The following are guidelines for successful practice in old japanese martial arts, described as 'koryu bujutsu' or 'koryu budo'. They make some specific references to the school of Shibukawa Ichi Ryu Jujutsu though these guidelines are applicable to practitioners of other schools of jujutsu, kenjutsu and iaijutsu. This list is likely to be added to in the future.
1) Etiquette - Reishiki
In Japanese culture a bow is as common as a hand shake, but often means much more. It is a way of showing respect and this is passed on to budo. In Shibukawa Ichi Ryu there is first the standard bow for the beginning of practice. This is from the position of squatting on the toes, then we bow by placing our fists onto the ground. Make sure to maintain eye contact with your training partner. Maintaining eye contact is for budo, where one keeps an eye on the enemy. This is different from the standard bow outside the dojo where one’s eyes will usually look downwards as a sign of humility.
Secondly, there is the special bow for the different groups of training techniques (kata). Most kata sets have a special bow, with the exception of kata involving with weapons. The reasoning for this is that when someone comes to you with a weapon, you do not show them any respect because they intend to kill you.
2) Standing & Posture – Tachi Shisei
We do not try to stand ‘big’ by sticking out our chest and broadening our shoulders. While this may give the illusion of strength, it overemphasizes the use of the upper body and reduces the ability to use our centre of mass commonly referred to as the tandem.
Instead we must stand in a relaxed natural position, with our knees slightly bent. This creates a low centre of gravity and allows us speed and power in our movements.
Also, be aware when and where the ‘han mi’ (half-turn) and lowered posture is required. This is trained especially in the yutsudome kata. Many techniques are absolutely ineffective without the right posture. A judo player for example, despite his great throwing technique is more likely to get stabbed as judo randori posture doesn’t usually apply the han-mi.
3) Kata Steps
Of course for learning new techniques and sequences, one needs to be aware of all the steps. However, when learning focus more on understanding rather than just copying. When practicing the kata, do not focus too much on the steps ie. what comes next. Instead, focus on feeling and understanding the technique. Focus on things like good posture, and balance and what a technique is actually meant to do. If you understand the ‘why’ then the ‘how’ becomes easier to grasp.
Also keep in mind that it is always best to feel a technique in order to understand why it works.
4) The Eyes - Metsuke
Watch your opponent in the eye. In the eyes you can see his intentions. Do not focus too much on his hands or any other part of his body because it will make you slower to react. If you focus on the fists your response will be too slow.
In fact, scientifically it is proven that motor responses to threats perceived through peripheral vision is faster than threats perceived in focal vision.
5) Kihyaku, Kime & Kiai
Kihyaku is a grunting sound, like with body builders in the gym. For jujutsu practice it is not necessary. In fact, it is a waste of the breath and ki (energy). Also, unlike many karate styles and other martial arts we do not use kime. Kime usually involves focussing all muscular energy into one single point and time in a technique. An example of this is the snap of a karate front kick. Instead, we use the kiai which must be applied slowly where required, towards the end of the technique.
The kiai is not exactly a shout, even though it would seem that way. A shout implies that we are trying to project volume from our voice box. Instead the objective of the kiai is to expel ‘ki’ from our bodies. In more scientific terms, when we kiai we expel air from the lower diaphragm which causes our internal organs to become more relaxed and the centre of mass shifts lower into the abdomen. This lowered centre of mass, allows us to more effectively use the force of our body weight in a technique. A lowered centre of gravity can have the effect of making us feel heavier, giving us greater balance, and giving us better leverage in destroying our opponent's balance. When using the kiai we never use two syllables like ‘Hi-yah', ‘Ai-yah’, ‘Eeee-yah’. Instead it is one vocalisation that comes from deep within the abdomen.
6) Distance & Merging – Maai 間合
Without the correct distancing the mechanics of many techniques will fail. This applies to both armed and unarmed techniques. Good 'maai' allows us to keep out of the attacker's reach when we need to be and then to quickly close-in on him at the right moment. Good maai also helps the person executing the technique to achieve mechanical leverage over his opponent regardless of size. Maai is also mental, which means being in tune with the enemy ie. being sensitive to his movements and staying a step ahead.
7) Breathing - Kokyu
While the term ibuki specifically refers to exhalation of air (mostly for karate styles), the term kokyu refers to the full cycle of breathing in and out, inhalation and exhalation. Breathing correctly keeps the hara (the core of the body) and limbs in harmony. Don’t breathe by the chest. That is, do not take shallow breaths as it only fills up the chest area. Instead breath slowly in and out at all times, to take the air deep into the diaphragm. This improves oxygenation but more importantly it helps to relax the core. Correct breathing improves tandem power which is the power projected from using the centre of mass.
After an intense exercise the breathing must be regulated so that one's breath is not made obvious through panting, or the rising and falling movement of the shoulders and torso. This has practical applications, such as not revealing pain or vulnerability to the enemy. Furthermore, a skilled opponent can time his strike to hit you when you inhale, which causes more damage to the diaphragm.
8) Alertness (Zanshin)
Zanshin is a state of constant awareness. Sometimes no matter how skillful, one can be defeated if caught off-guard. Most confrontations and ambushes can be avoided if we are alert. Keeping the mind in a state of alertness for prolonged periods is difficult and exhausting but is possible with practice. From soldiers to night club doormen, it is well-known that being distracted for a single moment can be fatal. When we are distracted it creates suki, an opening for our opponent to exploit. Even after we have won a contest, we must still maintain zanshin until the enemy is out of sight. In Shibukawa Ichi Ryu Jujutsu zanchin is practiced in all kata. At the end of a technique we always look at our opponent. Even if he has already been taken down he can still be dangerous on the ground. We also need to be aware of the potential for multiple attackers. Thinking too much about escape can itself be a distraction giving the opponent suki.
In Shibukawa Ichi Ryu Jujutsu we aim to defeat the enemy by destroying his balance. We do not push or pull with brute muscular force. We avoid the temptation of using the upper body. We also do not apply tension to the stomach area. We do no flex any muscles. With a good relaxed upright posture, we can generate power from our tandem. This allows us to apply our own weight against the enemy. It is difficult skill to achieve, but it is very important.