The Importance of Connection in Martial Arts Training
The Japanese words to describe these principles are Awase and Musubi
I decided to write this article because of the frequent comments from students along the lines of how hard Bujutsu is. I usually laugh on the inside because my instructors did not teach Bujutsu in an academic fashion as I do. My Sensei would throw it at you and whatever stuck was what you got, period. The way to find out what stuck was through stress induced testing in which you would be overloaded by both stimuli and multiple attackers. So, this is the part where I sound like grandpa telling you he had to walk 20 miles to school, uphill, in the snow, both ways, I know, I know. But the fact of the matter is, when I created Bushin Ryu I wanted to devise an academic system completely structured to create a higher success rate of students actually learning Bujutsu. The way I was taught was meant to “weed” students out of the training process. I feel that as a teacher my success is based off how many students succeed versus how many wash out.
Let’s move on now to the topic at hand, that of Awase and the essence of Ukemi. The spectrum of martial arts is larger than any one person can learn in a lifetime. A student generally picks one martial art that best suits his or her personality, trains in it for a number of years, and then uses it as a base to explore other martial arts. Allowing them to add selected pieces to what becomes his or her personal system. In Bushin Ryu we do not teach a martial art but a system right from the beginning. This, by its very nature, compounds the difficulty.
The entirety of martial arts can be viewed as a huge jigsaw puzzle with thousands of pieces. Each martial art focuses on one or more sections of the puzzle and therefore a subset of the pieces. There is also considerable overlap between the subsets. For example, punching is common to almost all martial arts, including unarmed techniques. Contending that one martial art is superior to another is meaningless because they are each different sections or pieces to create the same puzzle.
Every martial art has a particular focus, or aspect, which makes it unique in relation to the others. Bushin Ryu Aiki Bujutsu is unique in that we teach you to see the puzzle pieces and understand the universal principles behind them which are seen throughout the entire system. One of the main principles that you do not see in modern martial arts is the principle of Awase, which can also be called the principle of Aiki. Awase literally means “come together”. Bushin Ryu Aiki Bujutsu is the martial system which implements one vital point or principle and is known for this concept which can be described as “the way of uniting with and joining Ki (energy)”.
It cannot be stressed enough that the principle of Awase should be the goal every day in our training in Bushin Ryu. The concept of Awase is to merge into an opponent’s attacking movement and take control. During the initial engagement the defender maintains perfect balance and perfect stance, whereas the technique is designed to destroy the balance and stance of the attacker. The attacker is thereby brought under control immediately. The technique is completed by continuing the movement into a joint lock, pin, throw, strike, choke, and the list goes on.
In Bushin Ryu it is generally viewed as utilizing techniques in which the principle is to use an attacker’s own power against him. Although this is true to some extent, Awase is more dynamic. The defender uses his own body movement (internal and external) to merge into the attacker’s power. It is also possible to initiate a movement that will create an attack into the defender’s sphere of control. After the initial engagement, the attacker’s power is irrelevant because his balance is gone and he cannot bring his power to bear.
As an analogy to Awase, consider the ways to stop a train coming down the tracks. Standing on the tracks and trying to stop the train by physically overpowering is not expected to work. However, running next to the train, jumping aboard, moving to the engineer’s compartment, overcoming the engineer and applying the brakes will produce the desired result of stopping the train. This is comparable to Awase in that no attempt is made to directly oppose power, but control is gained by merging into the power and disabling it. What we see in a lot of “modern” martial arts these days is the pride in being “tough” I can take the hit type of mentality. In Japanese martial arts this simply doesnt exist because it was a culture centered on thought around edged weapons. So if you train to merely “take the hit” this might not prove so well when the attacker is wielding a knife for example. Nor does taking too much time (getting entangled or grappling) with an attacker make sense when dealing with weapons or multiple attacker situations. The Japanese martial arts were fitted to the Samurai, and all of their opponents trained each and everyday for a glorious death, each was armed, and the “bad guys” always attacked in groups of multiples to ensure success. Today we see a lack of connection with an opponent being desired within martial arts and the reason why is simply due to the sporting nature of modern martial arts, where the scenario is set in a ring/cage and there is only a one on one circumstance. Very different from training in Bujutsu/combat.
I personally have spent many years adapting techniques from a number of “other” martial arts to embody the principle of Awase. What I have found in my studies is that a number of the older techniques included movements that at least obliquely opposed an opponent’s power and required considerable physical strength to perform. I modified these techniques by subtly changing directions so that the opposition was eliminated. All of Bushin Ryu is based on understanding these principles from the very beginning. We start this training by understanding that we all possess the “fighting mind”. Once we are no longer in denial of this fact we can then work on understanding what the fighting mind is and how it affects our actions in all aspects of life. Once we understand the fighting mind we can then work on choosing another reference point to work from. This is done in all aspects of life but is highlighted physically when we see the technique in which Nage connects with and redirects the attack in order to “own” the line of attack. Another would be that of simply moving off the line of attack. In any case the job of Nage is revolving around the point of conflict and is never opposing it directly.
Many people in the “martial arts” use the term “blending with an opponent’s power”. I would rather use the term “merging and joining into an opponent’s power”. I personally think that the concept of “blending” is non-descriptive and deceptively passive. “Blending” conjures up an image of tossing vegetables, fruits, etc. into a juicer/blender and turning on the switch. After a while the blender produces a homogeneous mass in which the individual ingredients are indistinguishable from each other. Blending would result in both people ending up in the same situation and being indistinguishable from each other. This is not what happens in Awase, which is a dynamic act resulting in the defender gaining control over the attacker and being clearly distinguished therefrom.
The understanding of both concepts: Awase and Musubi (also Ki-Musubi) are practiced and learned on both sides of training but I personally feel an equal if not greater understanding can be learned from the act of taking Ukemi. Your Ukemi skills will never truly be adequate until you have a proficient level of mastery over Awase. My recommendation is that the new practitioner of Bushin Ryu practices an equal amount, if not more, Ukemi than technique in the first several years of training. It is always the more difficult, so students usually wish to “pace themselves”. However, understand that if you have found an excuse to not be the best at Ukemi, in the end you are fooling yourself and missing out on the greatest opportunity available to study Bushin Ryu. To survive your Ukemi is not enough; your Ukemi should be flawless.
Anyway, the point of this writing is to highlight the aspect of Bushin Ryu Aiki Bujutsu that makes it unique among other Aiki and Non-Aiki related martial arts. Actual application of Awase is extremely subtle and takes considerable training to understand fully, but that is one of the things that make Bushin Ryu so fascinating and challenging to learn.