Category: Combat Science


samurai

Joy and combat. Trust a martial art enthusiast to make a connection between those two words. But interestingly, they go together, hand in hand. You see, when someone is engaged in combat, their attention is fully focused on their opponent’s every movement, as it happens in the moment. When in the heat of combat, there simply isn’t any time to reminisce on the past or worry about the future. There is only what’s happening now. Learning to fight, counter-intuitively, taught me how to relax and be present. Combat, for me, has become a type of meditation.

There’s an unexpected serenity to be found in the heat of battle.

Because the warrior’s mind is focused in the present, combat induces an unexpected calm, a type of joyful serenity in the mind of the warrior. This is probably why most people are pleasantly surprised when they meet someone training in the warrior arts. Instead of the aggressive, testosterone fueled monster they expect to meet, they’re greeted by a calm, and unusually present individual.

Of course, you don’t have to go out and start a fight just to experience a serene, and joyful mind. You just have to focus on what you’re doing right now. Mindfulness. That’s the key to a happy life.

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In short: Practice mula bandha to generate bliss, inner power and an expanded state of mind.
And here’s the explanation:
The maps we’re given, in the form of various disciplines, spiritual paths, religions, etc, are the result of a reverse engineering, or a retracing of the steps of those who have made the journey to self realisation before us. I know this seems obvious, but when you think about it, it’s really quite ingenius.
When the mind begins to expand, and the inner and outer realities of the yogin begin to merge, many changes take place in the brain, changes that initiate a new level of functioning in the nervouse system. This has the knock on effect of making the body operate in a way that promotes awakening and self realisation, a type of evolution.
When yogins of the past went through their awakening process they became aware of physical changes happening in their body as their mind began to expand. Understanding that the body and mind are locked into a two way process, in which changes in the mind effect the body and changes in the body effect the mind, many of these yogins categorised the physical manifestations of the enlightenment process which later became a road map of their journey for others to follow. We can see many of these road maps to enlightenment as we read through the ancient texts of the east and west, with a large concentration of them found within the texts of the yogic traditions.
Over the next while I’ll try to dilineate the techniques I’ve found particularly useful while walking my path, which is a synergy of martial and yogic disciplines. These techniques, in yogic terminology, consist of Bandhas (energy seals), Pranayama (breathing methods), and, to a lesser degree, asana (postures). So lets begin with mula bandha, a technique used in both yoga and the martial arts, a technique that acts as a key to unlock the door leading to bliss and inner power.
Mula Bandha – Seal of the base
Mula bandha, on a purely physical level, involves a contraction and drawing up of the perineal muscles (located between the anus and genitals). When first attempting to apply this muscle contraction it can be difficult to isolate the perineum from the other muscles in the area, but with regular practice it becomes a simple task. The idea is to practice it regularly throughout your day.
As with many yogic practices, over time, mula bandha becomes very subtle. In fact, there will come a time when you will be able to simply hold your concentration on the area of the perineum, and this alone will cause the muscles to contract and go into a light spasm. Once we have reached this level, a type of inner bliss begins to arise from within the body. I feel it as a mild orgasmic sensation that radiates outwards, flowing down the legs and up into the abdomen. It’s like a warm, tingling excitement spreading throughout the body.
A simple practice
Here’s a simple practice I like to use. Sitting in a comfortable position. Begin by establishing a slow and steady breathing pattern. Don’t try too hard. The idea is to relax, not get stressed. So just take a deep breath, let out a nice long sigh, and let your breathing settle on its own. Once you’ve done this, bring your attention to the inward and outward flow of the breath. As you breathe in, lightly apply mula bandha, and as you breathe out, release mula bandha. And that’s it. Practice in this way for as long as you like, it will bring you many physical and mental benefits.
Deepening the meditative state
As well as the sense of vitality and energy mula bandha is capable of bringing into our lives, it also has a deeper purpose. When related to the process of awakening and expanding consciousness, mula bandha has a special connection with the medulla, the hind brain. As we begin to use mula bandha on a more regular basis, something interesting begins to happen. We start to gain control over areas of the body science tells us we shouldn’t be able to control. One of the first manifestations of this that I noticed in my earlier years of practice was the calming effect mula bandha had upon the breathing* cycle and heart rate.
*Just as a point of interest, in the healing aspect of the martial arts, it is said that strong sudden pressure applied to the perineum is capable of restarting the lungs after they have gone into respiratory arrest.
Because the mind is so intimately connected with the breathing cycle (we’ll look at this in much more detail when discussing pranayama), the effect of a calm steady breathing cycle is a calm and undisturbed mind, which, in this state, begins to expand.
The martial connection
In the martial arts, we are taught an interesting technique that involves a stronger contraction of the perineum. Basically, as we are executing a physical technique, whether it’s a strike, throw, block, etc., we are taught to breathe out. And while breathing out we are taught to push down and expand the lower abdomen as we apply mula bandha. Although this feels counter intuitive at first, its effects are truly amazing. When we breathe and contract our muscles in this way, there is a kind of knitting together of the muscles in the lower and upper body. This knitting together allows the entire body to move as one unit, all in the same direction. The effects of this are a tremendous increase in physical power. So, as a result, you get these old, frail looking masters of the martial arts (who have perfected this technique) making what look like effortless flicks of the wrist, in defence to an attacker who ends up being flung through the air.
What’s even more interesting than the almost superhuman power these guys are capable of issuing is the remarkable sense of calm and serenity that they radiate. I often wonder if they’ve realised the connection to mula bandha.
Awakening
In terms of awakening the brain, and subsequently the mind, mula bandha awakens the hind brain. In the next post I’ll look at two closely related practices, those being agni sara (fire cleansing) and uddiyana bandha (flying upwards seal). Both of which deeply affect the emotional centres of the brain.

