July 31, 2010

That thing, on the ground, with the bo … that was cool

A mighty thank you to everyone who came out last weekend for our workshop and birthday thingamabob - so much fun. At the bar afterward, there was cake. And thunder! Then more cake.

A prospective student once told me rather than show up regularly, he'd spent his money on training DVDs to ‘get him into shape,’ so he ‘wouldn’t hold any of us back.’ I wished him luck and never saw him again – for some, owning information is so seductive, it becomes more powerful than the ability to utilize it.

There is an undercurrent of collection in the Bujinkan – for techniques, densho, kata, whatever – because we enjoy these aspects, respect them, and fully expect their knowledge to assist us in understanding this confounding physical philosophy.

But like ethics, “doing is what counts,” and this is no less true when it comes to our own ability. If our label is ‘Master Shootist,’ and we know stances, grips, draws, and ballistics, we can be sure at some point we’ll be measured by how well we pull the trigger and hit the target. For our friend, once he had watched all the techniques, he’d satisfied his curiosity and there was no reason to train – he already knew everything.

How do we know if a reliance on form has not superseded our ability to break and apply its principles to the actualness of the moment? How do we know if our ability is real and not virtual?

The workshop was hard, I admit it, but it raised this question. Practicing kata and techniques are known outcomes – a kind of programming that is different from sheer application. But at the workshop, we took movements with known outcomes and branched off into creative directions without knowing where we’d wind up, yet still shaped the space to our advantage. That was the point - gaining advantage no matter where or how we started or where or how we wound up.

Facts are inconvenient, so is reality. If our ability is hamstrung when applied to reality, we’ve a major problem. So, questions remain. Application is an unknown quality involving spontaneous creativity – the most difficult aspect of training - and reconciles the mechanical with the natural state. But it begs the question: what is the natural state?

We’ve many ways to describe this state, but little definition to give us actionable intel. Yes, the principles are distance, balance, and timing. Yes, Taijutsu is based on escape. Yes, we use the kukan as a shield to control the opponent. But there is something more, a truth from which all of these modifiers flow; a Rosetta stone that deciphers the parameters of what exactly Taijutsu must be if it is to exist.

When an architect designs a building, they can pull from their wildest imagination, with twisted schemes and broken thoughts. But if they intend to render it in the real world, they have to adjust it, apply it to reality. Though their shape, size, height, and usage may be different, all buildings – every one - share at least one thing in common, a fundamental, foundational rule that all buildings must abide by if they intend to sustain their existence: buildings don’t fall down.

Gravity exerts a force so powerful, every building must be built to defy its effects. At the very least, equal pressure is necessary to equal the force gravity pulls on it so it can stay upright and useful.

Like gravity, there is a force that pulls on Taijutsu with the strength to make it fall. And we must invariably defy its effects with at least equal pressure if not more. If we know how to define that force, we will understand how to naturally make the transition and reconcile our movement from the known to the unknown.

In training, we can design from our wildest imaginations and practice a variety of kata straight from the densho. But reliance on programmed movement is just that. At some point, we have to render it in reality, putting it into the kukan against an honest opponent, under given circumstances. The question is what foundational rule must Taijutsu abide by – above all others - to sustain its very existence?

July 10, 2010

Taijutsu Workshop and Birthday Thingamabob

On Saturday, July 24th, 2010, I'll host a Taijutsu workshop from 1-5pm, at the Alfred Campanelli YMCA, at 300 West Wise Road, in Schaumburg, IL. The focus will be igniting the 'Taijutsu Triangle' (see my recent KOSSHI post: The Taijutsu Triangle ) and how to make sure all three principles of Taijutsu are in play.

Last Friday night we did some hard training and found out just how difficult this aspect really seems to be. So, the workshop will involve a lot of maneuvering, trial and error, and we'll also drop weapons into the mix, so make sure to bring your gear. By the end, I hope you come away with a real sense between 'practicing' to make Taijutsu and making and preserving it. Should be good fun. The cost will be $40.00.

