Many people talk about the importance of learning the basics (kihon) in our martial art.
“Without a good foundation”, they say, “You can’t really achieve a high level of ability”.
In fact, there are some people who go so far as to say that it’s worthless to train with Hatsumi Soke, because he is teaching so far beyond the basics.
* (I think it appropriate to add here that every art has its basis in logical structure, however wild and seemingly unconnected some artists’ works appear to be.)
It’s easy to pontificate about the importance of learning the fundamentals, but here is the real question; “what are the fundamentals?”
When someone speaks about the “basics of Budo Taijutsu”, what are they referring to? If you ask ten different people to be specific about what constitutes the basics, you will get ten different answers. But for practical reasons the truth has to be simpler than that.
The Criteria for Determining the Basics:
If you wish to design a teaching model to give someone a skill-set one of the crucial elements to the planning of this design would be to “begin with the end in mind”. Everything in the model must correlate to the end product you are seeking.
In the case of Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu – the “end” – is Hatsumi Soke.
Since Hatsumi Sensei is the definition of Bujinkan, then our goal is to have taijutsu skills comparable to his. Whether or not you believe this is even possible is irrelevant, if you are trying to learn (or, more importantly, teach) Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu, Hatsumi Soke is the model.
So, with Hatsumi as the model, then everything we do in our training should be designed to give us the same skill-set he has. If you are practicing basic movement that looks or feels vastly different from the look and feel of Hatsumi Sensei’s movement – it is wrong!
This is not to say that there aren’t people teaching useful things other than what Soke is teaching, and some that are very strong fighters doing things their way, but if we are looking to have Soke’s skill-sets, then we have to be more rigorous in our definition.
Let’s look at this logically, why would you imprint your nervous system with a movement methodology that you knowingly were going to have to throw away and completely change down the road? For example; many people feel that practicing Sanshin and Kihon Happo with wide stances and big, overly-exaggerated movements, where the whole body moves as one big brick, for years– regardless of the technique (distance and/or speed) involved – is essential to developing “good basics”. They say that eventually you will get rid of these big movements and start to use smaller, more refined movements. However; your Central Nervous System has already created the neural pathways (habits) that your body will use, making it extremely difficult to erase the inappropriate sense of timing and distance that will have been created. This, of course, will add years to the amount of time if takes to develop the Hatsumi skill-set – giving credence to the theory that it takes 30 years or more to achieve a good level of ability and understanding in this art!
*This last paragraph has caused some confusion concerning the practice of certain movements.
Let me be clear; I am NOT saying we shouldn’t practice wide stances or wide, deep stances! Of course there are techniques in our art that require wide foot placement (ie; Togakure ryu katas, some ukemi from the TenChiJin, etc).
What I AM saying is that we must practice ALL the types of movements we will be using in training. This means practicing Sanshin with the WHOLE RANGE of possible foot positions and leg angles, from both feet not moving while standing in Shizen no Kamae, being able to deeply flex your knees, hips, and ankles, to a very wide Ichimonji no Kamae, where the back leg is deeply flexed and the front leg extended. And ALL the combinations in-between!
I do personally feel that we should give more of our practice time to the movements that we encounter the most frequently in training (and this varies depending on the individual as well as the dojo), since we are trying to ingrain these movement patterns into our nervous system.
As Soke often teaches, we must not be victims of our habits, indeed we need to have as many options available to us as possible in order to fit “appropriately” into any given situation. If we only train one set way of moving, however powerful and devastating that movement is, we have cut ourself off from this capability.
A Principle-based approach:
Having explained some of the methodology behind efficient design of teaching models, let us also look at the idea of principles. A principle is like a mathematical axiom, it must be consistently true to be a principle. For example, in math we might use the formula “if A+B=C, then C- B= A”. This is a mathematical principle; it is always true.
Much like the use of muscular force in Budo Taijutsu, if you never retrain the body’s natural “flinch-reflex”, then every time tension or force is applied to your body, you will react with tension and force, which creates a vicious cycle of increasing forces, wherein the person able to generate the greatest muscular power or force, at that point, is going to “win” in that technique.
Therefore, one of the main principles (as constantly suggested by Hatsumi Soke), is rewiring your nervous system to respond differently to force or tension being applied to your body (and by extension, your mind).
So let us agree that, for the purpose of learning Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu, the basics (kihon) must model Hatsumi Sensei’s current movement, and that any deviation from these principles is inefficient, and thus to be avoided.
What are the pieces that make up the kihon?
Now that we have defined the basics, we need to take a closer look at the individual elements that can be considered kihon. Take care not to confuse the set of techniques known as “kihon happo” with the kihon, which are foundational movements and methods of body and weapon use.
As it has been explained to me by the top Japanese Shihan here in Japan, and constantly taught by Hatsumi Soke, there are several areas we all need to consistently be training.
1. Taihenjutsu (body changing technique) This falls into 3 main phases;
A) Whole-body Mobility and Strengthening.
B) Solo Ukemi (more than merely “rolling around”, it is receiving and translating the force of gravity as we fall from all possible positions).
C) Partner Ukemi (receiving and translating the force of an attack from a person; kicks, punches, pushes, and pulls)
1. Distancing; Learning how to consistently be in the place where your opponent(s) cannot damage you, but you are free to do whatever is necessary in that moment.
A) Muto dori (Unarmed against a sword)
B) Uke kata (jodan uke – upper receiving, chudan uke – middle receiving, gedan uke – lower receiving)
1. Striking; with and without weapons, beginning from the closest distance possible then working your way outward.
We will look at these 3 areas a bit more in-depth.