Saturday, 17 November 2012


25 months after beginning my Jujutsu journey and I have reached yet another milestone. Yesterday I passed my Nikyu (2nd brown) grading. Within the ranking system of Dentokan Aiki-Jujutsu, there are three levels of brown belt before Shodan (black belt). For my Nikyu grading I actually put in some extra hours of practice outside of my two clubs. My uke and I hired a small hall ourselves at the weekends for the two weeks prior to the grading to practice our knife-defence techniques. It was time well spent. Reflecting on the grading experience itself, I felt in control of my emotions and tried to remain as calm and clear minded as possible between techniques. I felt our timing was good and we went at a reasonably controlled pace. In times gone by I had been worried about feeling conscious of others watching me, but I believe I am beginning to develop a level of mushin - focussing purely on my uke and the attack coming into me. The grading actually went very quickly to me as I concentrated on my uke, my posture, my atemis and my breathing.

Having studied Aiki-Jujutsu for just over two years now my perception of the art and my progress has changed several times. I now have a desire to perfect the kata, which is to my mind the essence of the art and epitomises the aesthetic nature of the art. The importance of internalizing the kata has begun to unfold as I progress as a senior kyu grade. There is a lot of satisfaction in exploring the 'street' application of the waza within the variations, testing the techniques in various contexts and situations you may find yourself outside the dojo. The knife-defence section of the curriculum adds a totally new dynamic to the training and to developing maai (martial distance) so important to the successful execution of waza. I am starting to learn the subtleties and implicit principles within both the kata and waza of maai and mushin, two important elements of the martial arts.

There will be many more nuances to discover, you never stop learning and there is always room for improvement. Every lesson brings great reward and each grading passed brings rich fulfilment that I am continuing to make progress. 2013 is going to be a big year for my Jujutsu journey as I approach ever nearer my dan grade.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

A Christian perspective on Budo

“Why did Ueshiba state that his Budo of Aiki, whilst not a religion, can lead religion to completion? Was it arrogant or simply pointing to a vital universal principle that enables the addressing of violence by converting it into harmony instead of contending?”

Do the martial arts have any place within modern Christianity?

“The addressing of violence by converting it into harmony” that is the way Aikido perceives its self and that is its purpose. Aikido, a Japanese martial art, influenced and moulded by Shinto pantheism, which seeks a peaceful resolution to violence through the blending of energy. Feudal Japan and Europe saw no dichotomy between faith and warrior-hood. Chivalry, a long forgotten and often neglected notion, was an expression of Christian ethics within the context of war. The ceremony of dubbing a knight was full of Christian ritualism. The ceremony was preceded by a Night Vigil; the squire would ceremonially bath as a symbol of purification for his service as a knight. He would then dress in a white vesture to symbolise purity. A sword and a shield were placed on the altar in the chapel, where the squire would pray silently for 10 hours. During the ceremony itself the squire swore an oath of Knighthood that included observing fasts and hearing Mass every day. The Knights duty was to defend the Church, his Lord and his country. Known as Budo (way of war) this concept also existed in Japan. However, unlike in Japan, where the way of the warrior retained its connection with faith and spirituality and still thrives today; Europe and the West severed its connection between the way of the warrior and the way of the Cross.

Christians still speak metaphorically of the ‘Christian soldier’, the ‘prayer warrior’ and of the Biblical analogy of the ‘Sword of the Spirit’. ‘Spiritual warfare’ has replaced actual warfare and while pacifism is regarded as one of the highest virtues amongst many Christians; Christians are nevertheless paradoxically encouraged to “fight the good fight” of faith. Modern Christianity has severed the mind-body connection so prevalent in Eastern martial arts but that also once was a fundamental part of the Judeo-Christian worldview.

Does Christianity need to readdress the balance?

Where did this dichotomy between mind and body come from? Does authentic Christianity really create such a dichotomy? Ancient Judaism held to a wholistic view of Man, rather than the dualism that most Christians practice today. The Shema, the central Prayer of Judaism, taken from Deuteronomy 6:4-5 states that the Lord God is one (whole, complete, perfect, lacking nothing and without deficiency). Man is to love the Lord with all our heart and soul and might (v5).  This trichotomy does not refer to three separate areas of the human being, but rather encompasses all that Man is. In other words Man is to love God with everything in His being. Our emotional centre is found in the heart (and occasionally in the abdomen) and our intellectual and rational centre is found in the mind (brain); each element of the soul is interconnected with and inseparable from the body. Instinct, love, wisdom and reason are all psychosomatic. When we are nervous or stressed (emotional states of being) it often has adverse effects on us physically, such as stomach cramps, vomiting and other bodily ailments. After exercise our brain releases endorphins that help us to de-stress and relax creating a sense of happiness (again an emotional state). Man is whole: body, soul, mind and heart.

