One of the very purposes of studying Martial Arts is to learn to utilize and cultivate unconventional movement options.
Sotai Renshu – Partner Training
In pairs, the primary concept is the relationship with the partner/opponent and how to control the power and the mind of the partner/opponent. It is the body which expresses the power originating in the mind.
From a purely technical point of view, we will examine our body in relationship with the body of our partner/opponent. Later, we can go further into the mechanics of the mind and the generation of power.
Relationship with partner/opponent.
We distinguish 2 major technical characteristics.
Our position in relation to partner/opponent
- Aigamae or regular facing posture
- Gyaku gamae or reverse facing posture
The result of our action on partner/opponent
- Hineri or inward turning of partner/opponent body (or body part)
- Gaeshi or outward turning of partner/opponent body (or body part)
Contractive power versus “jukozo”
Most of our movements in our lives arise from muscle contractions. The muscles always work in pairs, one muscle is the active actor (agonist) whereas the other (antagonist) is the passive actor. This is the conventional way of thinking about how the body moves.
An example to specify the activities of the agonist and the antagonist:
The agonist and antagonist work together in any type of movement. Once a muscle is tensed, it can no longer relax on its own. This requires the contraction of the opposite muscle. So as your biceps contract to bend your arm, your triceps stretch. Now your triceps becomes the active part. As an agonist, the muscle contracts, allowing your biceps to relax as an antagonist.
Furthermore, in martial arts, the use of the power of the partner/opponent is part of the strategy. Unfortunately, contractive power is not always a good partner when we need to use the competence of “jukozo”, the competence to absorb and store incoming power. Especially the contractive power of the arms and shoulder can negatively affect the release of the power of the legs and torso.
But there is an additional way in which the muscles lengthen (other than only through the contraction of the opposite muscles). This functionality lies at the heart of the “Jukozo” concept. It is actually a push/pull concept without local muscle contraction. The push/pull motion is the result of the use of the kyokotsu, your breathing (diaphragm muscle) and the rotation motion of the abdomen, in other words hara, Koshi and tanden.
Basically, jukozo uses the capacity to store power in the muscles, tendons and fascia while stretching or compressing and not by contracting the muscles. Most of the power will be stored in the tendons and fascia, the muscles themselves have a much lower capacity and are mostly actively used for their contractive features. The push/pull action depends completely on the push or pull quality of the tendons and the fascia
The picture shows a push/pull action. The partner/opponent is pushed while he is turned. There is also a pull to with the result he is bending backward. The pull is created by koshi turning and a backward tsugi ashi, the push is the result of a stretching movement while pulling in kyokotsu. There is no muscle contraction or bending the arm. It is a simultanious action.
Tenshikei (Japanese) – Chansigong (Chinese)
Jukozo is based on a skill which favors spiral power. Our body always generates energy by following a spiral path consisting of muscles, tendons and fascias. We may use a special training method to develop tenshikei ability. During the training, we use rotational movements mostly coming from the lower part of the torso. Koshi is one of the most significant components of the lower torso.
Basically, it means that power is not transmitted linearly, but that it coils and spirals along the limbs. This means that there are two directions (clockwise and counterclockwise). When examining Tomiki Aikido Tandoku Undo Tegatana Dosa, we can clearly see the 2 directions of coiling movements in Uchi-mawashi/Soto-mawashi and Uchi-gaeshi/Soto-gaeshi.
The rotational motions are created by using the “koshi” muscles and those, of course, follow the rule of contraction and relaxation. But we use an unconventional method, the muscles associated with the arms and shoulders are not contracted. The “hara” muscles (Koshi and tanden) are responsible for the rotation movements. A push/pull action is achieved if the muscles in the arms and legs are relatively relaxed.
The result of tenshikei training takes longer than the well-known methods for improving the core muscles in the gym. To control the movements of these muscles, the average practitioner requires many years of regular training. The control of rotation movements can be seen in the performance of top level sports people.
Controlling incoming power
When the incoming power penetrates the body, most people will respond by contracting the muscles along the power path. It will obviously interfere with the storage of incoming power. A better way is to use the “Jukozo” skill, a skill to absorb and store incoming power in the tendons and fascia.
The incoming power, for instance, when someone grabs your wrist and does a twisting movement, follows a spiral path through the body. This energy can be stored within the tendons and fascia. Ready to operate with flexibility.
The better we can store the power, the better we can use the stored power to counter the partner/opponent attack. Countering the attack means avoiding conflict with the strength of the partner/opponent.
An example – the wrist grip.
It’s a practice, not a martial application. Nonetheless, the integrated body movement may be used in martial applications..
The partner/opponent has a strong grip on our wrist. There is no pulling or pushing by partner/opponent, but an inward twisting action of the wrist. Start a release action at the foot, thereafter the leg, the hip joint, the torso, shoulder, arm and wrist. Avoid contractions of the muscles, power transfer will stop at the muscle contraction.
By the way, muscle contraction is also a method to generate strength. There are times when such a method can be used. But especially as a beginner, it is preferable to use the jukozo method rather than the contracting method.
Kenji Tomiki and Hideo Ohba during WW2 in Manchuria
Control your own power!
Basically, we don’t want to give the partner/opponent the opportunity to use our own power against us. A highly skilled partner/opponent may simply use a clever action to cause some sort of blocking action in your body.
Incoming power does not necessarily travel within our body. The incoming power could also be very local. For instance, when someone grabs with one or two hands without pushing, pulling or twisting. All power is centered on our wrist.
In such a case, stretch the tendons and fascia the gripped wrist without pulling, pushing or twisting on the arm of partner/opponent . By releasing the power generated by the stretching movement, an undulating movement will distort the body of the partner/opponent.
