A month of seminars, a handful of principles

My series of seminars in Europe was once again an opportunity to try to present a rich and rather different work from what is usually done in most dojos. As I explained several times during these courses, my teaching is divided into three, more or less equally important, parts. Two of them are widely taught in every dojo of Nihon Tai Jitsu, the first one much more rarely for what I see. Note that if these parts are “equal” in terms of teaching time in our dojo, they are not in my personal practice since the first part must represent roughly 80% of my practice.

What are these three parts? Forging the body, learning traditional techniques and free.

Forging the body is the basis of our training at the Seishin Tanren dojo and I consider it necessary to be able to perform the techniques properly without using unnecessary force. And these two elements together are what allows an adept to reach freedom. Forging is the basis in my opinion, simply because it seems very optimistic to me to try to control the body of a non-complacent person without managing to handle our own first.

In the forging of the body, I consider three main elements:

  • The type of body we are looking for (neutral, heavy / light, connected / dissociated, elastic, mobile, etc.) knowing that it is possible to use them together or in succession depending on the situation
  • How to move, starting with walking, but also including ukemi
  • The work on intention, whether we talk about removing the force at the point of contact or of more “mental” things such as perceiving intention or projecting our own

This is a rather complex topic and clearly not one we can fully go around in just a few hours, which means that I obviously can not go into the details of all parts at every seminar. For some I focus on the most basic elements such as the neutral body (the neutral point before we start moving) and the heavy body (which allows to transmit the force of gravity and which therefore requires a higher level of relaxation, starting with the joints), for others I go into more advanced details of how to connect the different parts of the body, and in rarer cases I get into the more advanced things that do require more advanced conditioning.

Moving properly to remove tension

Moving properly and removing tension in the body is a first step. If we consider that martial arts were designed so that weaker people can face stronger people, it makes little sense that in most of the dojos the techniques need to rely on strength or on the good will of the partner … Just as I find it incoherent to warm up doing push ups while explaining to the students that the proposed practice will allow them to shoot down an opponent that is physically much stronger. If the idea is to face someone stronger physically, potentially armed, and who takes us by surprise, being able to respond with the simple use of muscular force seems rather optimistic.

My understanding is that you need something more. An ability for example to transmit a force much greater than your actual weight or your muscular strength. Or on the contrary an ability to totally remove force so as not to be perceptible. If my practice is more oriented towards the first than towards the second option, I do not think that one of the two options is better than the other.

Kuzushi at the moment of contact

For the same reasons I believe that Kuzushi must take place at the moment of contact, because I believe this moment to be critical. A survival situation is different from what happens in a movie and a fight will not have the opportunity to drag on. A good reason to get it to end very quickly in our favor.

Physically and mentally, I have a taste for the concept of Irimi. Physically by going deep into the distance of the partner, most often by sliding on him. Mentally, by overwhelming the opponent via this entry. In both cases, the opponent must be taken from the very beginning and that’s why I reject as much as possible entries that consist of going out three kilometers away from the opponent and then come back to finish the technique. Going far away from the opponent is most often an opportunity for him to continue his attack.

Kuzushi is also for me something to separate from the “pain”. Strong locks that hurt can be fun up to a point, and they do have a self-fulfillment effect, but I am more and more convinced that having to rely on pain is the sign of a limited practice. If pain can sometimes be a bonus, I do not believe it to be a goal, or even a means. On the contrary, I think this is the best way to stay at the lowest level of practice.

Understanding the essence of Kata

If I do not teach kata and basic techniques in seminar, considering that it is the job of the regional / national technical directors, I often make reference to them because a large part of my practice consists in dissecting these basics again and again and seek to find more meaning in them every day. In particular, I strongly believe that a kata or a technique that does not have any particular meaning has nothing to do in a basic curriculum, and that there must be something to find in there by digging a little.

When I refer to these techniques, I show what for me makes the essence of movement. Whether it is a body or strategic principle, stating that the “usual form” of the kata is a gateway and that when you learn you simply open the door. But it is up to the practitioner to get in and explore what is behind that door.