, so any effort you make to raise your hand is futile. So what are you going to do?

I know, because I’m describing a cousin of mine and while we were roughhousing I had to figure a way to get away from him besides kicking him in the testicles or eye gouging him—he is family after all.

First of all, you’re never going to move the wrist, the point where this guy is applying “DIRECT PRESSURE.” Even if you can move the arm, which you probably can’t because he is pressing it down, using the old thumb trick to slip your hand out of his hold won't work. His hands are big enough to wrap around. Strike One!

Secondly, you might try striking the arm on a vital point, but if that doesn’t work now you have an angry giant to contend with. The same goes for any other strike or kick you may attempt. Strike 2!

Lastly, you might try to beg for mercy and hope he lets you go. Depending on his mood and his intention that might work. However, there is another way in case this strategy fails.

First of all, let the guy have the limb he wants. That’s the Aiki way. While he is holds your wrist at least he can’t hit you with that hand, making it one less weapon of his to worry about.

Now use indirect pressure to raise your arm and make space. In this case the indirect pressure comes from the shoulder. Yes, the shoulder raises and the arm follows. When done correctly you have basically gone around the point of his force.

Now this won’t get your hand free, but you now have control of your arm, and can move. You have taken his advantage away. Now you can apply other skills in your arsenal to lock up and/or project/throw your opponent to the ground.


This is an example of what happens when you try to move with direct pressure, your arm versus his arm. Notice the uke is still in full control. In order for this escape to work one must be a lot stronger than his opponent, and with that kind of force the uke will know you're up to something and most likely counter you.


This is an example of what happens when indirect pressure is applied. In this case the lift is done only with the shoulder and the elbow pulls the arm back after the lift. Notice the difference in the uke’s posture, and that he has a hard time maintaining his grip on the wrist. In this case very little power is used, and the uke shouldn’t feel any change until it is to late to react and counter.

Chances are that every martial artist, no matter what style, already uses the principle of Indirect Pressure in some form or another. They may either call it something else, or just do it with out bothering to label it all. Of course there are some practitioners who just don’t care, and will never care, as long as they can do the technique, and the technique works.

After all, we all don’t have a giant cousin to play with and see what techniques we can actually get to work on someone who isn’t quite so accommodating or patient enough to allow you to make a mistake and start over.

To be honest I never really thought about the concept of Indirect Pressure on its own or appreciated the importance of it, until my cousin held me, and threaten to pick me up and slam me to the ground. Necessity is clearly the mother of insight as well as invention.

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Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The Top Ten Principles Of Yachigusa Ryu Aiki Bugei - #5 Double Weighting

Since I first stated that the techniques taught at my school were based on principles, and that we focus more on understanding the principles that makes things work than the techniques themselves, people have e-mailed me asking me if I could explain these principles in more detail.

Unfortunately, trying to explain many of these principals in writing is very difficult, since many can’t be explained in words alone. However, I will try my best to describe these principles for the “blog” readers, using words, charts and pictures.

Keep in mind though, that in order to sometimes fully understand a principle you have to also understand other principles that relate to it. Most principles aren’t fully useable on their own, and have to be integrated with others.

Double Weighting

Over the years I have heard other people describe this principle as “grounding,” “anchoring,” “basing,” and “rooting.” Though the names are different, for the most part the applications and effectiveness have been the same.

Double Weighting, simply defined, is a state where one feels their limbs to be too heavy to move. A person is put in a position such that their body, or part of their body, feels rooted to the ground. Either they are unable to change their position without first readjusting or their entire mass is solely dependent on a specific limb for support.

In other words, the body, or part of the body, is manipulated into a position where it seems to become so heavy that the person is unable to move or adjust their position. Often the body is unable to maintain its own balance and must rely on an external force (normally the other person doing the technique) for stability.

In most Aiki, Jujutsu, and Judo arts double weighting is an essential step used to set up projections/throws.

A simple way to think of this principle is to imagine a man who weighs 200 pounds. If you cut him exactly in half, each half would weigh 100 pounds. In this case, both halves even each other out, and there is equilibrium. In this state the man has no problem changing body positions.

Now take that same man, and put a 100 pound dumbbell in his left hand. The left side of his body has essentially just doubled in weight. Every movement he makes will now require more effort, and for many physical actions he will have to make adjustments in order to maintain his stability—if he can move at all. He has essentially become “double weighted” on one side of his body.


Double weighting is used to manipulate stability in the same way judoka use their principle of “pushing and pulling” to place someone in an optimal position for a throw.

Consider the technique Osoto-gari (major outside reaping throw), for example. Osoto-gari is done by using a steering wheel-like motion with the hands to destabilize the uke, and then sweeping the foot from underneath him. When done properly the steering wheel motion of the hands places all the weight of the uke on the leg that is about to be swept.


In this example, the uke is “double weighted” since the majority of his weight is placed on one leg. He is “anchored” in that position until other forces push him back and down to the ground.

Of course applying the principle of Double Weighting isn’t limited to just using the uke’s weight against him. There are times when a person will use his or her own body weight and body position to add mass to the uke.

Example:


  1. The uke is pushed down so that his entire body weight is balanced on his toes. He is now “double weighted:” all his mass is pressed towards the toes. In addition. he also has the weight from the push adding more force to his centerline. In this position he is totally dependant on the tori for his stability. It is almost impossible for the uke to “right” himself and regain his balance, let alone launch a counter attack.
  2. The tori steps back and lets his right arm go completely dead. The tori’s left arm lifts and pushes the uke in a circular motion to the right. These motions lift the uke and force him to shift all his body weight to his left foot.
  3. As the uke places his weight completely on his left foot, he is now double weighted on that leg. Once again he is totally dependant on the tori for stability. His hold on the tori's arms are the only thing keeping him from falling.
  4. (Not pictured) From the position pictured in photo #3 it just takes a small body drop to project the uke to the ground.

Understanding the principle of Double Weighting is one thing, applying it is another. It is not hard to do, but it requires practice and knowledge of how to lock up the skeletal frame.

For beginners, applying the “push and pull” principle of judo is the way to begin. Of course, as one’s techniques become more sophisticated—and one learns that there are specific reactions to every movement they make—other methods will present themselves.

The above statement in no way implies that I believe that the art of judo lacks sophistication. In fact, I have seen many senior judoka apply the principle of Double Weighting so flawlessly that their techniques appeared as soft and effortless as many techniques performed by Aki practitioners. Of course, these were judoka who had transcended from the “sporting” aspect of judo where many judoka rely on muscle, power, and speed, instead of technique and finesse.

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Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The Top Ten Principles Of Yachigusa Ryu Aiki Bugei - #4 Zones Of Defense/Protection

Since I first stated that the techniques taught at my school were based on principles, and that we focus more on understanding the principles that makes things work than the techniques themselves, people have e-mailed me asking me if I could explain these principles in more detail.

Unfortunately, trying to explain many of these principals in writing is very difficult, since many can’t be explained in words alone. However, I will try my best to describe these principles for the “blog” readers, using words, charts and pictures.

Keep in mind though, that in order to sometimes fully understand a principle you have to also understand other principles that relate to it. Most principles aren’t fully useable on their own, and have to be integrated with others.

Zones Of Defense/Protection

This is not a very hard principle to understand. Basically, it's all about using body geometry to evade an oncoming attack.

Let's start with the basics. The body is divided into three "gates": lower gate (base line to medial line), middle gate (medial line to torque line) and upper gate (torque line and above). Each of these gates is divided in half by the centerline, and each section is broken up into quadrants.


(* Using quadrants and understanding their importance is much more necessary when it comes to offensive techniques rather than those related to defense. In regards to defense the application is clear, if you’re attacked in quadrant 6 all you need to do is move that portion of your body out of the way (and yes, there are 6 of them, but quadrant sounds clearer than "sextant"))

Surrounding each body is a zone of attack, and a zone of defense. As with the principle of kuzushi (balance breaking), these zones are divided into eight sections, each a 45-degree sector.


Zone of Attack

Basically, the zone of attack extends from the midpoint of the humerus to the torso in all directions around the body. You get this measurement by extending your arm straight forward and placing a ruler on midpoint your pectoral (nipple).


In my case, (not the guy in the photo), this measurement is approximately seven inches, which means any attack that penetrates past this seven inch zone of my body needs to be addressed, either by evading the oncoming force, redirecting it, or neutralizing it.

This “seven inch” zone represents my “personal space” and the amount of time I have to react when the bounds of my personal space are crossed. If I move before this barrier is breached, I can be tracked and possibly countered. If I move after the seven-inch barrier is breached chances are I will not have time to completely move my body out of the way.

Of course, one’s skill level is also a factor in the distance one needs in order to react to an attack, beginners normally requiring more, and “experts” sometimes needing less.

Corresponding Body Geometry


Needless to say, few martial art practitioners actually ever measure the distance of an oncoming attack, or how close it is in proximity to our bodies before we react. There’s a simple reason for this: we are taught to use the attackers corresponding body geometry to judge when they are fully committed to their action.

This measurement, while basically the same, can at times be a lot harder to put a quantitative amount on. That’s because it varies whether or not one is discussing empty hand combat, or combat with weaponry. However, like I said there are mathematical formulas, which are not significantly different.

Unfortunately trying to give generalized measurements, or even basic formulas for every possible attacking method, would require too much writing, and in all honesty would most likely leave more people confused than satisfied. However, with that said here is one example hopefully a lot of readers can identify with.

I’ve always been told that when facing a swordsman preparing to make a downwards cut from the jodan position, I should wait until his front hand (or the tsuba (hand-guard)) passes his eyes before I make any counter movement.

