Saturday, January 23, 2010

A Brief Introduction to Dentokan Aikijujutsu

Dentokan Aiki Jujutsu is a system of traditional Nihon Jujutsu and a recognized branch of Hakko-ryu Jujutsu that was established by Colonel Roy J. Hobbs in 1997, with the encouragement and blessings of his teacher, Irie, Yasuhiro, Soke. Hobbs Sensei began training in Hakko-ryu Jujutsu in 1965, receiving the title of Shihan in 1983 directly from Okuyama, Ryuho (Yoshiji), Shodai Soke and Founder of Hakko-ryu. Hobbs Sensei later received Menkyo Kaiden, complete transmission, in Kokodo Jujutsu, itself a branch of Hakko-ryu, in 1997 from Irie Sensei, one of the senior-most students of Okuyama, Shodai Soke.

Dentokan Aiki Jujutsu traces its roots back through Kokodo Jujutsu and Hakko-ryu Jujutsu to Daito-ryu Aiki Jujutsu, a highly sophisticated elaboration of earlier forms of Jujutsu, propagated throughout Japan by the legendary Takeda, Sokaku. As a system rooted in the Daito-ryu lineage, Dentokan Aiki Jujutsu employs technical precision; relaxation; and the application of aiki, subtle methods of physical manipulation and mental disruption, to neutralize the power and force of an attack. The technical methods of Dentokan Aiki Jujutsu, like its immediate Kokodo Jujutsu and Hakko-ryu predecessors, initially focuses on methods to capture and control an opponent’s structure through joint locks and controls as well as manipulation of vital points along the body's meridian and nervous systems. These methods often include an aspect of pain compliance, although due to the simultaneous control of an opponent’s structure, effective the application of technique is not dependant on the delivery of pain. Additionally, subtle methods of disruption and off-balancing are used to neutralize, pin or throw an attacker. The technical spectrum also includes chokes and strangulations, ground controls and a full range strikes and low line kicks.

Like its predecessor arts, techniques in Dentokan Aiki Jujutsu are principle-based, utilizing very relaxed or “soft,” yet extremely effective execution of technique to disrupt an opponent and neutralize an attack. As a branch of Hakko-ryu, Dentokan Aiki Jujutsu is infused with a humanitarian philosophy that is manifested in the development of skills that allow one to neutralize and control an attacker without causing undue harm or injury. Therefore, the goal…..

Dentokan Aiki Jujutsu employs a very structured, yet progressive, principle-based training methodology that shares many similarities to the transmission of the older systems of koryu jujutsu from which it is descended. The syllabus closely follows that of the original Hakko-ryu and Kokodo Jujutsu, retaining the waza catalogues of Shodan-gi, Nidan-gi, Sandan-gi, Yondan-gi, Shihan-gi, Kaiden-gi and Sandaikichu-gi. Training typically focuses on the waza within each specific set, followed after a time by henka waza, or variations of the formal waza. Henka may be a variation deals with attacks such as various strikes, kicks or grabs that one may encounter in a self-protection situation but may not be included in the formal waza of a given set. Henka waza are studied in order to increase one’s knowledge and skill and to explore the gensoku, or underlying principles contained within each waza. Through the internalization of the gensoku, one may explore the depths of the art more fully through the creation of goshin oyo, the practical applications of the waza and principles woven throughout the art.

Dentokan Aiki Jujutsu, while an effective life-protection art, is also based on a humanitarian approach to self-defense, following Okuyama Sensei’s teachings of “no challenge, no resistance, no injury,” giving it a moral and philosophical basis that is very similar to the related art of Aikido. The techniques of Dentokan Aiki Jujutsu, while extremely efficient, and frequently painful, are designed to quickly neutralize an attack, while causing as little lasting damage as possible. However, these skills, amplified by the understanding of the previously mentioned henka, gensoku, and oyo, make possible a graduated response to any attack. One’s response may be one of neutralization followed by a non-destructive restraint or pin of an opponent to an all out counter attack, if circumstances require such measures. These characteristics make Dentokan Aiki Jujutsu well suited for defensive tactics training for law enforcement personnel.

