Archive for May, 2012

New students guide to randori

What is randori?

Randori (atleast according to wikipedia) means “chaos taking” or “grasping freedom”, and can be used as an alternative to drills or kata.

Randori tends to be a more advanced form of practice allowing experienced students to develop the ability to practice techniques based on instinct rather than thought.

Unlike drills or kata the movements in randori are not pre planned, meaning both uki and tori are free to do what they consider to be the most appropriate action, the benefits of this are that tori learns to react to stimuli, a grab, a kick or a punch, rather than consciously thinking through the movements and techniques.

However initially with students randori should probably be done slowly allowing the student to think through their movements before implementing them, allowing the student to gradually build up confidence and muscle memory, to the point where they react with speed and without conscious thought performing an appropriate technique based on the appropriate stimuli.

There are various different ways of using randori, randori can be simply 1 on 1, with uke restricted to only 1 punch, the advantage of training in this particular fashion is that this form of randori is similar to the drills the student may have started with, thus allowing the student to learn taijitsu in a less linear step by step fashion.

1 on 1 restricted randori can be expanded to allow uke to perform multiple attacks of different style of attacks (say grab and punch), again keeping the training method similar to 1 on 1 but tori now needs to use a greater repertoire, and the attacks are increasingly becoming unpredictable forcing tori to react rather than think and act.

Then eventually randori can be expanded to include multiple attackers, the attackers can be queuing or randori can be done in a circle with tori in the center, queuing allows tori to know where the attacker is going to come from, circular randori forces tori to be aware of the people around him as any person in the circle could attack, personally I find randori with multiple attackers a good test of technique, sometimes in drills or in 1 to 1 randori techniques can be forced using strength (in other words done incorrectly), against multiple attackers you may be able to force through an application on maybe the first or second attacker, however if your fighting against 5 or 6 people stamina becomes an issue, it doesn’t matter how effective the technique was on the first 2 people if you don’t have enough breath to deal with the other 4. So multiple attacker randori can be a good honesty check on our technique, are we really doing the technique correctly or are we trying to use strength, if we are puffing like a steam train after the second person we need to evaluate how we are implementing our techniques.

Multiple attacker randori can be expanded further so that the attackers are armed, tori may then be allowed either a weapon to begin with or allowed to retain a weapon, should he disarm an opponent or alternatively tori may be restricted so that they can only use their hands.

Also tori can may be restricted, tori can be restricted so that they can use only strikes, throws or locks, tori may even choose to restrict themselves allowing them to focus on those techniques they feel they need to train more (a good strike may decide for the next week he will only use grappling techniques).

Tori may also be restricted with stance or guard the randori may start with tori having to kneel.

Finally pressure testing can be introduced (although I suggest this is left only for experienced students who know exactly what they are training and why), shouting, swearing and aggressive posturing, this addresses the psychological aspects of conflict allowing the student to experience the adrenal dump and the fight or flight response that comes with it, without having to experience “real world” violence.

Ultimately randori at its zenith randori may allow tori to develop the skills for them to deal with multiple armed aggressors, while kneeling and without getting out of breath, at which point if you ever get attacked in the street it will be just another opportunity to practice.

Kukishinden Ryu: Musasabi

Kukishinden Ryu (nine Demon Gods School)

Kyukoshin is thought to have evolved from the art developed by Yasushimaru in the 14th century then name derives from the family name given to Yasushimaru and his companions after fighting for the emporer Go-daigo.

Segan no Kamae

This position requires you to stand sideways to your opponent , with your leading hand pointing to the eyes of your opponent, your remaining hand covers either your heart or by your hip.

Certain superficial similarities (leading arm forward and the rear arm held back close to the body) can be seen with the posture adopted by bare knuckles fighters prior to the implementation of the marquess of queensberry rules (and the wearing of gloves).


Musasabi can be broken into several steps, in this particular lesson Musasabi was split into three separate drills.