If I measure my hand's position at this point when I am executing such a cut, it is a little over 12 inches from my body This, coincidently, is almost the same as the length as my humerus, (or the distance between my torso (midpoint of pectoral) and elbow joint right before I reach the point of extension). Interestingly enough this distance mirrors my zone of defense. Or in other words, almost the same distance I need to move off-line to avoid being cut.


For those who want to learn more, let me start you off on the right path: The humerus is a very very important bone when it comes to the martial arts, for many reasons.

(** For some of you I just saved you thousands of dollars, sharing this “secret.” I know of at least one individual who paid a few thousand dollars to learn this secret when he was promoted to 5th Dan in a jujutsu art in Japan. And before you think otherwise, what I shared is all this person learned, he received no explanations or techniques to illustrate what this phrase meant—nice to have expendable cash.)

Zone of Defense

Understanding the principle of Zone of Defense is extremely important because it is the mathematical formula for avoiding attacks. By learning to calculate how far the body needs to be moved away from any given point of attack, you can make your evasions smaller and more efficient.

The zone of defense is any point beyond the length of my Adam’s Apple to the tip of my shoulder. To obtain this measurement just take a ruler and place one end in the center of your neck, and measure out to one tip of the shoulder.


Or you can measure from the midpoint of your pectoral (nipple) to the tip of your elbow.


In my case both these measurements equal approximately 10 1/2 inches, which means in order to evade most attacks I only need to move my body 10 1/2 inches away from the point of attack.

In other words if someone is trying to attack me along my centerline, all I need to do is move approximately 10 1/2 inches (half my body) in any direction (besides the direction where the attack is coming from) to avoid being hit.

Ten and a half inches is a relatively small movement. Yet, depending on which movement I choose, it should put me in a position where I can easily counterattack while my opponent cannot attack me again. At least, he can’t attack me without either taking time to reposition himself or destabilizing himself as he extends to reach me.


Of course, just like with the Zone of Attack, beginners may need to move more to avoid being hit, while experts will need to move a lot less—and for some defenses not at all.


Examples of evasions used for defense against centerline attacks

#1



This is an example of avoiding a midline attack from a kneeling position. As you can see, it takes a very little movement to take the entire body off of the midline.

Application

  1. tori is threatened by a swordsman while seated in seiza.
  2. As the swordsman attacks, the tori does a kneeling evasion off the midline, evading the cut. In most of our forms the tori would draw his dagger during the turn and then stab the swordsman, however in this case he is unarmed.
  3. tori rotates 270-degrees off the midline, creating more distance between the attacker and himself. However at this point he is not safe and his back is exposed.
  4. The swordsman attempts a horizontal cut and tori ducks.We call this “The Turtle.”
  5. The tori raises up and grabs the swordsman’s hands. From here a multitude of finishing moves is possible.


Obviously this evasion is done very rapidly.

#2



This is an example of a standing evasion. In this technique the feet are not moved, and the body simply rotates around the hips. This rotation, when done properly, takes the upper body completely off the midline.



Application

  1. The tori is threatened by the swordsman.
  2. The swordsman thrusts to the throat of the tori, who evades the oncoming attack. (Normally the tori would do a replacement step and move towards the swordsman, closing the gap, thus preventing any further attack. Or, if tori is armed, he would draw his weapon while rotating and attack the swordsman.)


This technique requires a lot of timing and faith in the form. The object is to draw in the attacker and keep him close. In addition this small rotation, when executed properly, will not be tracked by the opponent; the tori seemingly disappears. It’s an example of a true Aiki technique.

#3



This is an example of the classic cross step.

Application

  1. The tori is threatened by a swordsman.
  2. As the swordsman attacks the tori, the tori cross-steps off line evading the cut.


There are several advantages to using the cross-step. First of all, it gets one off the midline. Secondly, when done properly (no upper body rotation) it can’t be tracked. Lastly, with the weight properly shifted one can move into a multitude of follow up positions.

#4





Both of the above techniques are an example of a 180-degree rotation. These rotations are completed by pivoting around the axis of one foot. Though the result looks like a major movement, it is fact a small one. Once again only the half of the body needs to come off the centerline.

#5



This last example is a 45-degree forward step. Like all the others, only half of the body is moved off the centerline

All of the above examples were based on midline attacks. However, the same rule applies to attacks from all directions. Also notice that none of the above-depicted techniques utilize “blocks.”

In the system of martial arts I teach, we never ever “block” an attack. We evade the attack, strike it, blend with it, crowd it, re-direct it, or extend it. “Blocking” as described in many modern karate texts will not work. The term “to block,” and the mindset it implies is a relatively modern concept.

Trying to meet force with force will often destabilize the “blocker.” Worse yet, if the attacker’s limb is better conditioned (able to absorb more punishment) than the defender’s limb, a "block" can result in serious injury.

I always tell my students there is no reason to believe you have to do things quickly in the martial arts. Speed is great, but one only needs to be slightly faster than his opponent in order to be effective. Accuracy is the key element.

This is one reason why moving to specific angles which neutralize force is such an important element within the concept of zone of defense.

If the reader is wondering why I specifically selected to only depict centerline defenses the answer is simple. Most attacks are directed towards the torso and the head, which make up the bulk of the center of mass. These defenses are the most important to know initially.


Definition of terms specifically related to the formulaic process of defensive/offensive actions.








AccelerationPhysics - The change of velocity.
To cause to move or act faster.
Force The capacity to do work or cause physical change; energy, strength, or active power.
Power made operative against resistance; exertion.
The use of physical power or violence to compel or restrain.
InertiaPhysics - The tendency of a body to resist acceleration; the tendency of a body at rest to remain at rest or of a body in motion to stay in motion in a straight line unless acted on by an outside force.
Resistance or disinclination to motion, action, or change.
Mass A unified body of matter with no specific shape. A grouping of individual parts or elements that compose a unified body of unspecified size or quantity. The physical volume or bulk of a solid body.
Physics. - The measure of the quantity of matter that a body or an object contains. The mass of the body is not dependent on gravity and therefore is different from but proportional to its weight.
Momentum Physics.- A measure of the motion of a body equal to the product of its mass and velocity. Also called linear momentum. Impetus of a physical object in motion.
Rotation The act or process of turning around a center or an axis. A single complete cycle of such motion.
Mathematics - A transformation of a coordinate system in which the new axes have a specified angular displacement from their original position while the origin remains fixed.
Trajectory The path of a projectile or other moving body through space.
A chosen course, or a course taken.
Velocity Rapidity or speed of motion; swiftness.
Physics - A vector quantity whose magnitude is a body's speed and whose direction is the body's direction of motion.
The rate of speed of action or occurrence.

Of course understanding the above theories and definition is meaningless if one doesn’t know proper tai sabaki.

Tai sabaki

Tai sabaki means, “body shifting.” It is one of the most important elements in the martial arts, and one too many people take for granted. While it certainly relates to offensive movements, one must fully understand all of tai sabaki's intricacies in order to use proper body shifting when it comes to defense.

I tell my students that if you can’t avoid (evade) an oncoming attack, then it makes no difference how skilled you are at applying offense. Once you have been struck, and struck hard with the intent to really injure/kill you, chances are you will be at such a disadvantage (physical and/or psychological) that you won't be able to launch a counter attack. That is especially true when it comes to fighting with weaponry.

I don’t want to beat a dead horse, but I see too many martial artists who have no understanding of proper tai sabaki. Sometimes I even see this in very high ranking individuals who should know a lot better. I mean, I have almost 35 years of training, and I still have to constantly work on my tai sabaki skills and I know I always will. It’s one of the first skills I lose when I don’t practice regularly.

So what exactly is tai sabaki?

Tai sabaki [teye sa-ba'kee] can be translated in various ways. In many systems it refers to turning and/or evasion motions, while in other systems it can refer to body positioning. I translate it as “body movement,” since we use it to describe all these elements.

Defensively, tai sabaki means moving ones body out of the way of an attack while at the same time placing oneself in a safe position where the attack can be countered and no follow-up attack can be delivered.

Offensively, tai sabaki means using one’s body in the most optimal position to maximize power and focus, while maintaining a strategic body position which prevents counter attack, or resistance to the techniques you are trying to apply.

Basic tai sabaki movements include:
  • Koshi Sabaki - concentrating on the placement of the hips and pelvis
  • Ashi Sabaki - concentrating on the placement of the feet and legs
  • Te Sabaki - concentrating on the placement of the arms and hands
  • Tenkah-ho - movement of pivoting the body
  • Tsugi Ashi - steps


In order to execute proper tai sabaki several elements must occur:

Initially, one must start by being in a stable position that allows one freedom of movement in any direction. Depending on the situation, this may be one of the hardest factors in tai sabaki since one does not always have the opportunity to prepare for an attack.

However, in the cases where one is prepared for an altercation, most kamae (postures of readiness) are specifically designed to prepare one for such movements. In fact the proper application of a kamae can often dictate how one is attacked. After all, manykamae are designed to appear as if there is a flaw in the defense, which an attacker believes he can capitalize on.


In most cases I teach Hachiji Dachi as the starting stance for most techniques. As a neutral stance, with equal balance on both feet, it allows the most freedom of movement, without giving the appearance of any martial art knowledge or “aggressive” intent.


Secondly, movements must be made with the proper weight distribution. Depending on the movement, this can involve raising or lowering the body, pivoting on the ball or heel of the foot (yes it makes a big difference), placing one's weight on one or both feet, or a combination of all of the above.

Correct posture, foot placement, hip alignment and balance must be maintained in order to keep proper weight distribution,. This can only be accomplished by practice.

