Kuzushi – A figure 8 question

Bertrand Russell once said, “Mathematics is the subject in which we never know what we are talking about nor whether what we say is true.
During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, mathematical problems were discussed in societies and solutions were almost formulated according to religious beliefs and axioms. Mathematicians from this period assumed that axioms are true without being able to prove them. In certain societies, mathematics were an intellectual game to show superiority to ordinary people.

Some martial arts are also based upon religious or mystical beliefs. Some are invented as an intellectual tangle that needed a certain belief of unproven facts about our origin of life.
Basically, there’s nothing wrong with those axioms as long as they don’t stop you from being creative.

Follow the rules, but don’t let the rules controlling you

Breaking the balance, upsetting the balance or kuzushi is a concept that should follow certain rules. If the concept turns into an intellectual game, the application is not always useful in training or randori. Sometimes people adapt to the circumstances of randori in favor of the intellectual ideas. Basically, it is cheating by creating an illusion of effectiveness based on an intellectual tangle that is useless in a confrontation with someone who does not follow the rules.

Kuzushi

The noun comes from the transitive verb kuzusu (崩す), meaning to level, pull down, destroy or demolish. As such, it refers to not just an unbalancing, but the process of putting an opponent to a position, where stability, and hence the ability to regain uncompromised balance for attacking, is destroyed.

Wikipedia

There are many examples to explain the skill of balance breaking – kuzushi. A famous picture used by Kodokan Judo explaining “minimum effort, maximum efficiency”.
A body out of balance can be easily manipulated.

Cardinal and inter-cardinal directions

Cardinal directions are an interesting concept because practically every culture on Earth has independently used them or something analogous to them, from Chinese ancient cultures to European and Arabic cultures, to Aboriginal Australia….

Cardinal directions are a concept that can be used strategically in martial arts to define the direction we move during footwork or when we use power.
The four cardinal directions are merely labels used to describe the specific directions of force and movement. The 4 directions are complemented by intersectional directions.
Tomiki Aikido or Shodokan Aïkido, both as a symbol using cardinal directions.

Origin of the Nihon Aikido Association symbol

“Ten no Maki” (Book of the Heaven) of the Kitoryu jujitsu says: “Being upright is the yang form, being prone is the yin form. Win by the yang, win by the yin. The feeble seizes the strong, the flexibility seizes the stiffness.”

Being upright stands for power of fire, being prone stands for power of water. The sun is the source of the energies, while water has no form or intent, and obliges the environment. At the same time its might excels that of anything. It enhances growth of all entities, and does not try to gain position higher than its place.
Such are the might as the ultimate morality. Thus the saying goes “superior virtue is like the water”.
The symbol is composed of the function of water and fire, and the whitenis signifies the infinite space.

The Cardinal Directions concept is often compared to an eight point compass with the cardinal directions and the inter-cardinal directions called “corners”.

To make it simple, when we mention Cardinal Directions, the corners are included.

Kuzushi and the Cardinal Directions

Kuzushi is part of the training and the structured process is required to explain the technical details and applications. But sometimes people are too focused on the structured method and forget what kuzushi is all about: preparing for other applications.
Kodokan Judo uses a cardinal direction structure to explain Kuzushi.

Probably one of the most famous pictures on kuzushi. It is used to give a visual idea about kuzushi in Kodokan Judo.

A website for traditonal aikido transformed the Kodokan Judo Kuzushi in an Aikido related kind of kuzushi.

The 8 positions of the elbow

The structure of the cardinal directions of Tomiki Aikido related to the position of the elbow.

Tegatana, a tool for kuzushi

Some historical facts on kuzushi in Tomiki’s Aikido
In about 1958, students practiced mainly the unsoku, tandoku undo, yonhon no kuzushi (chudan and gedan). In around 1960, the roppon no kuzushi/6-hon no kuzushi were created (jodan, chudan and gedan). In the mid-sixties, Koryu no kata was created. There are 6 koryu no kata and especially number 4 is focused on the use of tegatana as a tool for kuzushi.

The JAA (Japan Aikido Association) published in 2009 “Competitive Aikido” an introduction to practices leading from kata to randori.
Kuzushi is explained with the principles of the sword (tegatana dosa).


Main idea of kuzushi is focusing on position of opponent’s elbow – up or down.

On mobility and stability

Mobility -Mobility allows a person to move with no restrictions. It can often be confused with flexibility, but flexibility does not always mean good mobility. Although the person has good flexibility, they may not have the force, coordination or balance to perform the required movement.

Stability – Mobility is linked to motion, while stability is linked to control. Stability may be defined as the ability to remain in control.

We need these two skills to carry out our movements effectively. And as with most skills, we need continuous training to keep our mind and body in the optimal state of mobility with high stability.
Using the mind in your workout, the body will benefit much more than just training on autopilot. Of course, there must be harmony between mind and body and the ability of “stillness” is necessary.

What is “Stillness”?

An absence of motion or sound. That’s what you’ll find if you do a quick search on the Internet. Of course, it goes much further, but in case of martial art practice the concept of “mushin mugamae” comes forward.

“Stillness in Motion” & “Motion in Stillness”

There are 2 kinds of motion:

  • Internal movement – movement centralized around the center of the body
  • External movement – movement expressed by arms or legs

Both movement work together to create whole body movement.

Seichusen or the central human pilar
The concept of “Stillness in Motion” and “Motion in Stillness” means that while the mind is calm, necessary actions are already in motion. This can be demonstrated as an expanding circle, the center of the circle does not move, it only turns. The training partner will move around. The radius of the circle can expand if necessary.

