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The ability to stay focussed in a violent situation on the presesent moment is often the determining factor in surviving. The development of this focus is the main point of all of our training. The problem is that we have three attention/focus systems in us that are constantly vying for control of our focus. The three systems are Habit, Reward and Executive.

The Habit System is oriented from fixed rules to repeated behavior. It is the way we respond to our environment, to objects, people, or space itself. For example most adults don’t have to concentrate on opening a door. As our focus takes in the door knob our hand and body act without the necessity for us to concentrate or think it out, which saves us time and energy. However your environment is affecting your thoughts and behaviour to the point of making you a puppet if you are unaware of it.

(Training example: Everytime your instructor tells you that you’re doing something with your body that you are unaware of your habit system has taken over.)

The Reward System is our pleasure / pain system. Our attention is drawn to our likes and tends to avert from what we don’t like. The reward system is very reactive to novelty and information. And when you are used to this fast-paced system it will become active in slow-paced environments (like a repeated training drill) and produce novelty-seeking behavior which shifts attention around to both external events and internal thoughts to reproduce the pace of prior stimulation, e.g. phone and video game addiction.

(Training example: You are given a goal/objective in training by your instructor, they come by and correct you by bringing you back to the objective and you respond with “I was working on…”, “I was thinking…”, “I thought you said..” etc. Your reward system was basically bored with the objective and moved on.)

The Executive System is your focus on an intention to act. The problem with this one is that it only maintains control of focus as long as your intention stays at the forefront of your thoughts in memory. To stay focused you need a strong executive system with neurons able to stay connected for long periods of time. This system is impaired by fatigue or stress which makes it even more difficult in a dangerous situation.

(Training example: You are told to focus on your opponent’s center of gravity, they attack and you realize they are down on the ground and you are in control. You’re not even sure why it worked so well but it was easy. You were focused with the Executive system.)

Relevance is the primary criterion we use to decide what we pay attention to. But what is most relevant from moment to moment in a fight? For most people these systems don’t agree on what is most relevant and are in competition. This leads to experiences of stress, feeling ‘pulled apart’ and distractibility. Our training goal is to bring them into cooperation so they work together to run taijutsu for us.

We tend to believe that we are in control of our thoughts, words and actions but science is now confirming what the ancient mystic systems understood, that we are a collection of automated decision making subsystems. We start off with the basic human operating system which is then personalized over time by the experiences we have in life. Most people accumulate these decision subsystems (habits) without ever questioning them or questioning if this how they want to be.

As ninjutsu practitioners we use neuroplasticity, the ability of the brain to change, to evaluate and decide which subsystems we want and which we want to change. Ninjutsu lets us choose, we can train our brains to focus all three systems together to produce ‘effortless attention’ in the right direction.


  • Become aware of the subsystem you want to change.
  • Use executive focus and kuji tools (intention, mudra, mantra) to set up a new subsystem.
  • Practice and adapt the system until you get positive results in order to trigger reward system.
  • Repeat positive results system until tipping point and it becomes a habit.
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