Thoughts on “ji-shu ” ( waza or technique)

Once again -been awhile. I have been very busy with continued development of the school. Yet, as I always am, I have been thinking about the arts. There is a place in my mind that never shuts off when it comes to my arts. I have been ruminating on technique for some time and so want to offer my comments on what the Chinese call ” ji-shu” ( the Japanese call “waza”). Specifically, I want to explore the idea of what in judo is called ” kuzushi ” i.e. ” destroying the opponents balance “. I think that this concept is sometimes misunderstood. What I mean is that many practitioners know only one side of the coin of kuzushi…they know the physical. To ” destroy the opponents balance ” physically is critical when applying a technique, especially in any type of a throwing / take down technique. But the physical destruction of the opponents balance also applies in the execution of techniques such as arm bars ( for instance – stepping into an opponent inside his striking arm and executing a wrap of his arm off of your inside block. If this wrap/lock is done correctly, the opponent will feel great pressure on his arm, and twisting of the shoulder resulting in him raising up his shoulder and even rising up in his toes in order to alleviate the sudden pain he is experiencing. This pain is a part of and cause of the “destruction ” of balance as is the physical reaction of his body trying to separate itself from the pain. The moment of this occurence allows the completion of our technique – say a powerful swinging elbow strike with our free arm across the opponents chest then an outer reap take down.) Even an ” outside cross body ” type block can result in the occurence of kuzushi. If this type of block is timed while stepping into and outside of the opponents jab, such force can be excerted that the opponents arm is flung out way from you, throwing him off balance and exposing his rib cage to a straight in elbow strike made with the blocking arm. Any hooking type block – think Mantis or Crane – or any type of grabbing/wrapping block – think Dragon / Tiger / Snake / Eagle / Pointing Hand – will also result in the occurence of kuzushi if properly executed. But all this is the physical side of the kuzushi coin. The other  is the mental /psychological side of the kuzushi coin. And this has a greater effect than the physical. This is most definitely the case in a ” street ” situation. I describe it to my students like this ; there is a little play going on…in this play there is the character of the Predator and the character if the Prey. Police would label them Assailant and Victim. In this play, the Predator has in his mind a version of the script that he perceives as being pre-determined,especially in the outcome. He sees the Prey as an easy target and confidently ( albeit sneakily in many cases ) closes distance until he is at what he believes is the right place and right moment and engages in his attack. Suddenly, his eyes are watering, his nasal passages are closing, he feels blood pouring from his nose and /or mouth and he is experiencing great pain. He steps back, shakes his head in an attempt to clear his eyes and mind to discover that his Prey is now standing in the crouch of a fighting stance…he takes a tentative step forward to receive a viscious kick to his knee. Kuzushi has been experienced mentally /psychologically. The Predator has had the balance of his mind destroyed…the script he had in his mind did not at all play out the way he had it all conceived. He can now only question his mistake in picking this target that has just countered his assault with devastating results. Nothing in this scenario played out the way he believed it would. This same sort of thing can happen in a formal competition. As early into the match as is possible the opponent should be made to think that his being in this place at this time was an egregious error in judgement. His mental/psychological balance must be ” destroyed ” as quickly as is possible. If this is accomplished, the opponent will react by either becoming angry and losing control or will cacoon into a purely defensive posture. He will be questioning his actions, his abilities, himself. He will be consumed with doubt. From this moment forward, the competition will be very one sided, the outcome determined, and the physical breaking of the opponents balance easily accomplished. In fact, in proper execution of technique – where one is in complete harmony with the opponent and technique from moment of engagement to moment of completion is one seemless movement – both the mental/ psychological destruction of balance and the physical destruction occur simultaneously. Keep these thoughts in mind when analyzing technique. As Musashi stated ” do nothing useless “.

5 Responses to “Thoughts on “ji-shu ” ( waza or technique)”

  1. June 20, 2010 at 3:07 am

    This posting by Master Cook makes me think back to my very early days of training in Sensei Chatell’s basement dojo. I remember Sensei asking me to strike him but just as I began my movement he YELLED STOP!!! Naturally I paused. This was my first lesson in “balance breaks”…or “kuzushi”. This was essentially a distraction or “mental balance break”. Balance breaks occur throughout a fight/encounter and they take many different forms. In the above situation it was a loud yell. As Master Cook describes, a balance break can be physical such as by literally collapsing/locking a joint, or they can be a combination of both. Shifu explains that a physical balance break can also serve as a mental balance break creating that “oh shit moment” for the opponent when they realize the “error of their ways” as we tear their arm off an beat them with it. Essentially, a balance break creates a moment of hesitation on the part of the opponent and as well all know, hesitation will get you killed.

    But learning the art of fighting is not just learning to create balance breaks. A “good” fighter should know how to take advantage of a balance break (mental or physical) when they create one, but just as equally important is learning how to adapt and practice “mushin” (pay “no mind”) when an opponent attempts to break your balance so as to prevent hesitation. A balance break can be anything that alters the opponents mind-set or train-of-thought but remember, when we enter a physical confrontation, we should not be “thinking” but rather “reacting”. We think before the fight and we think after the fight, we think when we train but when we “spar” or “fight” we practice “mushin”. This is why we train so that our instinctual reaction becomes precise technique. “Muscle memory” takes over and becomes your reaction even if your own physical balance is broken (this is why we practice counters).