Lastly, movements should be limited to only those necessary for the action selected. In other words, one must have and maintain control over one's own body in order to avoid extra, nonessential movements. The intention and commitment of one's movement must be made decisively—with strength, speed, and proper angles; yet movement must also be small and controlled enough to avoid creating wasted space or weaknesses within the action taken.

This last element can be a very hard to achieve on its own, and even more so with the additional force of the attacker’s energy, weight and strength.


This is a basic example of stepping forward off the centerline. Note the relationship between the defender and attacker in #2. This small movement is enough to move the body off the midline, however if done incorrectly the forward force and foot placement of the attacker (even without contact) is enough to destabilize the defender.


Learning proper tai sabaki will help a student not only learn to control their own body movements, but it will also help them learn how to take control of another persons body, and use improper shifting against their attacker. This is very important in joint locking techniques and projection/throwing techniques. In fact many joint locks and projection/throwing techniques cannot be completed without proper tai sabaki.

There are no short cuts in learning proper tai sabaki. It is one element of training that must be refined over and over again.

Like most of the principles we utilize, learning proper Zones of Defense/Protection requires the study of numerous other principles, scientific theories, physics, and mathematical formulas. In other words few, if any, principles we utilize stand alone on their own merits. It is only by understanding them all, and their integration with each other, that one can become a true martial artist.

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Friday, August 18, 2006

The Top Ten Principles Of Yachigusa Ryu Aiki Bugei - #3 Reflex Action

Since I first stated that the techniques taught at my school were based on principles, and that we focus more on understanding the principles that makes things work than the techniques themselves, people have e-mailed me asking me if I could explain these principles in more detail.

Unfortunately trying to explain many of these principals in writing is very difficult, since many can’t be explained in words alone. However, I will try my best to describe these principles for the “blog” readers, using words, charts and pictures.

Keep in mind though, that in order to sometimes fully understand a principle you have to also understand other principles that relate to it. Most principles aren’t fully useable on their own, and have to be integrated with others.

Reflex Action

Ever heard of Sir Isaac Newton’s third law of physics? That’s the one that states “for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” Well the principle of Reflex Action basically means the same thing.

However, a more accurate definition of what a Reflex Actions is would be, for every action (stimulus) there is an equal normally instinctual reaction that produces a specific predictable result. Clearly, when protecting your life the last thing you want is an equal opposite reaction directed towards you.

Basically, Reflex Actions are the reactions one obtains by stimulating various receptors located throughout the body. For example, one of the most commonly known of these reflex actions is the Patellar Reflex (knee jerk). That’s the one where the doctor taps the Patella ligament located just below the patella, causing your lower leg to kick/jerk forward.

Unless you have some medical issue, this reflex is innate, predictable, repeatable, and an example of the Monosynaptic Reflex Arc.


The medical definition of a “reflex” is an action that results from a nerve impulse passing over a reflex arc. This response can be either innate or conscious.

These reflexes are predictable and purposeful. They are intended to either inhibit or reinforce a specific action, such as protecting the body from injury. For example, the corneal reflex protects the eye by closing the lid when a foreign object approaches it.

Reflexes are identified or named in various ways:
  1. According to the type of receptor stimulated to evoke a response
    • Exteroceptive – receptors located in surface membranes. They are sensitive to heat, cold, touch, and pain.
    • Intteroceptive – receptors located in viscera (the soft internal organs of the body, especially those contained within the abdominal and thoracic cavities).
    • Proprioceptive – receptors located in muscles and tendons and the labyrinth of the ear. These reflexes are known as myotic (tendon) or stretch reflexes because of the way in which they are evoked; stretching a muscle, or even slightly tapping a tendon.
  2. According to the type of muscle response (flexor, extensor, convulsive, and coordinated reflexes).
  3. According to what part of the body is responding, (knee jerk, ankle jerk, papillary reflex, etc.).
  4. According to whether the response is natural or conditioned—natural being innate and unconditional; learnt being acquired, such as the voluntary control over one’s bladder.
Of course none of these reflexes would be possible without sense organs. The sense organs of the body are the millions of receptors of the nervous system. Some of these receptors are highly specialized structures, while others are simple, naked nerve bundles.


Stimulation of receptors gives rise to many different sensations, not just to the “five senses” most of us are familiar with. At least eleven distinct sensations are recognized: vision, hearing, taste, smell, equilibrium, touch-pressure, warmth, cold, pain, proprioception (sense of position and movement), and visceral sensations.

For the martial artists we are mainly interested in the function of the following types or receptors:
ClassificationLocationStimuliSensation Resulting
ExteroceptorsSkin and mucosaImmediate environmentVariety – touch, taste, heat, cold, PAIN, etc.
ProprioceptorsMuscles, tendons, joints, and semicircular canals
The sense of position and movement
TangoreceptorsSkin and mucosaPressure and touchTouch, pressure, and tickling
NociceptorsThroughout the bodyHarmful stimuliPAIN !

Okay, Warning a lot of anatomical and physiological information ahead.

The nervous system coordinates several activities that bring about a response to a stimulus. The first activity is reception, a process in which information is gathered from the external environment. The next activity is transmission, in which information is delivered by sensory neurons to the central nervous system. Then comes another activity called integration, in which an appropriate response is determined. The final activity is response. In response, a nerve impulse is dispatched via motor neurons to skeletal muscles or glands that will regenerate a response to the stimulus. Muscles and glands are the body's primary effectors.

During nerve activity, nerve impulses travel over a sequence of neu­rons. The sensory neurons, interneurons, and motor neurons are generally involved. These neurons are organized into circuits called neural circuits. In a neural circuit, neurons are arranged so that the axon of one neuron comes close to but does not join directly with the dendrite of the next neuron in the circuit. The junction between two close neurons is called the synapse.


The reflex arc is the simplest unit of nerve activity. It is typified by the knee-jerk reflex, and by the pain withdrawal reflex.

A reflex arc begins when stimulation is detected in the receptor portion at the end of a sensory neuron. A nerve impulse is generated, and the impulse travels over the sensory neuron to interneurons in the central nervous system serving as a processing center. The interneurons communicate with motor neurons, and an impulse is generated for transmission to an effector muscle or gland that will make an appropriate response. In the withdrawal reflex, for exam­ple, when you poke your finger on a pin the finger is pulled away from the pain as the muscles contract.

The reflex arc is automatic and unconscious; it does not involve the brain or any mental activity. It helps maintain homeostasis in the body, and it represents the simplest act that the nervous system can perform.

The components of the Reflex arc




ComponentDescriptionFunction
ReceptorThe receptor end of a dendrite or a specialized receptor cell in a sensory organSensitive to an internal or external change
Sensory neuronDendrite, cell body, and axon of a sensory (afferent) neuronTransmits nerve impulse from the receptor to the brain or spinal cord
InterneuronDendrite, cell body, and axon of a neuron within the brain or spinal cordServes as processing center; conducts nerve impulse from the sensory neuron to a motor neuron
Motor neuronDendrite, cell body, and axon of a motor (efferent) neuronTransmits nerve impulse from the brain or spinal cord to an effector
EffectorA muscle or gland outside the nervous systemResponds to simulation by the motor neuron and produces the reflex behavioral action.


The Nervous System: Basic Structure and Function

The nervous system is responsible for directing the complex processes taking place in the body's internal environment, as well as linking the body to the external world. Without the nervous system our bodies would not be able to function and there would be chaos. For example, muscles would not contract in any organized fashion, the body’s temperature would not be regulated, and blood would not be distributed according to tissue needs. Even our emotions and thinking abilities would be impaired, if they occurred at all.

The nervous system is divided into two principal divisions: the cen­tral nervous system (consists of the brain and spinal column and serves as a control center for the entire body), and the peripheral nervous system (composed of receptors in the sense organs and nerves that communicate between the central nervous system and the sense organs)

The Central Nervous System

The central nervous system is the main interpretation center for the human body. It is made up of the brain and the spinal cord.

The Brain
The brain is the organizing and processing center of the nervous system. It intakes information from various nerve impulses it receives, and transmits appropriate responses.

The Spinal Cord
The spinal cord is a white cord of nerve tissue approximately 18 inches in length (in an average adult). It passes downward from the brain and extends through the bony tunnel formed by the vertebrae.

The spinal cord has two major functions in nerve coordination. First of all, it serves as a coordinating center for the reflex arch. Secondly it also serves as a connecting network between the peripheral nervous system and the brain.


The Peripheral Nervous System

The brain and spinal cord are connected to every other part of the body and to the environment by a collection of nerves and cell bod­ies called the peripheral nervous system. The peripheral nervous sys­tem is composed of all the nervous tissue outside the brain and spinal cord. It is composed primarily of the peripheral nerves, the ganglia associated with them, and the sensory receptors.

The nerve fibers of the peripheral nervous system may be afferent (conduct nerve impulses towards the nervous system) or efferent (conduct nerve impulses away from the nervous system).

Nearly all peripheral nerves are mixed nerves containing both kinds of the above fibers. The afferent nerve fibers (sensory) arise in the senses. The efferent (motor nerves) arise in the central nervous system and include the somatic nerve fibers (fibers that innervate skeletal muscles) and autonomic nerve fibers (fibers that innervate smooth and cardiac muscles and glands).

The peripheral nervous system is sub­divided into the autonomic system and the sensory somatic system.


Autonomic System

The autonomic systems operates on an involuntary basis, and functions without conscious control. This system coordinates the functions of the visceral organs such as the cardiac muscle, visceral glands, and smooth muscles (muscle consisting of non-banded muscle cells normally found in visceral organs).

