Training in Ninjutsu must extend beyond the dojo and into the real world if we are to truly embody the principles of the warrior.
While there are authentic Ninjutsu groups all over the world, some find it difficult to train regularly with a group. For these people, solo-training becomes even more important.Here are some suggestions on how you can improve your solo-training.
Everyone should have their own practice area. This may mean setting aside a room in the house for training, equipping it with a punching bag, floor mat, and other modern appliances. It may mean going outside and working in the wooded dojo, practicing strikes against straw-padded trees, and rolling on the natural ground.
Practice walking. Examine yourself as you walk. You should always be moving naturally, gliding over any terrain. If you find yourself bobbing up and down as you walk or tripping constantly, or bumping into things, examine why this is happening and work to correct it. Perhaps you are bent over when you walk. Don't look at the ground, look ahead. Allow your feet to have eyes.
An exercise that I've found effective is to climb up and down stairs without glancing down at my feet. Make a conscious effort to avoid watching your feet. Examine how other people walk and figure out where they are off-balance or weak. Notice how some people stomp around like elephants. Study all these things and work to move naturally and with balance.
If you go out of your way to make everyday experiences a part of the training, you'll find your Taijutsu is getting better as well.
David Lyle has trained in the Bujinkan Ninjutsu system since 1985. He currently trains with the Washington D.C. group. He receives email at firstname.lastname@example.org where he runs a computer bbs.
In response to one of the reader's questions about home training, I would like to offer the same advice that I give my regular students. I have been training myself for the last three years, my only training under other instructors is done in Japan and at seminars I attend around the country. This method of training is important later on in a Ninpo Taijutsu student's career, at first though there must be many years of training under a knowledgeable instructor's tutelage. During that time these are the excercises I think are important...
Jeff Mueller is the Head Instructor at the Bujinkan Musha no Tomodachi Dojo in Bowie, Maryland. He has been training in Ninpo Taijutsu since 1988 and has traveled to Japan to train with Hatsumi Sensei and the other Shihan.
The Importance of Taihenjutsu
In Taijutsu, unarmed combat, there are three main elements:
A) Dakentaijutsu - Striking and kicking.
All three put together make the unarmed combat system an effective one. No one component can be discarded. Taihenjutsu, the art of falling correctly, rolling and leaping out of danger, should therefore not be overlooked.
At first one must learn how to properly perform ukemi (rolls, leaps and breakfalls) on soft surfaces such as mats. Once this is done we must take our training one step further, out of the training hall and away from the mats. The likelihood of a mattress being present during a real fight isn't high so we must practice doing Ukemi in various places such as on the floor, out on the street , etc... Beginners should start off slowly, moving to harder and less-forgiving terrain as their skill level grows.
In addition to just practicing ukemi, we must also use practical applications of Taihenjutsu. We must practice rolling and leaping against various forms of attacks, such as rolling away from a sword blow or dodging a kick by leaping. Doing the ukemi alone is not enough so we must train to continue from there. Practice attacking after ukemi is done and also practice defending from continuing attacks once your ukemi has cleared you from the first attack.
Another area which must be practiced is using Taihenjutsu skills to get out of various holds or locks the assailant may have on us. Again this must be practiced because if done incorrectly it can lead to unwanted results such as injury. For example if your opponent does "URA GYAKU" to you and you attempt to roll out of it and do it incorrectly you may asist in breaking your own arm.
Finally, here are three tips to make your rolls better:
Alon Adika has been practicing ninjutsu since 1987. He lives in Jerusalem, Israel and may be contacted at email@example.com
Generating Effective Kicks on Uneven Terrain
At the dojo, we train to produce power in an efficient and effective manner. Rather than relying on any singular limb, the emphasis in taijutsu is on body dynamic, or using the entire body to generate the results desired. Over time, our body actions and movements become ingrained in our "muscle memory". This internalization of movement is what leads to the ease and naturalness of movement in our taijutsu.
Most of us train inside in a dojo, or perhaps in a room at the YMCA. These locations have set, unchanging characteristics which are useful to beginners learning the art. Balance, timing, and distancing can all be learned without worrying about uneven terrain, bad weather, slippery surfaces, or possible hazards, such as broken glass or wild animals. However, in order to be more efficient and realistic in our taijutsu, we must also practice outside - in the real world. Doing this helps prepare your body to behave naturally outdoors, as well as indoors. Awareness skills are called into action, as well as technique. Now you have to worry about rocks, cars, broken glass, ice, etc. And if your technique or kamae isn't solid at this time, trying to move will be difficult and you will have to re-evaluate yourself. Perhaps you have some bad habits that you've gotten away with while training at the dojo, i.e. not tucking enough for a forward shoulder roll. Training outside will make you aware of the "cheating" that you have been doing. Furthermore, over time, this kind of training will also become ingrained in muscle memory, leading to a naturalness and poise in your body regardless of the terrain or situation.
Kicking is difficult when your footing is less than secure. Perhaps it's icy or wet out and you can't rely on foot traction on the ground to keep your leg from slipping. Or perhaps you're on uneven terrain, where there are loose rocks and soil. Learning to kick effectively in these situations requires an evaluation of the body dynamics that are called into play each time you kick.
In all kicking scenarios, your body should be relaxed enough to move around and adapt to any changes that occur in the fight. If your body is stiff, then you will be constantly fighting yourself for balance or trying to force yourself to adapt to new positions or to move in a different direction. Next, your hips should be low over your bent knees. Remember to keep your feet beneath your hips-not in front or behind. You should feel stable and supported in this position. If you don't, practice it and work on developing strength in your legs. Move from the hips and make sure that your feet are under you. If your feet go too far forward or behind, you will lose your balance and slip or fall. Lastly, be sure that your entire body is going into the kick. Don't rely solely on the leg for strength and power. A good analogy for this is the difference between something being hit by a 30 pound ball (just the leg) or a 180 pound ball (an average man's body weight).
Once you have the general mechanics of kicking down, take it outside. Find a dead tree or stump (don't kick live trees, they don't like it) and practice kicking it. Remember to bend the knee of the support leg for the kick or you will kick yourself off the tree. Practice moving in kamae forwards and backwards across a hill and throw kick in every other step. Are you falling backwards? Are you falling forward? Check your hip position, your hips and your knees. Constantly monitor and adjust what your body for the situation. Get a partner and practice kicking drills against a shield or target while outside. Check your awareness. Check your posture. You may find that a low kick will work more effectively than a high one or that by adjusting your angle "just so" you can generate a better kick.
Train in all types of weather - not just nice spring days. Train in the cold. See what it feels like to move around with a coat. Kicking with a coat on may be more difficult than you expected. Practice kicking in your work clothes. You may need to kick in your suit one day. Train on icy or slick ground. For this, I suggest that you have a friend present to help you in case you fall. Be prudent. Do not endanger yourself unnecessary. By the same token, don't play it safe all the time. Use your best judgment when it comes to your health and your skill level. Ask yourself, "Can I do this without getting really hurt?"
Lastly, one final suggestion that I have for those who train in a dojo with tile or slick floors. Train in socks, or cotton-sole tabi, if you can find them. Don't be discouraged if you slide around for the first few weeks. Your taijutsu will improve, as will your balance. Trust me.
Liz maryland is the editor of this newsletter. She trains under Jean-Pierre Seibel at New York Budo and may be contacted via E-mail: Ashidome@aol.com.