Seiza: True Sitting

Note: This article was originally printed in the BBTMAC/Shindokan Dojo Newsletter.

One of the purposes of the Dojo Newsletter is to provide our dojo members with a solid foundation in their understanding of the cultural components of budo, the martial arts and ways of Japan and Okinawa. As I have previously alluded to, the cultures from which these arts come are inseparable from the arts themselves. In this issue, we will continue our presentation of various aspects of budo culture with a discussion of seiza, the formal kneeling seated posture common to Japan and Okinawa.

The first thing that one should know is that “seiza” literally means “true” or “correct” (sei) sitting (za). The very word “seiza” then should provide a certain degree of understanding that proper seiza is more than merely sitting in a kneeling position. Please keep in mind that depending on the art (martial or cultural) or the social situation, there are variations in how one sits down into seiza as well as some very slight variations in the seated posture itself. The method that I will describe is derived directly from the Ogasawara-ryu, a classical school of formal court etiquette (among other things).

For purposes of this article, I will forego a discussion of the exact method of sitting down into seiza, as the method that a student uses here in the dojo is likely dependant on the art that one studies. In other words, the way that one sits down into seiza in Muso Jikiden Eishin-ryu is different from the way that one moves into seiza in Ono Ha Itto-ryu Kenjutsu. These methods are both different from the way that one sits down into seiza in an art such as Wado-ryu Karate-do. As such, I will focus on the structure of seiza once one has lowered into it.

The most important thing about seiza is shisei, or a posture that exudes a feeling of dignity. Dignity is one of the key components of the foundation of any form of budo or geido (cultural arts). When one is sitting in seiza, one’s posture must be straight, with a feeling of one’s head being pulled straight up from the crown. This serves to “stretch” the spine and lift the head, brining the ears directly over the shoulders and putting one into proper structural alignment. Additionally, the small of one’s back should be pushed forward, shifting the weight forward towards the knees rather than keeping it back on the ankles. Aside from contributing to the feeling of shisei in one’s posture, this forward shift of the weight enables one to sit comfortably in seiza for longer periods of time (there is a limit for everyone, however!) or to move more fluidly from seiza should your art or the social situation require you to do so.

One’s metsuke, or gaze, should be cast slightly downward. Additional considerations include the distance between one’s knees and how one place ones hands. In the most formal variations of seiza, the knees are positioned at a distance of two fist widths apart. For women and girls, the knees should be touching. The big toe of each foot should be touching. The arms hang naturally from the shoulders, with one’s elbows at one’s sides. The palms of the hands should rest at mid-thigh, with the fingers (held straight together) angled slight forward and towards the inside of the legs. This is how one would sit in a formal situation.

However, there are slight variations in the distance between the knees and how one positions their elbows and places their hands, depending on the art one studies. Sometimes, the big toes will overlap rather than merely touch. However, there are certain factors in correct seiza that remain constant, regardless of stylistic considerations. Seiza should always covey a strong, but dignified spirit. It should be natural and relaxed, never forced or tense. One’s facial expression should be equally relaxed and dignified, never tense or angry. One should never slump or slouch, neither should one “puff” one’s chest up in an attempt to look strong. Seiza is dignity. Without true dignity, it cannot properly be called seiza, or “true” sitting. Anything else is merely “za.”

Monday, January 11, 2010

Principles: The Operating System of Applied Budo Part 1

Since their beginnings in the feudal age of Japan, the classical and traditional budo and bugei of have been transmitted primarily through the practice of formalized kata and waza. Each Japanese martial tradition contains specific kata or waza, organized in progressive sets, catalogues or levels of transmission throughout a system’s curriculum, that are in fact the very “text-books” of the art in which they are found. To the uninitiated observer it may seem that the kata and waza are merely specific techniques to defend against or initiate a specific attack. To those that are on a never-ending quest for the most “realistic” fighting methods, these techniques may appear to be archaic or perhaps even ineffective methods employed against unrealistic and equally ineffective attacks. However, what such observers fail to understand is that the kata are actually methods or “vehicles” that have been developed and refined over the centuries to teach principles and strategies that, when correctly understood and applied, enable a system’s techniques to be effectively and efficiently executed in a fluid martial encounter. While the kata and waza certainly teach the skilled use of various combative techniques such as locks, throws or strikes, it is the principles, or gensoku, that are contained within the kata that make up the actual “operating system” of an art. In turn, it is this operating system that makes the actual techniques martially applicable and moreover, gives rise to potentially limitless possibilities of application.

