Taijutsu 体術

By Pertti Ruha, Trans. By Luke Crocker

Man has as biological beings have evolved over millions of years. We carry genes that are billions of years old. The human body has been designed for a life among the trees for more than twenty million years. As hunter-gatherers, our organism has been, for more than five million years, designed to support itself on a rich varied diet of natural foods, especially meat from wild game, fish, shellfish, roots, fruits, nuts, berries, larvae, and other bugs. Only the last six thousand years, cultivated plants and domesticated animals eventually replaced many of the rich compound feed, and it’s only become predominant in scale in the last thousand years.

Since it takes much longer than a few millennia of evolution to genetically respond to and adapt to such extensive changes, it is clear that we biologically are hunter-gatherers, and that we therefore are designed to survive on this very natural food. Yet the diet most of us eat is of more than ninety percent products that never belonged to our ancestor’s diet, especially animal, saturated fat from milk, butter, cheese, chocolate or cream; grain bread or oatmeal, and sugar, sweets and alcohol.

Humans and their ancestor’s bones and muscles under the age of twenty is suited for an environment that demands a highly active life – initially as climbing trees, later upright. We’re actually far from fully developed for upright walking – in combination with weak muscles, one of the causes of many back problems. Above all it is our often sedentary lifestyles with repetitive patterns of movement as the cause of most of our common ailments: back pain, tennis elbow and neck pain. Active exercise of the joint system (we call it kosshijutsu[1]) could eliminate a lot of these problems.

Ten thousand years ago most of our ancestors could (and commonly would) do what only acrobats, rock climbers or elite gymnasts can do today. However evolution has still not had time to degenerate the human body – in principle, every human being born healthy is trained to the same physical strength and physical skills that we all originally had in order to survive and get food for the day.

There is in most people a conscious or unconscious belief that we are somehow fully developed as a species – that evolution is completed in respect of the species Homo sapiens. Nothing could be further from the truth. Many may also believe that the standards and beliefs we have made up are physiologically, mentally, religiously and socially superior to our ancestors.
We have along the way lost many of the skills and abilities that were obvious to our ancient relatives, and that contributed to what would allow them to survive and evolve into modern humans and create viable communities.
To recite multiplication tables is not innate knowledge, but instead learned, and called cognitive behavior, a part of what we call culture, that is an accumulated knowledge passed down from generation to generation.

立身新流抜合口决 【中津藩伝承】04
Risshin Shin-ryu Nukiai

Many of our reactions are so natural that we do not think about how we cannot influence them. Pain reaction, pulling the hand away from a hot plate is one. Were reflex have to have gone through the thought process you palm would have been severely burned. If something suddenly comes to our face, blink reflex protects our fragile visual function, long before we are aware of it.
To avoid suffocation there is the cough reflex. To avoid overheating, we begin to sweat or shiver to create heat if we become hypothermic. Fever is part of the body’s defense. Rhinitis[2] is the body’s way of making off with an infection, and sneezing is a natural defense mechanism. Arthrokinetic reflexes[3] protects against overload when a joint is locked.
All these examples teach us how evolution over millions of years has developed coping mechanisms against various diseases; these are natural reactions that we all still carry with us. Similarly, we have built instincts that protect us from threats and dangers; we have, however, grown up in secure environments that get under the social veneer and require that we train ourselves to be natural and spontaneous. These instincts are referred to as “bufū taijutsu” (Intuitive body skills; 武風体術 [4]) in our training.

The thesis that we are all born as blank pages has long been rejected. Each person is unique and born with an endless variety of biological conditions that govern our development – the purpose of which is to take advantage of them. Anyone who wants to have meaning in life must self-design it.
Physiologically speaking, there is not much difference between us and cavemen. We are in every single detail, the same as stone-age people. Since modern humans arrived in Europe for almost 40,000 years ago, very small genetic changes had happened.
Climbing requires a perfect coordination of the body’s skeletal muscles and makes exceptional demands on strength, agility, balance, endurance, and not least a very strong mind. It is of the few activities among us modern people who require a full utilization of all human and mental conditions we are born with, but very few use today. In a native habitat, it was a matter of survival. Our body is built for survival, not to perform in the gym, school or workplace.

The muscles in the body that we can willfully control are called skeletal muscles. Skeletal muscles connect the various skeletal parts with tendons. Muscle strength will never be from a single skeletal muscle, without exception, from the muscle groups, a synergy. Our nervous system gives incentives for the desired movement, not the contraction of a single muscle.
Man has over 300 skeletal muscles, which together form the body and allows thousands of different movements. Skeletal muscles work almost exclusively in groups, and hundreds of muscles may be involved in a single step.
Our anatomy is suitable for walking or running movement in very hilly terrain, often climbing, jumping and balancing. It is supposed to be walking barefoot – the foot is such then we started walking on two legs. The feeling of direct contact between the bare foot and an uneven surface creates conditions for excellent balance and agility, which to a large proportion is lost when we wear shoes.