    Recently Grand Master Hardy and I had discussion about this concept during class. One thing stuck in my mind…Grand Master Hardy explained that we should “put yourself in the position of being exactly where your opponent THINKS he wants you to be”. In reality, you allow him to think this way so as to “bait” the opponent. There is no greater “balance break” then thinking you have your opponent only for them to counter it perfectly. This is taking fighting to the next level, when we can lead the opponent’s mind into striking the way we would like them to. We essentially already fight the fight before it physically unfolds…that is the true art within the art.

  2. 2 Kevin a welch
    July 12, 2010 at 3:26 am

    Greetings sifu cook, & sifu vin. If I may add to the discussion on( balance breaking ). It can be mental and physical in which we know. Breaking the attacker’s balance we can also look at movement and understanding how to misalign their skeletal frame. The advantage that we get from this understanding is that we are able to set
    Up the attacker without him struggling or tring to regain balance. When you try to force another off balance they will instinctively or immediately react to right themselves and this may go into an all out struggle to break the opponents balance. Since breaking the posture involves misaligning the skeletal structure rather than forcing the other off balance, the attacker will fall before even realizing he was even in such a bad position to begin with. Another way of breaking the opponents posture is to make him feel that he needs to depend on you for his own balance. From this he will(lose)his balance but as you are supporting him, he will momentarily have no idea
    That he is in such a akward position. At this point all you have to do is just remove the support. Mentaly or physicaly, once the opponent is caught up in your flow of momentum and his center is is subordinate to your own you need to break his posture. Thanx guys great topic.

  3. 3 Steve
    July 18, 2010 at 4:16 pm

    Just like most things in the martial arts, when it comes to balance breaks there is a seamless interaction between the mental and the physical. We often refer to how an attack and defense are really interchangeable and there is always an element of one in the other. So it goes with balance breaks. The “STOP” that Sensei yelled at Vinny startled him and caused his mind to shut down (albeit for a sec) and this affected him physically. The act of a distraction or some kind of event that causes the mind to second guess what it’s doing has physical effects. Sensei yelling at Vinny literally stopped Vinny’s entire course of action thus leaving him open for attack.

    If we are attacked and our opponent finds themselves in an unintended situation then we have achieved a balance break. The relationship between the physical and mental is fluid. You break someone’s balance by removing their center of gravity then they feel fear and doubt for the outcome of the situation. Likewise if you make them feel fear and doubt they will hesitate or react in a way that’s counterintuitive leaving them open physically. Master Cook mentioned the vaunted Musashi. In The Book of Five Rings Musashi says “Fear resides in all things, and the heart of fear is in the unexpected.”

    Whether the unexpected comes from a physical technique or a mental blow (such as screaming in an opponent’s face right as they attempt a technique) the unexpected causes the opponent to break physically and mentally, which if even for a moment it is in that moment that the advantage shifts and opportunity awaits.

  4. 4 Vin
    August 10, 2010 at 9:13 am

    Revisitng this blog posting, I wanted to add an interesting perspective specifically regarding ways to utilize a break in ones balance. My background in ju jitsu arms me with the ability to utilize joint manipulation or “chi na” failry efficiently. As a young martial artist, I was taught that joint manipulation utilizes “pain control” as the primary means for the success of a joint “lock”. Recently I met a man who is one of the highest ranking ju jitsu practitioners on the planet. His humility causes his name to escape me but his lesson will be with me forever. Although his “fighting” techniques may not have been the best I have seen, his approach to joint manipulation rendered me speechless. What I found was that the man was not necessarily using “pain control/compliance” to employ a takedown but rather he was using the opponents necessariy shifts in balance to take the person down. In my Ju jitsu art, we utilized a “list” of techniques that addressed several positions and types of grabs. We had a formula. After (or as) the opponent grabs you: diploy a distraction, apply the lock, then guide the opponent down utilizing the direction of the lock/pain.
    I realize now that while pain is a necessary element to martial arts, it may not always be necessary for the success of a joint “lock”.
    As one grabs you the motion is not stagnant. The motion is dynamic…this causes minor shifts in his balance and center (momentary balance breaks or opportunity). For example, your opponent may grab you and attempt to pull you into a punch. As they pull there is shifts in his weight and center as well as yours. However, through training you will eventually be able to utilize those momentary shifts in his center to guide him to the ground effortlessly withOUT the use of pain. Like the waves crashing against the beach. The undertoe pulls you under effortlessly and painlessly. The rip tide may pull you out to sea before you even realize its happening. This is the idea. If you feel pain you pull away, if you simply guide your opponent, they don’t realize they are going to the ground until its too late.

  5. 5 judo
    December 21, 2012 at 7:20 am

    It’s fantastic that you are getting thoughts from this piece of writing as well as from our discussion made at this place.

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June 2010

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