The autonomic system is subdivided into the sympathetic division and the parasympathetic division.

It is the sympathetic division that is responsible for preparing the body for an emergency. In a time of crises, sympathetic impulses duplicate the action of epinephrine, increase the heartbeat, constrict the arteries, dilate the pupils, and prepare the body to deal with the situation (see blog entry for the principle titled “Avoidance Tendencies;” “fight or flight response”).

The parasympathetic division is responsible for returning the body to a state of homeostasis.



Sensory Somatic System

The sensory somatic system carries nerve impulses from the senses to the central nervous system for interpretation. The system also car­ries impulses away from the central nervous system to the skeletal muscles and glands if a response is indicated. The system permits one to be aware of the external environment and to react to it. The awareness and the reactions occur on a voluntary basis.

* * *

By now you may be wondering why I’ve taken so much to explain the anatomical and physiological aspects of the nervous system. I mean, after all, what does all this information have to do with understanding the principle of Reflex Action?

Almost everything!

How the nervous systems works explains why this principle even exists. It is the “how it works” portion of the equation. Now to explain how the principle of Reflex Action is used.

The most common “Reflexes” used in the martial arts are: Accommodation Reflex, Tendon Reflex, Stretch Reflex, Pain Withdrawal Reflex (nociceptive withdrawal reflex), Crossed Extensor Reflex, and the Righting Reflex.

Accommodation Reflex

The accommodation reflex is a reflex action related to the eyes. It is a reflex associated with how the eyes change focus from a close object to one far away and vice versa.

While the actual reflex has no martial context, using the eyes inability to quickly reflex in this manner does. In other words, if one attacks the eyes quickly enough, such that the eyes are unable to maintain focus, two things can occur:

The first possible reaction is the head pulls back in order to place more distance between the eyes and the oncoming object in order to focus in on it. If the head moves back off its base, the entire body starts to become unstable. Further more, with the head pulled backwards the throat becomes exposed.

The second possible reaction is the eyelids close (corneal reflex). This innate reflex is designed to protect the eyes from damage by a foreign body. Clearly if your opponent can’t see he is at a disadvantage.

Another more advanced way of using the accommodation reflex against others occurs when one does “soft blocks”—blocking motions that use no physical contact, yet push the opponent off course from their intended target. In these cases the attacker's eyes focus on a specific movement the defender makes; the attacking limb then tracks that movement. Of course it’s a little more complex than that, but that’s the basic reason why and how soft blocks work.

Tendon Reflex / Stretch Reflex

Okay, this gets a little difficult...

Basically the tendon reflex, or inverse stretch reflex, is a mechanism designed to control muscle tension. It is an innate reflex designed to relax the muscles before muscle force becomes so great that the tendons get injured. When the muscles relax, they extend.

The stretch reflex on the other hand does the opposite. It is a reflex designed to control muscle length by causing muscles to contract, become shorter. This contraction is an innate mechanism geared towards the “flight” response, and helps to reduce the chance of muscle tearing though strain.

Basically the tendon reflex and the strength reflex keep each other in check.

For martial artist we are primarily interested in stimulating the tendon reflex, though the stretch reflex is used occasionally.

Example:
In the technique Gokyu (5th immobilization), there is a moment in the technique were pressure is applied to a point directly above the elbow. This is a specific point on the arm where there are numerous receptors; one in particular is called the Golgi tendon organ.


Basically, the technique works because when muscles contract they produce tension at the point where the muscle is connected to the tendon. The Golgi tendon organ is located at such a point. The Golgi tendon organ registers the change in tension, and the rate of change of the tension, and sends signals to the spine to convey this information. When this tension exceeds a certain threshold, it triggers the stretch reflex (lengthening reaction), which inhibits the muscles from contracting, causing them to relax.

However, because of the position of the arm in the technique, the arm cannot relax fully, and the only way the body can neutralize the threat is by falling forward or downward away from the point of the stimulus.

Because the basic function of the Golgi tendon organ is to help protect the muscles, tendons, and ligaments from injury, and the reaction is innate, gokyu and other similar techniques can be practiced over and over. It can work every time, even if one’s uke is aware of what is about to happen and tries to counter the technique. As long as the stimulus is applied properly to the Golgi tendon the body’s command to fall will override their conscious will not to fall.

This technique is a clear example of the reflex arc.


I should mention that one reason gokyu often doesn’t work is that people will pull the uke’s arm too rapidly, resulting in stimulating the stretch reflex. In this case, the arm contracts, raising the arm at the joint, and changing the alignment between the two bodies. This is another example why hands should never pull. (See forthcoming article on the principle “Hands Always Push.”)

Pain Withdrawal (Nociceptive Withdrawl Reflex / Flexor Reflex)

This is one of the classics, and the easiest to utilize for martial artists. Simply put, when pain is sensed the body moves away/pulls away from the point of the painful stimulus.

The pain withdrawal reflex is triggered by a variety of receptors, primary of which are the nociceptors collectively called flexor reflex afferents. Activity in these receptors results in the activation of all the flexor muscles in the limb, which causes the point of stimulus to move away from the threat.

Example:


As the uke’s (man in grey) foot is stomped (picture #3) receptors in the foot sense pain. Messages are sent via the reflex arc and the uke raises his foot off the ground (picture #4).

In actuality there is no reason for the uke to raise his foot off the ground since the threat no longer exists by the time he does it. However, to keep his foot on the ground would require conscious thought, which is not an element of the reflex arc. Clearly, once he “consciously” becomes aware that the threat is no longer present the foot will return to the ground.

Cross Extensor Reflex

The cross extensor reflex is very similar to the pain withdrawal reflex, expect in this variation not only does the body pull away from the point of painful stimulus, the opposite limb pushes towards it.

In other words, the painful stimulation causes an equal and opposite reaction.

Understanding how and why this reaction works is very important since it can be used to set up the body for follow up attacks in a predictable manner.

Basic Example:
You stick a pin in the first finger of the right hand. Instantly your right hand pulls away from the point of the needle (pain withdrawal reflex). At the very same time your left hand moves towards the needle and where the pain occurred.

The reason why the left hand moves forward is not perfectly clear, and there are many applicable answers. The first explanation may be to create stability. Due to the sudden movement in one direction the other limb may need to move equally as fast in the opposite direction in order to maintain balance. Correct balance, allows for quicker acceleration away from the point of pain.

Another explanation could be the other limb comes forward to help push away from the point of pain, or to protect the other limb from further pain.

Martial Example:
The uke is struck on a vital point located above on the arm. As the sensation of pain is felt, the arm that was hit moves away from the tori (person doing the technique) as the other arm moves towards the tori.

Note, in addition to the attacked arm’s movement, the hips have also been pulled back, the left leg has stepped backwards, and the uke has rotated to the left, essentially disabling the uke’s stability. Based on body geometry, the arm moving forward is clearly doing so in order to compensate for the sudden changes in the center of gravity.

Clearly, while the uke is in a state of instability such as this he is in no position to launch a counter attack, and a multitude of follow-up techniques can be applied by the tori.

One of the most interesting techniques I have ever witnessed using the cross extensor reflex was done by Professor Rick Clark, Ao Denkou Jitsu, during a vital point striking seminar.

In his example of this principle he had two people stand side by side. Prof. Clark then struck subject one’s arm at a specific point. In an instant the struck arm came forward while the other arm swung backwards hitting the second subject in the groin.

Talk about a great way to take to bad guys out at once.

At first I thought it was a chance occurrence, but I have witnessed this techniques several times, done in the same manner, always with the same results. It is an excellent example of the cross extensor reflex, as well as the reflex arch, and the righting reflex.

Righting Reflex

Here is another gem for the martial artist: in fact this one works so well that most martial art s practitioners, especially those that do arts with a multitude of joint locks, already utilize this reflex all the time.

The righting reflex, or static reflex, describes any of the various reflexes that tend to bring the body into a normal position in space and resist forces acting to displace it out of that normal position.

The best and easiest example to describe the righting reflex can be found in cats, which have the ability to orient themselves while falling so they "always land on their feet".

However, the martial artist is more interested in how the righting reflex reacts in relation to applied forces. Or in other words, how the body seeks out the path or least resistance when placed in a position that causes pain/discomfort.

Example:
Take the technique called Kote Mawashi (wrist in-turn) (Nikyu in Aikido).

In this technique the wrist is rotated towards the head, locking up the skeletal frame. While pain is not necessary to make this technique effective, it is often a byproduct produced by the rotation, or the contracting muscles.

When kote mawashi is applied correctly the person receiving the technique will fall to the ground.

The first reason the person falls to the ground is because the skeletal frame is locked up and there is nowhere else it can go. The second reason is that the body is trying to escape the point of discomfort, which is usually above the waistline. The body is seeking the quickest, and what it perceives to be the safest way to move away and “right” things.

Since the forces used to generate kote mawashi are above the midline in this example, the body goes downward. If the forces are directed upwards, a variation of kote mawashi, the body will rise since this now becomes the apparent path to neutralize the force.

* * *

I realize this has been a rather long explanation of the principle of Reflex Action. However it is one of the most important principles to know and understand in order to make one’s martial techniques effortless and efficient.

Of course as long as this is already I would be remiss if I didn’t cover two more aspect of this reflex.

The first is the reflex action that results when a person is “knocked out.” In this case the lack of consciousness, to whatever degree, is the reflex to the stimulus.

I don’t think discussing the various types of knockouts, and the way to cause them is necessary.

The other type or reflex action is a little more esoteric, and involves techniques within the art of vital point striking.