Each catalogue or level of a system’s curriculum, while often containing a specific category or set of techniques, will usually contain a set of principles that are emphasized within that section of the curriculum. These teachings are then reinforced and progressively built on by further principles and concepts that are introduced in subsequent catalogues within the tradition. In some cases, an art may focus on a central principle or set of principles that is woven through the entire curriculum, reflecting the most important teaching (or teachings) of the art. Ono-ha Itto-ryu Kenjutsu, through the concept of “itto”, one sword (meaning one cut) epitomizes such an art.

Along with the classical Japanese sword arts, Daito-ryu Aiki Jujutsu and Hakko-ryu Jujutsu (itself derived directly from Daito-ryu) exemplify such principle-based methods of transmission. Kokodo Jujutsu and Dentokan Aiki Jujutsu, as recognized branches of Hakko-ryu that closely follow its original curriculum, also apply this progressive, principle-based approach. Those who practice authentic Hakko-ryu based traditions are familiar with the sets of principles that are formally taught in conjunction with a corresponding category of waza, through henka (variations) and oyo (applied technique), to further illustrate or expand on the teachings of that category. As an example, while practicing the waza of Shodan Gi (the first set of waza in the curriculum) the following fundamental principles are studied: Atemi (striking), Nukite (escaping), Kotegaeshi (wrist takedowns), Niho Nage (directional throws), Shodan (shodan wrist bend), Hiji Dori (elbow locks), Aiki Nage (blending throws), Otoshi (dropping throws), Yubi Dori (finger locks), and Shime Waza (chokes). The practice of henka and oyo through the application of these principles results in a potential number of waza well in excess of those listed in Shodan Gi. In fact, approximately 117 waza, including kata, henka and oyo are required for shodan in Dentokan Aiki Jujutsu. Applied throughout the entire curriculum, one finds that the study and practice of gensoku manifests as the ability to create innumerable applied techniques, leading to the expression of the art as a complete and effective system of goshinjutsu.

However, there are additional principles contained with our study that are universal in nature that serve as a foundation for aiki-based arts such as Dentokan Aiki Jujutsu. Not always verbalized, these principles include natural laws that govern or affect motion, physiology, structure, sensory perception and psychology that are all vitally fundamental to aiki based arts. One of the first concepts that we introduce students to in the practice of Dentokan Aiki Jujutsu in my dojo is a principle that I refer to as ‘Non Contention”. This critically important principle lies at the very core of aiki-based systems, including those of the Hakko-ryu lineage, as exemplified in Okuyama, Rhyuho, Shodai Soke’s tenet of “No challenge, No resistance, No injury”. The ability to neutralize an opponent’s power through relaxation and the application of aiki begins with Non-Contention. Non-Contention involves the concepts of not contesting or vying for space; not resisting or “fighting” with an opponent at the location of contact; not directly taking on the opponent’s mass and momentum. In short, it means to not meet force with force. It is the observation of Non-Contention which, coupled with other principles and strategies, enable a defender to overcome the actions of a larger, stronger attacker. Recognizing that the term “martial art” could be explained as a codified system of methods and techniques that enable a small person to defeat a larger, stronger person we can see that Non-Contention is a major contributing factor to the of expression of “art” within the term “martial arts”. As the discussion of principles of applied budo could (and has) been the subject of a full-length book, we will expand on our discussion of Non-Contention and other principles and strategies in future installments of this blog.

To Be Continued….