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Monthly Archives: August 2015


For warriors on the battlefields of the civil war era of Old Japan, the weight of armor and the constraints imposed by the various moving parts were not easily controlled. Loss of balance during combat was frequent. Here intervenes the art to fall or roll on the ground without being wounded. Most masters and founders of combat methods had lost balance more once during battle. However, how does one fall while wearing armor of which certain parts and the reinforcements of the helmet can be used against one by the enemy? It is not a question here to carry out a beautiful fall, as most people practice ‘ukemi’ (受身) these days, striking the hand to the ground as they tumble.
Arts such as Jûdô and Aikidô, which are practiced almost entirely on tatami, employ this modern method of ‘ukemi’. Yet, this is a far cry from the original methods used in life and death combat situations by warriors on the battlefield, who had to devise a way of using the body to fall without being wounded. It was necessary to be able to be able to counter a technique, to escape a technique, to even place an attack or a defense while falling on the ground. On the battlefield, it was impossible to use the hands to contact the ground and break a fall, because warriors were always carrying weapons. In the first traditions of jûjutsu like Takeuchi-ryû and the Shoshô-ryû of which the documents of the oldest transmission were compiled in 1585, there is mention of a type of fall or tumble developed where the head and hands did not touch the ground. It was named ‘kaiten’ (回転), meaning“to turn and reverse” one’s direction. In order to remain alive, warriors had to develop a razor-sharp and constant awareness to the quickly changing terrain surrounding them, while amid the fierceness of battle, along with an acute sense of body control and precision. This is the reason, unlike today, that ‘ukemi’ was not taught until the ‘okuden’ levels in many true combat traditions. It took a seasoned veteran of war or a master with decades of practice to hone such a refined control of the body. Only then, could one perform and demonstrate true ‘ukemi’.



“In the beginning, as one knows nothing, one does not doubt anything. After having entered the study of combat, various things occupy the spirit; one is obstructed by it and all becomes difficult. Then, as soon as one does not wonder anymore about what one learns, the idea of rules does not have any more impact. Thus, one does not stick to them anymore to exert the techniques in the various ways. They emanate from oneself and are then naturally in true harmony with the rules. It is necessary to follow the way of combat, but one must understand this well. To involve oneself by learning the beginning weapon techniques, and all the rules, postures of the body, manners of perceiving, is to deploy the intellect. When one has gained control, these many rules disappear from the intellectual consciousness. Without conscious reflection, one finally reaches the heart of things. After having assimulated many rules, the merits of this approach accumulate. They reside within the legs, the arms, and the body. They no longer linger in the spirit. One moves away from the rules, but one conforms to them. In all circumstances, the techniques become spontaneous. Alone, thought does not stick to anything at this point and, thus, not even demons can disturb one’s being. It is to reach this stage that one practices. When the rules have been assimilated, they disappear.”

Yagyū Munenori
柳生 宗矩
1571 – 1646