Whether you believe pressure points exist or in the art of Dim Mak (poison hands) is irrelevant. That’s a topic for another discussion. The fact of the matter is there are certain places on the body that when struck, poked, or pressed can produce severe reflex actions, some which can in fact cause death.

Since I don’t want to make this “blog” entry too much longer I will only describe one. This is a point that has a lot of scientific research to explain it.

Cartoid Sinus Reflex

In the art of vital point striking this point is often referred to as Stomach 9. Stomach 9 is located on the side of the neck along the carotid artery, and beside the laryngeal protuberance. It is where the pulsation of the common carotid artery is palpable.


When struck properly it can cause an instance knockout and/or death. It is not a point to strike in practice. DON”T DO IT! Even a light strike has the potential for lethality, and the long-term possible health risks of hitting this point for those who don’t die is unknown.

Stomach 9 is a lethal strike since the point is located on a baroreceptor, which when stimulated triggers the carotid sinus reflex. Baroreceptors in the human body are designed to detect the pressure of the blood flowing through them, and send messages to the central nervous system in order to either increase or decrease peripheral resistance (mean arterial pressure) and cardiac output.


By striking this specific point the body is fooled into believing there has been a change in blood pressure. Basically it thinks that blood pressure is too high. In order to protect the itself, bradycardia (a resting heart rate under 60 beats per minute) occurs, and the body’s blood pressure drops.

This sudden drop in blood pressure is what causes the body to become unconscious, or in some cases to die.

Okay, by this point I’ve most probably said more about the principle of Reflex Action than anyone wanted to know. In a nutshell most reflex actions are a result of the way our nervous systems reacts to stimuli.

If for any reason you need more information I suggest you either take an anatomy class at your local college, or start reading a lot of books that explain the way the body works.

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Thursday, August 17, 2006

The Top Ten Principles Of Yachigusa Ryu Aiki Bugei - #2 Triangulation

Since I first stated that the techniques taught at my school were based on principles, and that we focus more on understanding the principles that makes things work than the techniques themselves, people have e-mailed me asking me if I could explain these principles in more detail.

Unfortunately trying to explain many of these principals in writing is very difficult, since many can’t be explained in words alone. However, I will try my best to describe these principles for the “blog” readers, using words, charts and pictures.

Keep in mind though, that in order to sometimes fully understand a principle you have to also understand other principles that relate to it. Most principles aren’t fully useable on their own, and have to be integrated with others.

#2 Triangulation

Triangulation is a method for establishing the distance between any two points, or the relative position of two or more points, by calculations based on the vertices of a triangle, and the length of side of measurable length, (base).

Okay, if you understood the above scientific explanation you don’t need to read on. However if you’re like me you will need to read on. You’ll also want more details, especially how it relates to the martial arts.

Let's start with a less scientific and more martial definition of what Triangulation is. Basically, Triangulation is a geometry-based method of locating the specific point where an opponent's body can be projected with minimal effort. That specific point, is what we call the "Triangulation Point." If force is applied correctly towards that point, the human body will be forced to fall in that direction. This is an effect of physics and balance, and a person cannot prevent himself or herself from falling when this principle is correctly applied.

It’s another way of applying and thinking about Kuzushi, (balance breaking). Or to be more specific, the way in which one learns to use kuzushi for optimal effectiveness.

Before I discuss the specifics of Triangulation lets cover a few other scientific principles one needs to know.
  1. All things with weight (mass) have a specific center of mass. This is also known as the "center of gravity" or "center of balance."
  2. The pull of gravity effectively occurs at the center of mass.
  3. The center of mass of an object must fall within the boundaries of its base support for equilibrium (balance) to exist. If the center of mass is not over an object's base, that object will fall over.
  4. Stability is inversely proportional to the distance of the center of mass above the base, all other things being equal. The closer one’s center of mass is to the base the more stable they become.
  5. Stability is directly proportional to the area of the base upon which a body rests. Increase in area at the base increases stability.
  6. Stability with respect to a constant force is directly proportional to one’s body weight. All other factors being equal, a heavier person is more stable than a lighter person.
  7. A straight (standing or prone) human body has its center of mass at a point approximately three inches below the navel. This point corresponds to the tanden or hara of traditional martial arts theory. This means that if you placed a frozen (rigid) human body on a pole it would balance on a point approximately three inches below the navel. (Figure 1)

Using this point as a reference the below formulas occur:
  • If the body is placed on a fulcrum anywhere above the center of mass, the head will move towards the ground (Figure 2)
  • If the body is placed on a fulcrum anywhere below its center of mass, the feet will move towards the ground. (Figure 3)





Happo-no-Kuzushi (Eight directions of breaking balance)

In the arts of Aikido, Judo, Jujutsu, and Aikijujutsu knowledge regarding Happo-no-kuzushi is essential. It is the cornerstone of every projection/throw within these arts. Properly executed, kuzushi disrupts the balance of the subject making any projection/throw almost effortless. Without this proficiency in kuzushi, one must rely more or brute force than finesse.


In order to fully understand the principle of kuzushi, one should first accept the concept that surrounding each individual there is a circle on the ground. The circumference of this circle is determined by the length of the farthest point one can reach with an extended arm or leg without leaning over.


Within this circle there are eight directions one can move (forward, back, left, right, and at 45 degree angles. If a person is forced out of the circumference of their circle in one of these directions (i.e. past their triangulation point), then they will be off balance.

The main problem with the concept of kuzushi is that is often taught incorrectly, superficially, or only geared towards sporting competition. However, a great description of kuzushi was written by Neil Ohlenkamp, 1999 Judo coach of the year, in the essay, “The Study of Kuzushi or 'I'm falling and I can't get up.'"

“Kuzushi is very often thought of as simply pushing or pulling. At more advanced levels however it is much more than that. For example, kuzushi can also be achieved by breaking the opponent's rhythm, fake attacks, strikes, changes of body position or grip, kiai (a shout), or a sudden change in speed or tempo. A critical element in kuzushi is that it should disrupt more than the body. Kuzushi is very much a mental thing. Kuzushi should always disrupt the opponent's concentration, resulting in a momentary opportunity for an attack. This is one of the reasons confidence is such an important factor in Judo. A strong and positive mental attitude can often dominate a weaker state of mind, resulting in effective kuzushi.”

The founder of judo, Jigoro Kano, made the a scientific study of kuzushi a fundamental element of judo training. However, despite Mr. Ohlenkano’s assertion that this study of kuzushi was new in Judo, “distinguishing it from old schools of jujitsu,” Kano basically took an old principle and extrapolated on it. In other words, Kano took esoteric explanations of kuzushi found in old densho (transmission scrolls) and made it more mainstream. He replaced metaphysical language with scientific terminology understandable to the layman.


Triangulation

If kuzusihi is the physical aspect of breaking the balance, then triangulation is the mathematical formula used to determine what distance is needed to break said balance.

In other words, simply knowing how to apply mechanical force to break balance is not enough to execute a proper projection/throw. Often projections/throws fail because the person being thrown is not destabilized to a point where their center of mass is extended past their base. Other times, they are taken too far past their base and are compelled to stumble away before the technique can be completed. This is where the principle of triangulation comes into play.

Basically, to determine the Triangulation Point of a person you start by measuring the distance between a person’s knee and ankle, and then extending that measurement to the front or rear of the person. For example, if the measurement between the knee and ankle equals 15 inches, then that person will be forced to step or fall if they are pulled more than 15 inches past their feet. At this point nothing they do will help them regain their stability.



Example


1. Subject is up right in a fully stable position. His center of mass is over his base. The sticks in front of him represent his triangulation point, based on the measurement of his lower leg.



2. As the subject is extended forward towards the triangulation point, his stability is lost. However at this point in the extension he is not fully dependent on being held up, and could regain his stability on his own by either righting himself or taking a step forward.



3. As the subject is extended even further towards his triangulation point his dependency on the other person becomes absolute. At this point even though his “center of mass” has not crossed the triangulation point there is no way he can regain his stability. If the person holding him would let go he would have to fall.



It is worth pointing out that center of mass of a body is only located below the navel when the body is straight (standing/prone). Once the subject is bent over like the subject in the photo, his mass moves out into the empty space between his center and the triangulation point.


The specific techniques martial artists use to complete a throw or projection depends on the art they study. But despite stylistic differences, we all use the same science to make them work effectively.

Take for example the following six Judo throwing techniques


Each of these throws require specific kuzushi, and all require the uke (person who is being thrown) to be displaced over his triangulation point, whether the throw is to the front, the rear, or the side.

When using Triangulation, it really doesn’t matter how you get there (entering, pushing, pulling, circular rotation, joint lock, body drop, etc.), as long as you take your opponent to the right spot. Once stability is broken, and broken past the point of no return, one’s opponent will have to fall to the ground.

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Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The Top Ten Principles of Yachigusa Ryu Aiki Bugei - #1 Avoidance Tendencies

Since I first stated that the techniques taught at my school were based on principles, and that we focus more on understanding the principles that makes things work than the techniques themselves, people have e-mailed me asking me if I could explain these principles in more detail.

Unfortunately, trying to explain many of these principals in writing is very difficult, since many can’t be explained in words alone. However, I will try my best to describe these principles for the “blog” readers, using words, charts and pictures.

Keep in mind though, that in order to sometimes fully understand a principle you have to also understand other principles that relate to it. Most principles aren’t fully useable on their own, and have to be integrated with others.

#1 Avoidance Tendencies

Understanding "Avoidance Tendencies" means learning the natural and instinctive ways the body will react to perceived danger and/or pain. Some of these natural tendencies are useful; others such as flinching have to be prevented. Some can aid in defense, and some can be capitalized upon when used against others.