Steps 1.
1. To begin with both Uke and Tori stand in Seigan no Kamae.
2. Uke attacks with Fudo Ken, striking to the face.
3. Tori blocks the strike by hitting Uke’s striking arm on the inside of the elbow using the back of the hand.
4. Uki responds by taking Tori’s blocking arm and sweeping round to perform Koshi Nagi (hip throw).

Points to reflect on.
It is often tempting to perform the hip throw by trying to pull Tori over using the strength in your arms, however this is not possible if your opponent is far heavier than you (especially when they are wearing armour), so rather than strenuously exerting yourself (and possibly putting your back out), Uki should put his hip into Tori and try and execute the throw using your legs and hips to lift and throw Tori.

Steps 2.
5. Tori prevents the throw by hitting under Uke’s armpit.
6. Followed by a Boshi Ken to the Koe (weak area between hip and groin).
7. Tori then locks Uki’s right arm using Ura Gyaku Kote Dori.

Points to reflect on.
Tori really needs to drop their weight to prevent them from being thrown, as well as striking up into the arm, the strike prevents Uki from using his arm from maneuvering Tori into the correct position.

Steps 3.
8. Tori strikes Uke’s Suzu (genitals).
9. Then reverses his position to throw using Harai Goshi.

Points to reflect on.
Tori must be on the correct side of Uki in order to throw him, if Tori stands with Uki’s arm on the right should, Uki can counter using Boshi Ken.
Additionally to throw Tori needs to ensure Uke is far enough behind him so that Uke cannot simply step round and prevent being thrown.

First weapon, Tanto

Bujinkan Ninjutsu (or Ninjitsu) is very much a weapon focused martial art, traditional Ninja would adorn themselves with a variety of tools to cause bodily harm in a variety of ways, so in training its not unusual that at some point everyone trains with a weapon during lesson.

From my perspective weapon training is important for a variety of reasons, first your taijutsu (unarmed) techniques should be similar to your weapon techniques, your movements when avoiding a punch should be the same as if that hand was holding a bottle or a knife since in real life you will move by instinct and your movement will be based on what technique you practice most.

So unless you have an unlimited bank account and an wife that understands that you really do need to spend money on an assortment of pointed and blunt sticks (rather than a new carpet for the hall), its best to buy the weapons incrementally (that way you can hide any new purchases amongst the old kit).

The first weapon I suggest you buy is a tanto (knife in simple English), why? Because it’s a weapon that’s regularly trained with and is often used on the street (unlike say a naginata for example), tanto’s can come in a variety of shapes and sizes here are my suggestions regarding the variety of options.


Traditionally they are made of wood and have a cutting edge on one size, wooden tanto’s are often listed on ebay, but so far the cheapest place that I’ve seen is dealextreme. The advantages of a wooden tanto are that you’ll probably only ever need to buy one, ever however the disadvantage is that they are not necessarily like the sort of knife you will face in the street.


An alternative is the rubber knife, great for randori since they are less likely to damage your opponent when training (so you don’t need to hold back as much) sadly the bendy blade often prevents the use of certain techniques and rubber knives often have a limited shelf life.

Plastic training knives

Plastic training knives come in a variety of shapes and sizes from the more traditional tanto style to the more commando like stiletto, the advantages of these knives are the realistic look, they can be double edge (unlike the traditional tanto), the disadvantages are that they are often relatively brittle compared to the traditional tanto and can be just a little to pointy for use in randori.

Larp (Live Action Roleplay)

It is possible to buy LARP knives which can look relatively realistic and are also relatively safe, however they are also relatively fragile (as they are not designed for disarms in mind) and are relatively expensive.


DIY training knives can vary in quality, these can be simple affairs such as cut foam taped with duct tape to more elaborate pieces, however they should only ever be used if its club policy, anything else should never be included in training unless permission has explicitly been granted.

Step by step learning

Like any skill learning Bujinkan can at times be frustrating for new people, for people who have never done any martial art everything can appear to be complicated and difficult, for people who have trained in another martial art the techniques and movements can appear to be counter intuitive especially if your previous training has emphasized something else (grappling or striking in a particular fashion).

I addition Bujinkan does not have a strict linear syllabus as some other martial arts do, instead you may do a variety of techniques, but with a particular emphasis on movement or positioning.