The continuity between the ancient Jewish worldview and that of the early Church of the First Century can be seen in Jesus’ positive affirmation of Deuteronomy 6:4-5 as being the “greatest” of commandments (Matthew 22:36-38). The Church Jesus established through his twelve disciples believed and taught in resurrection not soul-body dualism such as found in classical Greek philosophy or Gnosticism. Christians must be wary when interpreting the Apostle Paul’s texts on ‘the flesh’, which refer to the carnal appetites of our bodies, warped by sin and not the inherent sinfulness or evil or the body. God created the material universe perfect before it was marred by Original Sin. Those that have studied Church history, know of the heresy of Marcionism, which believed the God of Judaism and the God of Christianity were two separate and distinct deities; the former being evil and thus by virtue of its source the entire created order and the latter being holy and good, bringing salvation and grace for the spirit and soul. Christianity must not succumb to a Marcion worldview, influenced by dualist notions of the dichotomy between body and soul and the inherent evil in the material world.

Is eschewing violence enough?

Is it really enough for Christianity to eschew violence? Campaigning to stop violence and appealing to reason and morality may reach the majority of society, who abhor violence in their own right; but for the lovers of violence - the hateful, the extremists, those intoxicated on drugs or alcohol and thereby without their full rational faculties, the message will fall on deaf ears and darkened hearts. Sin and the Devil mean that violence can never be totally eradicated from the earth. Yes occasionally God allows Christians to suffer in order for them to draw closer to God and experience even more intimacy with Him; but God’s Kingdom is to extend peace and justice, love and healing to the world. The Church is more than just a platform for gifted speakers to give eloquent sermons; it is the vehicle by which God builds His Kingdom. Jesus said his disciples were to be salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16), two catalytic properties. Christianity should be pro-active not reactive. Another example of this comes from Jesus’ parable of the Sheep and the Goats:

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.  And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,  I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:31-40)

Christianity is experiential as much as it is spiritual and moral. Our faith and morality should drive us to make positive changes in this world and to put into practice the principles of the Kingdom of God. Faith in action has always been at the very heart of God’s desire for His people (Deuteronomy 5:33, Joshua 22:5, 1 Samuel 15:22, James 1:26-27). Let us take the parable of the Good Samaritan:

“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he travelled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’ “Which of these three do you think was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him. Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” (Luke 10:30-37)

Jesus often spoke in parables to the people as was the rabbinical custom of his day. The purpose of the parable was to teach the expert in the law the true spirit of the command to love thy neighbour. The command to love thy neighbour was much broader than the strict Pharisaical interpretation applied to it in Jesus’ day. Neighbour, in this context meant not just fellow Jew but foreigner also, even extending as far as to your enemies as Samaritans were enemies of Jews. Such was Jesus’ high view of morality and the Torah.

If we were to apply the principle of this parable to self-defence, what would the Good Samaritan have done had he come across the man sooner, while he was being mugged? Would he have ignored the men and carried on walking, passively condoning this act of violence and theft? Would he have turned around and walked back the way he came in fear of the muggers? Or would he have selflessly intervened in order to defend and protect this innocent man? Of course this is complete conjecture, because Jesus chose to emphasize the compassion and mercy of the Samaritan in the parable; but from what we know of the character of the Samaritan from the parable, and the principle of the parable Jesus was trying to convey, I believe the Samaritan would have come to the man’s defence. Christians have a duty to protect the poor and the vulnerable of society. We are commanded to love our neighbour selflessly. I believe that in principle this could also include self-defence.

Is Budo incompatible with Christianity?

Come; let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the temple of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.” The law will go out from Zion, the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.(Isaiah 2:3-4 emphasis added)

The prophet Isaiah envisions a future where there will be an end of war. Rather than people forging weapons to kill one another, they develop tools for farming - a direct contrast between destruction and creation. Weapons kill life, agricultural tools are used to create and sustain life. This is God’s intention for humanity – that we should live in peace and harmony with one another as God as our Lord and Judge. The parallels here between Scripture and founder Morihei Ueshiba’s vision for Aikido are striking. Etymologically the two kanji characters for ‘bu’ mean “to stop” and “spear”. Thus budo can be interpreted as “the way to stop the spear”. So Ueshiba’s beliefs as to the true nature of budo are not just based on his spiritual beliefs but on a deep understanding of the nature of ancient warfare. So the true nature of budo is indeed close to the heart of God.

