Watch Them Fall!!
By: Matt Henderson, Doshi
These days it seems that everyone who was ever anyone in Karate has Jujutsu experience. This only seems natural; most of us who are serious budoka have some experience in a few varied disciplines. While this column will often be devoted to the intricate historical and philosophical facts surrounding Jujutsu and the Koryu arts, (as well as the fine points concerning the employment of waza), I want to step out and give an opinion piece that may help some of you who are looking for Jujutsu instruction sort through the "scene" as I see it today. I think that 15 years (while a short time in the big picture) is long enough to be able to see and explain the difference between good and bad technique. So, with that in mind, let’s examine what is happening on the "scene."
Have you ever seen a reputed "Master of Karate" suddenly become equally adept at Jujutsu by virtue of a little paint on a sign or ink on a page? I am a Sandan in Jujutsu and I hold teaching certificates from a couple of World governing bodies. It really used to gall me to see a teacher of Karate learn a few Judo throws and tie them in to his Karate (for the atemi) and call what he is doing "Jiujitsu," or some other improperly romanized rendering. Why do you suppose this happens? The answer is simple; The seventies were the days and craze of the Ninja. Steven Segal (whom I respect as credible in Aikido/Aikijutsu—more on that later...) showed the public a different kind of "Kuhrotty" and then: BANG! the Gracie UNITED GALAXICAL ALL-STAR TOUGHEST MAN ‘ER LIVED FIGHTING CHAMPIONSHIPS burst onto the scene, capturing the imagination of Martial Artists all over the world. So... people again started showing up at the local martial arts studios asking about this "grappling stuff".
"Oh yeah, that is Jiujitsu(sic), I teach that too," the queried Instructor says as he demonstrates a very awkward wrist twist that hurts the neophyte enough to fool him into signing up under him to learn ‘Jiujutsu".
Ask yourself a question... Why does a Seventh Dan Karateka keep his Seventh Dan in Jujutsu a secret until now? I will tell you plain and simply : A lot of people think that mastery in Karate, mixed with a few rough-hewn Judo throws really constitutes a high ranking in Jujutsu. Well Surprise!!! It does not! Most of what we see on the popular scene that is being sold as Jujutsu (Using the properly romanized spelling from now on—I cannot forbear the other aberrations any longer!) is simply Karate (atemi) mixed with awkward Judo type throws.
Now...in an upcoming issue, I really want to go into Jujutsu origins and lineages, as well as some key principles, to help you seek quality instruction. I will discuss Daito-based arts and arts that come down from Ryoi Shinto-Ryu Jujutsu, and the forms that they take today. I want to particularly discuss "haragei," or what a Japanese Yudansha who stayed in my house over the Christmas holidays refers to (and some of you do, too) as "saikai-no-tanden", both terms denoting "keeping the one-point." All of these things are important and will be discussed as part of this series.
But what I want to assign you to do for now, as you are looking at Jujutsu, is a very simple little task: When you go to an instructor and he is a "Master" of Jujutsu from the "all-of-a-sudden-ryu," wait it out......and watch him fall.
Ukemi (defined properly as: losing the initiative; taking the defense) or breakfalling is absolutely an essential and basic EVERDAY kihon...for everyone. The great Judo Master, Mifune, Sensei took Ukemi his entire life. Ukemi is almost an art form in and of itself. It is good for the body (properly executed) and it is good for the soul (c.f. : fall down seven times, get up eight...). A master should "fall for you" sometime in watching his classes.
Now please understand that I am not asking you to go up to a Japanese master of high repute and demand that he demonstrate his entire repertoire of falls for you. Duh! But we are living in the United States and "Caveat Emptor" is the word for the day. ("It’s Latin dahlin’, apparently Johnny Ringo is an educated man....now I know I hate him." ___Doc Holliday) So, what I AM saying is that you should watch a few classes, and if there is any doubt to an instructor and whether he is teaching Jujutsu or just twisting wrists and "hossing" people with his strength, wait....wait....wait....and watch him fall. If he is legitimate, he should fall well. He should fall like he loves it, with no reluctance. If he falls like he is reluctant, and is claiming a high dan in Jujutsu...tell him a third dan named Matt Henderson said that he is not a Jujutsu master.
I have practiced Jujutsu at the weight of 120 lbs...and I am currently practicing Jujutsu at the weight of 200 (and a little bit) lbs. At 5’7", my body has changed considerably during my adult life. I currently bench press 315, but I think my Jujutsu involves less "strength" and more haragei and ki than it ever has before, thanks to my teachers. And by the way, the fall at those two aforementioned extreme weights feels, to me, absolutely identical. Religious!!!!! Spiritual.!!!!
Let me close by giving a quick illustration: A man who I admire in many ways came to me for Jujutsu instruction. He is a 5th dan in Okinawan Kempo, and a pilot for Delta Airlines. The man is also brilliantly strong. But he has an acute interest in Jujutsu. He had the means to travel around and be thrown about by some of the West’s premier teachers. Now this man is tough, with a capitol "T," and bad news for anyone to tangle with. But until he came to me, he had no ukemi. He was solid enough to take the "abuse" that should have been a smooth flowing experience. But I feel that I have contributed a little something to his impressive martial arts background and experience, by giving him Ukemi. He can now go all over the world and learn, instead of having to figure out how he was going to live through the painful experience of "getting back up" time and time again.
Next time, we’ll talk about some esoteric "stuff."
Until then.....please, Watch them fall!!