To assist learning a particular technique (especially one I am having difficulty with) I tend to break techniques into a series of steps, based on movement of the body, usually in the following order.

1. Feet

2. Posture

3. Arms/hands

For me I feel that this particular order is important, if your feet are in the wrong place, you are likely to have the wrong posture which means your arms and hands may not be correct for that particular posture.

Often I see new students focusing on what they are trying to do with their hands, forgetting their feet and forgetting their posture, the result is often an ineffective technique, resulting in frustration.

To prevent this I personally try first moving my feet to the appropriate position, after I have done that, adjust my posture and then hands and arms, if necessary I will simply focus on the foot movement several times without doing anything else to ensure my movement is correct, once I am sure I am stepping correctly I consider my posture, once that is correct then my hand and arms.

Jumping to step 3 is likely to ensure that steps 1 and 2 are incorrect and if step 1 is incorrect step 2 will be by default incorrect, repeating a technique incorrectly will not help you learn the technique no matter how many time you do it.

This routine may need to be repeated several times in one technique, for example.

1. Step to the side (feet).

2. Turn body to opponent (posture).

3. Guard (hand/arms)

4. Step in (feet).

5. Rotate hips to generate energy for strike (posture)

6. Strike with hand arms (hand/arms).

This linear step by step approach should not be mistaken as how to do a particular martial art, rather just as a method on how to learn a particular martial art, consider it simply as scaffolding while you build your techniques, eventually your movements should with repetition become more natural and be done without thought (using muscle memory), so that eventually your movements will flow and blend rather than be a series of steps.

The meaning and purpose of Uke


When training in Ninjutsu we often work in pairs with one person as tori and the other person as uke, often this is misunderstood as attacker and defender, uke as attacker and tori as defender, this is incorrect, strictly speaking it is better for both to think in terms of tori being the person practicing the technique and uke being the person receiving the technique.

That is not to say uke does not attack tori, if the technique requires it uke should but in a way that allows tori to practice the technique, for example if the technique being learnt by tori is something that would normally be performed if the opponent was leaning forward and punching with a straight right arm, uke should lean forward and punch with a straight right arm, sometimes I see students who act to counter the technique (say by punching with the right arm but keeping it bent, or quickly pulling it back), assuming that if tori can’t deal with this its down to their inability to perform the technique, however if tori cannot get a technique to work it is also the fault of uke who should be assisting in the learning of the technique.

Additionally the stronger uke resists the more they are inviting tori to increase pressure, or if uke is making a determined effort to counter (especially if against an experienced student) tori is likely to change technique to match the movements and position of uke, often this results in uke suffering injury often both to body and also to ego.

However uke’s attack must be accurate but not necessarily fast (speed comes later once the technique is ingrained) , often we are training muscle memory and our nervous systems to respond to specific stimuli, if that stimuli is a punch that is 12 inch off target tori is not going to learn to react with the required speed and response when someone does an attack which is on target.

Once tori has performed their technique is uke defeated? No again this logic only works if you think of attacker and defender, no one is defeated, uke when on the receiving end of a technique should be still active and working in defense, for example if tori performs a throw should uke.

a. Wait until thrown, land like a sack of potatoes and complain loudly that uki is being too aggressive

b. Wait until thrown, then lie passive for a couple of minutes getting your breath back.

c. Go with the throw ensuring you hit the mat based on your own timing, and when on the mat remain alert and guarded waiting for an opportunity to counter attack or get up.

Naturally the last option I feel is the correct one, during the practice of a technique uke is also training themselves, if you perform option a, your only training your self to land like a sack of potatoes and then complain about it, in real life should you ever be thrown (theirs a lot of Judo jujitsu out there), all that’s likely to happen is that your going to hit some concrete hard and probably get a kicking while your still on the floor feeling sorry for yourself.

So for all you new students the one technique I would suggest you learn as quickly as possibly (and so practice as much as possible), break-falls and rolls because to be honest its likely that you will do this in almost every lesson and then when down get up.