Forever Strong | Kaizen & Kanzen


18237973 10154865279067663 523053802300521372 oThe mission of our school is to be the highest possible expression of the Art of Jukido Jujitsu. Jukido was born from the founder’s desire to see jujitsu preserved for it’s original purpose (self-defense) in the modern world. While the Jukido style preserves the core purpose and philosophy of classical jujitsu, the art views continual update as absolutely essential. That is a part of our highest tradition – maintaining relevance and modern effectiveness. Otherwise, the art becomes something akin to a civil-war reenactment. An accurate depiction of the way things were…but not the way things are now. 

This concept is captured in the name of our umbrella system, Kokondo, which roughly translates to “The way of the past and the present.” Another, translation offered to me by a Japanese speaker was, “The path of the old and the now.” This should convey how important it was to the founder, and to us, that the art captures a spirit of tradition with evolution. We preserve AND we update. We adapt to the times when necessary but never forget the wisdom of the past, “the more things change the more they stay the same.” A centerpiece of my teaching approach is the emphasis on “Principles over techniques.” Techniques are simply expressions of larger principles. The principles are what matter most. We avoid becoming mere collectors of techniques. We don’t want to know a few jujitsu techniques… we want to KNOW jujitsu. There is a difference. There are many concepts and principles within our art. All students are familiar with the “big three” (kuzushi, shorin-ji, and jushin) that largely govern the physical techniques. But there are others. Two of the most important are KAIZEN and KANZEN.

Kaizen is the principle of continuous small improvements that add up to massive gains over the long term. This concept is something investors understand quite well. Kanzen is the concept of “completeness.” Not sacrificing a holistic approach for the lure of hyper technical proficiency in one domain.To be a serious life-long student of this dojo is to be totally committed to these two principles: Kaizen & Kanzen. Absent this, you’re missing the essential spirit that defines who we strive to be. You may take some classes but you’ll never learn the deepest lesson.

Each day we look to improve no matter how small. Every repetition, every hard randori (sparring), every surprise assault drill, is contributing to our quest toward mastery This is Kaizen. Mastery toward what? Toward Kanzen (completeness)! Because we are founded on the the precept of having our jujitsu be effective for real self-defense, we don’t have the luxury that others have by hyper-specializing their approach to the art. Developing particular styles of jujitsu that concentrate totally in one area (throwing, groundwork, etc.). In self-defense, one needs a complete approach. One that encompasses the broad categories of throwing (nage), striking (atemi), katame (grappling), goshin-jutsu (defensive tactics such as disarming), etc. We also aim to be “complete” by incorporating the philosophy of the warrior. This philosophy, bushido, allows us to be complete martial artists. Mind, body, and fighting spirit. This approach is what we strive forward at the Jukido Academy.

Kaizen and Kanzen are the path to being Forever Strong.

International Kokondo Association

The worldwide governing body of the arts developed by Shihan Arel: Jukido Jujitsu & Kokondo Karate

Welcome to the area of our website dedicated to the International Kokondo Association (IKA). The IKA is a traditional martial arts organization that teaches and governs the martial arts of Jukido Jujitsu and Kokondo Karate. The history of the International Kokondo Association (IKA) is linked with the history of its founder, Shihan Paul Arel. Shihan Arel was involved full-time in martial arts from 1950 to January 2009. The Jukido method of jujitsu began its formal introduction in 1959. The IKA and its karate style were formally established in 1970. There are many aspects to the IKA. The organization and the traditional martial arts it established are unique in the realm of the modern martial arts organizations. Only individuals with IKA Instructors certification, current rank credentials, and written permission from the Honbu (world headquarters) dojo can teach either Jukido Jujitsu or Kokondo Karate.

IKA Intent & Purpose:

Shihan Paul Arel established the International Kokondo Association in 1970 with several clear objectives. Paramount among these objectives was the need to preserve the integrity of traditional martial arts as methods of practical & effective self-defense in the present day.

List of objectives for the International Kokondo Association:

  • To maintain the authenticity, integrity, and effectiveness of  jujitsu & karate as legitimate systems of modern self-defense (Jukido Jujitsu & Kokondo Karate).
    • Done by the standardization of core curriculum, kata, procedures & etiquette in IKA dojo worldwide
    • Honbu (world headquarters) is the leading authority as it pertains to the governance of Kokondo’s jujitsu & karate.
  • To instruct its membership in traditional martial arts as applied for modern day realistic self-defense through:
    • Officially Sanctioned IKA dojo
    • Seminars held by Honbu
    • Publications
    • Special Events and training opportunities
  • To educate the general public with respect to:
    • Who we are / What is Kokondo?
    • “Kokondo” refers jointly to Jukido Jujitsu & Kokondo Karate
    • Kokondo is a traditional martial as opposed to many other traditional schools which are not taught as practical self-defense. Emphasizing either sport, philosophy, or aesthetic art form over practicality in realistic self-defense situations
    • Therefore, Kokondo is not a non-traditional system emphasizing “sport” or hobby that closely mirrors a physical fitness routine rather then effective self-defense. Recently others have focused on developing “toughness” and fighting, not self-defense.
  • To combat the trends of over-commercialization of martial arts by those practicing unethical business practices and spread misinformation to the general public. To develop and nurture the camaraderie that has built Kokondo into a true family. The membership of the IKA benefit not only from a vast number of training partners from around the world but also from the friendships that are born and cultivated with fellow Kokondo members. Kokondo and its membership strive to uphold the Seven Codes of Bushido (way of the warrior):
    • Veracity
    • Politeness
    • Justice
    • Benevolence
    • Courage
    • Loyalty
    • Honor
  • The primary purpose of the IKA is to continue Shihan Paul Arel’s pursuit of the highest ideals of traditional martial arts in both technique & personal character.


Traditional Japanese martial arts are categorized as either bujutsu or budo. Bujutsu (martial art) are the older Japanese systems and are quite literally the martial arts of Japan. The sole purpose of bujutsu is the effectiveness of techniques in real situations. Budo (martial way) are the sibling of the older bujutsu. Budo tend to focus less on practical applications of techniques for realistic self-defense. Rather, the focus either revolves around sport, the aesthetics of technique, or the perfection of the moral fiber of the student.

Kokondo is fascinatingly both bujutsu & budo. Kokondo is bujutsu from a technical perspective. This is true because all of the physical aspects of Kokondo training ultimately come back to the objective of practicality and effectiveness in present day self-defense situations. Techniques are not assessed for value based on simply how well they may or may not work under the “rules” of competitions, how the technique “looks”, or any other measure. The focus of all techniques & training methods are assessed for utilization in realistic self-defense.

Kokondo is also budo. Philosophically, Kokondo pursues the highest ideals of budo inside and outside of the dojo. Some of the budo ideals emphasized within Kokondo:

  • Doing One’s Best – Striving for our own personal best inside and outside of the dojo
  • Appropriate Response – Dealing appropriately & justifiably with an attacker on the street and applying the same care and attention to aspects of daily life.
  • The desire to train hard which develops personal integrity, strength, and discipline.
  • Mutual Benefit and Welfare. All instructors of either of the IKA’s martial arts, Jukido Jujitsu and/or Kokondo Karate, emphasize safety and focus/control (kime) in training.
  • Seven Codes of Bushido, as mentioned above.

Defining Kokondo:

Kokondo is made up of three kanji (Japanese characters):

  • Ko – Past / Ancient / Old
  • Kon – Present / Now / Current
  • Do – Way / Path

The name Kokondo translates to mean, ‘The way of the past & present.’ Therefore, Kokondo preserves the integrity, authenticity, and effectiveness of the time tested techniques of past masters & sensei, but does so in a manner that applies the needs of modern day realistic self-defense. Kokondo utilizes this approach to fulfill its dual objectives of preserving the techniques and intent of classical martial arts, while at the same time meeting the reality of self-defense situations, as they exist today.

Additionally the name Kokondo encourages students to learn from the past and to apply those lessons to their present, both inside and outside of the dojo. This lesson works for both children and adults.

Other Kokondo Definitions:

  • Jukido:
    • Ju – Gentle / Soft / Adaptability / Flow
    • Ki – Energy / Power / Strength
    • Do – Way or Path
      • The most common translation utilized within the IKA for Jukido is, ‘The Way of Gentle Flowing Power.’ This translation most accurately reflects the nature of the techniques, which focus highly on the utilization and redirection of energy in a way that minimizes force on force collisions while creating incredible power. There are also philosophical implications to the name of our jujitsu system (Jukido). Other acceptable translations are: ‘The way of flexible energy,’ & ‘the way of adaptable strength.’
  • Jujutsu:
    • Ju – Gentle / Soft/ Adaptability / Flow
    • Jutsu (jutsu) – art, technique, science, method
  • Karate:
    • Kara – Empty
    • Te – Hand(s)

KOKONDO- the Way of The Past and Present is keeping traditions alive, now and for the future.

IKA Family:

The membership of the IKA benefit not only from a vast number of training partners from around the world but also from the friendships that are born and cultivated with fellow Kokondo students. The bonds developed in individual Kokondo dojo are deep and do truly resemble a family. Incredibly, these bonds extend beyond individual dojo and expand across the entire international organization. The spirit of camaraderie is often commented on from students of Kokondo both new and old. The IKA takes pride in drawing from such a diverse group of individuals. The diversity of Kokondo is one of its most significant strengths. All students not only benefit from the traditional martial arts of Kokondo, but also contribute in building the strength of the Kokondo fabric.

IKA of Florida:

The official regional representative body for the IKA is the Florida Jukido Jujitsu Academies (FJJA). The FJJA is lead by the IKA’s National Jukido Jujitsu Director, Master George M. Rego (godan), a direct private student of the founder until the founder’s passing.

Kaicho Gregory Howard

International Director: International Kokondo Association

9th dan (kudan)

Kaicho Gregory Howard began his martial arts training as a child at the honbu dojo (world headquarters) of the International Kokondo Association (IKA) under its’ founder, Shihan Paul Arel (10th dan -rank retired). Today, Kaicho Howard is the world’s leading authority on the authentic martial arts system of Kokondo.  In late 2008, he was appointed as successor by Shihan Paul Arel, his Sensei for over 37 years. As the International Director, he is responsible for leading the IKA worldwide as well as maintaining the authenticity of the Kokondo arts.  Kaicho Howard was promoted directly by Shihan Paul Arel to the rank of 7th dan in both Jukido Jujitsu & Kokondo Karate. In 2013 the Board of Masters & Directors of the International Kokondo Association unanimously awarded him the rank of kyudan after 41 years of non-stop study – the highest rank ever awarded to a living Kokondo-ka (aside from the founder). He is currently the highest-ranking black belt in Kokondo.

