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.


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.


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

Practical Mushin Mugamae

Mushin Mugamae, a magical phrase used by Kenji Tomiki to highlight the essence of martial arts. He used martial arts as a vehicle to understand the man behind Kenji Tomiki and invited us to do the same, as a passionate person for martial arts.
However, Mushin mugamae means nothing if we forget our deepest feelings. Those deeper feelings are all about “sensitiveness”. Without “sensitivity” our life becomes boring and you will not get any “Kokoro”. The idea of “Kokoro” translates better like our “heart”, not the physical but the emotional heart. If the emotional heart becomes active, our sensitivity goes up and we are fully aware of the world in which we live.

Mushin mugamae and Kokoro are very practical skills and can only be used when implemented in our training.

Someone asked: “I have heard that Taiji Boxing comes from Daoism. The principles of Daoism emphasize non-competition. As Laozi said [Daodejing, chapter 8]: ‘If you do not compete, you will not lose.’ But boxing arts are all about fighting against people. If we say “don’t fight”, doesn’t that contradict what boxing arts are for?”
  I replied that this is indeed the unique characteristic of Taiji Boxing. It says in the Treatise: “The basic of basics is to forget about your plans and simply respond to the opponent. We often make the mistake of ignoring what is right in front of us in favor of something that has nothing to do with our immediate circumstances.” This is a fundamental Taiji Boxing principle, to let go of your own ego and pay full attention to what the opponent is doing. If you can let go of yourself and follow the opponent, does this does not conform to the concept of non-competing?

by Shi Diaomei
[published in Taiwan by the 華新印書館有限公司 Huaxin Publishing Company, June, 1959]

Mushin Mugamae

In the quote above, there is a remarkable sentence: “The basic of basics is to forget about your plans and simply respond to the opponent”.
In my opinion this reflects in simple words the idea of Mushin Mugamae. Theoretically spoken, this is a concept which can be understood easily on an intellectual level. But practically, this is a completely other story.

Action with a “Mushin Mugamae” attitude

Sometimes the perception of Mushin Mugamae is about “no action”, “motionless”. Actually, there can be much action by applying Mushin Mugamae. When our sensitivity is active, we can move without intent to control and/or harm the opponent. That doesn’t mean we don’t have control over the opponent’s actions. The no-intention, action is not recognised as aggressive by the opponent. The skill of “Sen” or ” taking the initiative” are the result of of no-intention in action.
There are plenty of ways to show “no intention”. The following is a non-exclusive list.

Touching the opponent

When you make physical contact with the opponent, you only have ” the intention” to touch. No other thoughts are in your mind. In this case, the opponent is not offended by your action.
Touching is like using a feather to touch the opponent without power. The structure of the feather is not disturbed.

Moving with the opponent

After touching the opponent, we can move with him without using power. Our mind has no intention to change something in our relationship with the opponent.

Borrowing the opponent’s power

This is only possible if you can touch and move along with the opponent.
Borrowing the power is storing the energy in your body. This energy can be used after you have neutralized the power of the opponent which exceeded your storage capacity.
Tenshikei or rotational strength storing and releasing, is such an example.

Neutralizing the opponent’s power

When you borrow the opponent’s power, there is a chance your opponent has much more than you can store. You have to neutralize this energy into the earth. Your body will act as an energy transmitter. You only can do this when your body has a good structure (shizentai). This structure can act in two ways, incoming power and outgoing power.

Pushing the opponent – issuing power

There are a number of ways to push. A basic idea is to use the rebound of the neutralized energy from the opponent and/or release the stored power.
Using pushing power can be done without the use of energy produced by yourself. It gives you an advantage that you don’t waste energy.
Of course, it is also possible to generate strength by using our body smartly and economically. We can find many examples of merging mind and body applications in the field of high-performance sports activities. After all, martial arts can be considered a high level of sport.
Our force can be channelled in different ways and will depend on the circumstances of our relationship with the opponent or training partner.