What is aggression? What patterns of behavior associated with it? How we act towards each other during the aggression condition? When a man’s aggression is brought, a number of fundamental physiological changes manifest in its body. The whole machine must be made to react by the autonomic nervous system. This system consists of two opposing forces and offset each other in the system – the sympathetic and the parasympathetic. The former is what has to prepare the body for violent activity. The latter has the task of preserving and restoring the body’s resources. The former says: “You are ready for battle, go go go!” And the latter says: “Take it easy, relax and save your strength!” Under normal circumstances the body listens to both voices and maintains a healthy balance between them. When in a state of strong aggression, however, the body only listens to the sympathetic nervous system

Yoshin-ryu Idori no koto
Yoshin-ryu Idori no koto

When this system is activated, currents of adrenaline release into the blood and the circulatory system is affected very strongly. The heart beats blood faster to the skin, viscera[5], muscles and brain. Blood pressure rises. The number of cells increases rapidly. Coagulation too influences the speed of blood. The digestive process stops up and nutrition is not stored. Salivation decreases. The secretion of gastric juice and intestinal peristaltic movements stops. Rectum and the bladder do not empty as easily as under normal conditions. Stored carbohydrates ejected from the liver and give the blood higher sugar content. It is a violent increase of respiratory volume and rate. The temperature-regulating mechanism comes into action. The hair rises and you sweat heavily.

All these changes help to make people ready for battle. As if by magic, in an instant all fatigue dissipates and the body releases lots of energy to prepare for the expected struggle for survival. Blood is pumped out to the places where it’s needed most – to the brain for a faster way of thinking, to the muscles for quick movement. The faster coagulation means that blood that is spilled because of wounds solidifies quickly and prevents blood loss. The increased release of red blood cells from the spleen combined with the faster blood circulation helps the respiratory system to increase oxygen intake and removal of carbon dioxide. The hair rises to prepare air access to skin and cooling of this organ, something that even sweat secretion helps with. This reduces the danger of overheating by too violent activity.

With all these vital systems the animal is ready to pounce into action, but there’s a catch here. A fight to the death can lead to a valuable victory, but it can also mean serious damage for the victor. The enemy always arouses fear as well as aggression. Aggressiveness driving the animal forward, fear holds them back. There arises an intense state of inner conflict.
It is typical that the battle ready man is not going to attack directly. It begins by threatening to attack. The internal conflict is withdrawn, ready for battle, but not quite ready to start. If in this condition constitutes a sufficiently terrifying sight for his opponent the opponent may flee away, so this is obviously preferable.

Battle to the death occurs naturally, but only as a last resort when aggressive counter-signals have failed to resolve the conflict. If Threat signals achieve the desired effect, that’s great behaviorally, but in the physiological aspect, it creates something of a problem. The body’s organs are prepared for a very demanding task. But the efforts the body expected never sets off. How can the autonomic system handle this situation? It has moved all its forces to the utmost defense, ready for battle, but now its very presence won the war. What happens now?

If a physical struggle naturally followed the massive activation of the sympathetic nervous system, were the preparations that took the body to fully be utilized, the energy would be consumed and this state would end. The parasympathetic nervous system would come into effect and gradually restore the physiological equilibrium. But in this tense state of conflict between aggression and fear everything stopped up. The result is that the parasympathetic system is pitted against the wild autonomic system and it swings back and forth wildly like a pendulum. While the seconds tick by with the threats and counter-threats we can see glimpses of parasympathetic activity mixed with sympathetic symptoms.
Dryness of the mouth met with a strong salivation. The intestines may collapse and give a sudden depletion. The urine, which was kept so tightly in the bladder, can flow without restraint. The blood that flowed away from the skin might come back, so that the sharp paleness is succeeded by intense redness. The deep and rapid breathing may be interrupted in a dramatic way and turn into gasps and groans. All this is a desperate attempt by the parasympathetic nervous system to counteract the sympathetic system’s obvious exaggerations. Under normal circumstances it would be possible that intense reactions in one direction would occur simultaneously with intense reactions in the other, but under the extreme conditions an aggressive threat involves draws everything out. This explains why in an extreme state of shock fainting and numbness occurs. At such times, rushing all the blood being pumped into the brain so quickly leads to sudden loss of consciousness.