The long martial arts history of Kaicho Howard began in 1972. The late Shihan Arel stated that Kaicho Howard as a child was a quiet but enormously dedicated student who desired to learn everything he could about Kokondo. Kaicho Howard’s passion for applying the powerful arts of jujitsu and karate for realistic self-defense has lead to a lifetime of study. He started in the art of Jukido. As Kaicho Howard’s skill grew,  so did his confidence.  This once quiet young boy is now an intelligent, gifted communicator and martial artist.

Since Greg Howard became a nidan, at age 19, he has been the standard of Jukido jujitsu – being second in rank only to Shihan Arel.   Before the passing of the founder, Kaicho Howard served as a top representative of Shihan Arel in a number of capacities. In addition to being the favorite uke (training partner) of the founder, he served in the past as the National Jukido Director and the International Associate Director of the IKA.

As Kaicho (leader), Master Howard serves Kokondo as the Chief Instructor of the Honbu (World HQ) dojo – leading regular instruction and the instruction of the Kokondo Yudanshakai (black belt association). In this capacity Kaicho, succeeds Shihan Arel, as teacher of the elite group of Kokondo black belts, including all senior sensei of the IKA.  Kaicho Howard travels to teach and expand the Kokondo arts at both the national and international level.

As a martial artist Kaicho’s techniques are well known and difficult to forget. His encyclopedic knowledge of how to maximize the potential power of the human body is matched only by his knowledge of how to systemically control and fundamentally destroy that very same potential. Kaicho Howard is without question a master of the maxim Seiryoku Zen’yo (optimal use of energy). Although his skill level is extraordinary and well balanced among all the branches of techniques within Kokondo, Kaicho Howard is well known for his technical proficiency in nage-waza, taiho-jutsu (arresting techniques, including atemi-waza or pressure points), and his accuracy in karate-jutsu techniques and kata.

Kaicho Howard once said that martial artists approach mastery  when they use their own body’s responses and trained reactions, almost as a living reference book, to teach themselves and others.  Although he wasn’t referring to himself, the definition holds especially true in his case. The founder instilled in Kaicho Howard the uniqueness of Kokondo. His training included the entire curriculum of Jukido Jujitsu along with old style jujitsu drawn from classical systems (specifically authentic sanzyuryu jujitsu). Kaicho Howard’s Kokondo Karate experience encompasses all the Kokondo Kata as well as bunkai (applications) and himitsu (hidden) techniques within them.  

As a teacher he is unique in that he can infuse and balance the traditional discipline required in the dojo while at the same time being able to provide a humorous tone as necessary. Humor is a teaching tool. It’s often said that confident teachers  poke fun at themselves to illustrate a point.  Kaicho is a teacher with the highest level of authority and skill, but with the humility to answer a question even long after class has ended and almost everyone has left the dojo. His “hotel lobby” and “parking lot” lessons are often as memorable and beneficial as his instruction in the dojo. Howard sensei is a truly masterful teacher – a teacher’s teacher.

Lasted Edited: August 1, 2014 (original Feb 2009)

Authored by Sensei George M. Rego, 4th dan

Contributions by Master James Scanlon, 5th dan (retired)

In honor of Kaicho Howard’s commitment to IKA

The Art of Framing | Structure Over Strength

The art of “framing” is a critical skill in the toolbox of the self-defense oriented martial artist. Framing allows for space. Space allows for freedom of movement. Freedom of movement allows for options: escape or counterattack.

There are difficult moments when we are being compressed, smothered, and crushed (or we see the potential for that coming on quickly). The instinct, like someone who is drowning, is to thrash in an attempt to free ourselves from the intense pressure. However, like a person who is drowning, these unskilled frantic actions only fatigue us while inducing even more panic. For those who are training for self-defense, the inability to gain freedom isn’t the loss of a match but potentially our physical well being. It is also important to consider that the crushing compression one feels will likely be from an adversary of superior size and strength. They are purposely using their mass against you.

Although the art of Jukido Jujitsu often (but not always) encourages close physical connection between you and your adversary, it encourages this contact when the contact is on your terms! When it is not on your terms and you can’t, for whatever reason, immediately convert the attacker’s physical connection against him you must create and then control space. Framing is one way to do exactly that. Framing is strength through structure. Structural strength over muscle power.

Framing is by no means limited to ground fighting (far from it). However, ground fighting serves as an obvious example.In ground-fighting (or newaza), for the person on the bottom the general rule is that space is your friend. Creating effective “frames” allows you to create space. Otherwise you remain pinned between your attacker and the ground. By framing and creating space you can then use this space to get out from underneath the individual or to fill that negative space, if situationally appropriate, with a counter attack of your own.

Without control of elements such as: pressure, posture, positioning, balance, open space, and combative distance there is no hope for the smaller individual in real self-defense. Although there is no one tool that has all the answers, understanding the concepts of creating strong anatomical structures (frames) is one vital tool in helping the weaker overcome the physically stronger.

-George Rego Sensei

Morote Gari

Morote Gari, commonly referred to as a “double leg takedown” in wrestling circles, is also a technique utilized in the Japanese martial arts of jujitsu and judo. The judo legend, Master Kyuzo Mifune, is shown demonstrating this technique in his classic text, “The Canon of Judo.”

Morote Gari is often an underappreciated and neglected technique, however, the study of this traditional & highly practical throw is incredibly valuable. Not only is it an important tool that the jujutsu practitioner can utilize in defending themselves but a strong understanding of this technique is useful in “reverse engineering” solutions when under attack from the cruder form of this technique that is popularly utilized by young men in street altercations. Likely applied without the finesse of an expert of Morote Gari but often “good enough” and aggressively applied before a “ground and pound” style attack. A primary way to stop a problem is to study it deeply. Understanding it on both sides of the fence. The hardest people in the world to throw are the best throwers in the world. The practice of randori (jujutsu / judo free sparring) proves this daily. Understand both the yin and the yang.

Depicted here is James Thrall applying Morote Gari during a formal Jukido Jujitsu training and self-defense practice emphasizing this important, albeit underutilized, throwing technique of jujitsu.

George Rego Sensei

Clarity of Purpose: The Hard Way

By George Rego

Two weeks ago a desperate mom contacted me with a shaky voice and tears of frustration. Her son (and daughter) have been studying at a (not to be named) local “martial arts” studio for the past 4 1/2 years. After 4 years of persistent practice and dedication to his school, he found out that his training simply wasn’t based on anything real. He found out the hard way. The really hard way. Several times over. He was beat up by a child (several times) who was approximately his size. He attempted to defend himself with the “skills” he had learned but was simply dominated.

The child is ten years old. Given his age, he felt he spent half his life on something useless. He felt betrayed by his training. He felt martial arts was a scam. It was the equivalent of going to swimming lessons for 4 years and finding out that you actually can’t swim. Sadly, this is the norm. Innocent people think of martial arts as interchangeable with self-defense. In signing up at a martial arts school the overwhelming majority of the people expect that their child will be learning realistic self-defense. In some cases they are introduced to a sport version of martial arts. In worse cases, they are introduced to schools that are little more than centers designed to entertain children in a karate-themed daycare. In honest schools they just say they teach combat sports or martial arts for health purposes and aren’t truly focused on self-defense. Fair enough.

Unfortunately, this is INCREDIBLY rare. Most advertise self-defense but are VERY far from it. Despite advertising self defense, schools like the one this young man came from have “instructors” who don’t educate in real self-defense but rather prostitute a watered down version of martial arts because it is “good business.” Students are promoted every few months, with a “testing” fee attached, in order to keep the kids happy and coming back (with money). The symbol of progress, the belt, says they are getting better. They are progressing. They are moving forward. This builds the only thing worse than lack of confidence — FALSE confidence.

After the boy and his sister took part in their first class at the Jukido Academy, they were SHOCKED (in a good way) by the content of class. The mother stated that in one class that her children had learned more actual self-defense techniques than the kids had ever learned in 4 years at their previous school. She admitted that she was embarrassed that she just didn’t know better and thought that they were learning self-defense. She said it took her actually watching a class to fully realize how, in her words, “night and day” the difference was not only in the quality operation of the dojo but the actual physical content of the class itself.

Strangely, this boy is one of the lucky ones. Although he was shown “the hard way” that the training he took part in had no substance to it… at least he has made it out. How many kids and parents spent decades of their lives fully dedicated, with good intentions, to something so false?
These cases are always a reminder and inspiration to me. They remind me why I do what I do. They remind me to “cut away” the stuff that isn’t really truly functional and to insist on constantly finding higher levels of truth in the study of martial arts for it’s original purpose: self-defense. Ensuring that our study of martial arts is always built on a foundation of truth.

That may mean that from time to time that student/parents aren’t happy because their “kid isn’t getting belts fast enough.” So be it. At least that child knows that we aren’t going to lie to him. We won’t tell him he is capable of things he isn’t. We won’t be responsible for giving him false confidence. When a student earns a belt from the Jukido Jujitsu Academy, that belt will be an honest and accurate reflection of the skills he/she has at that moment in time.

I’m honored to do my part to pass on this path, straight and well. Thank you to the students and parents who give me their trust. I don’t take it lightly.

Study All • Focused Practice

I study all martial arts. Intensely. Deeply.

I am in love with the study of martial arts.

I study each art. I study the unique history, practitioners, evolution, emphasis, techniques, strategies, principles, culture, organizations, marketing, curriculums, and anything else I can absorb. I take in a massive amount of information in my study of all the various martial arts. What this has developed over time is a highly refined filter for this information. As Bruce Lee once said, “Absorb what is useful, discard what is not, and add what is uniquely your own.”

I’ve studied a very great number of martial arts in a non-dogmatic way. Countless hours of study. I’m open minded in my unending personal research. I even study the charlatans. Of course, pretty much all of their material is useless and thus is “filtered out” but I seek to better understand who they attract. Why many individuals are fiercely loyal to those who are clearly paper-tigers with objectively false approaches to martial arts. What is the profile of the individual who studies from the “chi master” who supposedly knocks people unconscious without touching them?