The mind is a crucial factor in the training. If you are angry, your body will show your mind. If your mind cannot let go your anger or frustration, your body will tense up. By releasing all those mental movements, your mind comes into a state of “stillness” or “mushin”.

Mushin Mugamae – your posture reflects your mind
Mushin mugamae is already often discussed in this blog, but without this concept “Stillness in Motion” and “Motion in Stilness” is not possible.

How to gain the skill of Mushin?

I only can speak for myself, ritsuzen is a very effective exercise to create the idea of “stillness” in your mind. During ritsuzen I notice a lot of movements in the body as long I am an observer. The moment that my ego takes over, the feeling of the internal movements will disappear.
Ritsuzen is not a simple exercise and the result comes only after several months of regular exercise.

If you enter the “mushin mugamae” state, your response time becomes much shorter and this is of course beneficial to create “kuzushi.

Kuzushi, the time factor

Kenji Tomiki wrote….

When the equilibrium of the body is lost, the time when the center of gravity is lost is shorter than the time required for the peripheral sensory organ to communicate the loss of the body equilibrium to the nerve center and the latter to order the foot muscles through the foot nerve to put the foot forward; for instance, when the body inclines forward and falls forward because a sudden force is applied from the back, giving the person no time to put the foot forward.

Kuzushi is closely linked with the concept of “Sen” or the timing to move when the opponent decides to make an offensive move. Sen is an extremely complex concept and skill and is built on “Hyoshi”.
Musashi Miyamota wrote about the concept of “hyoshi”. This concept is also discussed many times, but I highly recommend to read “Ma, movement without moving“.

Kenji Tomiki’s time lapse

Benjamin Libet states in his book, “Mind Time: The Temporal Factor in Consciousness (Perspectives in Cognitive Neuroscience),” that it takes 0.5 seconds for the mind to recognise what has occurred.

To create this time lapse, you have fundamentally some options:

  • You wait for the opponent’s attack, use a go-no-sen action and your opponent will be turned back on himself and his attack will suddenly stop.
  • You attack the opponent with a sen-no-sen action, opponent’s reaction depends on his status of allertness. If opponent lost his allertnes you can proceed.

If you create a situation where you can enter into the unconscious mind, your opponent will be turned back on himself and gives you the possibility to control the furhter actions of opponent. Once your pre-0.5 seconds unconscious mind is controlled, you cannot break free from that condition. Usually, after 0.5 seconds, both you and your opponent are in the conscious world, and because such pre-conscious control will not work, it will become a simple exchange of power and technique.

Kuzushi – using mind and body

Using the mind is easy, because we have learned how to use the mind. Unfortunately, our ego is in most cases the driving force behind our movements. When the mind acts as an observer, our subconscious with our stored motion capabilities will take over as a leader.

As Kenji Tomiki has already said, there is a certain lapse of time in the mind and the body of the opponent when you control the body of the opponent through a kuzushi skill. This period of time is very small and you should apply waza coming from the subconscious mind. Don’t let the ego interfere with your actions, you’re always going to be late.

If you focus too much on the 8 methods, you are not allowing the subconscious mind take the right action. If the conscious mind act as an encyclopedia, most of your actions will be readed by the opponent.

Beyond fundamental movements

The wrist grip by the training partner is a “starter” to study the possibilities of kuzushi. Most of these basic forms follow a pre-defined scheme.

As said before, follow the rules, but don’t let the rules controlling you.

When your training partner hold the arms in the chudan position, it is easy to grasp according the “kata method”

When your training partner hold the arm higher, you have to adapt the method of grasping. This is different from the kata method.

Follow the rules, but don’t let the rules controlling you

This simple example can be considered an understanding of the rules and how they should be used.

Basically, kuzushi is a skill at controlling the power of an adversary using certain rules. These rules are explained in a situation that is easily understood in a lot of kata. It is the practitioner’s responsibility to know how these rules or katas can be used in a combat or randori environment.

Some training advice

“One of the most important aspects in the practice of any Budo art is the repetition of techniques or combinations. But, these should not be done just anyhow. Thus, when someone often repeats a certain technique or movement, for example, 500, 1000, or 10,000 repetitions of Tsuki (direct blow of the fist), he must look inward and perceive his sensations, because there is no surely had only two or three of the Tsuki which were correct (speed, power, location), in other words effective. And only those two or three repetitions are important, those are the only ones that we have to remember. To do this, you have to be very receptive and feel the moment when the movement has been done well, look within and register this feeling with the mind and body. Then you have to ask yourself: why at this time did I do it better than the other times? It is the leap from quantitative (quantity) to qualitative (quality). This is what is really important in the learning process: how to move from one level to another. The next time you practice this technique or another, you must try to remember these sensations so that these techniques can be performed successively with this sensation. In this way, in perhaps only one hundred repetitions, you will manage to achieve two or three. Thus, you move faster and faster and you can extend the correct and good feelings to a greater number of techniques. This is one of the keys to moving forward. It is not enough to carry out for 30, 40, or 50 years always the same movement, thousands of repetitions without perceiving or without realizing what is happening in our body, without improving the quality of our techniques, and without trusting exclusively in the repetitions. That’s not enough, you have to find out what was the correct technique, what you feel, and work with that feeling.”

– Taiji Kase – Shotokan Karate

Published by

Eddy Wolput

A passion for Martial Arts since 1964

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