One of the signature skills of To-Shin Do is our ability to use our whole body to generate power, enabling even a smaller person to create amazing results with what seems like little effort. It is a difficult skill to gain, because it can go against conventional thinking, because it doesn’t always look the way movies and culture say powerful movements should look, and because our immediate reaction to a threat is often to let a part of our body do all the work for us. This temptation to focus our efforts in one place, one limb, is strong and takes constant awareness to overcome.
For some reason, hitting with just our arm, using just the muscles in that one limb, feels good. It makes us feel powerful. Generating power with our entire body structure can be so effective and effortless that it can be hard to understand. We might say, “But it should feel like I’m working hard!”
But then it wouldn’t be To-Shin Do!
Every technique we perform in To-Shin Do has lessons in nagare to teach. Part of our training assignment is to find that whole body movement within every technique, to be sure we aren’t isolating a part of our body and leaving it alone to fend for itself, if you will.
The fourth of our twelve keys is:
NAGARE 流 COORDINATION
“Move your body as a unit for flowing momentum knockdown or takedown – arms extend with legs in defense or attack; opposite of ‘jerk and struggle’ effort”
-An-shu Stephen K. Hayes, To-Shin Do Official Curriculum
Here’s a beginning exercise to practice this idea of coordination:
Try a lunge punch. Bend your lead knee forward slowly until you feel you have to either step or fall. Turn that momentum into the step that launches your punch. The moment your step has finished, your punch should also be completed, so the whole process feels like one smooth action. Rather than step into position, then punch. The goal is to have it all so integrated that you cannot separate the movement of your arms from the movement of your legs. Creating this flowing motion has an additional benefit in that it makes techniques seem less obvious, less likely to be perceived as resistance in the eyes of the attacker.
The most important part of this nagare concept is our own body and how we coordinate all the pieces together to be more effective. But there can be a flow to the fight as well. We want to fit in smoothly to what the attacker is doing. Fitting into the flow of the attack, fitting into the energy so the pieces of the fight (us and them) are coordinated and working together is important in our martial art. “Doing things” to an attacker works only when you are bigger, faster, or stronger. In true ninja fashion, we have to win even in the event that our attacker is the bigger, faster one. Learning to fit seamlessly within the attacker’s movement, and learning to break up our own rhythm and change the flow are important qualities to do just that. Finding opportunities to fit in is something we’ll explore in a later concept: ma-ai.
Then as black belts we can explore how to create more of this nagare within our own lives. How many times does one part of our life struggle with another part without us even realizing it? Whatever the situation, training every part of ourselves to work in alignment instead of in opposition is a skill that turns us from strong fighters to effortless warriors.