Basically, Avoidance Tendencies means understanding how and why the body moves the way it does when threatened, and how to use these movements to your greatest advantage, offensively and defensively.

In a broader definition of the principle, Avoidance Tendencies refers to anything that reduces a threat, even prior to a threat actually occurring. This includes those wonderful maxims you learned as a child like “don’t talk to strangers” and the stuff they teach at most self-defense seminars like "know your surroundings".

However, using this principle in its correct context is the first step in understanding all its broader variations.

One example of a true Avoidance Tendency is the normal reaction to raise the arms and place them in front of the face when the face/head, especially the eyes, is threatened. This is an instinctual “hard-wired” reaction; a reaction few people even realize they are doing at the time. It is a natural movement that when controlled can be used effectively by the martial artist.


1. Bad Flinching


2. The same basic hand movement used effectively

Another obvious Avoidance Tendency is the “fight or flight” response. The “fight-or-flight” response, also refered to as the “acute stress response,” was first theorized by Walter Cannon in 1929. According to his theory, animals and humans react to threats with a general discharge of the sympathetic nervous system, priming the animal/human for fighting or fleeing.

During this response numerous physiological changes occur in the body. These changes include:
  • Sweating increases - this helps keep the body cool
  • Blood clotting ability increases - the body prepares for possible
    injuries
  • Blood is diverted to the muscles, the muscle fibers tense, and the
    muscles become ready for action
  • Senses are activated to make one more mentally alert
  • Breathing rate increases to provide more oxygen to one's body
  • One's heartbeat speeds up and blood pressure rises
  • The liver releases sugar, cholesterol, and fatty acids into the blood
    to supply instant energy to the muscles [this is what makes a person faster,
    stronger and less likely to feel pain]
  • The bladder and bowel muscles close down

Of course even with all these changes taking place, how the subject reacts can still vary. Normally there are four distinct reactions:

I refer to the first reaction as the “Bambi Syndrome.” When faced with a threat the subject will freeze and become motionless. The person will be so scared, that even though all the above physiological changes have occurred they cannot move or defend themselves. All they want to do is hide, and hope the threat goes away.

Basically they try avoiding the threat by hoping they are not seen, or that the threat will simply go away.

The second reaction is what I call, “Posturing.” This basically means the person adopts an a posture or attitude in order to deter the threat. This can include yelling, negotiating, profane language, adopting an aggressive stance, or releasing their bowels. In other words, the subject does something to either shock, intimidate, or disgust their attacker, hoping such action will deter the attack. This occurs quite frequently in nature where animals use body language, coloration, vocal sounds, and scents to defuse/settle confrontations, before actually resort to a violent physical encounter.

The third and fourth reactions are simple: the subject either runs or they hold their ground and fight.

Of course using the word “fight” isn’t always accurate. The person might just flail and thrash wildly, lashing out at anyone and anything in their path. In this state they act on instinct and are unpredictable. For these individuals, the basic instinct to survive takes over, and in most cases they are not even conscious of what they are doing.

What is absolutely certain is that one should never underestimate the instinct to survive. It can make ordinary people do extraordinary things and overcome extraordinary adversity.

While there are four distinct reactions, one must keep in mind that any one person can exhibit a combination of all of the above reactions at any point throughout a threatening situation. Just because someone appears to be running away at first doesn’t mean they won't all of a sudden stop, turn, and fight. After all, appearing to retreat and then turning and attacking one’s enemy is a classic battlefield strategy.

While understanding the theory of Avoidance Tendencies is one thing, using it advantageously is another. This requires a lot more study, and practice.

Leaning to use Avoidance Tendencies defensively

Hopefully, learning to control and override your body's natural inclination to threats is part of every martial artist’s training—especially in those arts that teach life-protection skills. In most cases, this involves simply modifying behaviors: the two most important ones being
to never flinch and to never tense up.

Proper training should also include learning body geometry so that correct avoidance (evasion) movements can be learned. These should be practiced until they become one's natural tendency.

An example of this is learning how to evade an attack to the midline. Many martial art styles teach techniques that use linear or circular footwork to evade this attack. For the most part, these techniques are not bad, just too big. There is too much movement, which often creates too much space between the attacker and the defender.

The truth of the matter is that only a small movement is required.

Using body geometry this is simple to understand. If the distance between the tips of one's shoulders equals 19 inches, then one only needs to move 9.5 inches off the midline to avoid an attack. This formula works since the shoulders are normally wider than the width of the hips, and only half the body has to be moved from the attack zone.


Nine and a half inches is a relatively small movement. The advantage of such a small movement is that it places the defender in optimal striking/grappling distance, while crowding the opponent and making it hard for him to do a follow up strike/attack without readjusting.

These small movements are also optimal for sword techniques, where success or failure is often measured in fractions of an inch.

Clearly, making smaller movements requires faith in the effectiveness of one’s actions, and these movements have to be done with full resolve and determination. Any hesitation, tension, or flinching can be disastrous.

Of course there are those that would argue that Avoidance Tendencies should start even before an altercation has begun. Many techniques to reduce the likelihood of getting into confrontations are taught at self-defense seminars. These include knowing your surroundings, walking on the lighted side of the street, avoiding alleys, taking the long way, etc.

One last, but sometimes overlooked, Avoidance Tendency for the trained martial artist exists in what the Japanese call Kamae. The common definition of the word kamae is "stance", however that is not really accurate; kamae means more than that. It actually refers to a posture that conveys an attitude, normally an attitude of readiness to face the task at hand. In a martial context this often means using body language in a manner that conveys an air of superiority, alertness, and defensiveness.

In fact there are numerous stories of two Samurai dueling, where the duel is settled by no more than just adopting a particular kamae. There are even stories of old Kendo masters whose kamae were so strong that their opponents could not perceive a way to attack them, and yielded the match to them.


If one really studies the human psyche, it really shouldn’t be that surprising that a stance/posture can be an effective deterrent to altercations. Body language can often work in situations where talking has failed.

I like to use the example of two Roosters meeting: as they walk along their heads are low, but when they meet they inflate their chests, raise their heads, fluff their feathers, and try to look as big and intimidating as possible. Normally the smaller of the two—or the less confident—moves aside and gives way.


The same can be said for humans. If you’ve ever witnessed the moments leading up to a fight, there is a lot of posturing that takes place before fists start to fly. Posturing is clearly intended to intimidate one’s opponent.

While I don’t advocate assuming a “fighting stance” when faced with a threat, there are other types of body language I use to convey that I’m not an easy target, or that I’m alert and ready.

One of these goes back to my very first example of Avoidance Tendencies where the arms are raised in front of the face. This is basically the internationally recognized posture of surrender. During an altercation, if one adopts this posture it will often defuse the situation reducing the level of antagonism. It works because the position is one of submission.


However, it is actually a strong defensive posture where the hands are in an ideal position for defense and attack.


The above technique is not only an example of one type of Avoidance Tendency, but also a small lesson in the psychology of fighting and self-defense.

Learning to use Avoidance Tendencies Offensively

Learning to use Avoidance Tendencies proficiently against one’s opponent is much harder and requires more study. Often times, it requires the skill to create an “illusion” of threat such that one can capitalize on the opponent's instinctive response by striking/attacking a corresponding target.

A simple example of this is faking a strike to the eyes. Most people will pull their head away from the oncoming strike. This happens for two distinct reasons: first to protect their eyes from being damaged, and second to maintain visual focus on the rapidly moving hand/object.

As the head pulls backwards, the chest arches forward, and the neck becomes exposed. Not only can the throat be attacked, but due to the unstable body position (the arch), the person can be pushed backwards and downwards towards the ground quite easily.

In many instances, the person will also be “grounded” making it very hard for them to move or counterattack. Even if their hands rise forward in defense, their power is diminished due to the arch that tightens the corresponding shoulder muscles.

Just lean your head all the way back and stretch your arms forward. You will feel the pull in your shoulders and the weakening of the strength of your pectoral muscle across the chest.

Those martial art practitioners that practice the art of vital point striking often have a comprehensive understanding of “cause and effect,” as it relates to striking specific points of the body. Or in other words, using the body's natural avoidance tendencies as it relates to the sensation of pain.

While an understanding of these reflex actions to pain is only one element of Avoidance Tendencies, it should not to be taken lightly. In fact, learning to capitalize on the body's natural reaction and aversion to the sensation/stimulus of pain is extremely important, if not essential, to the proper execution of many martial arts techniques.

Simply put, specific strikes to specific points cause specific responses. Knowing how the body will react and move after being struck makes follow up strikes, joint locks, and/or projections quicker and easier.

Case in point:


Subject “A” grabs Subject “B.” Subject “B’ strikes Subject “A” at the crease of the arm in a scooping motion.

Two things happen at this point: first of all, Subject “A” feels pain; the second thing is that his upper body will come forward in the direction of scoop. This brings the head forward into striking distance.

The sensation of pain is not and should never be the primary goal—just a fortunate byproduct if it happens. It is the directional scooping motion, and the body's desire to “escape” (avoid) the point of stimulus, that makes this technique work so predictably. (See the forthcoming essay regarding "Reflex Action" for more specific information on this reflex.)

For the most part, reactions such as these are predictable and can be duplicated time after time. As long as the proper stimulus is applied, even if the attacker is aware of what is about to happen (such as in the classroom), they can not override the body’s innate reactions.