Attract the opponent’s power

Everyone knows the power of “seduction”. There is a constant attraction to sugar, alcohol, tobacco and sex.
How to drag in the power of the opponent before a physical manifestation of an attack is an act of seducing the opponent.
Essentially, the art of seduction rests on the creation of an image in the mind. This image will feed an intention, and this intention must be captured with touch skill, as explained above.
It is totally different to force a reaction by means of a physical attack.
Everybody knows the skill of “go-no-sen”. This is a defensive action after the physical appearance of an attack. We can find many examples in the basic kata.
Unfortunately, I think it’s a misunderstanding of the application in the kata. A skillfull attacker will not attack you if there is no gap in your posture. You’re supposed to invite the attack.

Koryu no kata

In Koryu no kata dai Ichi, several examples can be found of the previously mentioned applications of “Mushin Mugamae” performed by Takeshi Inoue and dr Lee ah Loi.

Meditative Movements: Fusion between Mind & Body

We learn not to move, but to be moved
Sometimes people ask me about my passion for martial arts. The answer is straightforward: to become better than yesterday.
Of course ageing is a factor to take into account and which is “a game breaker”. What you can do when you are 20 will be not the same when you are 50.
The search for a method to become better than yesterday is a path full of obstacles and the end is for everybody the same.
Becoming better than yesterday?
Maybe the answer is at the end of this blog post…….Maybe other questions will be asked…….Who cares…..

I “feel better” than yesterday.

Eddy Wolput

Meditative Martial* movements and Mushin Mugamae
When we speak about Meditative Martial Movements, we are talking about body and mind movements. In general the body is for movement and the mind is for thinking. But what about a “thinking body” or a “non-thinking mind”?
Our Aikido as a kind of meditative movement is a method where mind and body make a fusion. Both becomes one unit and both are equal with a different function.
We have to look at the body and mind in a different way.
The body operates according natural laws, the mind guides according natural laws. There is no interference from the ego.
This is called “Mushin mugamae”: No mind, no posture.
Which means, the body is not rigid, the mind is not fixed.

The mind as an observer
Commonly spoken, body movements are mostly based upon using power generated by muscles. But as said previously, ageing is a game breaker.
The answer to this problem is the use of natural forces of our environment.
Mostly our movements are inspired by reflexes or inborn actions and also by learned movement patterns stored in the brain.
To learn a new pattern or overwrite a wrong pattern, we have to practise the “new” pattern according natural laws. To become succesful we cannot allow the conscious brain and ego to interfere. Mind in this context means “awareness”. The mind is neither engaged in conceptual activity nor focused on a future goal, but instead is focused on bodily experience.

“Don’t think, listen to the body”

Akira Hino – Budo Researcher

Relaxing & acceptance, a skill called zanshin
Zanshin is in general defined as a state of alertness or awareness. When you are alert, it means you can start a movement immediately. This only can happen when you are in a state of relaxation.
To define relaxation in the context of our training in Western language is very difficult. Some therapeutic systems use the word “eutony” to define this state of being.

The term eutony comes from Greek Eu: good, – and of Latin Tonus: tension, the grade of tension or elasticity of muscle fibers. It was coined to express the idea of a harmoniously balanced “tonicity in constant adaptation to the state or activity of the moment”. 

Essentially, accepting “the truth” causes less suffering than struggling vainly against it. In many cases, we have a choice. We can either accept or reject, and much of the time rejecting doesn’t change our reality, it just causes mental pain.

Acceptance is an active process. It must be practiced.
It can require effort most of the time, at least initially. It can be frustrating at times. By acceptance you create and strengthen the neural pathways in your brain, facilitating ease in the future. It is no defeat, it is a gate to victory. Because there is no frustation, no pain, you can use your energy to keep your awareness and start an action without delay.
Relaxing and acceptance go hand in hand and cannot be separated. Excessive tension physically and mentally is a barrier between your body and mind.

Relaxing is no collapse

a balance between tension & un-tension

Acceptance is no defeat

finding a way out of the impasse of losing

How to practice relaxing and acceptance?

Using natural laws is a principle wellknown in internal martial arts and can be very practical explained.
Take for example gravity. On Earth, gravity gives weight to physical objects, and everybody is influenced by the forces of gravity. Old bodies undergo the same influences as young bodies. Of course, strong muscle can give you some advantage as more body weight.
The point here is, gravity is not influenced by age. By using gravity as a source of power, even old bodies can put forward a powerful presentation.
Relax your body, especially your shoulders is a common problem. We know the expression: drop your shoulders. In fact you have to accept gravity on your body. Shoulders go down as the rest of the body, but you are not collapsing. The fear of collapsing doesn’t exist, it is a delusion. But your mind need acceptance.