After training I'd like to invite everyone for a 'Birthday Thingamabob' (an annual event we seem to do every July). We'll head over to 'Fox and Hound,' just down the road from the YMCA, grab a bite, have a few drinks, and share some laughs (probably at my expense).

And who knows, maybe we'll even get to watch "9 Deaths of the Ninja." Best Ninja movie. Ever. Ever.


July 3, 2010

The Taijutsu Triangle

James, how do I get better at Taijutsu?

That’s easy. Just do Taijutsu.

Yeah, great. Is that like ‘keep going?’ Can you be a little more specific?

Let Taijutsu happen.

Wow. That’s makes it all better. Now, I understand. Wait, no I don’t. I’m already training Taijutsu.

Are you? Ask yourself if you’re actually getting Taijutsu, or just practicing to get Taijutsu. There’s a difference.

A diff-? What? Did anybody ever tell you, you stink?
Okay, so the conversation wasn’t just like that, but close. Last weekend, we covered a bunch of topics from our recent Japan trip, had some great training, and laughed a lot, like when I sat on Jeff’s face. Sorry, Jeff. 

Many folks do have trouble with Taijutsu and are not altogether sure why. They wind up attributing it to all kinds of reasons – the position is off, they can’t get the leverage, the moon in not conjuncting with Uranus or squaring with Pluto, whatever. The bottom line is the principles of Taijutsu are not being activated at once.

Training Taijutsu is a lot like firestarting. There is a concept called the Fire Triangle; it’s a basic idea – fire needs three things: oxygen, fuel, and heat. Combine these proportionally for the circumstances and – boom goes the dynamite – we get fire. Taijutsu is no different. Combine the three principles of Taijutsu – position, leverage, and initiative (distance, balance, timing) – proportionally for the circumstances and we can create its elemental reaction.

But folks having trouble wind up using just one or two of the principles – usually position and leverage – but not initiative. Like heat, initiative, is the igniter of Taijutsu and burns its way through fuel (leverage) in direct relation to the amount of oxygen (position). If just one side of the triangle is not present in necessary amount, we may get smoke, but no fire. No combustion.

Too often I see folks practicing the skills sets of Taijutsu, rather than combining the principles to create it. The failing I witness most often is lack of space, literally room to maneuver. But this is not an issue of position, or leverage, or lack of proper technique. It is a problem of initiative - they run out of time. Less time = less space. More time = more space.
Fire, like Taijutsu, is a life-preserving survival need. We must know how it’s made, but we must also know how to use it to keep us warm (give us security), cook our food (provide us nourishment), and light our way (show us the right direction). But there is one more thing we can do with fire more important than both making and using, allowing us to be just one step from fire’s creation and its life-giving usefulness: Preserving it.

Early man would have used such ‘technology’ as the Long Match, a tube of wood fibers surrounded by bark to contain a burning coal. According to Tom Brown, outdoorsman extraordinaire, the long match will protect the coal as it smolders for hours, or days even. To light a new fire, the coal is simply dropped into a tinder bundle. In 2010, our long matches are called Bic lighters, but you get the point.

Life is too precious to have to make fire from scratch whenever we need it. It’s too difficult and unpredictable to bet one’s and loved one’s lives on technique. Many folks are so caught up in the skills to make Taijutsu, they may overlook its usefulness, let alone preservation. If we cannot ignite Taijutsu at the ‘time’ we need to use it - when we need it - but instead must build it from scratch each and every time for different situations, circumstances are likely to overtake us.

Who would choose to sacrifice effectiveness and functionality for acquiescence to form when life is on the line? This is crucial, because the truth is … life is already on the line, just like it has been since the dawn of time. We may have ipads and Yahoo! accounts, Ferraris and instant ramen now, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t all still trying to survive in a cruel world.

Make Taijutsu. Use it. Preserve and protect it.