Observing the Movement

John Chrisman


Recently during training I attempted to perform what seemed to be a fairly straightforward movement. The Uchidachi(Uke) punches to the face and the Shidachi (myself) catches the flow of attack and executes a hip throw.

This was fairly simple I felt so I performed the technique. As I tossed my opponent across my hip I was reminded of a recent lower back injury and I almost collapsed to the floor in instant extreme pain. In spite of that painful twinge I thought I had performed adequately since I had done this many times before. I asked my teacher, Dojo-cho Sukh Sandhu, to observe and critique me. After my first attempt at the technique he said “Maybe not so efficient. Look where you are standing when you execute the technique.”

I wasn’t sure exactly what he meant or where he meant I should be standing but I attempted the technique again as instructed. As the Uke punched I caught his attack and threw him over my hip. It still hurt but I felt I had overpowered him. He hit the mat and rolled up into a fighting kamae. I felt pretty good about that one. Again my teacher looked at me shaking his head, said “ You are using too much muscle. Look at your foot position. Check your feet,” I attempted the technique again. Finally he called us to watch him perform the technique.
 “Watch my feet.” He said. This time the Uchidachi attempted a full speed punch to Sukh’s face.
As the attack came the teacher adjusted his feet slightly, never moving far from the attackers fist and performed the technique. The Uchidachi attacked but suddenly hit the ground hard enough to lose any ukemi he might have had.

Sukh looked at all of us and said “The foot movement is the key to the technique. Stop relying on muscle. It’s all about Taijutsu.”

As we began training again, I concentrated on my foot position and less on forcing the technique with muscle. After that everything seemingly fell into place. I was able to relax and see my opponent’s movement and throw correctly without even feeling my Uke launch over my hip.

 I had been focused on everything but my foot position. I had been struggling to hoist my Uchidachi over my hip for a throw, using muscle, with my hips way too high and my feet in the wrong place.

 At the end of class Sukh related a story told to him by Manaka Sensei.

Manaka Sensei said that during his training years with his teacher, He had to always watch his teachers’ foot movement and position to capture the ma-ai or timing and distancing of each technique being taught. Without correct foot movement, all other aspects of the kata were incomplete.

 This hit home with me. I have been training for seventeen years now. In the early years of my training I used muscle constantly and forced my way through techniques thinking I was performing well. As time passed I began to see through training that a relaxed body was easier to manipulate regardless of the size of the opponent. But I still had strength if I had to use it or so I thought. After I was injured my strength was diminished greatly and I had to rely on taijutsu completely for success. This was frightening for me. Until my injury I had always been blessed with strength and had considered it to be something that would always be at my disposal if needed.

 As I get older and continue to train I encounter younger and stronger students. It is a simple fact of nature and life. That could be a really depressing or a completely freeing thought.

Everyone ages and the old neurons don’t fire as quickly as they used to and the biceps curl less as time passes but that has no meaning really because the ideals and fundamental nature of taijutsu stand unwavering for everyone who trains. It’s not about us. It’s about training.

As my training progresses and as I get older I will remain focused on the fundamentals and the spirit of Kobudo.