I study combat sports and enjoy many of them! There is a lot to be said for the so-called “sport guys” who don’t train “for the street.” Incredible athletes with frequent displays of immeasurable fighting spirit. Many “reality based” (i.e. those who market themselves as commando types. Usually wearing military gear, etc.) teachers make it very clear that the combat sports don’t work on the street due to rules and regulations…while ignoring not only where those skills could be applied effectively but also the fact that they themselves are (quite frequently) grossly out of shape and clearly haven’t had a daily regimen of combat practice, physical fitness, or sensible nutrition in a very long time, if ever. They could learn something from these well trained and conditioned athletes. Many of the quasi-commando type “reality based” exponents also don’t have time for the belts, ranks, and titles of traditional martial arts because after all — “none of that matters in the real combat.” Unquestionably, they have several VERY valid points of concern but tend to make things very black and white. A removal of nuanced thinking that seems to be a societal trend. Just feed what you already believe to be true (or have invested too much time in for it not to be true…). Despite their “ real combat” oriented mind, I’d often rather have the sportsman cover my back in a dark alley. The sportsman’s attributes of mental grit, physical conditioning, and ability to apply what he knows against resisting opponents seems to be more useful than the theoretical dissertations espoused by the commando “reality combat expert” who is so concerned with “survival” in the real world that he doesn’t have the physical fitness to run a mile, jump a wall, fight, or pass even the most basic of physical health assessments. The point isn’t that these quasi-commandos don’t frequently have completely valid critiques but very often their points are crushed under the weight of his lack of personal example, credibility, and gross overestimation of his capabilities.

Of course, read any internet forum frequented by combat sport practitioners and you’ll plainly see some of the same behaviors on the polar opposite end. Seems a lot like folks on extreme ends of political spectrums or fundamental religious ideologies unwilling to acknowledge any point from any side that isn’t there own. The young super-athlete who frequently overestimates how well his abilities translate in arenas not quite so specialized to his specific ruleset. Such as “the street.” As respected judo and jujitsu black belt, Dave Camarillo says, “rules dictate behavior.”

I digress. The point is, I study many martial arts and many facets of martial arts.

However, my PRACTICE of martial arts is much more focused. I don’t physically practice all of the many arts I study, research, and investigate. Not even close. My physical practice is highly focused and much more narrowly filtered. I’m a student (first) and teacher (second) of the Jukido method of jujitsu. A traditionally based, modernly focused, complete system of jujitsu oriented towards realistic modern self-defense. A comprehensive system of the art of jujitsu developed by my own sensei, the legendary master and early pioneer for authentic martial arts in the United States – Paul Arel. This unique approach to jujitsu is what best meets both my goals and my needs. Although I’m incredibly open in my “study” of martial arts, I’m quite conservative in my actual “practice” of martial arts – i.e. what I allow to become a part of my physical practice (and instruction). What I actually infuse into my muscle memory. Understand the difference.

Understanding your goals and needs is at the core of your martial arts PRACTICE. It is not exclusively a question of what might be “cool” or interesting — but an honest (and continuous) critical analysis of what you are in martial arts for. I find a lot of softer styles of Aikido or Chinese Kung Fu demonstrations very “cool” and appreciate the real skill involved. But I don’t PRACTICE those approaches. Generally speaking, these approaches, directly or indirectly, oppose my needs/goals. I find many military approaches fascinating and have studied them rather deeply but I “filter” what is useful from this study and absorb only what is useful to me as a civilian with a family who isn’t in a warzone. The advanced “filter” system I have developed is critical here. Absolutely essential. I don’t want to allow things I study that may be “cool” or interesting to invade my actual practice if it isn’t useful fit for my particular goals as a martial artist.

Which is better, a plumber or an electrician? Who is better a cardiologist, an orthopedic surgeon, or a general physician? Which is better, a police officer or a fire fighter? Obviously, it is pretty silly to suggest that any of them is “better”…it depends on what your needs are. Do I need to catch a bank robber or put out a fire? Do I need to fix a pipe or a repair a wiring issue? The point is, what is needed at that time dictates which is “best.”

My goals/needs have me practice for self-defense. I like that fact that when learning the techniques of breaking joints, choking people unconscious, or throwing people through the air and into the ground, I do so in a traditional environment that cultivates an overt sense of respect, discipline, and mental focus and doesn’t treat the training area as casually as a “boys club.” For me, it instills the character I’m looking to develop as a human being and the respect for the skillset being presented and practiced. For me, it is the equivalent of learning how to handle firearms. I’d rather learn how to engage with a firearm in an environment that is friendly but always mindful that a firearm is to be respected and that it’s original purpose isn’t for game or sport. It isn’t a toy or a fashion accessory. It isn’t designed to give you the “feeling” of safety. At the utilitarian core – it has one purpose. Fear isn’t needed but respect is. Lose sight of what it is designed for, lose respect for it’s intended purpose, lose respect for it and it could cost you deeply.

Someone else’s goals might be completely different. In all, but the most extreme cases, this is totally OK with me. In fact, I’m open minded and often appreciate these alternate approaches. I study many of them with admiration. Just seek and speak truth. Assess your needs and develop your fitler based on your goals. Study broadly but filter what you study to ensure that what you practice is in alignment with your goals/needs.

I study martial arts very liberally but absorb into my own practice of martial arts conservatively. Nuanced thinking. Critical analysis. Self-awareness. Perspective on dogmatic thinking. Balance equals power.


Help! My Kid Wants to Quit! Do I Force Them to Continue?

Help! My Kid Wants to Quit! Do I Force Them to Continue?

The Importance of Jukido Jujitsu & Self-Defense as a Life Skill

by George Rego, Chief Instructor

So what do you do the day your child tells you that they want to quit their training at the dojo? Do you allow them to quit? Do you force them to continue? What do you base your decision on? Their feelings? The values you want to instill in your child? Your finances? What should a parent do in these situations?

Before going any further, I should make it clear that I am NOT of the belief that you force your child do something “no matter what.” I’m truly not. Having said that, I am also NOT of the belief that you allow your child to QUIT pursuing martial arts (or any other endeavor that requires long-term commitment) at the first sign of laziness, declining interest, or short-term lack of motivation. 

I began my personal martial arts training at age 8. I’ve been teaching martial arts since 1999. As a life-long martial artist and as a teacher I’ve been confronted many times, personally and professionally, with the situation where a student has made it known to their parent that they don’t want to continue training. Sometimes parents simply allow them to stop and we never see them again (unfortunate). In many cases parents approach me and we can often establish a strategy to find out exactly what the issue is and address it to ensure a continued path of success as a long-term martial artist. With a shared vision, set of values, and game plan most situations can be resolved, many times quite easily. 

The first and most important factor for parents (and students) to understand is this: There is a difference between motivation and discipline. The key to success at Jukido Jujitsu or anything else is understanding the difference.

In anything that we do long-term there will ALWAYS be high points and low points in motivation. As human beings we are emotional creatures with fluctuating moods. This happens to us in our daily activities and it will most certainly happen with anything that requires a long term commitment. Whether we are talking about an ongoing commitment to fitness, a weight loss program, a marriage, a religious faith, a career, learning how to play an instrument, or learning self-defense – there will be highs and lows (like the stock market). You might feel completely motivated to start your diet on Monday but by Saturday night that double cheeseburger is looking REALLY good. You might not be motivated to maintain your diet…you might be REALLY motivated to eat that cheeseburger. What do you do? Do you quit your diet? The one you just started on Monday?

If you base your decisions on emotion and on what you are “motivated” to do from moment to moment then you eat the cheeseburger. If your decisions are guided by discipline as opposed to momentary motivation – you stick to your guns despite your motivation at the moment, and you stay away from the diet-killing double cheeseburger. 

How many adults won’t go the the gym today (despite their New Year’s resolution, fully paid membership, etc.) because they “don’t feel like it?” Those who base their daily decisions on motivation won’t go. Those who base their decisions on their long-term goals will go despite their lack of motivation (discipline). 

The number one question I ask parents when they tell me that their child wants to quit is the following: Generally, what is your child’s mood IMMEDIATELY after they leave the dojo? 

This is a critically important question! When the child leaves the dojo are they happy? Are they really bummed about the experience? Are they sad? Are they excited? Are they happy that they attended Jukido that night? 

Remember, we aren’t talking about any one particular class. Anyone can have a really bad night or a really awesome night at the dojo. The question is pertaining to the “average.” More often than not what is their mood as soon as they get out of class? 

The honest answer to this question is one of the most important factors that parents need to consider when they are deciding whether they should allow their child to quit or not.

A child (or an adult for that matter) might hesitate to go to class. They might say, “I don’t want to go to Jukido tonight.” Sometimes it has nothing to do with not wanting to go to Jukido class but rather with not wanting to stop doing what they are doing right at that moment (video games, etc.). Sometimes they lacking motivation for one reason or another and will search for an excuse. This isn’t all that different from an adult who finds some excuse to not exercise (I’m tired from work…I don’t feel like going today, I’ll go tomorrow…I have so many things to do at the house…I’ll start again next week…I had a hard day at work and I really want this ice cream). The point is that if we want an excuse we’ll find one. All of us can find a “reason” to not do something we aren’t motivated to do at the moment. There is a part of all of us that looks for the easy way out. Our motivations do that to us. Motivation comes and goes but our discipline is what gets us through these ups and downs in motivation. After all, don’t many parents sign their kids up for martial arts to learn discipline in the first place? 

But all of this is BEFORE we go to class (or the gym, etc.). If the child goes to the dojo, despite their initial protest, and comes out happy, smiling, and proud that they went to class this would be one strong indication that they are actually benefiting and enjoying the dojo experience! Again, this is like an adult who lacks motivation today but fights the temptation to stay home and instead finds the discipline needed to go to the gym. If they actually get their butt to the gym and work hard, when they leave, 99% of the time, they are not only happy that they went but they are proud of themselves because they know they fought past the “mental BS” that almost kept them at home eating Cheetos and watching TV on the sofa. Never mind the actual physical gains they made from the exercise itself. Discipline is what keeps us steady. Discipline establishes the habits we need when our motivation tips to the low side.

If the child is truly miserable every time they leave class that doesn’t necessarily mean that the child should quit immediately. However, it is an indicator that a conversation with the sensei is warranted to see if there are any adjustments that could be made in the child’s training (perhaps some goal setting). With a little bit of time we can then assess whether those changes have had partial or full success. If after some changes are made and plenty of time has passed there is no change then at that point we might need to come to the conclusion that being a long-term martial artist isn’t for them. Ideally, the parent will approach the instructor about their child’s mood and growing lack of interest BEFORE the student actually verbalizes wanting to discontinue. The longer the negative mood the harder it is to reverse course – no different then a personal relationship. If issues aren’t communicated early and openly – they linger and grow like a cancer.  Awareness and prevention are key. Good communication between parents and instructors is key in maintaining a positive and growing martial arts life.