The martial arts are not just about learning how to fight or defend; they are about learning when to give life and demonstrate compassion. The goal of the martial artist is never to have to use their art at all but rather to cultivate the self in order to overcome aggression and to create peace wherever possible. The techniques developed are to be used responsibly for the self-protection of the person, when absolutely necessary; not to be abused with malevolent intentions. Jesus said, “blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.” (Matthew 5:9) When one is weak or vulnerable you cannot be a peacemaker, you do not have the ability, the means or the authority with which to maintain peace. You become a victim for the violent, wicked people with predatory mind-sets. To be a peacemaker is not synonymous with being pacifistic, it is being in a position to be able to make peace, reconciling differences, de-escalating hostility and where necessary being powerful enough not to be overcome by violence. Violence always seeks to take by force.
Let us look at one more objection to Christianity and the martial arts, Jesus teaching on living and dying by the sword:

And behold, one of those who were with Jesus stretched out his hand and drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?” (Matthew 26:51-54)

A few observations are necessary to understand this passage. Firstly, the disciple (identified in other Gospels as Peter) drew his own sword. If Jesus was so against weapons, why would he permit and tolerate one of his own disciples to carry one with him? Secondly, Jesus then appeals to his relationship to God whereby he could command twelve legions of angels to come to his defence if it was God’s will. Jesus’ teaching about perishing by the sword must be put into the context of Jesus’ crucifixion. Jesus says ‘how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled’? Jesus’ priority, Jesus’ mission was to die for the sins of the world. Many Jews in Israel at this time were eagerly expecting a warrior-king who would emancipate them, by force, from the occupation of the Roman Empire. The Jewish people wanted sovereignty and independence from foreign, idolatrous oppressors. 

However, Jesus’ earthly ministry was much larger in scope and purpose then Israel’s independence. Jesus had not come as a warrior-king, but as a humble teacher and saviour. Jesus had wrestled with God in the Garden of Gethsemane prior to his arrest, praying “not my will but yours by done”. Jesus knew God’s will was for him to give his life. Jesus’ admonishment of Peter was because Peter did not yet understand Jesus’ mission or his divine purpose. Jesus was no insurrectionist.  Jesus knew that all who took political power by force would inevitably be toppled by force themselves. If violence is a way of life then that way of life will eventually consume and destroy the person. Jesus was not prohibiting lawful self-defence using reasonable force. Eventually the Roman Empire would be converted to Christianity under Emperor Constantine, proof that Jesus’ teaching was correct. Violence is no way to gain power.

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Overcoming inferiority

As a member of a popular Aikido forum the issue of inferiority came up in one post. From this person's experience there were many Aikidoka who had an 'inferiority complex' about their art and were overly defensive about the true martial effectiveness of Aikido. To this matter I spoke from my own experience of having chosen Aiki-Jujutsu precisely because of its emphasis on yielding. However, it made me reflect on those times when I have doubted the art and felt the need to 'supplement' my training. I have even written about this before, explaining my plans to take up Karate as a second art. My feelings towards the need to take up a second art have changed quite considerably in the last couple of months. Long before this topic of inferiority arose I had wrestled with this very issue and had made my peace with the art of Jujutsu. 

As I enunciated in my very first blog, Jujutsu is the art of yielding. I was drawn to the art precisely because of my experience in Judo and wishing to seek a more authentic expression of the bujutsu of the Samurai. The nature and concept of the Japanese word 'Ju' fascinated and inspired me. If Judo was the "gentle way" then Jujutsu was the "gentle art" - in other words the art of yielding. By gentle it did not mean passive, placid or weak, anyone who has done Judo competitively or has seen it in the Olympics knows there is nothing weak about Judo. Rather gentle is a synonym for yield and the idea behind Judo is a way of cultivating a certain mindset and skillset that seeks to use an opponent's energy and momentum against them in order to ultimately defeat them. The purest Judo is when a throw is performed without any strength whatsoever, just pure momentum and bodyweight. Likewise Aiki-Jujutsu and Aikido are budo - ways of war. Both arts contain an internal philosophy that seeks a specific response to conflict and violence... namely, to resolve conflict humanely, not with opposing strength with strength but rather by blending with an attacker's energy. Again to yield. 

As I reflected on my decision to start Aiki-Jujutsu, I remembered that this was not just an art or a hobby I was undertaking, but a path. There are many 'ways' to defend yourself and there are hundreds of martial arts from around the world. I had chosen Jujutsu, this was not only my personal expression as a martial artist but my way or path too. Therefore I had to accept the consequences for my decision and either be at peace with it or foresake it altoghether. I can proudly and thankfully say that I wholeheartedly embraced the art of yeilding all over again. I have made my choice and I am at peace with it. I no longer have any inferiority to other arts hard style or otherwise. I am a Jujutsuka.

To those who may struggle with this issue of inferiority I would challenge you to ask yourself, "how do you wish to resolve conflict?"  This is a very important question that requires an honest answer if you are to find the right art for you. If the answer to this question is found in the art you are practising then be at peace with it and pursue it.

Friday, 24 August 2012

DVD review: Aikido to Jiu-Jitsu

Following on from my blog 'Compliancy breeds Complacency' I decided to invest in a dvd I recently discovered 'Aikido to Jiu-Jitsu'. The purpose of the dvd is to demonstrate how BJJ submission techniques as well as ground control through the guard and mount positions can be used as a defence against counters to Aikido techniques.

