How does live training work in koryu?

Discussion in 'Koryu Bujutsu' started by Archibald, Jan 30, 2014.

  1. Archibald

    Archibald A little koala

    Hi everyone,

    as the title suggests I'm interested in learning about how live training is conducted in koryu bujutsu schools, in particular the unarmed arts.

    I ask because from what I've seen demonstrated the context for the kata always seems to be an all out assault that comes out of nowhere - the hands always seem to be down, the posture held naturally and the attack performed with all out intent - I see it as blitzkrieg training, while competitive cousin arts like Judo are more trench warfare, begin-from-a-stalemate training.

    So my question is, when it's time to really test these techniques, do the participants get told to act in a certain way? To adopt a particular mindset, like just try and wipe the other guy out and to hell with what he attempts to counter with?

    It always seems to me that if you trained these sorts of contexts and told the participants to act alive and resist etc, they will just start competing with each other. Like, if I KNOW you're going to try and counter my hammerfist with a neck drop, it's easy for me to rig my attack so that you fail every time, because I can pre-empt you.

    Sure the other guy can change fluidly to a new technique if he's on the ball, but if I force him to do that every time we're not really practicing the kata we were meant to, are we?

    So is there a mindset that has to be adopted in order to keep the alive training in the right context? Have I even understood the context for which koryu systems train?

    Is there even a difference in contexts between competitive arts like Judo and non-competitive ones like the koryu Ju Jutsu styles?

    If any koryu practitioner - or anyone who wants to add their two cents for that matter - could weigh in on this I would really appreciate it :]


    P.S sorry for the slightly messy post, I'm using a brand new laptop the keyboard of which is in Japanese, I'm having a hard time bending it to my will!
  2. Christianson

    Christianson Valued Member

    Kata are a bit of a weird beast from any Renaissance-derived perspective. The whole concept isn't specific to martial arts; it's a general Neo-Confucian pedagogical approach. There's a decent introduction here. Basically, they're conceived as a sort of perfect ideal, a distillation of some basic principle into a physical (and to some extent mental) form that you're then intended to repeat, over and over again, until the principle is driven through unconscious processes into your bones. Then at some point, when you've fully mastered the principles of the kata on conscious and unconscious levels, you should be able to manifest the basic principles appropriately in any situation. What they aren't and aren't intended to be is a reconstruction of an actual fight.

    To make it work, both sides have to be committed to that ideal. So, in your example, you can't rig that hammerfist: to be a proper kata, you need to be delivering that attack as if you really meant it. However, generally speaking, anything between that hammerfist and the counter landing is fair game. The idea being that, given that the initial attack was done correctly, if you execute the counter correctly the attacker shouldn't be able to counter it; if you can break the counter, then it's because it wasn't done correctly.

    There's been more than a bit written on this, more than I can remember where I read them at the moment. ;) There are two essays I can find online, one by Nishioka Tsuneo of Shinto Muso-ryu talking about the role of uchidachi and ****achi, and one by William Bodiford of Kashima-Shinryu in which he discusses the transmission of concepts and techniques via kata.

    The more I stare at this in post preview mode, the less certain I am that it is an answer to your actual question! Hopefully it helps, though.
  3. Dean Winchester

    Dean Winchester Valued Member

    Nicely put together post either way.

    Welcome. :)
  4. Archibald

    Archibald A little koala

    Ugh, I wrote out a really long reply and then my computer lost it....

    Thanks for the response Christianson, it was very informative, as were the essays. It definitely answered some of my questions - particularly on how the liveness level is controlled, the key to which seems to be that uchidachi is a senior and hence knows what the kata is meant to be about.

    However that's also raised a few more questions :p

    If I may, I'll talk in terms of Ju Jutsu or it's equivalent, as I don't know enough about weapon arts.

    If the kata are just packages of lessons - distance, timing, opportunity etc - does that mean the techniques themselves are mere expressions of principles?* Or are the techniques themselves meant to actually be viable in real combat?

    If they are, how are they manifested in randori, for those koryu that do that type of training? It has always seemed to me that the techniques in koryu ju jutsu - and gendai ju jutsu, such as Judo's early goshin jutsu stuff - would only work in a situation where the shidachi is taking uchidachi by surprise and hence attacking with complete abandon, not probing in and watching for a potential counter.

    This goes back to what I was asking about context, and it was the postures that made me think of it {hands down, alert but relaxed}.

    When uchidachi attacks with intent and purpose, is he thinking 'I'm going to smack this guy upside the hard as hard and fast as I can, quickly, before he sees that I'm up to no good'?

    Or is he thinking 'I'm going to try and hit this guy hard, but I better be careful and watch out for a counter attack'?

    Those two attitudes can change the nature of the engagement pretty drastically, and I've always felt like you'd have to train them differently - the second attitude really fosters a 'competing' manner of training, something that was touched on in the first essay as a bad thing.

    Am I still missing the point?

    Thanks for bearing with me guys :}

    *this is how I interpret Aikido, when it's trained properly - learning principles, not actual fighting technique
    Last edited: Jan 31, 2014
  5. Christianson

    Christianson Valued Member

    I don't think you can draw a sharp distinction between kata-as-priniciple and kata-as-combat-viable. There are certainly kata that are definitely primarily intended for illustration of principle, and it would require incredible skill and luck to pull off in a fight; but more of them, I think, begin with a combat-appropriate technique which illustrates a principle well, and then is shorn of as much "extraneous" material as possible.