Finally, one of the items that parents struggle with is, “I don’t want to FORCE my child to do anything they don’t want to do.” As a teacher and as a parent myself I can definitely understand this feelings. Again, I’m not of the school of thought that says you should force the child to do something against their will no matter what. However, I’m also not a fan of building the type of character in a child that allows them to quit pursuing goals “just cause” or because “I don’t feel like it.” 

I ask parents who tell me they don’t want to “force” the child to do anything they don’t want to do the following questions: What if your child told you that they didn’t want to go to school anymore? What if your child told you they wanted to stop doing homework because they didn’t like it anymore?

Would you let them quit school? Would you allow them to never have to do their homework again? Probably not. The question then becomes, why not? For most parents, they won’t allow their children to quit things they find value in (school, perhaps church, a balanced diets, etc.). They will become resourceful (get a tutor, teacher-parent conference, etc.) in trying to fix the issue and not just allow their children to quit. 

If you, as the parent, find value in in their education you are going to ensure they go to school and do their homework. My parents found value in my brother and me going to church growing up (and Sunday school – despite our protests at times). They would rather we be happy about going than not happy about going. But either way, they found enough value in those activities as parents that we were going to go. The bottom line is that a parent will ensure that the child follows through because they, as the parent, see the BIGGER picture.

Remember parents studying a martial art like Jukido Jujitsu that focuses on and teaches realistic self-defense is NOT just another hobby or activity. In the words of Dave Camarillo, “Self-Defense is a life skill, not a sport.” If your daughter quits basketball – you might not like it but she doesn’t necessarily need basketball as a life skill. As a parent and as a teacher, I believe that self-defense is a VITAL life skill and a beautiful gift that we can give our children. How much more confident will your daughter be walking around her college campus knowing that she has studied the art of self-defense consistently since she was a little girl? How will that confidence translate into other areas of her life? How much value do you as a parent believe there is in giving your son an environment to learn how to control his aggressiveness (or overcome his shyness) in a positive way, to learn how to protect himself from danger appropriately, and to built his personal character in the model of traditional martial arts based in honor and courage? The skill of self-defense is a life skill and not “just” another activity. It isn’t another item to add to the list of things your child has gone through and moved on from. 

Parenting is tough. Do you decide day-to-day whether you are a parent or not? I’m sure that your motivation comes and goes. Sometimes you feel like the best parent in the world and other times you aren’t so motivated. But either way, you have the commitment and the discipline to be a parent. You don’t get to make that decision on a day-to-day basis. It is a long-term commitment with highs and lows in motivation. Being a martial artist is the same way. You either are a martial artist or you’re not. You don’t make the decision on a whim from day to day. You aren’t a martial artist only when you put on your uniform. Your child needs you to help forge their character. They don’t have the big picture, the long view, in their mind. They don’t have that life experience. Help them learn the difference between motivation and discipline. More often than not that means get them to the dojo. We’re here to help. We are on the same team.

 Our greatest glory is not in never falling but in rising every time we fall.

– Confucius


Jukido Jujitsu’s Dynamic Movement Principle of Points & Circles

By George M. Rego, Sensei
Chief Instructor, Jukido Jujitsu Academy, Palm Coast, FL

Introduction & Overview:

When a new student begins their study of Jukido Jujitsu or Kokondo Karate they become aware very early on in their training that Kokondo is governed by three dynamic principles. They are rightfully taught that what makes Kokondo so truly unique is the synthesis of these three principles as developed and taught by Kokondo’s founder, Shihan Paul Arel. These three principles are:

  • Kuzushi: Literally meaning to “break balance.” In Kokondo, the term Kuzushi is extended to denote the energy and motion that allows one to utilize the size, strength, and commitment of an attacker against him.
  • Jushin: The centerline principle. Jushin is the concept of manipulating, controlling, and destroying the center of gravity/mass of an attacker to achieve the full potential of a technique and achieve maximum effectiveness in the end result.
  • Shorinji: The principle of points and circles. The utilization of circular and linear/pointed movements formatted to promote efficiency of movement.

Undoubtedly, the new enthusiastic student reads everything he can about Kokondo. As he opens up his copy of Sankosho or visits the various IKA websites he reads time and time again about these three principles and the preeminent role they play in defining Kokondo as a unique and powerful system of self-defense.

However, he likely notices that when he receives instruction inside of the dojo– he hears a lot less about Shorinji when compared to the amount of verbal attention given to Kuzushi and Jushin. It is highly unlikely that a single class goes by in which he does not hear the term Kuzushi or Jushin used by his instructor. More often than not, he’ll hear the terms Kuzushi and Jushin multiple times throughout a class. However, if we are to be completely 100% honest with ourselves, he may go many classes or long stretches of time, in which he does not hear the term Shorinji used. When he does, it is usually in vague terms. Shorinji might be used in referencing it as one of the three principles of Kokondo during a Q & A session, but there often isn’t much depth in the discussion of Shorinji. From time to time, he might be provided an example of points and circles within a particular portion of a technique. Even then, the level of dissection and verbal attention provided to this unique principle seems to be disproportionally less that of its sister principles. The discussion on Shorinji seems to be sporadic and never penetrates much further than the surface level. He is frequently told to “use Kuzushi” or ensure that he is setting Kuzushi in the correct direction. He is often told to place his techniques on Jushin. However, he is never told to do anything with his Shorinji. Or so it seems…

Given this honest reality, the student may begin to wonder why it is that Shorinji seems to be given such an important position within Kokondo literature but yet doesn’t seem to “really” be as important as the other two principles. Worse yet, he may question his instructor’s ability to articulate the concept clearly or even the instructor’s understanding of the principle itself. Overtime, this could undermine the instructor’s credibility in the student’s eyes. Moreover, it could leave the student with an unfortunate under-appreciation for this equally indispensable principle. In his mind, Shorinji becomes the “red headed step-child” of the Kokondo principles. Although not outwardly acknowledged, in his inner thoughts, he views Kuzushi and Jushin on a pedestal above that of Shorinji. This is a colossal mistake to make.

It is honest and fair to wonder why this discrepancy exists in the verbal attention given to Kokondo’s principles. The answer comes from a deeper analysis of Shorinji. In this way the student will come to fully understand and appreciate that although Kuzushi and Jushin are verbalized much more readily, Shorinji is most certainly taught, understood, and articulated by their sensei.

Kokondo by its nature is about physical movement. Ultimately, no amount of talking about or verbalizing any idea makes one capable. As Master Robert likes to say, “condition yourself for movement!” With Shorinji this is especially true. Shorinji is about how to move. It is most frequently taught on a non-verbal level within every technique. Due to the overarching nature of Shorinji as physical principle – it can be accurately argued that Kokondo sensei spend MORE time adjusting the various elements of Shorinji within a technique then they do Kuzushi and Jushin! This is where the bulk of the time is spent during instruction and adjustment of technique… even if the term Shorinji isn’t verbalized. Consider all of the specific corrections received that don’t involve the words Kuzushi or Jushin. It is accurate to say that the time spent on those corrections is spent adjusting the various aspects of Shorinji within a technique. How the Jukidoka steps into a throw, adjusts his hip, pulls his partner over a fixed point are all components of Shorinji! If you’ve been told you need to add “more hip” (point) or adjust your “pull” in a throwing technique (circle around a point) – you’ve essentially been “told” to adjust elements of Shorinji. If in preforming karate kihon you’ve been corrected on the order of rotation in your blocking arm (shoulder, elbow, wrist) or shown how to produce more energy output from your hip – the Shorinji in your technique has been adjusted!

With that stated, it might be fair to say that the term Shorinji may be utilized less frequently in verbal instruction. However, it would not be fair or accurate to say that it is less important or infrequently taught!

It is simply the nature of Shorinji to be taught much more effectively through physical instruction and much less so through verbal terms marked by exclusivity. EACH of the principles is dynamic; however, Kuzushi and Jushin by their nature can be referred to in a singular manner. Kuzushi can be taught through the “Jukido Clock” and you can be told to “hit Jushin.” With Shorinji this is much less effective as a teaching tool due to the numerous individual points and circles that can be identified within a sequence of movement. Shorinji can be referred to on the micro level (perhaps the yoko shuto uchi portion of the core front choke escape or a single punch in a larger sequence of techniques) or it can be referred to on a more all-encompassing manner that views an entire self-defense sequence as a whole. Shorinji is multifaceted enough that it be accurately viewed from both the viewpoint of the smallest piece of a technique to an expansive view that more broadly defines the movement of an entire kata (saifa),the flow of energy within the skeletomuscular system, the force dynamics within a self-defense sequence, or even difference between entire martial arts systems.

Understanding Shorinji:

Master Greg Howard, the IKA’s Kaicho and chief sensei, has gone a long way in further developing the understanding of Shorinji as a principle developed by his own sensei, founder – Shihan Arel. At the request of and blessing from Shihan Arel, Kaicho Howard has continued to refine the principle of Shorinji so that a more fully developed understanding can emerge. The end goal of this refinement is a more highly developed Kokondo for the present and future. Based on the development and refinement of this principle we can come to a powerful understanding of Shorinji.

One way of thinking about Shorinji is to think of it as a type of dynamic “glue” or flowing bridge between Kuzushi and Jushin. It establishes a cohesive link (or set of links) between utilizing the movement/balance (kuzushi) of an attacker and conclusively achieving the desired end result of controlling the attacker’s center (jushin).

Kuzushi can be thought of as “why” we can operate altogether. Kuzushi gives us the opportunity (not the guarantee) as the smaller and weaker individual to overcome a larger and stronger foe. Jushin on the other hand can be thought of as the “what” we are looking to acquire or the “where” we are going with our technique. It is the end destination that we want to achieve because it allows us to most decisively finish our technique or attacker.

Shorinji than can be thought of as the “how” we take advantage of the initial opportunity afforded by Kuzushi and get us to the end destination that we want to achieve – Jushin. For all of the perceived lack of attention afforded to Shorinji, it is this principle that allows us to truly utilize Kuzushi and get to Jushin in our techniques. Usually Shorinji is not contained in only one “set” of points and circles in an entire self-defense sequence but rather there is a compilation of Shorinji “sets” that bind together to fill in the spaces between and around Kuzushi and Jushin.