Six Aikido techniques are chosen along with corresponding BJJ techniques that form a logical progression from standing to ground. The Aikido techniques that are covered are:
1. Katate Tori Ikkyo
2. Katate Tori Nikyo
3. Katate Tori Sankyo
4. Katate Tori Shihonage
5. Katate Tori Kotegaeshi
6. Katate Tori Kaitennage

Each sequence of techniques is broken into four chapters labelled A-D - the Aikido technique (A), followed by its counter (B), followed by the BJJ technique/s (C) and lastly Aikido to BJJ demonstration (D). The sequences are put together to show a logical progression and highlight the principle of yielding that is at the heart of every form of Jujutsu whether Japanese or Brazilian. For example after Ikkyo has been countered (by rolling) the transition flows into controlling your opponent once more with your knee on their stomach, then from there into an arm bar, which if countered is then countered again by an omoplata shoulder lock (pictured).

The BJJ techniques used include arm lock, omoplata, rear naked choke, kimora, tri-pod leg sweep, foot lock and triangle choke as well as a few variations of chokes once you have control of your opponent's back. Every BJJ technique is demonstrated and explained by Gracie Barra 3rd Dan black belt and instructor Marcio Feitosa. Feitosa's demonstrations are clear and precise as he explains the mechanics of the technique step by step, as well as the reasoning for each component of the technique in order to secure the submission.

This dvd is a valuable learning resource for Aikidoka and Aiki-Jujutsuka alike. As our arts predominantly focus on incapacitating an attacker from standing it is useful to know how to transition into submission grappling if the technique failed and we found ourselves on the ground. Having been to a few ground fighting seminars I know that for these submission holds to become muscle memory they naturally require much practice. Cross-training in BJJ is a great idea if you have the time and money, however if not then trying to persuade your sensei to allow some time in your dojo to experiment with submission grappling or practising with friends is essential.

My only criticism of this dvd is that it is clearly aimed at cross-training for the Aikidoka rather than mutually between Aikidoka and BJJ practitioners. The Aikido techniques demonstrated by Derek Nakagawa (4th Dan) contain no instruction or explanation and so would be of little help to any BJJ practitioners. All the instruction comes from Feitosa making it a one-sided instructional dvd. This obviously is of great use to the Aikidoka but to the layman or BJJ practitioner watching this dvd it does make Aikido look quite weak. As each Aikido technique is countered without any explanation of how the technique is supposed to work it does leave gaps. Primarily, Aiki techniques work on the basis of off-balancing your opponent; once their posture is broken strength is negated and by creating circular motion it is harder to resist the technique. Failing to implement these principles the techniques can be resisted through strength or superior agility. 

Overall this dvd is of more value to the Aikidoka than BJJ practitioner but is a great instructional dvd with clearly defined and well demonstrated steps to submitting your opponent. At the end of the day the objective of all Jujutsu/Jiu-Jitsu is the compliancy of your opponent. Submission holds are designed to make your attacker submit (comply) or in extreme cases break limbs/choke unconscious. If wrist locks or throws don't produce compliance or are countered then the the Jujutsuka may need to resort to other submission holds found within the BJJ syllabus.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Application Aiki-Jujutsu

I want to address the subject of self-defence and how waza techniques performed in kata fashion translate into effective self-defence, hence why I have titled this blog 'Application Aiki-Jujutsu'. There is much tension within Aiki-Jujutsu (at least in my mind) as to the nature of the waza and the relationship between tori and uke and how one applies the techniques successfully in self-defence. Being a traditional art Aiki-Jujutsu contains three main categories of techniques within its syllabus: suware-waza (seated techniques) hantachi-waza (half-standing) and tachi-waza (standing). As the art has a long heritage dating back to the Samurai, many of the Samurai customs are preserved within its syllabus. For example, in historical context suware-waza makes much sense and the techniques would have been practical and effective when the Samurai were within the royal palace or castle of their lord and had to knee walk in every room. In the 21st Century the context of the Suware-waza is lost and therefore the techniques appear obsolete.

One can study Aiki-Jujutsu on one level purely as a practice in Japanese Samurai culture, from a historical point of view; or one can study Aiki-Jujutsu as a martial art for self-defence application. The former means one is simply free to learn the waza without any thought to application and thus their primary purpose or goal is the perfection of the waza as an art form. The latter requires both perfection of the waza and application to self-defence. The latter is a much harder route to take as there is no sport or contest within Aiki-Jujutsu.

However, from my experience and reflection there are two technical keys to effective application for self-defence: posture and atemi (strikes).

This panel of 4 images taken from Katsuyuki Kondo's Daito-Ryu Aiki-Jujutsu instructional DVD gives us a very clear example of the importance for any effective technique of posture and atemi. Without taking your opponent's posture first then your technique will become a contest of strength as they remain on balance and strong. Good aiki is always about taking posture before executing the technique. Sometimes taking posture comes from your attacker over-extending themselves and being off-balance before they make contact with you; other times taking posture comes through having quick reactions and reading your attacker's movement and intention. But there are times when opportunities to take posture will not present themselves openly and this is where atemi's come in. Occassionally (depending on the intensity and aggression of your attacker) a Mitsubushi strike will be enough, just a distraction to change your attacker's mindset and give you that window to take their posture. More commonly though for a violent confrontation a powerful atemi is necessary.