Kid’s Jujutsu Training

The awesome kid’s in my Jujutsu club, in Ireland, showing off some of their skills during training.

This is a subject that, as martial artists, most of us are familiar with, yet because of the vast amount of information out there (in the form of books, DVDs, youtube demos, etc), it has become almost impossible to decipher what actually qualifies as Kyusho Jutsu.  Although many people are well intentioned when they write about this aspect of the warrior traditions, rather than clarify the subject, they only succeed in further mystifying it. With that said, here’s my understanding of Kyusho Jutsu, which I hope doesn’t end up being just another well intentioned blog that further distorts your understanding.

Kyu and Sho translate as vital point, and Jutsu, as art. Therefore, the Japanese term Kyusho jutsu translates as vital point art. The Kyusho are generally classified as vital points, or targets, on the human anatomy, which, when struck or manipulated, cause specific reactions in the body and mind of the victim. These reactions range from natural pain reflexes and spontaneous, uncontrolled movements of the body, to psychotic episodes, hysteria, unconsciousness, coma and death. Generally the points that cause these reactions are broken down into the following categories:

  • Bone Points
  • Muscle/Tendon points
  • Blood points
  • Organ points
  • Nerve Points
  • Energy points

Although the vital points, when related to vulnerable areas on the human anatomy, can be broken down into these categories, each point will generally have an effect on more than one body system. For example, a properly executed strike to the eye will obviously do physical damage to the eyeball, putting it into the category of an organ point strike. But when we look at the other effects such a strike has, we see that it also falls into the categories of blood point, bone point and nerve point. It becomes a blood point because of the internal reflex action generated on the heart, known as the oculovagal reflex. This is where pressure exerted on the eye causes a drop in heart beat and blood pressure. It becomes a bone and nerve point because of the jarring action it has on the head. This causes neurological disruption in the frontal lobes of the brain and damage to the neck (cervical vertebrae), creating a type of whiplash injury.

From the above description, it is clear that this understanding of the term Kyusho, describing it as vulnerable points on the human anatomy, has a valid place in the warrior traditions. However, at this point in our training and understanding most of us stop and become stagnant. And because we get so bogged down in learning lists of points and in trying to decipher pseudo-scientific explanations that usually accompany them, we completely miss the real “point”, and the deeper meaning of this art. But for those of us that don’t stop, and decide to dig a little deeper, there is a treasure trove of information awaiting our discovery.

CHANGING PERSPECTIVE

Rather than going down the usual rout of describing lists of points and the affects they have when struck or manipulated in a specific way, let’s change our perspective for a moment and attempt to redefine our understanding of kyusho. If, instead of seeing the kyusho as points on the body, we define them as points that exist in space and time, points that are all around us, all of the time, our understanding changes completely. In fact, our definition of kyusho jutsu now takes on a completely new meaning. Let me try to simplify what I mean by a point in space and time.