Kaicho Howard often describes the interplay between the three principles of Kokondo in the following manner:

“If a technique is completely ineffective and doesn’t work at all than it is missing Kuzushi. If a technique does not achieving the maximum result than it is missing Jushin. If a technique does not flow with power and end at a particular point in space & time than it is missing the principle of Shorinji.”

This simple but masterful explanation by Kokondo’s foremost authority demonstrates that Kokondo’s conceptualization of Shorinji is the manner in which the Japanese martial concept of Kime is achieved.

Shorinji is not only identifying markers of points (no pun intended) in time within a particular technique but also an overarching principle in defining how we move. Shorinji is THE major component that allows us to make tangible use of the state of balance/motion created via Kiuzushi so that eventually we can apply energy in a dynamic fashion to destroy, break, or control jushin.

Shorinji in Practice:

Let us consider the basic cross wrist grab defense with the wrist lock (ichibai tekubi uke). The initial action is to either create kuzushi or utilize the kuzushi that is already present in the attack. From that physical point of connection in space & time, you aim to efficiency utilize your body dynamics to flow from that point A toward point B (jushin). The bridge that links kuzushi to jushin is the application of shorinji. If one loses the initial kuzushi and is unable to get to jushin or gets to Jushin but the pathway to Jushin was congested, rough, or otherwise inefficient – the major error was related to Shorinji. If the process seemed efficient, smooth, and yet powerful – it was a technique that was marked with optimal utilization of Shorinji.

Shihan Arel was fond of saying that an “advanced technique is a basic technique done thousands of times.” If one has a yellow belt and a sandan perform the core rear choke defense side-by-side, they are both performing the same technique…but simultaneously it isn’t the “same” technique. They are the same in that they are both performing the core Kokondo response. However, the yellow belt is performing it in its “basic” form while the sandan is performing it in an advanced manner. .. It isn’t that the yellow belt isn’t performing the technique correctly. On the contrary he might have all the right steps. They are both performing the sequence of movements correctly. It is HOW they are moving – not the actual moves themselves. It is about the nature of the movement within the move! Although all three principles are responsible for the transformation from basic-to-advanced technical execution, Shorinji truly plays the essential role. Optimal use of the various points & circles is like smoothing out a sculpture with sandpaper. The sculpted technique is smooth as smooth can be where it should be and linear, sharp, and direct where it needs to be. The harmony between these opposite forces creates a dynamic flow of power that would otherwise be impossible. Shorinji is the major distinguishing factor between the step-by-step performance of the beginner who is doing the technique “right” and the expert synergy of movement and power of advanced practitioner.

In refining the principle and helping the whole of Kokondo understand it much more freely, Kaicho Howard has explained that there are three interconnected aspects of Shorinji which can described quietly simply as: In, Out, and At.

Let us consider one possible interpretation of basic reverse punch (seiken gyaku tsuki) in the context of In, Out, and At. The left hand is retracting and in doing so is pulling an attacker IN. The nature of the retraction which brings the attacker in to us is both linear and circular. The left hand retracts in straight line while corkscrewing circularly counterclockwise before “locking in and at” in its final position. The right hand is extending OUT and away from our body, also on a linear path with its force multiplied by the circular clockwise rotation which will provide speed and penetrating power AT the point of contact. His muscular tension was streamline but relaxed until the point of impact – at which point the body became tense (loose, loose, loose, TIGHT!). AT that “point” a circular ripple effect of transferred energy occurs “in” the attacker’s body. This energy begins moving “out” from the point “at” which impact took place. No different than dropping a pebble into a body of water. The pebble drops “in” the water “at” the point of impact. “At” point of impact between the pebble and the water, waves ripple “out” in perfect circular waves.

This creates, at least until the VERY final conclusion of the overall sequence, an “Alpha and Omega” effect within our techniques. That is to say that the “point” at the end of a technique is at the very same time the very beginning of the next phase of our defense. The force dynamics and energy transfer are very much the beginning and the end.

For example, in the Jukido Jujitsu double collar grab defense: The up and outward motion of your shuto stops at a point in space and drives in at another point (the collar bone). The “end” point of that shuto fully concludes that particular technique but AT THE VERY SAME TIME is the start point that allows you to move in and set up the attacker’s weight at another point (his right heel). The setting up of his weight at a specific point on his right heel “ends” that action (tsukuri) but it is also at the very same time the “start” point from where the kake or execution phase of our Osoto Gari can begin. The tori’s right leg in the kake phase of the Osoto Gari moves slightly out and then back in toward the uke’s leg and eventually connects at the attackers leg. The transfer of energy from our leg to his leg is the end of that point…this “end” point launches the uke’s body into the air and ultimately ending at another point…the ground. As the body impacts the ground a point of impact is created. At that impact point there is a ripple of energy sent into his body that has bone shattering potential. Again, like the pebble being dropped into the water.

The basic pressure point application used for the core front under arm bear hug defense is simple but a clear illustration of Shorinji: Connect at a particular location at the front of the ear, circle out from that initial point of contact following contour of the ear until you are at the correct location. At that point you drive your technique in to the attacker. This point of energy transfer creates a shockwave originating in the local nerves and ripples throughout the rest of the Nervous System. This ripple effect forces the attacker to let go with his hands (which you never actually touched) and to move out and away from you. This provides you with opportunities to take advantage of his weakened state of balance and vulnerable center.

Throughout the technique your maintenance of your energy flow is critical. You are physically loose throughout and then rigidify at the moment of energy transfer; doing so at a specific place in time and space. Again the ideal utilization of Shorinji is kime!

Shorinji in the Broader View:

Shorinji is about unification of opposites. The harmony between these opposites becomes greater than the sum of its parts. Despite Shorinji usually being referred to as the principle of “points and circle” – there is a broader view one can take of Shorinji. In addition to the effectively wedding of point s and circles, one can also view Shorinji in the broadest terms as harmonizing these timeless martial arts concepts:

  • Go vs. Ju (hardness and softness)
  • Relaxation vs. Tension
  • Push vs. Pull
  • Extension vs. Retraction
  • Inhaling vs. Exhaling
  • Block vs. Parry
  • Attack vs. Defense
  • Remaining Rooted vs. Tai-Sabaki (Body Evasion)

For the Kokondo practitioner who studies both Jukido Jujitsu and Kokondo Karate, understanding Shorinji on a deep level is absolutely necessary to understanding: (A) Why the two arts are uniquely their own systems and (B) why they still fit within the umbrella of Kokondo and can complement each other without conflicting.

One doesn’t have to be a Kokondo-ka to comprehend that visually Jukido Jujitsu highlights more circular flowing movements and Kokondo Karate visually emphasizes a more direct-straight line approach. An observer of a Kokondo demonstration could easily see this. Because this is a clear and very visible “difference” in how the Jukidoka and Karateka are moving – these differences function to show how each individual is utilizing Shorinji. They both use Shorinji but they move differently. This creates unique opportunities, tactics, and movement styles between our jujitsu and karate systems. In a very real way, the distinction between the two arts is based (in large part) on how one moves and thus it is based on Shorinji.

This also explains why they can complement each other. Although each art is designed to be 100% complete as a self-defense system on its own, one can see how the concept of unity between opposites that defines Shorinji can be applied to the Kokondoka who practices both karate and jujitsu. Shorinji makes each art individual and unique – but also plays a enormous contributing role in bringing them together under the Kokondo umbrella in a unified manner.


Shorinji, along with Kuzushi and Jushin, is so very fundamental to the strength of the Kokondo fabric that all students should aspire to understand the principle as fully as possible. To discount any one of these three principles is a massive blow not only to the intellectual understanding of why Kokondo works but also to the physical performance of these potentially lifesaving arts. If you’ve ever looked at an expert Jukidoka or Karateka practice and thought, “how does he move that way?” Shorinji is the answer. In the words of the great samurai ronin, Miyamoto Musashi, “you must study this deeply.”

The Case for & Critical Role of Free Style Training in the Self-Defense Arts

The Case for & Critical Role of Freestyle Training in the Self-Defense Arts

By Sensei George M. Rego
Chief Instructor, Jukido Jujitsu Academy, Palm Coast, FL

Note to Readers: This essay compounds on some of the fundamental themes presented in Kokondo: Balance Equals Power (published in the March 2012 edition of Budo News). It is not an absolute necessity for the reader to read that article. However, it might serve beneficial in framing the below essay.

For centuries martial arts was taught almost exclusively through kata, pre-arranged forms of movements, which taught the pupil not only the techniques but the underlying principles of the fighting art. In kenjutsu schools (classical Japanese schools of sword fighting) these kata were performed with one individual and other times as sets of movements with two individuals. In the various jujutsu schools, these kata also involved at least one training partner. The jujutsu kata ranged from long patterns containing as many as ten to twenty pre-set moves but shorter patterns were also referred to as kata. Any pre-arranged pattern or response to an attack was a form of “kata”. For illustrative purposes, within our Jukido Jujitsu curriculum, in the classical systems anything from Jukido-no-kata to any “core” self-defense response was considered a type of kata because it was a pre-ordained response to a specific attack. Later, Okinawan and Japanese striking based martial arts comprehensively became known as karate. Karate, with very few exceptions, developed kata as a pre-set pattern of techniques practiced without a partner. Depending on the karate style, or even individual kata, the pre-arranged form could be used to develop self-defense techniques, correct use of the skeletomuscular system for transmitting (and absorbing) striking power, refinement of technique, and other fighting principles such as angling, distance, or movement.

One of the principal reasons that kata developed as the primary training method was largely due to the brutality of the many techniques contained within the various combat arts. There were no safe alternatives in most cases. A warrior practicing with a sword was not likely to cut down a fellow warrior for the sake of perfecting a technique when he could use that warrior to cover his back tomorrow in battle. In jujutsu schools, which emphasized empty handed fighting techniques for instances in which the warrior lost his weapon, was he to actually break his partners joints or remove his eye with finger for the sake of practice? If so, he would soon run out of training partners and fellow brothers to fight at his side. As such, for this reason and others, kata became a fantastic and highly evolved method for developing the fighting techniques, concepts, and control of focused mind & body that would become so vital when using his skills in battle.