    When you're trying to make sense of koryu jujutsu, one thing you have to keep in mind is that they work on the assumption that everyone involved is armed. That's probably the root of the "sudden death" tendency you're wondering about: techniques are aimed either at incapacitating your opponent before he can get a weapon out, or breaking free of a technique before you yourself are incapacitated and freeing up the space in which to draw your weapon. One side or the other probably has surprise, because otherwise, why don't both sides have weapons out? (Meik Skoss has written a good article that covers this aspect of jujutsu.)

    If you take out that context and switch to more of an emphasis on free practice, then I'd say what you have is quite literally judo, and you can look at the history of judo to see how the techniques would evolve.

    I can't speak for the mindset of uchidachi in general, but in the context of my own school, as uchidachi there isn't a single approach. Depending on the technique, I might be required to approach cautiously, or suicidally; to try to ambush or to be bold and up front. I know from experience on all three sides that the differences can be hard to spot as an outside observer, but ****achi is generally quite aware of it. The other thing, too, is that when performing the techniques in public, you very rarely see the case where ****achi performs the initial entry so badly that uchidachi would need to perform a different technique entirely, and so either stops and restarts or (sometimes) just responds appropriately.
  6. Archibald

    Archibald A little koala

    Hey man that really helped me to understand, thanks so much for taking the time to write such a comprehensive answer :)

    The idea of people being armed really made it all click for me. And I too was thinking that if everyone behaved cautiously, you would end up with basically Judo, so it was heartening to see you think so too.

    Out of curiosity, which style do you study?

    Thanks again, you're a champ
    Last edited: Jan 31, 2014
  7. Christianson

    Christianson Valued Member

    I'm sorry, I wasn't very clear. I do not mean to say that I think judo is cautious jujutsu. What I'm trying to say is that the process by which judo became a distinct entity involved both rigorous testing of koryu jujutsu kata via randori, and an updating for a new cultural context in which it was unlikely that either opponent would be armed. So if you want to predict what would happen to a koryu jujutsu school if you de-emphasised kata and did not worry about weapons, you should definitely start with the history of judo as a real-life experiment in that process.

    The complication is that judo has never been a static entity. From everything I have heard, from judoka and historians, there are huge differences between, say, early Kodokan judo and modern Olympic judo. I'm not an expert on judo, so I wouldn't care to speculate what decisions, experiences and pressures led to the greater apparent caution in judo that you're commenting on, or when those changes came about (or even if they're real!).

    Thank you for reminding me, I have updated my profile. :)
  8. Dean Winchester

    Dean Winchester Valued Member


    This place needs more koryu blood, there's only a handful of us.
  9. Archibald

    Archibald A little koala

    It's not so much that I see Judo as cautious Ju jutsu, it's more about the way when I do Judo, I know for sure that the other guy knows for sure that I will try to throw him - all the chips are down, so to speak. And I'm not saying Judo is not "realistic" or whatever - it is, and it's awesome - but that knowledge of what my opponent will try does change the way it pans out......I've never been in a real scrap that kicked off the same way a Judo match kicks off.

    The Ju Jutsu style I do is in fact very close to early Kodokan Judo - my instructors father learnt it in Indonesia in the 1920's, likely it was an off shoot of Kano's system, despite a confusing name (tsutsumi hozan ryu....most certainly NOT the koryu, hence a lot of can find it on the internet if you can be bothered) - and it does feel like a fleshed out version of Judo's kime no kata and goshin jutsu kata.

    But even in those kata, despite it being Judo, the attacks are still performed with a particular attitude, the same attitude I perceive in koryu ju jutsu techniques. That's how we train "live" - with uke trying to overwhelm and surprise you with whatever attack it may be - and the stuff does indeed work. However very often uke's will begin to 'compete' with tori, because they know exactly what to expect, and thus the technique or kata is brought out of contextand the effectiveness highly reduced.

    I'm well aware that settling into a 'contest' can and indeed does happen in real fights, which is why I started's the same techniques, just trained for a different context.

    So is this phenomenon occur in koryu? Do student's forget that they're trying to beat shidachi before he pulls his swordout? Do they naturally 'slip' into competing? Or does the senior/junior system prevent that?

    Thanks for the discussion guys, nice to get some life on the koryu page right? :p
  10. Archibald

    Archibald A little koala

    Oh and Kashima shin ryu = awesome, highly enjoy watching embu of this school :)
  11. Christianson

    Christianson Valued Member

    It can happen. A related, more serious problem is when uchitachi, usually unconsciously, defeats himself in order to avoid the oncoming pain ("I didn't even touch him and he flew across the room!"). Just as with any other form of practice in any realm of endeavour, you need to be constantly introspective and ruthless in making sure that you are doing the training correctly: "only perfect practice makes perfect."

    In my experience, though, problems crop up much less when the uchidachi is considerably senior. "Beating" a junior ****achi, unless intended to illustrate a new principle or shortcoming in technique, shouldn't be much of an accomplishment (and is closer to bullying than not), so there isn't a lot of drive to do so. Similarly, the more experience uchitachi possesses, the more they've been conditioned to deliver the correct attack, and the further they can push while being confident they will not be injured.
  12. Archibald

    Archibald A little koala

    And with that post you have officially answered all of my questions :)

    Thanks again.

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