The body is clearly a wonderful machine capable of wonderful things. However, like many machines there are built in safeguards, which are hard-wired in to protect the machinery from damage. The principle of Avoidance Tendencies, whether used defensively or offensively, is basically about learning to manipulate these innate abilities to their full advantage.

Of all the top ten principles, "Avoidance Tendencies", is most likely the easiest one to understand and develop. All it takes is a moderate study of the human psyche and physiology to start to integrate this principle into techniques one already knows. Chances are that these skills are already part of any martial artist's training, in varying degrees.

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Friday, April 07, 2006

The Science Of Techniques - Part V: Principles and Analysis

In Part 4 of “The Science of Techniques I explained part of the process of dissecting a technique into its scientific parts. For that example I used the Gogli Tendon Reflex. However, understanding the Golgi tendon is just one example of the type of information my students are required to know. That I teach routinely. That I think all instructors, especially those with high black belt ranks or fancy titles should know. Unfortunately many don't, which is a problem with many martial arts styles practiced/propagated today.

Besides learning such anatomical information, all of my students are required to understand the underlying principles that make techniques work. To aid them we work off a list of principles, instead of a list of techniques. Unlike many schools where people learn blocks and strikes my students learn concepts such as angle of deflection and linear force. The movements may be similar, but the goal, the mindset I’m trying to instill, is very different.

So far I think there are about seventy of these principles listed, and while some may sound repetitive they are not. Of course, some are more important than others, and in some cases some of them haven’t even been fully examined. Their potential is still to be discovered.

Further more, though a specific technique may be used to illustrate a principle, one must be aware that there are always numerous other principles being applied at the same time, or in direct succession. No principle stands on its own, though some have a greater emphasis on the overall outcome.

Now please don’t think I believe these principles are unique to the style of martial arts I teach. They are not. Most styles use these principles to describe what they do, though they may be expressed differently, if they are ever verbally expressed at all.

The fact is, over the years I’ve substituted terminology as I’ve discovered better ways of describing these concepts. These changes are courtesy of many other instructors, who teach a variety of styles. Styles such as Kempo, Daito Ryu, Yanagi Ryu, Cabales Serrada Escrima, and Northern Shaolin Chuan to name a few.

Basically, I’ve taken archaic abstract terms and made them clearer for a 21st century audience. I did this for myself, as well as my students.

It’s not that I have any issues with the way some of these terms were described in the past, many are very artistic with profound metaphysical and spiritual meaning. However, these terms were based on the medical, scientific, and spiritual nomenclature of their time. Those times are past.

Changing terms is sort of a tradition though. After all, my teacher described many of these principles in a manner that suited him, in a context he was familiar with. I’ve just learned to do the same, in a context that’s comfortable for my students and me.



Japanese karate-ka have a term called "bunkai," which literally means analysis. They use this term when discussing kata (forms), or more specifically the examination of techniques within their various kata.

The study of the bunkai in any given form can be obvious or elusive depending on the technique in question, as well as the moves preceding and following it. I believe the terms such as toridai and himitsu apply here, since these terms refer to techniques not readily seen to the casual observer, or techniques which are hidden within techniques.

In addition what level a person has at comprhending bunkai is based on experience, as well as trail and error. It takes a lot of work and many years of research. Sometimes a lifetime.

While not every martial artist does karate-style kata, we all do techniques. A technique being nothing more than a prearranged series of offensive and defense movements, designed to simulate an authentic type of altercation. Which, by the way, happens to be the definition of kata.

Because we martial artists all do techniques we can all benefit from analyzing, and I mean serious in-depth analyzing, the meanings of the things we do.

Yes, you got it, we can all benefit from learning the science behind the techniques. The reason why things work. Then and only then can we call ourselves martial artists. Then and only then do we learn the diiference between what works in a classroom and what works in the real world.

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The Science Of Techniques - Part IV: The Golgi Tendon Organ

Since I have spent the last few parts of, “The Science of Techniques,” discussing how important it is to know the science which makes techniques work, I thought I would now give an example of what I’ve been discussing.

For this example I will try to make the following information as basic as possible, with as few medical terms as needed. Keep in mind this is just a basic breakdown of this particular technique.

The best basic example I can think of to illustrate how one dissects a technique into the scientific principles that make it work is the Golgi Tendon Reflex (aka Inverse Myotatic Reflex).

This is a very useful one to know, and one utilized by almost every martial art system in the world.


The Martial Technique:

For this example we will use a basic Aikido form called Ikkajo Osae Ichi. In this technique the defender applies downward pressure just above the elbow joint, and the attacker collapses to the ground.


In order to apply this technique correctly one must utilize The Golgi Tendon Reflex as well as other physiological techniques.


Anatomy of the Arm:

Your arm is basically comprised of bones, muscle, tendons, arteries and veins, and nerves.


Knowing the anatomy of the arm is important since your arm is designed to move only in certain directions. In addition knowing the anatomy of the arm allows a martial art practitioner to know where there are weaknesses in the anatomy, and the best ways to use them to their fullest advantage.

For example, as it applies to this technique, the elbow joint can bend inwards towards the body, but not in the opposite direction. Turning the arm so the wrist faces upward elongates the limb, and prevents the elbow from being able to articulate as easily as it normally can.


How your arm moves normally:

Muscles are attached to bone on opposite sides of a joint, such that one will cause extension of a limb, its opposite flexion. For a monosynaptic reflex to occur, the opposing muscle of the limb must simultaneously be relaxed. This is accomplished via a three-neuron relay, which inhibits the opposing muscles (the flexors) so that extension of the limb may occur.

The monosynaptic stretch reflex is the only spinal reflex known that involves only one synapse, (the junction across which a nerve impulse passes from an axon terminal to a neuron, a muscle cell, or a gland cell.)


The Golgi Organ:

The Golgi Tendon Organ (also called neurotendinous spindle) is a proprioceptive sensory receptor that is located at the insertion of skeletal muscle fibers into the tendons of skeletal muscle.

Their function is to act as sort of a monitoring device to keep track of tension within the muscle tissue. As a polysynaptic fiber, the golgis are deigned to inhibit the original contracting muscle and facilitate antagonistic muscles. Or in other words, it serves as a servomechanism, which uses feedback to correct a performance of a mechanism.

That’s a fancy way of saying that when the Golgi tendon feels too much tension it causes the limb to go limp, in order to prevent an injury such as ripped muscles, damaged tendons, or injured bones.

So, in the above martial technique, when too much pressure is applied to the arm, and tension reaches a certain level, the Golgi tendon “relaxes.” Since the arm bar is being held, the only way the body can “reflex” is by going down towards the ground, making the attacker fall downward.


Reflex Action:

I’m not going to get into the various types of reflex actions; that could fill a book. But it is important to understand the working process of the reflex actions utilized in this technique.

Step one in this process is the sensation of pain, or in this case a sensation of tension in the arm.

The Golgi Tendon senses a change in pressures and fires off signals to the spinal cord and brain. To keep things simple let's say your brain is the “conscience” thinking part of the equation, while the spinal cord is the “basic instinct” element.

Now from your body's perspective, your arm is about to be damaged and an immediate response is required. There is no time to “think.” Any counter-measure taken to prevent injury must be done as soon as possible. Do you pull, push, jump, fall, scream, etc to be effective?

In this case, the speedier of the two reactions comes from your spinal cord where the reaction is based on instinct. In this defense sequence, pressure is being applied downwards, so the body seeking the path of least resistance (as instinct dictates) moves further downwards away from the perceived attack.

There is no “conscious” thought used during this response, and the subject's brain hasn’t responded yet: neither to confirm his reaction nor to give him an alternate course of action.

In this example, the subject's response is solely based on a “perceived” threat. It is perceived because in actuality there is often not enough force being applied to actually injure the limb, especially in practice.

If the attacker could some how wait for a response from the brain, chances are that instead of falling downward, the attacker would launch a counter offensive. Clearly the technique would be neutralized, or much less effective.

This means the defender must fool the attacker’s body into believing more is happening than is actually happening, thus utilizing a natural physical response to gain an advantage. This natural response, when properly stimulated, cannot be prevented. It is unavoidable even if the attacker is aware of what is going to happen, such as in the case of practicing the technique over and over again in a classroom.

Of course in order to do this technique properly one must know how to “stretch” the Golgi Tendon, and stimulate it to the point of reaction. This takes practice.

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The Science Of Techniques - Part III: Depending on Knowledge

When I’m discussing martial techniques and their development, refinement, and propagation I’m talking about techniques that were used to wage war. Life protection skills, not techniques used for recreation, enlightenment or competitive sport.

Like the Samurai, the European Knight, and the Sumerian--as well as warriors such as the Spartans, the Aztec, the Sioux Indians, and the Zulu Warriors--I have no time to waste, or a desire to practice fluff.

I must know I can count on my techniques, and I must know how and why they work.

It’s like learning to fire a gun at the police academy. They don’t just hand you a gun and have you fire at a target. Before you make your first shot, they teach you how a gun works, the different calibers, how to examine and take them apart, how to aim, and more. After you learn how a gun works, and the theory on how to use it, then they let you shoot it. You learn the science of firearms.

For me, knowing how and why my martial art techniques work, affords me the mindset to have faith in them, complete faith. That’s important to me because I’m relying on them to safeguard my life. If I doubt they work I won’t use them, or might hesitate at a critical moment.

Sure, when I demonstrate a technique in class I try to display a certain aesthetic quality in what I do, but not at the expense of practicality. For me that’s the “art” part of “martial arts.” However, I would rather practice something like gouging an eye, a technique I can count on in the real world, then attempt to ever do a jump spin kick.