The battle was a brutal but essential component to the evolution of the fighting arts for centuries. The actual application of what was learned inside of the training halls, through kata training, was either validated or invalidated when it was put to the test in real battle. Techniques and concepts, and thus the kata that reinforced what was useful in battle, were refined and constantly evolving as the realities of war, new tactics, and technology dictated. The kata life cycle went roughly like this:

  • Real experience in battle
  • Analysis (or reanalysis) of successful techniques and concepts that produced high probability for success in fighting.
  • Develop kata that reinforce, through repetition, the ideal form of techniques and movement patterns. Practice these kata relentlessly
  • Practiced warriors enter battle
  • (Over a period of time) Recycle the previous steps and make changes when needed in the training formula (i.e. kata) as a result of real world experience

This formula was successful, even if costly given the trial and error of refining techniques in actual warfare, for developing highly developed warriors and highly developed kata that presented proven formulas for successful fighting. The combination of zealous training in kata coupled with the actual fighting experience afforded in battle presented him with a supreme method, even if costly, for developing into a highly effective warrior.

Historical and Cultural Challenges Facing Kata as the Sole Method of Training:

The formula presented above worked in developing competent fighting warriors for an extended period of history. To the present day, the focused repetition of kata (in the broadest sense of the word) is the fundamental learning mechanism in learning any physical activity (learning how to write, memorizing letters through the alphabet song, learning how to drive, learning how to play a musical instrument, developing skill at playing a sport, learning how to use your body to throw another, etc.). As such, the kata ideology of learning is completely sound and just as important today as it was for the warriors of antiquity.

However, time and culture created a void that presented serious challenges to the old formula of developing warriors with kata as the sole training method.

When Japan entered the Edo Period (1603-1868) it entered into an unprecedented era of stability and peace. For approximately 250 years the country of Japan saw little to no warfare between warring clans. This presented the warrior class (samurai) with a new and unique circumstance. The samurai purpose for existing was to fight but there was no battle to fight! This created an incredibly significant gap in the formula for developing fighting skill through the combination of kata training and real experience in battle. With no battle to fight, this left the warrior without a means to apply what he learned in the dojo. It left him without a means to find out what worked and what didn’t and how to make adjustments to training as a result.

Overtime this had profound effects in shaping the fighting arts. The arts “evolved” from being truly fighting arts to quasi-fighting arts. Without an actual fight to be had, the warrior class developed new ways of giving meaning to the arts they loved. Instead of training for necessity and survival they now began training the martial arts as a way of life. Training took on almost spiritual dimensions. Fighting clans began defining their success differently. No longer could they measure success through the objective results of battlefield fighting success. In this period of time we see the arts take on “name brands.” Each school or clan began to lay claim to having “secret” techniques (almost entirely to ensure they were sought after and to instill fear in other fighting clans).This period of time sees schools beginning to measure their competence relative to other schools based on the quantity of their schools curriculum. The greater the number of techniques or kata the school laid claim to the more lethal the particularly fighting clan. In an effort to get to this new ideal – supposedly “new” techniques (which may or may never work in real combat) were constantly springing up. Of course, because they were a warrior class, many of the techniques were designed to be particularly lethal. However, unlike the warriors before them, they didn’t have the ability to test the practicality of these techniques. There was no battle to fight and thus no proving ground for testing the true merits of such techniques. The techniques stayed in the pre-arranged format provided by kata that was the mainstay of fighting arts for generations. Many techniques were certainly much too dangerous to actually perform in practice as they risk potentially seriously injuring partners. They had to be simulated through kata and pre-arranged training with no resistance. Thus the lethality of said techniques was lethal in theory only. Suddenly, warriors who never actually fought in battle had “new” ways or “perfected” ways of performing the techniques without ever having truly applied them a single time in a legitimate struggle.

The other consequence of this period of time, with respect to kata development, was the ideal of perfecting the kata for the sake of the perfection of the kata itself. Kata was transforming into something to be developed for artistic perfection. The most meniscal and nuanced portions of techniques was dissected in every way possible. Performing the “perfect” technique or kata becomes something akin to Satori and a practitioner may practice an entire lifetime to achieve this one moment of full enlightenment. The kata was no longer a means to an end. The kata was the end.

Although all of the above is a generalization and there were many good aspects of the combative arts that evolved during the Edo period, we do see a change in the standard thinking as to what constitutes credibility as a fighter. Without an objective measure of success or failure, afforded by fighting in battles, many combative schools begin to value their work based on the quantity of moves and the aesthetics of performing the correctly “branded” way of performing the move (because – after all, the other clans have it all wrong. Only we have the exclusively correct answer as to how to swing the sword at exactly the right angle…or the choke someone unconscious). Perfection of kata was thought to be perfection as a real fighter. Gradually, not all, but many fighting arts move toward subjective measurements of proficiency as a martial artist in contrast to the earlier objective measures of fighting value that their predecessors experienced.

Later, at the end of the Edo Period when Japan was forced to modernize – the entire idea of archaic fighting arts fell out of favor. The martial arts, kenjutsu and jujutsu especially, were seen as outdated relics of the past. Many jujutsuka also suffered from a poor reputation (in many cases justifiably so) and were regarded as street thugs and bullies. The entire idea of fighting barehanded was seen as uncivilized and savage. In a Japanese society that was looking to Westernize – the martial arts, especially jujutsu, were facing the very real possibility of extinction.

The Revival of the “Fighting” Arts and the Revolution of Live Training Methods:

The survival, evolution, and revolution of the fighting arts of Japan into the modern area can be credited without question to one man, Professor Jigoro Kano. Although there were many important characters that made very genuine and serious contributions to the fighting arts after the Edo period – none of them played the vital and revolutionary role that Kano did when he sought out and developed a new reformed approach to martial arts manifested by his new “way” – Kodokan Judo.

Professor Kano spent his entire adult life, beginning at age 22, reforming the classical art of jujutsu and, by his influence, all of the other Japanese martial arts in ways that live in nearly every dojo in the world today. Although a thorough dissection of all these many reforms is beyond the scope of this essay, one of the reforms is vitally important: The introduction of live training (or freestyle training) as an equal and complimentary partner to kata training for the effective and objective development of the martial artist.

One of the primary radical revelations that Kano made, as a young master of jujutsu, was the inability to truly test student’s effectiveness as martial artists. There was no battle. The nature of battle had changed entirely. Moreover, the idea of having students fight full-out in order to test fighting effectiveness was not only completely unacceptable to the new Japanese societal norms but it was genuinely at odds with Kano’s moral ethos. Safety concerns, societal sensibilities, and Kano’s ideals wouldn’t allow for such a savage approach. This led to many instructors sticking exclusively to the kata format. There didn’t seem to be many other options. Kano, himself a fierce advocate of kata training, saw it differently. He was determined to find a socially acceptable, safe, and beneficial way that allowed students to truly test the effectiveness of their techniques in an objective manner.

Kano’s solution to this problem was to develop randori (freestyle practice) for his jujutsu. Randori is the training method that allows students, without the designation of Tori and Uke, to freely attack each other with full speed and power with a limited, but still extensive, number of techniques that could be safely applied with complete physical resistance by both training partners.

Much more then developing or innovating new techniques (which he did to some extent), Kano was much more an innovator in the implementation of training methods to develop those techniques. Kano felt that although randori was incomplete by itself, in combination with kata practice and other fully cooperative training methods, it went a tremendously long way in making his students much more effective martial artists. He came up with the radical notion that even with a more limited set of “safe” techniques, a student who practiced those techniques in live training sessions regularly with a fully resisting partner and regularly applied those techniques in the heat of the moment would fare much better than a person who had no “live” training and only practiced techniques in exclusively pre-arranged no resistance training sessions (even if they “knew more” or knew “deadly” techniques)…and he endeavored to prove it.

The first of a significant series of events that provided empirical evidence to the young Kano Sensei’s hypothesis was the 1886 tournament between members of his dojo (Kodokan) and members of a variety of classical jujutsu schools (mainly represented by the Yoshin-ryu). This tournament was hosted by the Tokyo Metropolitan Police. The Tokyo Police hosted this tournament to determine which approach to jujutsu would be adopted by the police force. Of the 15 matches held that day, the Kodokan members won 13. The other two matches were a draw. The young sensei and his Kodokan members clearly defeated not only members of classical jujutsu but also generations of assumptions as to what truly makes an effective fighter.

Although Judo from World War II onward has changed significantly – the early pre-War Judo which was closely monitored by Kano, advocated a strong balance between kata and randori (live training). In Kano’s view, any technique that could be practiced safely with full speed and power against a resisting opponent should eventually be practiced in this manner (at least a portion of the time). If a technique could not be practiced safely in this manner, than the technique was not eliminated but rather it was preserved in pre-arranged practice methods, most notably through kata. He felt the balance between the two approaches was absolutely paramount. He recognized that randori and live training alone could not provide the student with everything they needed. Kata was essential. However, he felt the same about kata (and other forms of no resistance/pre-arranged practice), by itself it was incomplete. Kano felt and proved that martial artists that don’t have a strong foundation of training with full speed and power against resisting opponents will be thoroughly “schooled” by those martial arts that do.

Although his approach was initially rebuked by exponents of classical jujutsu systems at the time; eventually the Kodokan with its training and pedagogic reforms won over the classical systems. Many of them ended up embracing the empirical data and merged into the Kodokan. This resulted in the pre-WWII Kodokan becoming a melting pot of many of the great jujutsuka under the guiding principles set forward by Jigoro Kano.

Kano’s overall approach to educating students, preserving his beloved art, and advocacy of the necessity of live training methods as the counter-weight to kata were adopted by nearly all other fighting arts. Kenjutsu (sword fighting art) experimented with ways of training that allowed for free style live training against a resisting opponent. This eventually led to Kendo. Master Gichin Funakoshi, father of modern day Japanese karate and admirer of Kano, adopted many of the Kodokan reforms and made them applicable to the striking oriented fighting art he loved. This led to the development of jiyu-kumite (freestyle sparring with no prearrangement). Later on, Kyokushin Karate master (and karate sensei to Shihan Arel) was an advocate of an especially intense form of kumite. These masters valued kata exceedingly but also valued objective results that live training, albeit with conditions, provides.

Historical Challenges & Temptations that Present Problems to the Live Training Formula:

Under Kano’s direct supervision and implementation, jujutsu adapted to become more culturally acceptable, beneficial, and effective through a balanced diet of pre-arranged and live training. However, the success and expansion of the Kodokan (and other arts mentioned above) was a double edged sword.

Over a relatively short period of time, Kodokan Judo and many of the arts they followed Kano’s lead become quite popular with the general public. The arts were saved from potential extinction. The rate of growth was so massive that these prominent masters could not contain their own creation . As a result, overtime the overwhelming majority of the arts that incorporated freestyle/live training modified those training methods into full-blown sports. The ever increasing number of rules, regulations, and focus-shifts (from combatives to winning in sport) led to imbalance once again.