Within the dojo atemi's are never delivered with full force, but on the street it is critical that you perform atemi, whether it be to the body, legs or head with conviction and power. Atemi serves to 'soften' your attacker, to injure or hurt them giving you the space and time to execute the desired technique. Thinking you can perform a successful, kata style technique without using atemi is wishful thinking as your attacker may not telegraph their attack like the best-case scenarios practiced in the dojo. One must always be prepared for worst-case scenarios when dealing with self-defence. To give you an anecdote from my own training, I occassionally train with a women who used to do Kung-Fu. We sometimes playfully spar with one another and the thing that I am always amazed at is her speed. This is the advantage of striking arts, something I don't think Jujutsu practitioners fully appreciate. We talk alot about atemi but then because there is no contest our speed and reaction time is never truly developed like those who practice 'hard' styles such as Karate or Kick-Boxing. Speed is an essential attribute to the successful delivery of an atemi. One of the most important truths within self-defence is that reaction is always slower than action.

There is one last thing I think is fundamentally important to effective self-defence: visualization. Visualization is a recognized psychological tool for the success of athletes of all sports. Whether it is MMA, 100 metre sprint or Tennis visualization is incredibly important. It helps self-belief in your ability and technique and promotes confidence. A fanastic, if a little theatrical example of this is Robert Downey Jr's Sherlock Holmes (pictured) where he visualizes the sequence of moves and attacks he needs to make in order to beat his opponent. This may sound contradictory to the Japanese concept of Mushin (no-mindedness), but any contradiction is superficial. Visualization does not occur at the point of attack - there would be no time in order to react if you were so analytical - rather visualization happens within the dojo as you practice and assimilate the technique into your mind and muscle memory. Athletes do not visualize their victory during the game or race - they visualize it on the training ground and in the locker room.  Mushin comes into practice at the point of attack when you allow your muscle memory to perform the techniques and have absolute confidence in your own ability.

To conclude then, taking posture, using atemi (often in conjunction with one another) and visualization are the keys to unlocking effective and applied Aiki-Jujutsu for self-defence.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Compliancy breeds Complacency

How do you go from this...

To this...

The answer: In Aikido the compliancy of the uke brings false security in the techniques and breeds a mindset unable to cope with the full range of attacks found in combat situations. The Turkish Wrestler very easily took the Aikidoka to the ground and from there was able to submit him. The Aikidoka failed to adapt to the grappling strategy employed by the wrestler; had no defence against a take down and was disoriented on the ground. The Aikidoka stepped niavely towards the wrestler with his hands in the Chudan position despite the Turkish wrestler clarifying before the match that they were not going to strike just 'wrestle'. The wrestler employed a much lower stance, giving him the defensive option of sprawling to prevent a take down and an offensive option of lunging with his powerful leg muscles to go for a takedown. The Aikidoka absolutely failed to use his opponent's energy against him and could not redirect his attack.

Where does that leave the Aikidoka? If the philosophy of Aikido is to redirect the attack to restore harmony and yet it cannot successfully defend against attacks outside the Aikido syllabus then does that mean Aikido is redundant? On a purely ideological level then perhaps; but on a practical level it is not necessarily the case.

Contrast this Aikido trailer by Roy Dean to see how effective Aikido techniques can become once they are applied outside of the Aikido paradigm (37 sec, 56 sec onwards):

As a practitioner of Aiki-Jujutsu I appreciate that my art does not have the same philosophical framework as Aikido, but nevertheless it is an Aikibudo; one which must contend with the challenges of other styles and other arts just the same. When dealing with the reality of self-defence one must be pragmatic - the techniques have to work and the practitioner must be adaptable. If we are too rigid in our paradigms of what constitutes the 'art' then we become inflexible and ultimately complacent. A true martial artist must be able to apply Henka (variations) of the techniques to suit the specific situation and threat. This means in training we must challenge ourselves to experiment with techniques from different positions and practice with varying degrees of resistence.

Remember compliancy breeds complacency. 

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Bushido the way of self-perfection

Warning: this video contains adult language

Joe Rogan, UFC commentator and stand up Comedian, was awarded his black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu last month. This video of him receiving his belt and his acceptance speech gives great insight into the benefits of the martial arts and of Jiu-Jitsu in particular. 

The Martial Arts have always been used in Japan as a way of cultivating the self not just physically but spiritually also. Budo - the way of war and Bushido - the way of the warrior are two of the most powerful ideological concepts within Japanese martial arts. Aikido is perhaps the most famous Japanese art that seeks the perfection of the self through its waza (techniques) and philosophy. 

