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.