Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu: An Overview Preface: This article is mainly intended for people with little or no experience of Budo Taijutsu aside from internet discussion boards and Youtube. I have been practicing BJK(Bujinkan) for around 6-7 years, though due to having to travel outside my home state, my face to face instruction probably amounts to less than 1, so for the purposes of judging the merit of this article, consider me a 2nd year student. Make no mistake, I don’t “speak for the BJK”, I’ve never been to Japan, everything included in this overview is based on my own personal experiences, and my own conclusions drawn from them. I do not purport to be an authority on the BJK, it’s efficacy, or martial arts in general for that matter, but I hope these musings help to give you a decent idea of some key elements to understanding it. Ukemi: As I understand it, “Ukemi” translates to “receiving body”. In the BJK, and I’m sure in other arts as well, this isn’t confined to simply falling well or rolling, but to every aspect of receiving with the goal of avoiding injury. By this definition, even the act of compensation for the pain of a certain lock or technique by complying, or the body’s natural recoiling from the impact of strikes can be considered ukemi. Becoming skilled in ukemi is, IMO, the most important step towards progressing in this art. Many techniques are frustratingly difficult to get an accurate sense of without experiencing them performed as they’re meant to be. Kamae: I’ve heard it translated as “Stance”, “Attitude”, “Posture”, etc. but I would put it somewhere between “Stance” and “State of Being”. I find the other definitions too restrictive for our purposes. For the most part you’ll find it used in reference to one’s physical structure, but emotional state or fighting spirit or whatever you care to call it plays an important part. The reason I hesitate to use the term “stance” is mainly because the word itself has the connotation of being “stationary/at rest”, whereas kamae, by their very nature, are transitory. Through the act of practicing standing in kamae, they become ingrained to the point that your body begins to use them as a sort of “default framework” for moving around in the “workspace” for lack of a better term. The idea being that by the process of transitioning along kamae, you will naturally find yourself in a better position not only to avoid your opponent connecting with strikes/taking your balance, but to also apply techniques/take balance/etc... There are quite a few situations/techniques where you’ll find that success or failure depends solely on good, strong kamae. Kihon Happo: On the surface, the Kihon Happo(Fundamental Eight Strategies(?)) is a set of kata that comprise a wide range of different strikes, locks, throws, entry methods, and escapes. Once you can get to the point that you don’t have to think through and examine your position in order to perform the prescribed movements however, even more lessons begin to emerge. You’ll commonly see Kihon Happo translated as “Basic Eight”, but I don’t really feel that “basic” is an adequate word to describe it. Sanshin no Kata: If the Kihon Happo make up the bones of Budo Taijutsu, the Sanshin no Kata is the muscle, sinew, and organs. Like the Kihon, it is layered with lessons, most of which I find more geared to strategic concepts rather than techniques per se. Concepts include taking of space/balance, managing distance, economy of motion/force, Kata: Partnered kata is the norm as stand up grappling is a big part of the curriculum. Unlike many gendai arts, who’s drills and exercises work hard to mirror combat as closely as they can from early on, the kata of the BJK are simplified, almost abstract exercises intended to build attributes like balance, dexterity. strong kamae, and good ukemi. The kata are also the means by which most people practice. That is to say; if you visit your average martial arts school, you’ll probably see people doing 20-50 reps of punches, kicks, etc. whereas, in the BJK, this is much less common. There’s really so much to work on in an hour and a half/two hours that most of class time will be spent playing with these lessons. It is expected that people should do repetitious practice at home. Henka: Henka would be a variation on a particular kata. Either a variation that you notice through practice and explore, or as a result of tori changing his/her reaction to the response. Hatsumi Soke is quoted as saying “For each of the Kihon Happo, one should practice eight variations. And of those eight variations, practice eight more”, well maybe that’s the gist of it, anyway. Practicing to change and adapt in the moment is a big part of BJK training. Training: As I touched on above, the abstract and simplified nature of the kata isn’t an accident. The kata of the BJK aren’t “fight scenarios”, I mean they kind of are, in the same way that passing drills count as “basketball”. What they are are a collection of lessons that have been given an arbitrary framework so as to have an excuse to practice techniques/concepts/etc… I personally don’t consider the BJK to be a “fighting system” so much as a “fighting education system”. Honestly, training doesn’t even begin until you’ve internalized a good portion of these lessons. The Lunge Punch: Fudoken tsuki. This technique is really not viable in it’s basic form normally seen in kata practice. It’s a long walk to the target and telegraphs like a billboard, but it could almost be thought of as a kata of it’s own. Through practicing low, strong kamae, good, smooth transition, and sincere attacks, uke gets as much if not more out of the exchange on conditioning alone. As you progress and your taijutsu improves, fudoken tsuki can pop out of nowhere, and if your kamae, timing, and spacing are right it feels like being hit with a log. Shinken Gata: This is what would be considered a “real life” interpretation of the internalized lessons of the kata. What people nowadays refer to as “alive”. Shu Ha Ri: Simply put, Shu would be the kata stage. The hours spent internalizing the lessons in the kata give way to the Ha stage. This is where actual training begins to take place. When you see clips on the internet, most of these people have yet to make it to this point, or have just arrived. Ri is the point beyond practice and training. I’ve heard it refered to as trancendence. I read somewhere Hatsumi Soke describing this process as being similar to a shuttle launch in that, the early stages, like the empty fuel tanks, become a hindrance to progression, so they’re discarded. The Feeling: You will find numerous references to this throughout the BJK. I’m currently not experienced enough to really know whether this references the way that a particular techniques feels, or feels when performed a certain way, or performed in the style of a certain school, or all of the above. I am however certain, that it’s not a reference to an emotion(unless we’re talking about fear), or some silly esoteric sounding hogwash. It’s something pointless to try to describe in print and difficult to see on video. Hence why it’s called……the feeling. Ninja: When I began with the BJK, I wanted to learn Ninjutsu, i.e. stealth and concealment, acrobatics, ninja stars, oh my. These things are in the curriculum and used to be taught openly, but if you; 1. Don’t live in Japan, 2. Aren’t breaking into 15th century Japanese architecture, or 3. Don’t work as a Special Forces operative, then these teachings are either irrelevant and better learned from modern specialists, or do a lot more harm than good. What I found instead was the most comprehensive approach to learning martial arts I’ve ever seen. What little I’ve learned from the Togakure Ryu, I didn’t find terribly impressive, but they make sense for the context, i.e breaking free from captors, etc. People like Antony Cummins will say things like; “My girlfriend read the Shoninki to me so ninja didn’t have fighting techniques”, but were all certainly aware that ninja were known for employing unconventional weaponry, so it stands to reason that there would be techniques specialized to those unconventional weapons. Togakure Ryu: I don’t have any concrete measure as to the legitimacy of this school. I’m not an historian/researcher, but I don’t question it’s validity when compared to every other so called Ninja school(i.e. Choson, Dux, Tew, Kim, Hoshino, etc…), and I’ll tell you why. When Togakure Ryu material comes up, I have yet to see anything that reminds me of the Hollywood, flipping through the air, jumping spin-kick your face off that so many of these “schools” seem to base their techniques from. Here’s a good rule of thumb, if the techniques your doing would be really awkward and taxing in the Dungeon’s & Dragons equivalent of studded leather armor(I’m just relating to the reader here now :whistle, then it probably doesn’t come from the Warring States Period. I was going to cover a few more internet specific things, but I’m out of steam. Helpful/Hurtful critiques are always welcome…. I stand-by to be burned at the altar, or at the very least to be told to back away from my keyboard.