Although not true in every case, many of these arts began to view kata as less important. Many provided lip-service to the importance of kata but the evidence was clear based on the training regimen. Little or no time provided to kata gave way to live training that was now designed with one purpose in mind, winning in the sport arena. Rather than being a combat art with a relatively small (occasional & optional) sport component, as envisioned by Kano, these arts eventually had little or no combat component. The sport was now the art itself. Eventually less thought is given as to how an actual technique or strategy might work in real life combative encounters and more thought was given to how to gain competitive advantages. Soon techniques with no real merit in fighting, but highly effective at scoring points based on tournament rules, began to crop up and become the norm. The “live” training was no longer used to develop various beneficial attributes and to test the effectiveness of combat techniques. Techniques were being performed in a manner that was designed to work solely in those competitive sport environments.

This created an interesting and ironic twist in the history of many martial arts. Now it was the live training, or more correctly, the sport-specific approach to live training that led to losing touch with the realities of how a fight takes place in the real world. The objective results that practitioners were producing were only true within the narrow realm of their sport. In an ironic twist of fate, many highly experienced practitioners (including Shihan Arel) eventually moved away from the sport-based approach of live/freestyle training feeling that it ended up creating students who might be very good competitively but who were no longer considering the techniques from: the viewpoint of real self-defense, were dismissive of kata, and were tumbling out of balance with the ideal that innovators like Kano strived for.

Balance Equals Power: Finding the Middle Ground & the Proper Role of Live Training

Kano had it right! Were there unintended consequences in the approach and growth of his approach? Absolutely! However, on the fundamental points, Kano truly did have it right. His approach:

  • In order to create the most effective martial artist possible there must be a healthy and balanced diet of: pre-arranged highly nuanced training coupled with (less nuanced) safe forms of live freestyle training against a resisting and determined opponent.
  • If the delicate balance between pre-arranged and live-training falls to extremes in either direction – you have unintended consequences that produce highly specialized students ( i.e., the most impressive karate kata performer you’ve ever seen or the Tae Kwon Do sport champion) who may or may not be able to get job done in real world scenarios.

As it pertains to Jukido Jujitsu (and later, Kokondo Karate), Shihan Arel took many of the historic and truly beneficial innovations that Kano brought forward into his own young system of jujitsu. However, unlike Judo, Jukido Jujitsu from its earliest days was designed to take those amazingly beneficial innovations and reapply them straight back to the original purpose of any real martial art – self-defense.

Jukido Jujitsu, being a jujitsu system with its mission being the preservation of jujitsu as a form of self-defense , the question that must constantly be addressed is how we find the balance that Master Kano had so correct while at the same time guaranteeing that the focus on self-defense (not sport) that Shihan Arel demanded is never a lost or a secondary priority. Although it isn’t easy, for us to be martial artists who have a truly honest grasp of our abilities in an objective way, we must constantly strive to find and maintain this balance.

In one of the best martial arts books of all time, Living the Martial Way, author Forrest Morgan addressed the topic in great detail. In a subsection of the book titled “Train as Warriors Train: Take a Jutsu Approach to Training,” Morgan has a four point outline on effective training for modern martial artists concerned with real personal combat. Below are protracted quotes from the first, second, and fourth points of that outline:

Train Against Serious Attack (Point 1):

This point seems almost too obvious to mention, but as I’ve already explained, too many of today’s martial arts students are playing at combat. There is a time to learn form and technique, a time when attacks must be measured and restrained. But once the mechanics of a given defense are learned, you must test and refine that defense against serious attacks.

A serious attack is, to the greatest extent safely possible, an attack done full strength and full speed. As unsavory as it seems, you must learn what it feels like to defend against a man trying his best to punch you in the face or kick you in the groin. You need to experience the difficulty of breaking a bear hug when a stronger attacker refuses to let go…a cycle emerges. First work against slow, restrained attacks until your defenses…become second nature. Then, increase intensity until you are really defending yourself. These principles are central to learning true self-defense.

Make Free Sparring An Important Part Of Your Training (Point 2):

At this point, you probably believe I have no regard for modern budo systems with all their emphasis on sport play. But that isn’t entirely so. While I generally consider combative sports to be a negative and eroding influence on the traditional Martial Way, there have been some twentieth century innovations that I believe enhance sound warrior training…

In past centuries, there was no such thing as free sparring. Warriors learned the various techniques and practiced them in choreographed, controlled sets with a partner and in solo patterns (kata). Since there was little or no concept of controlled contact, controlled locks, and safe breakfalls, the dynamic, rough and tumble sparring we see today would have resulted in serious injury or death. We can thank early twentieth century budo masters such as Funakoshi who introduced kumite (free-style karate training), and Kano who introduced randori (free-style training for grappling arts such as jujutsu, judo, and aikido) for providing these excellent methods of training.

Done as a training exercise rather than as a contest, (it) is an essential part of the modern warrior’s regimen…it enables you to test the effectiveness of your attacks against a partner determined not to let them succeed. But for (it) to be an effective method of training, it must be realistic, and that rules out “point sparring.”

You’ll never learn to fight until you know the feel of hitting and being hit. That doesn’t mean you need to climb into a ring and bash it out. Nor do I suggest a small woman learn to absorb even moderate blows from gorilla-sized men. But fighting is a brutal experience and you’ll never be….prepared for it unless you have tasted some amount of contact.

Practice Forms (Kata) With Utmost Seriousness (Point 4):

“You can’t do a kata on someone who attacks you,” is a common expression in American training halls. These same students aspire to be great masters like Myagi or Funakoshi, but what they don’t realize is kata is what made these great masters great.

Controlled sparring, as I’ve said before, is a definite improvement in modern martial arts training, but it will never replace proper training in kata.

A traditional student learns to discipline every bodily detail (through kata/prearranged practice) from his gaze to the angle of his toes. He knows without looking whether his wrist is straight or his back leg is locked. It’s this kind of discipline that makes the difference between two otherwise evenly matched fighters.

Mr. Morgan makes many solid points for martial artists, like us, who seek balance in our martial arts system. Balance between: softness and hardness, points vs. circles, striking approach (karate) vs. close-quarters approach (jujitsu), empty-handed vs. weapons, tradition vs. relevance, attention to detail vs. getting the job done when it counts, pre-arranged formal training vs. live free style training.

In brief, we do this by ensuring that we have a balance between three different categories of training and a diversity of drills within each of those broad categories. These three categories are:

  • Category 1: Formal Training with No Resistance, Pre-Arrangement, & Absolute Attention to Detail
  • Category 2: Semi-Free Live Training with Tori and Uke Roles Maintained At All Times
  • Category 3: Freestyle Live Training with No Tori and Uke Roles with Each Partner Attempting to Impose a Desired Outcome

The necessity for these three categories is to ensure the overall development of a student who is technical, knowledgeable, and proficient fighting in real world self-defense. The variety of drills within each of the three categories is to fill in inevitable “training flaws” within each of the drills. More on this later as we break down each category. However, it should be noted that these three categories are not entirely progressive. Rather, each category is being practiced all of the time to varying degrees. That is to say that you NEVER move past category 1 and now only train exclusively on category 2. A martial artist of an expert level trains in all three of these categories to varying degrees based on the particular focus of the training session. All categories have basic, intermediate, and advanced training methods within their own realm.

Category 1:

Formal training that involves no resistance, full pre-arrangement (i.e. universal pattern to follow), and absolute attention to detail is truly the backbone of becoming competent at martial arts. This is where we learn how to move, why we move the way we move, and instill the fundamentals into our muscle memory.

For a non-martial arts example, a basketball player must learn the rules of the game. He must learn the skills of the game, including: tripling the ball, the technique of passing the ball, how to shoot the ball with proper form, etc. All of this has to be done in pre-arranged practice. He doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel. He absorbs the information from all of the previous generations of great players/coaches and learns them through pre-arranged drills and patterns of movements in which there is no one resisting him (trying to block him shooting the ball or attempting to steal the ball away from him as he is trying to get a handle on how to run the court while tripling the ball).

In this category a jujutsuka might be learning the core self-defense curriculum, formal throwing techniques in both stationary and moving situations, how to apply choking techniques while holding someone on the mat, or learning how to fall and tumble correctly to ensure safe practice (ukemi).The jujutsuka begins to understand and absorb the importance of redirecting aggressive energy and breaking the attacker’s balance.

The karateka would also be learning core self-defense. Additionally, he would begin the process of learning how to move his body in the various fundamental stances and accompanying blocks, strikes, kicks, etc. The karateka does this stationary and walking up and down the dojo floor. Eventually he’ll begin combining various techniques in sets of combinations. Sometimes those techniques are practiced with a partner (sanbon kumite) in pre-arranged sets of basic movements and many times he works to master formal kata emphasizing a variety of vital techniques and concepts. The karateka is beginning to turn his body into a potential striking weapon.

Category 2:

Category 2 is built on the undeniably necessary foundation build in Category 1 while at the same time addressing the fundamental “training flaw” presented by Category 1.

One the one hand, without the basic knowledge build in Category 1 – Category 2 cannot exist. There would be nothing to build on. The student must have some basic understanding of the art, how to move his body, and what to do in a variety of scenarios. On the other hand, Category 2 acknowledges that Category 1, if unchallenged, is not sufficient in preparing the student for the realities they will face. It is too “cookie-cutter” and there is no room for improvisation .What was built in Category 1 begins to be “put to the test” in Category 2.

In our own martial arts system, Category 2 might have the student now begin to “walk the street” in class. In this training drill the student is attacked randomly from one of the individuals making up the two sides of “The Street.” Although they know an attack is coming at any moment, the student is not sure who the attack will come from or what the attack will be. When attacked the student is put under pressure physically and mentally. Physically, the front choke is no longer (depending on the partners rank) simply “placed” on the neck – there is some degree of actual pressure being applied and they can begin to feel the immediate negative effects of the choke. The attacker may no longer be standing in one spot as they perform the choke. Perhaps they are forcing the Tori backward on his heels as they apply the pressurized front choke. Mentally the student has to overcome the anxiety of an imminent attack, recognize when the attack is on, deal with the discomfort (a potentially new feeling) of the attack, recall the correct technique, and perform it with the best possible results they can achieve. When the second attack comes, a front bear hug, they bad guy is no longer waiting for you to find the pressure point as you gently perform your technique. If you don’t find it quickly, they are going to pick you up and carry you away or slam you to the ground. If you take too long and are now in the air – you might have to improvise – coming up with a creative solution (albeit based on what was learned in Category 1) to a new problem you may not have encountered in their Category 1 training.

