Kuzushi! is a common term used in Japanese martial arts. I first heard the term and had it demonstrated to me in the Burbank YMCA in 1973. I began my path of martial training with Kyokoshinkai karate where I was introduced to kuzushi (founder of that karate system, Mas Oyama, was also later in his training a student of our martial forebear Yoshida Kotaro). I was to continue my learning on the concept years later in Gendai jujutsu and Nanka style Judo training.
Kuzushi, as I studied it in that context, was comprised primarily of our learning to push/pull opponents in proper timing to take advantage of making a gap in their balance and therefore unbalance them for a throw. In karate, it is often accomplished with kicks (…think yoko geri to the hip joint) that blast an opponent off balance.
Coming to train in Nami ryu Aiki Heiho with James Williams sensei, I was introduced to a more classical understanding of kuzushi. In our roots and training stemming from Don Angier sensei’s Yanagi ryu, we learn the term “gathering” to describe the act of bringing about kuzushi through “soft’, fluid, and subtle connection. This exploded my viewpoint from pushing and pulling to everything that is not pushing and/or pulling.
Coming from, and conversely adding to, kenjutsu…kuzushi becomes a principle/concept/understanding of the more or most subtle capacity for taking away balance from uchidachi . With a katana, this is often done with movement and subsequent effects on peripheral vision-based reactions. (It can get a lot more complicated than that…. bringing psychology, psyche, and conditioning into the equations).
The capacity to unbalance others begins with the capacity to develop and enhance balance in oneself. The understanding of the delivery of deception to an opponent is one of the hallmarks of advanced kenjutsu training.
Fundamental jujutsu and kenjutsu training in this context, requires conversely, first the understanding of how to balance oneself… or as we pass down the concept in Nami ryu, through the initialization of the practice of finding alignment with gravity.
Staying balanced, while unbalancing another person is one of the core skills that we use a wide variety of practices to gain and acquire a facility for the understanding and use of kuzushi.
In the clip below, you will see Williams sensei demonstrating a sensitivity exercise to help develop fine motor skills that can become accessible (through diligence) under duress. This is a very different idea of kuzushi than what I learned originally in that basketball-gym-dojo in Burbank.
Look for future posts that address this very deep element of the martial arts of Japan, and the nuances that can separate the quintessential lethal force engagement training of the samurai from its more modern formats and derivations.