Many Japanese martial arts are humanitarian in their goals such as the traditional Jujutsu of Hakko-Ryu and Aikido, as well as Okinawan Karate. Ryu (pictured) from the popular Street Fighter computer game franchise is the personification of Bushido and one of the most iconic martial figures in pop culture. He is a humble and meek individual who is on a quest to become a better human being by becoming the world's greatest Street Fighter. Ryu travels the world entering into Street Fighter tournaments in order to hone his skills as a warrior and prevail victorious. While the fight takes place on an external level against an opponent, the real enemy is within. By training in the martial arts Ryu battles his inner demons, learning to conquer and master himself.

There are many who question (as I have done) the validity of arts that are overtly Budo in nature; they tend to be stylised and sometimes impractical or unrealistic for genuine combat or self-defence. However, such criticism (while legitimate to a certain extent) also needs to be balanced by the understanding that the majority of martial arts today are designed for civilian use and practice and that an individual should never take the Law into their own hands. What constitutes 'reasonable force' must be respected, when dealing with self-defence. I have been training in Aiki-Jujutsu now for nearly two years and, to my relief, have not had to use it in a real life street fight. I did not take up martial arts because my safety was in dire jeapordy or I faced an imminent threat of violence. Though the world feels like a more dangerous place sometimes, I am in the main safe. But what I have gained from my practice in Aiki-Jujutsu in terms of character has been so rewarding and worthwhile. 

Since passing my Brown Belt grading I have had a renewed vigour about my training and while Aiki-Jujutsu is not perfect, nevertheless my passion has been rekindled and my appreciation for what the art has given me has grown. Self-perfection is a noble and admirable goal of the martial arts and respect and care for others should be at the forefront of any martial artists motivation and action. Those who train regularly in traditional martial arts will have better awareness of potentially dangerous scenarios and environments, will have greater confidence to be able to look after themselves and have skills and experience that the general public will not possess, meaning that their ability to defend themselves and their chances of ensuring their own safety will be greater. All of those benefits though are actually of secondary importance to the pursuit of becoming a better human being. 

Learning to become a better human being and to master yourself is ultimately the greatest achievement and goal. Self-perfection may not be within our grasp humanly speaking but a desire to grow as an individual to be more respectful, modest, humble, confident, caring, compassionate and self-less is certainly worth putting in the effort for in the dojo. It is to these ends that I now primarily train, although that does not negate the need and the necessity to make the art 'work' on a practical and realistic level. I am constantly trying to internalize what I learn on a weekly basis if ever I needed to use it for self-protection in the real world and it is right that I do so. By internally assessing yourself you become aware of your weaknesses, where you are vulnerable and where you need to improve. Conversely, while these considerations are at the forefront of your mind you must also be willing to allow the techniques and waza/kata to change you and your perspective on yourself.

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Passing my grading and moving forward

So yesterday I passed my sankyu 3rd level brown belt grading. It was a very humid evening and the hall was stuffy. The humidity and the heat were a little oppressive and made gripping difficult as both mine and my uke's skin became slipperly with sweat. The waza section of the grading seemed to go on for hours as techniques were called out from the head Shihan which we performed and then repeated until he was happy to move on. I felt sorry for my uke as I performed Yoko Katata Osae Dori over and over again, a half-standing technique involving applying a painful wrist lock before throwing them to the ground. The standing waza felt similarly protracted and by the time we had finished I was feeling a little dejected at the thought of completing 50 more techniques for my variations.

Nevertheless I persevered as I went through each section of the variations starting with Hakko Dori (escape from an opening) through the Kotegaeshi and Shodan wrist locks and onto the Otoshi's (throws) and Nihonages (four-directional throws) before finishing with Ube Doris (finger locks) and shimites (strangles and constriction). As my uke withered under the intensity and heat I eased up on my atemis and tried to keep my finishes simple, something that frustrated me as I was torn between trying to look as good as possible and remaining in control of the techniques.

When I had completed all of the techniques needed for my grading I left the mat tired and disappointed. As there is no competition in Aiki-Jujutsu the grading is one of the most important ways in which to gain experience of reacting under pressure. The techniques are meant to be executed with skill and penache and your level of control - both over your uke and your emotions is meant to improve. From that perspective the grading was good experience; comparing how I composed myself compared to my blue belt grading I do think I have made progress - I was much calmer and the techniques came more easily to memory. It gives me encouragement that the techniques are beginning to set into my muscle memory and the many variations required come far more naturally to me now than when I first began training in them for my green belt a year ago.

I am happy in myself that I can see the progress I am making. My martial arts experience is far from complete but I am another step closer to achieving my goal of becoming a well-rounded and competent martial artist. The success I have enjoyed in Aiki-Jujutsu has given me the confidence and the passion to expand my horizons and seek to fulfil my potential in other arts, especially combat sports such as Judo or Karate. Together through the combination of traditional bujutsu/budos and combat sports I believe I will gain the skills, techniques and experience to be able to reasonably protect myself and grow as a human being, becoming more respectful, disciplined and compassionate.

