January 23, 2014


Years ago, I met and trained with a high-level Kung Fu expert, who trained around the world. This guy had it all worked out - every kind of attack had its particular defense. For a straight punch, you do this ... when this happens, that. Everything balanced out like some crazy Algebraic expression. His martial art was boxed, compartmentalized, "curriculurized," and "syllabized." I remember thinking how tiresome and confusing his training must have been.

Questions will always surround training because methodologies and pedagogies are indicative of core values. As I've stated, everyone has their own reasons for training, emanating from their own sense of these values.

Close. What I really need is a gun
that shoots machetes.
Part of our martial training is being able to adapt to circumstances, but since we have no clue what exactly those circumstances might actually be, we have to rely on history and current events to tell us what has happened, presently happening, as well as our own educated guesses. But all this belies the point - the variable will always be change itself.

So it stands to reason that the real world (and training) requires us to respond by “generality,” not “specificity.” Specific techniques we may have intuited through memorized and repeated reenactments - oftentimes speaking to the "preservation" of martial art - may have instilled those performances into our reactive movements, but not provided us with the perception of spontaneous adaptability crucial to the actuality of their use. In other words, “performing” kata is not the same as applying its underlying principles – the stuff that makes kata relevant (and I would argue “viable”) in the first place.

When Soke says there is no "specialization" in the Bujinkan, I take him literally - I don’t think he means just weapons, but everything, including tactics and strategies. For example, if we set out to learn the Japanese sword, that’s different than being able with any kind of sword or blade. The only way I know how to accomplish this broad ability is to track the universal principles and, by them, apply the details of specific techniques in proportion to the circumstances.

We actually do this in our everyday lives. If you’ve ever ridden different sized or types of bikes, driven different vehicles, used somebody else's tools, supplies, or shot somebody else's weapons, you’ve probably done just what I’m writing of. You tapped into your core understanding and applied a universal set of principles to specific and possibly unfamiliar techniques and mechanics. It's actually a simple process, but in martial arts, extraordinarily important.

I don't believe in any singular “right” way to do any technique in Taijutsu. There are “common” ways to gain fundamental feeling and exposure to certain movements as well as habitually better ways to accomplish and apply those techniques as they are needed based on one’s ability to create alignment under the circumstances.

Haters gonna hate.
When we want to know the “way” to do some technique, we should first ask, “what’s the context?” Under what conditions, scenario, or circumstances do we wish to use it? If we’re a painter looking to paint an image of a tree, the optimal question is “What is the context we want to place that tree in?” We all know what a tree looks like, but our image changes if it’s Fall or Winter. When the context changes, so does the application of technique. Are we shielding ourselves or escaping, protecting others or defending them? Or are we attacking an imminent attacker? 

This is partly why Taijutsu is inscrutable. The “no specialization” aspect of training creates an anonymity in movement because the universality of Taijutsu doesn’t look like anything specific. Taijutsu is and should be a variable itself. The definition of a variable is to be subject to change or variation. In other words, it changes as it needs to or when it deems it is worthwhile. 

The difference in context makes the difference with how we are going to apply our understanding of technique. This highlights the gap between performing knowledge and applying it prudentially as wisdom. 


Bryan said...

But what about a slingshot that fires chainsaws???

Chad said...

Excellent post, Sensei. I couldn't agree more.

The rifle-bow is obviously fiction, but even the link that Bryan referred to above makes another important and related point: just because you CAN do something, doesn't mean you SHOULD do it.