Summer Training Epiphanies


Posted by admin | Posted in Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu, Mental | Posted on 15-11-2010

Overall, with all aspects of life thrown in, this year has been a difficult year for me.  Way too much stress, way too many things going on.

However, looking at individual components, some areas of life this year do shine in such a way that has kept the year a good one.  Specifically, my martial arts training, and the epiphanies I had during the summer.

I’m not the smartest guy around, so I like to keep things simple.  As such, in my martial arts training, I try to simplify concepts, usually to something in the Tenchijin, but sometimes, at the risk of oversimplification, even beyond.

The first epiphany was a statement that one of the instructors made during the first Colorado regional training.  There was a great turnout, and several new faces were introduced.  During the regional training, one of the instructors said that every ninjutsu “move” could be divided into three distinct stages:

1.       Protect your centerline

2.       Take the opponent’s balance.

3.       Tenderize as desired.

Pretty simple.  Now when I look at any technique, I “judge” it by this new standard.  If a “move” takes too much time, it’s because it doesn’t follow these parts.  From what I’ve learned in my short three years, ninjutsu is not about “sticking around,” it’s about “going home.”  The longer one sticks around, the lower the chances of getting home.  Epiphany!

This epiphany eventually led to the next one:  The purpose of the kihon happo.  Over the years, I’ve seen “lists” of the techniques considered “kihon happo.”  Some lists are more inclusive than others, and I never understood the reasons, nor had I received a satisfactory explanation of the differences.  However, everyone agreed that the kihon happo is important, and rightly so.

But what is it for?  Well, when I intersected the kihon happo with the three stages of a technique, it became obvious to me—perhaps incorrectly, but it has so far helped me immensely—that the kihon happo fit nicely into the second stage, “take the opponent’s balance.”  That was it!  If instead of looking at the individual techniques within the kihon happo individually, I look at them as basic techniques for taking the opponent’s balance, the kihon happo takes on a completely new meaning (for me.)  Now, I don’t see Omote Gyaku as a brutal technique to potentially break a wrist; I use it to take the opponent’s balance.  (I can always use it again in stage 3.)  I began testing the techniques in the kihon happo, but with a different focus, and this is what I found:

There are three techniques that have exactly the same effect on the opponent’s shoulder (and thus the spine.)  These are:

  • Omote Gyaku
  • Oni Kudaki
  • Musha Dori

These techniques all have the effect of seemingly “opening” up the opponent.  (If you look at the opponent when these techniques are applied to them, their spine ends up nearly in the same position.)  I have come to refer to these three techniques as the “omotes” in the kihon happo.  (These terms are for my edification only, and are not “official” terms by any means…)

Three other techniques also have the same effect on the opponent:

  • Ura Gyaku
  • Muso Dori
  • Ganseki Nage

These techniques all have the effect of rolling the opponents shoulder forward and “closing” the opponent.  I refer to these techniques as the “uras” of the kihon happo.  (Again, for my edification only…)

Additionally, when you look at the above six techniques from the perspective of locations on the body, they only “touch” three distinct points in the opponent’s arm:

  • Wrist
  • Elbow
  • Shoulder

Processing and working with these concepts over the summer, I came up with the very basic chart:




Omote Gyaku

Ura Gyaku


Oni Kudaki

Muso Dori


Musha Dori

Ganseki Nage

The above chart—which should only be construed as a personal training tool—hopefully illustrates just how basic the techniques in the kihon happo are.  They weren’t just randomly chosen.  Yes, individually, they are all powerful techniques, but within the kihon happo, they just may be potentially grouped for a reason, which at my point in my training, seem to be to take the opponent’s balance.  The fact that the kihon happo is found in the Ten Ryaku no Maku—and that taking balance is the second stage of a technique—lends credence to this, in my humble opinion.

But that still leaves three kamae in the kihon happo:

  • Ichimonji no kamae
  • Jumonji no kamae
  • Hicho no kamae

Of all the available kamae, the inclusion of this subset into the kihon happo must have some significance beyond the basic definition of “kamae.”  In the spirit of simplicity, if the previous six techniques in the kihon happo can be taken into the context of taking the opponent’s balance, then it is possible that the inclusion of the three kamae into the kihon happo is to provoke the study of how to use these specific kamae to take the opponent’s balance, essentially progressing the idea of kamae from a “static” idea to a dynamic one.

So over the summer, the kihon happo—in my limited understanding—evolved from a “list of basics” to a grouping of basic concepts, most of which I have been able to glean a rudimentary understanding from.  Epiphany!

However, I must admit that during the three years that the kihon happo has been taught to me, I always struggled with hicho no kamae.

Why is this strange-looking kamae in the kihon happo?  Who would stand in that way?  I admit that I have always looked at hicho no kamae as the red-headed stepchild of kamae.  I also got the impression that I wasn’t alone.  (I also apologize to any red-headed stepchildren that may be reading this post for the comparison.)

When taught to me by several instructors, the “definition” of hicho no kamae seemed to focus on the “lifted” leg, the “kicking” leg.  However, during the last seminar of the summer, the instructor made a comment about having 100% body weight on a single leg.  That single statement shifted my definition—and opinion—of hicho no kamae!  Epiphany!

Once I started analyzing how often I spend with most of my body weight resting on a single leg, I realized the importance of hicho no kamae.  The focus of hicho no kamae is not about the kicking leg, it is about the “back” leg; the ability to kick with the other leg is evident, since most kicks have to be supported by placing most of the body weight onto a single leg.  When looking at hicho no kamae in diagrams, attention is always drawn to the position of the kicking leg because of it irregular position.  What is not as intuitive is that the only way to position the kicking leg is by placing 100% of body weight onto the supporting leg.

How often do we find ourselves resting on a single leg?  Reflect upon waiting in line at Starbucks, or ordering drinks at a bar.  We spend the majority of our time on a single leg.  Hicho no kamae may just be the natural position we find ourselves in the majority of the time!  That alone would justify its inclusion as a “basic.”  Based on how often we are in it, hicho no kamae may just be the most important kamae to learn!

Despite all of the other stress points that have weighed heavily upon me this year, these epiphanies I have fortunately experienced have helped make this year an absolutely positive one.

Upon further reflection, the source of each of these epiphanies—even though ultimately I’m certain they all funnel up to a single source—came from different instructors.  I have discovered how important it is to obtain different perspectives on the same subjects.  We don’t grow by following a single perspective without question; it is important to gather a broad source of perspectives so we can integrate with our experiences and develop our own perspective.  Therefore, I now strongly believe that although it is important to have a consistent single source of instruction, it is equally important to find alternate sources of perspectives to help us triangulate the concepts we are working on.  Those alternate perspective sources come to us in the forms of seminars.  Epiphany!