The autonomic system prepares the body for the use of muscles. Indeed, what of the muscles? They were harnessed to attack, but no attack was made. This situation results in a series of aggressive intention movements, in contradictory actions and attitudes.
The impulses to attack and escape pull the body back and forth. As soon as the urge to attack gets the upper hand, the impulse to flee immediately dissipates. Each movement of escape in the rearward direction is countered by an attacking movement forward. During evolution this general excitement became special postures that express threats or intimidation. Intentional movements are stylized; the conflicting pressures have been formalized to the rhythmic jerks and tremors. A whole new repertoire of aggressive signals have been developed and perfected. It includes, among other things additional waving of the fists and stomping the ground, grappling in the air, showing of teeth, purposeful gaze, jerky movements of the shoulders and more.
But that’s not enough. There is still an important source of signals, derived from a category of behavior that has become known as gross actions or movements. A side effect of an intense inner conflict is that animals like humans sometimes exhibit strange and seemingly irrelevant fragments of behavior. For example, one may suddenly turn his back and start to drink from a glass or other behavior that breaks the pattern in total.

Yagyu Shinkage-ryu Tengu no sho
Yagyu Shinkage-ryu Tengu no sho

All of these activities, the autonomous signals, preparatory movements and displacement acts becomes a ritual and provides people with a diverse repertoire of threat signals. For most of these confrontations we are capable of resolving them without resorting to violence.
But if this diplomacy fails, it will give way to real battle and signals will give way to brutal physical attack mechanics. Yet it is seldom that the combatants kill each other. Species that have developed special killing techniques in relation to their prey seldom use these methods when they fight among themselves. The moment the enemy was humbled and stops being a threat he is ignored. It is not worth wasting more energy on it and it will slip away without being subjected to further ill-treatment or persecution.
When a situation escalates into physical struggle, the unarmed man acts in a way that is rather interesting contrast to what we observe in other primates.
In other primates, teeth are the most important weapon, while humans use the hands the most. While other primate species grabs and bites, we grasp, hold and squeeze, tear or flap with our hands. Only in our children play biting is an important role in a fight without weapons. They have obviously not yet had time to develop the arm and hand muscles enough to cause severe damage.

Today we can witness the battle between unarmed adults in a number of extremely stylized versions of martial arts, such as wrestling, jūdō and boxing, but it is rare to see in its original, not yet systematized form. The moment the battle gets serious; the weapon of one kind or another comes into the picture at once. The major difference between humans and animals in danger is that people arm themselves immediately.
In its simplest form the armament is used as an extension of the hands to distribute heavy blows. Chimpanzees in captivity have been seen to take up a tree branch and hit hard on the back of a stuffed leopard, or tearing up tufts of grass and throw them against the passing people on the other hand, a watery grave. This gives a glimpse of what we probably started using weapons that initially was developed as means of defense against other species or to kill prey. Their use in the battle between conspecifics was certainly a secondary development, but once guns existed, they became available for use in any emergency, regardless of the context.

Gunpou Heihouki Kenjutsu no maki
Gunpou Heihouki Kenjutsu no maki

The simplest form of weapons is hard, solid but not processed natural objects of wood or stone. Through simple improvements of the shape of these objects can be simple actions, such as the appearance and approach, develops into stabbing, cutting and offensive movements.
The next major behavioral development in terms of assaults was that the distance between the attacker and the attacked was increased, and it is this step that almost led to the human species’ extinction. Javelin may seem distant, but its scope is too limited. Arrows are better, but the accuracy leaves much to be desired. Firearms widens the gap in a dramatic way, but bombs being dropped from the sky can be positioned on a still longer distance and long-range missiles can carry the attacker’s impact further. The outcome between rivals will, instead of being defeated, be crushed indiscriminately.

The real purpose of aggression within our species on a biological level is not to kill the enemy but quell him. Therefore, the doctrine of Iwato dōjō, taken from Togakure-ryū ninjutsu, is “to take the opponent’s fighting spirit.”

End notes:
[1] 骨指術 lit. Techniques that utilize the bones of the fingers. System that is dependent on flexibility of the joints and attacks nerves and joints.
[2] Inflammation of the mucous membrane in the nose (i.e. a runny nose).
[3] Refers to the way in which joint movement can reflexively cause muscle activation or inhibition.
[4] See Gyokko-Ryū Jōryaku no Maki 玉虎流上略之巻 (Private Collection).
[5] The internal organs in the main cavities of the body, especially. those in the abdomen.

Ruha, Pertti. Bodyskills – 体術. (2012)


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