The Ninja are famous for looking at situations from a different perspective then their contemporary warrior counterparts. Where the conventional warrior may boldly charge in, the Ninja uses subterfuge and observation to accomplish their goal. This different perspective or the ability to perceive more is to me the goal of our training.
This is the first of three posts about perception for training in our Ninja art of To-Shin Do. Each will discuss a perception of self or surroundings and how to use these to enhance our understanding of this amazing art. To begin we will look at the ability to perceive gravity.
If you spend anytime on Facebook you will see there is a trend in physical fitness that involves controlling your body in opposition to gravity. There are people doing all kinds of combinations of push-ups, pull-ups and yoga on the ground and up in the air on poles or bars. They use their muscles to counter act the effects of gravity and perform some amazing feats of strength and balance.
This muscular perspective of strength is used in the martial arts, as An-shu Hayes recently explained to me, as our cultural response to danger. Just watch any martial art competition, kata or cage, and you will see extremely athletic people using their muscular strength to achieve their goals. You can even hear it in the words they use while training.
I was watching people hitting pads and the person striking the pad made the comment that their last hit was a good one because they could feel the muscles all the way from their hand making contact to their feet on the floor. There was even one of those martial science shows that showed in slow motion a very powerful fighter hitting a target. They made note of how you could see the wave of power go down his arm and body to the floor. I wanted to yell into the television…”The wave is going the wrong way!”
Because of this cultural conditioning to value muscular strength the feed back of feeling the strike hit and all the muscles of the body firing is perceived as being positive. However in our art we work with gravity to create movement and power. When done properly a strike gives you very little feedback to your physical body. Your target tends to fly away but the perception you have is I didn’t do anything.
In order to understand this art you must learn to perceive and use gravity. It starts at the very beginning with kamae (body positioning), movement and all our striking and grappling tools. The longer you train the less you should need to use muscular force.
This statement needs to be clarified because I have had many arguments over the years with people saying you have to use your muscles to move. They are right but how you use them, how you perceive movement is the difference. We do not use our muscles to move us, strike a target or put on a lock. We use our muscles to control our bone structure in gravity. It actually takes quite a bit of muscular strength to do this properly but the strength is used for structural control not to create force for whatever technique.
When you train you should feel the pull of gravity on your body and be able to contract and release your muscles to allow it to move you. When you strike your feedback should be the target moving away from you not you feeling tension in your muscles. Use your perception to see if you are using gravity or fighting it.