Musoku no hô*** , a principle packed in a practical example.
Musoku no hô,a method or principle in which one does not use the force of the feet, aiming to make fast and powerful movements, without being predictable.
To demonstrate this principle we will look into 2 ways of moving around.

Displacement by propulsion
The first is the principle of displacement by propulsion we use spontaneously in all kinds of sports activities. With each stride, a sprinter gives a powerful blow to the ground to obtain a force of propulsion. With differences in degree of performance and intensity, this type of displacement is present in all sports activities. The characteristic is that you exert a force that goes against that of gravitation to produce a movement.
Don’t confuse this with the rebound of power during accepting an attack from opponent.

Displacement by immersion**
One of the keys to understanding longevity in budo is what called the immersion principle.
Although little known, this principle is in Japan transmitted in some kenjutsu and jûjutsu schools as a secret teaching. It makes it possible to increase the speed of displacements and the strength of the technical execution. The perception of this principle is masked by speed, and the difference is difficult to perceive. To move, instead of giving an impulse against the ground, you “remove” the force of the legs to let act the gravity of which you will transform the force in a horizontal movement by a control of the center of gravity. You have the impression of immersing yourself in gravity, which is about “displacement by immersion” as opposed to “displacement by propulsion”. It is in fact to find the sensation of gravitation as an existing force that can be used and no longer, as usual, as a force against which we must fight.

With the principle of displacement by immersion, you can engage the total weight of the body in the technical execution, which considerably increases the efficiency. Because you can use the energy of the descent of the body due to gravitation. This descent movement is absorbed by the flexible muscular contraction of the legs. This process is the opposite of the ordinary movement where you first propel yourself by muscle contraction and then absorb the fall.

How to do?
The first step in teaching is to properly place your weight in the lower body and use the force of the fall in a shift. In the second step, you learn to transfer this fall force to your hand, your fist, or your sword.

In kenjutsu this is associated with a rotation around the central axis of the body. Monjuro Morita described this action in one of his books:
To hit properly from the tanden and koshi, we must use a perfect structured body and a perfect handling of the sword. This is a gesture that is produced in accordance with the two forces that go diagonally right leg left arm, left leg and right arm.
The perfect handling of the sword is produced by the integration of three elements: the rotation of koshi, diagonal tension produced by this rotation and displacement of the body.

Only displacement?
In martial arts methods, the application of the immersion principle is not limited to displacement but can be extended to other physical movements.
The realization of the principle of immersion first requires a physical relaxation.
To apply the principle of immersion in the hand movements, it is essential to locate the center of gravity, which brings out the sensation of the center of the body, in other words “hara” and “tanden” and also the central line (seichusen) of the body.

Non-predictable start
The merit of this type of displacement consists firstly not to express the start of the gesture, which is essential in combat technique. Even if you can move with a great speed, if you express beforehand a start-up gesture, so small, your movement loses its technical efficiency. On the other hand, even if your movement is not very fast in appearance, if there is no prior expression of the start, it can be fast from a moving point of view. To act after making a setup for a technique, is missing the chance to become successful. This is why in all schools of Japanese sword, one seeks the “strike of non-thought”. This is the goal of the musoku technique.

Speed and gravity
An important aspect of the immersion principle is the ability to maintain the speed in the movement as you get older. Since the principle is not to use the force of the legs to propel the body, this type of movement keeps the speed of technical execution and serves as a basis for the practice of a long-term martial art.
Speed ​​is maintained by immersion in gravity and respiration. In the martial arts, this aspect is related to the channeling of the physical force, since it is to use the gravitation to move and to execute a technique. By using the weight of your body in the most rational way to be effective, it is concentrated in every attacking movement.

*Meditative movement: is a “Western” term used in medical articles about qi-gong and other Eastern Movement methods.

**Displacement by immersion: is a term used by Kenji Tokitsu. He published many sociological articles on Eastern Martial Arts.

***Gravity and displacement: Akira Hino, a Budo researcher, quoted the term Musoku no hô in his writings and seminars to explain the concepts of Taiju no dendo and taiju no ido.