Senta Yamada is stressing the softness of the body to transfer spiral power into the body of uke.
Active and static power
The body under mind control, may produce various types of useful power during martial art training and its application as self-defense.
Usually two types will be used.
- Active Power – Power by hitting, kicking, pushing, pulling or twisting and entering the body for the purpose of hurting or throwing.
- Static Power – The power to immobilize the body of the partner/opponent or part of the body. Many examples in koryu no kata where partner/opponent has a grip on you to immobilize.
The use of different types of power will depend on the circumstances and will become part of the strategy. Every martial art can have a different type of strategy, but the efficient use of power depends on the same principles.
Uke/Tori and switching roles
Perhaps you noticed that I did not use the words Uke and Tori in previous paragraphs. In many martial arts explanations, the words Uke and Tori are used to define the role of the attacking and defending or winner and loser. That kind of thinking is actually a “one way of thinking”. Uke is thus the receiver of a successful movement. Uke act as a loser and this of course has an impact on our way of thinking. During basic training, Uke carries out ukemi or breakfall. Uke has a losing concept. Whereas during the randori, the concept of loser is not allowed. To avoid losing during randori, most of the practitioners will block the movement of partner/opponent. What we have pointed out in the previous paragraphs is completely forgotten. Jukozo or flexibility is replaced by muscle contraction resistance.
Actually, during basic training, randori or martial applications, there are 2 people (or more) performing Uke/Tori movements. Each person acts at the same time as Uke and Tori. In fact, we may be talking about a Uke/Tori person, an expression of duality as described in an earlier post about Ju and Go. The duality in the Uke/Tori person is also related to the concept of Onmyō – Yin/Yang – Our movements are acting by using opposing forces – tension(*) and release. The concept of opposing forces is in Oriental philosophy explained by the well-known words: Yin and Yang, in Japanese: Onmyō.
(*) Tension shouldn’t be confused with muscle contraction. In our case, tension is stretching tendons and fascia to increase power. It is also possible to build power through compression, a skill to allow input power and transfer in the ground. Rebound is the outcome and is only possible with the competence of Jukozo. For this case, an exercise as shotei-awase can be mentioned.
Conscious and sub-conscious mind
When people start with martial art training in an unconventional manner, many new things need to be learned. This process is principally realized by the conscious mind. The motions of the body begin at a slow speed because our conscious mind is actually a slow process. But we got a faster processor, our subconscious mind. The moment we do not have to think about how to operate, the subconscious mind may take control of the process of our body moving.
Even if you are a practitioner with many years of experience, the moment you start the non-standard path, you are again a newbie. Thus, your conscious mind takes control of the process and your movements are still slow until the unconventional method of movement can be performed by the subconscious mind. This process may take several years, depending on the depth to which the conventional method is grounded in your mind.
Moving from solo to partner training is actually a test of whether the unconventional method has replaced the conventional method and how anchored it is.
We need to embrace the inevitable. Can we do it or not?
This expression is quoted many times by Kenji Tomiki and his followers. Mostly it is translated as “Empty mind, empty posture”.
Basically, it’s a good idea to use this translation as a beginning to try to understand Mushin Mugamae. There is more to this expression than just “Empty Mind, Empty posture”. However, putting the phrase “Mushin Mugamae” in your mind makes a mind filled with thoughts. This is also true when we adopt a combat posture. As a beginner, the conscious mind will create the thinking combat pose. Unfortunately, using the conscious mind is too slow to respond to the actions of the partner/opponent.
Unconventional movement and training
One of the very purposes of the study of martial arts is to learn how to use and cultivate unconventional movement options. This process may be regarded as “the path of a martial art practitioner”. Becoming a skilled practitioner is not an easy way, but for those who are on the way, it is an experience that can also be monitored for the purposes of everyday life.
As mentioned above, the use of the conscious mind is too slow to react to a sudden move of the partner/opponent or even sudden events in everyday life. The unconscious mind can handle such events if you have the ability to “mushin mugamae”.
Study or technical training takes place at a slow rate. After acquiring the bodily sensation, stored in the subconscious mind, the reaction may be very quick or even slow. That will depend on the circumstances. An image is slow, while a pattern is slow/fast.
From image to pattern, from slow to slow-fast
There are many ways to bring content to the movements of our body. For instance, how to use weight transfer during walking. Within the brain, there are images of the various aspects of walking. The first image is created when we have learned to stand vertically. Later, we start walking, foot by foot. How to use this image depends on our experiences throughout our lives, and based on these experiences, we have created patterns. Learning new patterns of movement takes time and needs to be done properly from the start.
Beginners are not only associated with “novices”, but also with experienced people who are learning new skills. Starting with a new “model”, we start slowly and sometimes we exaggerate the motion by making it bigger. That allows us to create a bodily sensation. This is a condition of subconscious usage. Without a bodily sensation, every action will depend on the conscious mind or the inborn fight or flight reaction**. The physiological changes that occur during the fight or flight response are activated in order to give the body increased strength and speed in anticipation of fighting or running.
A highly skilled practitioner can use the fight or flight reaction in combination with the patterns stored in the brain. If it is still at the stage of using the conscious mind, the fight or flight reaction will have an uncontrollable effect on performance.
It takes time to build experiences to create a model or pattern after creating an image. Sometimes a pattern is corrupted or may not be used in martial arts situations. We need to reprogram something. Reprogramming is a challenging process because bad habits must be removed and new moves must be created. It takes more time to start again, then start anew as a beginner.
**The fight-or-flight or the fight-flight-or-freeze response (also called hyperarousal or the acute stress response) is a physiological reaction that occurs in response to a perceived harmful event, attack, or threat to survival