Incidently passing my sankyu brown belt grading also gives me the right to wear the Hakama, which I have always seen as a symbol both of the art's heritage and of excellence. I am proud to be able to train in the Hakama, another connection to the Samurai roots of the art as well as an incentive to be worthy of the rank. I am a role model and example to the more junior students and therefore should embody and train to the standard of excellence that the Hakama represents.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

From Bujutsu to Budo a shift in perspective

It has occurred to me that all forms of Japanese Budos are actually derived from Bujutsu's. Take Judo and Aikido for example: Professor Jigoro Kano founder of Kodokan Judo developed the art from Jujutsu. An educationalist by profession, Professor Kano designed Judo to be practiced for the benefit of health and well being and became part of the Japanese physical education programme in schools; Judo also became the art of choice for the Tokyo police. Professor Kano removed some of the more lethal Jujutsu techniques in order for the art to be practiced vigorously but safely. Similarly Aikido founder Morihei Ueshiba developed his art by adapting the empty hand techniques of Aiki-Jujutsu and the weapons techniques of Kenjutsu and Bojutsu. Ueshiba, a religious man and devout follower of the Shinto cult of Omoto-Kyo believed fighting was out of harmony with the universe and designed Aikido as an art of peace not war. By blending their energy with that of their attacker, Aikido practitioners absorb and redirect an attacker's energy.

Conversely, in both cases Jigoro Kano and Morihei Ueshiba were both masters of Bujutsu. This may seem like an extremely unoriginal observation as these facts are general knowledge but I have been reflecting on the implications of this in my own Jujutsu journey. Before we learn to run we must first learn to walk. The ideals of defending oneself without seriously injuring your opponent are very noble and commendable but may not be of much practical value if one does not understand or is not capable of defeating an opponent. Judo has become an Olympic sport and Aikido a highly stylised art form that sometimes resembles a dance more than a fight. In the former case a Judoka wins by cleanly throwing their opponent upon their back (ippon) or by successfully pinning them for 25 seconds or by submitted them through arm bar or choke hold. However, although there is a great chance that if someone was thrown cleanly in the street they would suffer concussion and even broken ribs Judo is not practiced as self-defence and street fights do not end when one person is on their back (just look at the lack of success many high level Judokas have had in MMA). A strong willed or physically powerful person may continue to resist and fight back and that is if you can throw them in the first place without first being knocked out by punches or kicks. In the latter case Aikido waza (techniques) are practiced in choreographed form involving uke and tori. Uke simulates the attack and tori defends. These attacks are often derived from Kenjutsu sword cuts and the angles of deflection used in Aikido are based on those principles. In the street though attacks are not choreographed and the angles of attack will vary dramatically, especially since most people will not have a working knowledge of Kenjutsu.

This is not a criticism of Judo or Aikido, this is an honest observation of the limitations inherent in all martial arts. But I believe honesty is incredibly important in the development of one's own experience and study of the martial arts. One may be drawn to Aikido because its philosophy of peace is appealing to the person's sense of moral conscience but what type of Aikido are they practising? Do they train in Aikido with the perspective of self-defence or are they practising Aikido for much the same reason people practice Yoga or Tai Chi, as a form of physical and spiritual well being? One may win several Judo tournaments but do they know how to respond to an assault in the street against strikes or weapons? It has been said that modern Budos are civilian arts and traditional Bujutsu's are martial arts used by soldiers in battle. In that case then all martial arts today are actually Budo because they are taught to the public. But there is still a difference, however minimal between Budo and Bujutsu.

As I've said before I am on a journey of learning and discovery; my views and philosophy may change again in 6 months time, but I believe that Bujutsu is the natural starting point for the life and practice of any martial artist. Budos are not developed from other Budos. The stress and emphasis on the 'do' as in way of life can only truly come about after one has mastered Bujutsu first. It is through the process of learning how to practically defend yourself that you begin to assimilate the techniques not just into your muscle memory but into your world view. As you practice and perfect the techniques you start to understand how they would be applied in the real world and only then can you adapt the waza to suit the situation that arises. Morihei Ueshiba developed Ikkjo waza from first mastering Ikkajo waza of Daito-Ryu Aiki-Jujutsu. Appropriation is the natural result of mastering any waza. To be a martial artist is not just to mindlessly mimic the waza textbook fashion but rather to make the waza your own, as Roy Dean founder of Roy Dean BJJ Academy in Oregon America explains it is "your expression of the technique". Of course everyone begins by learning the waza textbook fashion because we all need a base upon which to build our house.