Using the concept of space and time, we can describe the kyusho as the vital point of an interaction, rather than a vulnerable point on the body. In a martial sense this means a kyusho is the vital point, during combat, which, if used at the right time, will lead you to victory. For example, if you are attacked by someone swinging their fist towards your head, with full commitment to their attack, the kyusho occurs at the point where your aggressor has overextended his/her reach, unbalanced him/her self, and expended all of the force of his/her attack. If, at this point, you change your position in space, alter your distance at the correct moment in time, or apply a light touch to your aggressor’s body, you will disrupt his/her balance, train of thought and attacking intention.

Viewing Kyusho in this way completely changes our approach to the subject. Now Kyusho Jutsu, rather than only being an art of manipulating physical points on the body, becomes an art of creating a point in the space around us, the space where combat takes place. And leading our opponent to that point, we are able to grasp the victory in every interaction we have. So kyusho now becomes a study, not only of points on the body (although this is still a part of the art), but of timing, distancing, space, rhythm, leading the mind, combat psychology, and awareness.

Regardless of whether you see kyusho jutsu as a purely physical art of manipulating points on the body, or as an art that encompasses the other elements I have mentioned above, this aspect of the warrior traditions should not be used as a complete system of combat. Kyusho Jutsu is and always has been practiced alongside other fully formed systems of combat. So rather than being a combat system in and of itself, it is a tool, a very useful tool, that can be integrated into striking, grappling, throwing and psychological combat systems.

I hope you have fun playing around with the idea of space and time, seeing how you can affect your opponent’s movements and thought processes by changing your position, timing, distance, etc., so that he/she is led to the vital point. Happy training.

Buki Jutsu; Weapon Arts

I’d like to take a brief look at the psychology of weaponry. Here we need to see from two perspectives. The first is that of the aggressor, and the second is that of the defender. Here’s a few short notes I wrote that you might find useful in your own studies.

From the perspective of an aggressor, when s/he is holding a weapon, that person has generated a barrier behind which s/he feels safe. In the mind of the aggressor, the weapon s/he is holding becomes the tool through which his/her aggressive intent is channelled. It is well known that the simple act of holding a match box in your hand can help you hit harder. In much the same way, holding a weapon instils an aggressor with an intense and exaggerated sense of power; as a result, that person will tend to hit harder and with more aggression in his/her actions. For the person being attacked, this can be an overwhelming, paralysing and fear inducing moment. However, horrific as it is, the person being attacked must realise that s/he has a number of advantages over the aggressor. Firstly, the aggressor, if untrained, will be fixated on using the weapon. This means that the person defending themselves is only defending against one weapon, rather than the arsenal of natural weapons available to the aggressor (such as his feet, fists, knees, etc).

From the defender’s perspective, if you have a weapon and find yourself having to defend yourself, remember that the weapon becomes a barrier between you and your aggressor the moment it is held in front of you. Its funny how, when placed in a high stress situation, human beings start acting like dogs. If a dog is about to attack, it will go for whatever is put in front of it. Put your shoe in front of you, the dog will bite it before attacking you. The same applies to a human aggressor when the adrenaline is pumping and the body is operating under the command of the emotional centres of the brain rather than the usual rational centres of the frontal lobes.  So if you happen to have a cup of coffee in your hand, it becomes your barrier and also a means of predicting the initial movements of your aggressor.

In terms of defending against someone with a weapon, as the person defending, you must not see the weapon as a barrier, and, instead see it as an extension of the aggressor’s body. This is a vital step in training your mind to overcome the fear of seeing a weapon in your aggressor’s hands.

If you happen to be the one in possession of a weapon, it is absolutely essential that you use the weapon as an extension of your body (as was mentioned earlier). This means that you don’t see the weapon as your only means of defence, and in this way you still have the use of the rest of your natural weapons (hands, feet, etc). Sometimes it’s better to throw down your weapon or even to give it to your aggressor in order to carry on the fight, and overcome your adversary, whether that’s in the form of a physical aggressor, or some other life situation.

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