5 Reasons that you haven’t yet Achieved your Technique

Last night I happened across this wonderful little article by Leonard Kim in regards to things that we do to seemingly push away our dreams and ambitions, and I saw a considerable amount of correlation with my martial arts with the principles that he presented. So I opted to adapt those five ideas into their respective context in classical jujutsu.

1. Work in a team

A screen capture from Onmitsu Kage on teamwork.

Though in the context of the classical martial arts the notions included the application of battlefield strategy, multiple opponents, diversity of weapons, etc. As this article is focused on technique and not the whole scope of things, I will emphasize the physical.

In many modern martial arts (Gendai Budō; 現代武道), the biomechanics involved are influenced largely by Western ideas of sports movement. These prioritize speed, strength, and often times the theories of leverage in order to upset the opponent’s balance and bring about earning a point or setting up for knockouts.

Classically however, the biomechanics involved took into consideration the use of armor and weapons on a battlefield, where one could not rely on the use of strength and speed because they would be fighting for hours, often times under the blazing sun. At this rate, modern forms of movement would invite exhaustion and dehydration.

Thus one must understand how to synchronize all of the faculty of the human being and organize the limbs, center of balance, weapons, psychology, sociology, terrain and so on, just the same way as one might direct a team; no component of the human being should be working alone, and when defeating the opponent, it was not enough to isolate a limb and inflict a break; you have to defeat the team.

2. Do not use force; Soft overcomes the hard

Jujutsu Heiho (The battlefield science of suppleness; 柔術兵法)

Interestingly, the terms Jūjutsu (science of suppleness; 柔術) and Jūdō (way of subtlety; 柔道) are still used for these sports that encourage the previously mentioned strength, speed, and so on. In comparison to the hyper-violent classical martial arts, the modern martial arts seem brutish and crude.

It is an ancient proverb that states to overcome a strong opponent with gentleness. And many schools of warfare and martial arts are founded on this very notion, including all the branches of yawara and jūjutsu, and its related grappling traditions.

Applying force, just like wading in water, pushes things away, your goals are directed elsewhere, your opponent takes a distance game. Instead through subtle planning, positioning and technique, will you be able to reduce the opponent’s capacity to fight back, yet leave you with the opportunity to spare their life.

3. What you seek, you will not find

When striving for the opponent’s opening in their defenses (unless it’s an intentional opening; a ruse), your very intention will cause them to flinch from the attack, often times reducing the efficiency of the technique. This happens when the sympathetic nervous system identifies a movement as aggressive or threatening.

There are two effective ways to circumvent this. The first is to move in a way that is not threatening, with subtlety and gentleness; you really don’t need to apply excessive force with a knife or sword, certainly not with a firearm. However, even unarmed little force is needed to attack a vulnerable point, and really why strike a target that isn’t vulnerable?

By vulnerable point, I’m not talking about some sort of death touch theory, but instead a target that elicits an effective response. This might be something obvious like the eyes, throat, or groin, or something not so commonly considered such as the radial or ulnar nerves located on the top and bottom of the arms.

The other way to get around the sympathetic nervous system is…

4. Act without thought

To win without fighting is a true victory.

this has been defined with many names in archaic martial arts, from “mushin” (no-mind; 無心) to “shizen” (spontaneity; 自然), and so on. the intention here is to move or act without intention, without thought, and without proprietary movement. The first step to achieving this is of course excessive practice, just the same way as the musician no longer has to think of where to place their fingers on the instrument. However, this is the next step beyond thinking of chords. This is executing full movements in response to external stimuli without the conscious thought normally required to initiate it. The result is natural, well conditioned movements, initiated only by the enemy’s aggression. As they say, “From this side there is no first strike.”

5. Act with sincerity, but not with commitment

Acting without thought

This one can be seen in many ways. My favorite is to practice sincerely in a way where the technique must work on anyone regardless of the situation. In classical jujutsu, the unarmed techniques derived from the use of the sword and spear, but were engineered in a way that they were reversible; training correctly in the unarmed techniques resulted in the ability to handle any weapon one might find on the battlefield. Through this, the method for striking with the hand was the same method for thrusting or cutting with the sword, spear, staff, etc. Even the very biomechanics for deploying the bow and arrow was the same as unarmed striking. Through this method one was able to be proficient with any weapon, only having to master a limited number of techniques made them effective with a multitude of weapons: Through simplicity and unity comes multiplicity and universality.

Thus one doesn’t not commit to a single specialty or focus, you don’t over commit, instead you sincerely practice the fundamental movements of the tradition in order to understand the underlying principles of that tradition and bring it’s depth to life.

To have a favorite weapon or technique is what we call a “tengu waza” (egotistical skill; 天狗技), something with which to be trapped and tricked by. This makes you singular in mind and conceivable by habit and preference.


So from Leonard Kim’s excellent article on the underlying reasons for not achieving our dreams, I was inspired to lay out some of the lesser known principles found in classical martial arts in contrast to its modern equivalents.

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