I want to be able to successfully defend myself if ever I was in danger. However I could go along to my club practice the waza in their traditional forms go home and be none the wiser about how to actually protect myself in the street. That is why when I train in the traditional waza forms I am actually doing two things: 1. practising the technique in order to perfect the waza in accordance with the grading syllabus and 2. striving to reach a point where I can recognise I don't need a choreographed attack in order to actually apply the waza but that I can adapt the waza where appropriate to the situation. Budo is point B and Bujutsu is point A. However, what many Budos do not teach is how you get from point A to point B. Without taking that journey yourself you will never have the same profound understanding of the waza as the founders themselves.

My goal is to one day make my Aiki-Jujutsu into a Budo, not by taking up Aikido or even by changing its name but simply by fully understanding the art, appropriating the waza and then being able to use the least amount of force necessary if I was attacked. To believe you can practice the 'soft' styles of Budos and then apply them dojo fashion in a real life confrontation is niave. Niavity is dangerous because you are deluding yourself under a false sense of security. I do not want to hurt or injure another human being; I take no pleasure from causing another human being pain, but if it came to it and I was violently assaulted in the street I want to be able to defend myself even if that means having to break their arm or choke them unconscious. Bujutsu is the starting point of every martial artist, even those that take up Budos because the level of comprehension, execution and grace that the masters of these arts have takes decades of practice to achieve. You do not need to practice a Budo to make something Budo. Every Bujutsu can be turned into a Budo by the practitioner who has enough experience, skill and intelligence to be able to make the art their own personal expression.

An example of what I mean can be found on Roy Dean's dvd the white belt bible and the last chapter 'a shift in perspective'. You can watch the chapter on youtube here:

Saturday, 14 April 2012

What is Aiki?

This week I have been working a lot on the importance of foot work to Aiki. Now I practice Dentokan Aiki Jujutsu, which as I have explained before is based on the Hakko Ryu system of Aiki Jujutsu in Japan. Ours is an Aiki art but it is also very much a Jujutsu art as well. I was fortunate to work one-to-one with one of my instructors this week and we focussed, amongst other things, on the importance of foot work in applying Aiki. It can be generally argued as Dentokan Aiki Jujutsu is a Jutsu art that it would fall under the category of Japanese Bujutsu, meaning art or science of war. Generally speaking these arts place less emphasis on the ‘philosophy’ of the art, and focus more on the effectiveness of the techniques in combat. On a very simplistic level it could be said that Aiki-Jujutsu is Aikido without the philosophical connotations. Does then that change the nature of our use of Aiki as compared to Aikido? I have always understood Aiki to simply be the application of off-balancing your opponent as they attack. Indeed this is precisely the use of Aiki as found in Daito-Ryu Aiki Jujutsu, the predecessor to both Hakko Ryu Jujutsu and Aikido and a true Koryu (ancient art) of Japan.

In Daito-Ryu Aiki Jujutsu Aiki is the off-balancing of your attacker as they enter for an attack. Examples given included Tachiai Ippondori and Shihonage. Both of these techniques have their equivalents in Dentokan Aiki Jujutsu. Here Tachiai Ippondori relates to Uchi Komi Dori and Shihonage is the same. Let’s take Tachiai Ippondori (Uchi Komi Dori) – here the uke (attacker) raises their arm in an overhead strike, simulating a sword cut. At the moment the uke raises their arms over their head the tori makes the block with two straight arms before the uke has a chance to strike, thus breaking their posture. It is an extremely simple principle but it makes an enormous amount of difference compared to the straight forward Jujutsu version where the block is executed after the uke has made the strike. In the Jujutsu version the attacker is on posture when the technique is executed and is therefore much stronger. In the example of Shihonage the uke grabs the tori’s wrist with the intention of preventing them from drawing their sword. Here the tori leads the uke off-balance at the point of entry - the tori moves their hand back just as the uke is coming to grab making them over extend their reach just slightly, breaking their balance. Rather than the uke being static and contact being made before the technique is executed, in Aiki Jujutsu the hand is drawn back just before contact thus making the uke over extend their reach breaking their balance.

In both of these examples there is no mystical energy force being summoned just extremely precise reactions designed to break the person’s balance at the moment of attack. Once a person’s balance is taken their strength is negated. This does relate to energy, insofar as it is blending to a degree with the attacker’s energy, but blending is an expression of yielding the very principle at the heart of Jujutsu. Therefore Aiki is a natural extension of Jujutsu. From my experience of Dentokan Aiki Jujutsu and my study of Aiki as practised in Daito-Ryu Aiki Jujutsu, Aiki is a science, the science of taking posture in correlation to the successful execution of Jujutsu techniques. In this respect techniques using Aiki have the potential to be very powerful and effective and far more likely to be successful. However, developing the sharpness of perception and precision reaction times in order to off-balance your attacker at the moment of attack takes many, many hours of practice. This is the irony of the criticisms levelled at Aiki arts for being unrealistic for self-defence. It may require years of training but once you are able to off-balance your opponent at the moment of attack the likelihood of successfully defending yourself dramatically increases.