When placed in a situation where I have to use my skills, I must know that if I strike a particular target on the body there will be a specific reaction, which can lead to another predictable follow up target. I must know that if I grab a limb and torque a joint in a certain direction, the rest of the body will move in a predictable response. I must know cause and effect. Anything less can cost me my life.

There will be no time to think and process information during the altercation. I must react instinctively. I must rely on my training, so my training has to be based on realism. It has to be based on science, and I have to truly believe that the science is valid.

The time for determining this validity is during practice, and can only be done by thoroughly investigating each and every movement, dissecting the intricacies, and repeating the techniques over and over to see if the results are the same. That’s the scientific process for any experiment.

Martial art techniques, especially those limited to unarmed fighting methods, are nothing more than a composite of numerous sciences, sciences such as physiology, physics, anatomy, psychology, etc. Understand the science, and you understand why the technique works. Why the body reacts the way it does to various stimuli.

The human body is no more than a very evolved machine. It’s designed to move in certain ways, and not in others. It has its strengths, and its weaknesses: weaknesses that if known and used properly can be exploited to their full potential.

The body is also designed with built in safeguards, which if manipulated properly can make one’s opponent move involuntarily, greatly reducing the force it takes to be effective.

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The Science Of Techniques - Part II: Different but the Same

There is very little difference between real military based martial styles. The only difference really is the approach each style takes to transmitting their information and what their focus (weaponry, kicking, punching, grappling, etc.) is. For most authentic forms of military arts we all get to the same point of the training pyramid, we just get there from different directions.

Truth be known, the individual practitioner actually has more to do with the success of a fighting system, than the actual system. Sorry, I’m sure you didn’t want to hear that. However, I will concede the fact that some systems prepare people better than others.

For example, Musashi was a great swordsman, undefeated in over 60 duels. However none of his students ever achieved the fame he did, using only what he taught them. Musashi, the man, was a great fencer, and most likely developed some wonderful fighting techniques. However his techniques were suited to meet his needs, his physical prowess, and his mental outlook on the ways things had to be done in order to be successful. What he did worked for him, and not necessarily for anyone else, past or present.

In addition, Musashi did not fixate on only one method or style of fighting while developing his style of swordsmanship. He took advantage of learning from anyone he thought had something to offer him. He was willing to see what others were doing, examine if they had anything of value for him to assimilate, and maybe most importantly of all was willing to travel as far as it took to search this information out. He clearly researched his craft.

I think we call this "cross training" today, but it isn’t a modern innovation after all.

How martial artists train, how they seek out and comprehend information given to them or discovered on their own, their natural ability, and their resolve, are all factors that contribute to the success they will have within their particular martial form.

In other words, two people studying the same system, for the same amount of time, with the same amount of effort, might not both become equally good.

Further more, even if the style they practice is considered as the "ultimate" style, there is no guarantee either of these two individuals will be unbeatable. There is no certainty that either of them will be the "ultimate" warrior.

In a real fight, there are just too many variables to consider to truly believe any one person, any one style, can be the best. In a real fight, sometimes luck is more important than skill.

An interesting article I came across a couple of years ago was titled, "The Medieval Knight vs. The Feudal Japanese Warrior," written by J. Clements the director of ARMA (The Association for Renaissance Martial Arts) http://www.thearma.org/essays/knightvs.htm.

In this article Mr. Clements asks the question; what would happen if a European Knight fought a Japanese Samurai? It’s an interesting question that can surely be debated to death. Depending on ones stance--something normally based ones affiliation to a specific martial art the--answer is simple. If I practice Japanese arts, I say the Samurai would win. If I practice European martial arts (yes they had them), I think the Knight wins.

However, the answer is not so simple. Both the Knight and the Samurai were warriors. Both spent their lives training to fight. Both had battle experience.

If you placed 20 Knights on a battlefield and had them face 20 Samurai, I’m positive there would be casualties on both sides. One group might ultimately win the battle, but that does not mean they would ultimately win the war.

Mouri Shinsuke (left) attacks Imagawa Yoshimoto from the Tale of Heike. 12th century15th Century fechtbuch “Gladiatora”
The armor and weaponry may be different, but in both these pictures a spear-wielding attacker is countered in basically the same manner. In both prints the spear is evaded and grabbed and the defender is about to counter strike.

Surely how the Knight and the Samurai trained for battle was determined by their needs, and based on their knowledge of warfare in their geographic location. Of course there were also technological differences, but that can be said for both sides. However, to say one group was better than the other is fatuous.

The honest truth is, there is a limited number of ways the body can be used as a weapon and we humans can injure/kill each other. Evidence supports the assertion that by the dawn of civilization most of the fighting skills we practice as martial artists today were already known. In fact, it is safe to state that all the fighting skills we practice today, (except for firearms and explosives) were already being utilized as far back as 5000BC by the soldiers of Sumer (an ancient civilization located around the Lower Tigris and Euphrates rivers, in what is now modern day Iraq). This was a long time before Japan was Japan or the nations of Europe existed.

Of course methodologies varied from country to country, changed over the centuries, and adapted to the advent of new and better weaponry. However, the basics (roots)--the science--of hand-to-hand combat have remained the same.

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The Science Of Techniques - Part I

If you’re easily offended I suggest you skip this “blog” entry. This essay is only intended for those who can face facts, and can understand there are major differences between training in a martial art school and fighting for your life in the real world. Or maybe more relative to my topic, people who have an understanding of what it takes to go from techniques that work in a classroom to those applicable in the real world.

I don’t care how “realistically” you think you train, how hardcore you are, or how many competitions you have won. Until you’ve been in a life and death confrontation, you have no clue how well you can defend yourself. You have no idea whether you have the physical and/or psychological toughness to react, counter, and survive.

That goes triple for an armed attack.

I don’t mean this as an insult, and I’m no different than anyone else. I, however, have the guts to admit it. I also have the first hand experience to state that during a life and death confrontation your physical and mental outlook is extremely different than you can or will ever experience in training.

And now for the bombshell.

It is estimated that 80% of all martial art techniques one learns, in any school, any style, are ineffective. They just won’t work. Whether that’s due to the technique being too intricate, to Hollywood, or just plain bad science makes no difference. The fact is, all martial art practitioners spend a lot of our lives practicing things we will never use, nor should use.

What makes things even worse is the fact that what might work great for me, may not work great for you.

Now before you start writing me e-mails, or posting my opinion on the various martial art discussion sites along with your ridicule let me explain.

Calm down, sit back, and listen. Listen with an open mind.

The truth is that techniques are nothing but illustrations of scientific principles.
It’s the scientific principles the martial artist needs to learn. Should learn. However, for most martial arts practitioners they will never discover this, or explore it once they hear about it.

Most practitioners are satisfied being carbon copy clones of their instructors. Unfortunately, just mimicking one’s instructor does not make one a martial artist, nor does it really help one understand the underlying intricacies of a given fighting method.

The desire to study the intricacies within techniques is what differentiated the master of yesteryear, to most martial artists today. It was their desire to study the sciences within techniques that helped form the martial arts, refine the "martial arts, and create the techniques we practice. These scientific intricacies are the foundation, behind all techniques (the roots), and the explanations why thee fighting skills work so well, the genius of their creation.

The truth is if you only learn a technique then that’s all you have, a technique. Learn the principles that make the technique work and you can come up with numerous variations that may be more effective for you, or help you apply what you know more easily with better results.

Of course this means doing your homework, and making a major effort to delve beyond basic explanations. It also means forgoing esoteric and metaphysical beliefs, as well as historical biases.

Most of all it means learning to ask the tough question; “Why.” Of course asking why is meaningless if you are willing to settle for an answer that doesn’t make sense or fully explain what you’re doing.

No style, at least in regards to authentic military based fighting systems, is better than any other. THERE ARE NO SECRETS! The only secrets that exist are ones you haven’t been told yet, or you’re too lazy to research and discover on your own. The information is out there you just need to look for it.

There is also no truth to the claims about discovering new and improved methods of fighting such as the ones you read about in almost every issue of “Black Belt Magazine.” These discoveries may be “new” to the people who write the articles, but they are old news to many old timers.

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Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Martial Arts Myths: Levitation


I love this myth, since there are so many people who claim they have
actually witnessed someone do it.

Levitation is a myth. A myth popularized by mystics who have conned
people by displaying acts of internal power, which supposedly give
them superhuman powers. These myths have further been propagated via
Hollywood, which has depicted many a martial arts master with this
ability.

The reason this is a myth is simple, and it's called: GRAVITY.
Everything on earth is affected by gravity, even plains and birds,
which seem to defy gravity when in the air. (Keep in mind birds,
plains, and other objects that become airborne are always in a state
of falling. Birds flap their wings or ride currents, and plains use
engines and wings to create and maintain lift.)

Without the aid of some sort of mechanical help, such as ropes and
wires levitation or floating in the air is impossible for humans.

Even as impressive a machine as the human body is, and how many
outstanding feats of strengths and agility we humans can push are
bodies to achieve, our bodies are not designed to be able to lift off
the ground and float in the air.

Never has, and unless evolution makes major changes on human anatomy,
never will.

PS -
Before I get notes from/about people who claim to levitate, such as
those profiled on the Discovery Channel: while they do lift off the
ground, they can't maintain any altitude, and don't float. Just like a
jump, they go up and come right down. That's hopping not levitation.

The leader of that group, who supposedly has the power to levitate and
float off the ground refused to be filmed.

I wonder why?

The few Indian gurus who were filmed for this special were all shown
to be frauds. While they appeared to float it was a trick, staged for
an audience that wanted to believe in their mystical powers, and as a
result could be conned.

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