Any form of the many surprise or random self-defense training sessions we practice likely fits in Category 2. If you aren’t sure what you’ll be attacked in, are encountering an attack that might be different than you’ve experienced before, and you might be forced to improvise and “go with the flow” if your initial defense goes wrong (or a unexpected follow up attack occurs by Uke), you are likely in Category 2.

In karate, when one is performing surprise Ippon Kumite (one step sparring) or Ippon-Jiyu Kumite (free movement one step sparring) you are in Category 2. In jujutsu, if you are performing “mock randori” in which there is free movement and one person is throwing at a time. You are also in category 2.

A key feature of Category 2 is that although it can be VERY intense and feel very much like “the real deal,” there are always pre-designated roles for the training partners. One partner is the Tori and the other partner(s) is the Uke. This means that training is ultimately intended to improve, test, and benefit the current individual designated as Tori.

If Category 1 gives us the baseline or the ideal of what we want to achieve, Category 2 gives us a sense of how chaotic things will become in the real world. Nuanced idealism is meshed with “whatever works” practically at that moment, even if the techniques aren’t always pretty or perfect.

Category 2 training is an absolute MUST for a truly effective self-defense system. If one practices Category 1 exclusively, Category 3 exclusively, or Category 1 & 3 at the exclusion of 2 – they are missing a truly essential component that bridges the gap between these other important categories of training.

Category 3:

The critical importance of this category of training is the central focus of this essay. Category 3 is all of the training that can be said to be “freestyle” or “live.”

The training methods of this category are defined by the fact that all training is done within an agreed upon framework. However, within the structured guidelines of the framework (which safety is always a part) training partners are entirely free move as they wish. There is no pattern. Partners training in these drills are not taking on pre-assigned roles of Tori and Uke. Although students are “partners” in the spirit of mutually beneficial training – in this category of training session they are opponents. Lastly, the results of their work should have objective resultsthat provide empirical data.

The framework of drills in this category can be highly restrictive with a very narrow goal or, conversely, it can be the opposite end of the spectrum with very little restriction and broader training goals.

Select Examples of Free-Style Training and Concluding Thoughts:

One example of a freestyle drill that is exceedingly restrictive is chi-sau. Chi-sau, sometimes referred to as “sticky hands” or “push hands,” is a sensitivity drill that is highly effective in learning how to truly feel the intent of a motion, redirection of energy, controlling someone without physically grasping them, and helpful in developing a dual physical nature which endeavors to have the student be both firmly rooted but also highly flexible with the ability to adapt to real-time changes in attack.

Shihan Arel was fond of a free-style drill that was highly restrictive in nature but immensely beneficial (and fun). I don’t know if the drill was ever given a name but I always refer to it as the “Head Tap Drill.” This ne-waza drill teaches a student how to move on the floor and to protect their head while a standing attacker attempts to “tap” them on the forehead (which could be a punch in real life). Contact is light but the drill is highly dynamic and competitive. The person on the floor starts in a supine position and the opposite partner starts standing up. They both have a goal: the student on the floor wants to keep the standing partner from touching their forehead for as long as possible. The person standing up wants to touch the floored partner on the forehead as often and as quickly as possible. Their goals are directly opposed to one another. Each student is determined to be successful and not allow the success of the other partner.

At the annual IKA National Seminar, Kaicho Howard frequently uses this category of training to finish off the brutal early morning KMT training sessions. It is among the most beneficial and popular sections of KMT. The rules are simple – two students face off with colored markers (simulating knives). The goal is simple – color your partner in vital areas without getting caught yourself. Both students have the same goal but they are in direct opposition to each other. At the end of the session you have a lot of objective empirical data. If you have little to no markings, especially in vital areas, you fared well in the simulated knife fight and would have survived. If all of your vital areas have more colors on them than the rainbow – the objective results speak for themselves. The beauty is that different students come up with entirely different strategies and they find what works FOR THEM. The strategy taken by one student very successfully, based on the objective results, might not work for another student. They are completely free, within the framework of the drill laid out by Kaicho, to attack and defend as needed.

Randori is the classic example freestyle training. Within the framework of the session, partners are opposing each other with full resistance, full determination, and throwing techniques are performed with as much power as can be safely executed. Randori provides, especially when NOT done with any scoring or shiai (tournament) style emphasis, a lot of empirical data. Can you truly use your favorite throw effectively? How well and consistently are you able to throw someone who is doing EVERYTHING (within the framework) in their power to not allow that to happen and who, of course, is trying to do the same to you? If you and your partner randori for 20 minutes and you weren’t able to throw them a single time, it gives you objective data. If, on the other hand, you were able to consistently perform Tai-Otoshi on him a dozen times despite him doing everything in his power and knowledge to stop you – it also gives you empirical and very objective data. Chances are that if a resisting, skilled, and knowledgeable opponent can’t stop you from doing Tai-Otoshi – than the drunken guy who tries to rough you up and has no knowledge of what a jujutsu throwing technique even is, won’t be able to stop you either. However, if you were to stay exclusively in the category of cooperative, no resistance, pre-arranged practice with Tai-Otoshi – you might believe your technique is better than it actually is. It would be best to find out in randori sessions at the dojo than on the street!

Jiyu Kumite or free-style karate sparring is analogous to randori for the karateka. With a framework set by training partners (of appropriate experience and rank) or by instructors, karate partners are simulating a fight with all manner of striking techniques. Students learn which techniques work best for them and where they are weak in defending. Organically it teaches students to take advantage of openings in their opponent’s defense and also how to attack while minimizing their own openings. Distance, timing, and accuracy all become critical in this type of controlled but free-style training. If you are consistently getting hit with a mawashi geri to the abdomen by your training partner it gives you objective data. When it happens with several different partners, it becomes truly difficult to convince yourself that you’re really good at blocking mawashi geri. The empirical data that jiyu-kumite provides shows that fact to be otherwise. The end result is a student who becomes aware of a weakness and becomes motivated to correct it.

Each of these free-style training drills has an inherent training flaw for the person who studies for self-defense. The flaw must be present in each drill to ensure safety and focus. The way to fix this inherent problem is to incorporate a freestyle drill (and training from the previously mentioned two categories) that addresses the flaw in the previous drill. For example, in randori one is not allowed to strike at all. How does he learn to adapt in real time to striking techniques and return fire? How does he learn how to take a (controlled) blow and keep his composure? Traditional judo or jujitsu randori won’t assistance with that at all. So although randori training is highly beneficial in developing the area it is addressing, if that is the full extent of the “live” training – the student is still incomplete. Some semi-free or free-style kumite from time-to-time could help him learn to use adapt to incoming attacks outside of the close-quarters range. For the karate-ka experienced with kumite – some occasional live training drills that focus exclusively on groundwork or throwing might be useful (even if not his area of expertise). After all, what if an attacker were to get through the strikes and grab them or force them to the floor?

Ground fighting or ne-waza has loads of potential for both very restrictive and highly free forms of live training. Training partners could, within an understood framework with safety build in, freely exchange techniques with opposing goals. For example, one student might be assigned to force his training partner to submit exclusively with the use of shime-waza (choking techniques). His training partner is given the goal of submitting his partner exclusively with the use of an armbar or shoulder lock. They may or may not be aware of the other person’s goal. Other times allow students to have all of the same techniques randori on the ground. Students learn how to control their body, the various advantageous and detrimental positions of ground work developed by jujutsu and judo masters, etc. In a restrictive but lively ne-waza drill that I had the pleasure of observing, Sensei Webster led a group of kids at the Connecticut 2012 Gasshuku. He had one student with the goal of simply holding the person down on the mat and the other student’s goal was to get up. You could only use osae-komi (positional control) – no joint locks, pressure points, chokes, etc. They were given 30 seconds. Although limited in technical scope, the kids had fun experiencing a real battle of technique and willpower. The drill produces objective results. Either you can get up or you cannot. Either you held your partner down or you didn’t. There are variations to these. Creativity and clarity of purpose, along with safety frameworks, is all that are needed.

In a standing punch defense drill with senior students – one student wears boxing gloves and the other student a protective helmet. The student with the boxing gloves wants to cleanly (with control) punch the person standing up with a round house punch. The other person wants to throw. Both students want to achieve the goal and they are opposed to one another. The defense won’t ever be as pretty as a teaching example in class or public martial arts demonstration.

Freestyle drills are massively beneficial in developing the attributes necessary to be effective in really dynamic situations. In the words of Master R. Robert (rokudan), “It is one thing to shoot a basketball perfectly on the court – it another thing to do that while Shaquille O’Neal is trying to stop you.” If you can still achieve the goal despite that type of opposition – the results are objective and speak for themselves. There is no need to “believe” that you can. The empirical data proves it. There is nothing subjective about the end result. Did you or did you not get past Shaq? Did you or did you not throw your opponent, achieve the choke, get up from the bad position, get your head “tapped” from your standing opponent, etc.?

By having a variety of free-style training methods you fill in the gaps of the inherent flaws that must be present, for safety reasons, in each of the individual drills. These drills also help students find their own tokui-waza (preferred or favorite techniques).

If these training sessions are done WITHOUT regard to winners and losers or keeping track of points – we ensure that we keep a combative focus and don’t fall into the sport trap. These training drills should have no “winners” or “losers.” If you working randori – simply randori for an allotted period of time.” No one is keeping track of the score. There is no score. If you are doing a form of kumite – there are no “points” to be achieved. It is a training session. Just like a basketball team at practice – there is no winning team. They are on the same team and training as a team – even if opposing each other sometimes.

This is the paradox of freestyle training. You can practice with full resistance, full intensity, and are completely free to work your techniques – but you are limited in the techniques you can perform. However, although you are limited in which techniques you might be to perform you are ACTUALLY EXECUTING THEM against an opponent who doesn’t want you to do so! You aren’t subjectively telling yourself whether you can or can’t do something – you will truly know based on the objective results. Although all techniques are not on the table – you become accustom to truly applying a wide range of techniques in truly dynamic situations and learn to deal with someone who is just as determined to apply them to you. You develop fighting spirit!

The argument against live/freestyle training because “it has rules” and you “can’t use all your techniques – like doing an eye strike or a groin grab” is silly. It is just as invalid as stating that one shouldn’t practice any kata because a real fight isn’t pre-arranged pattern of events and that punching the air thousands of times feels very different than a real fight. By the way, when you practice an “eye poke” and “groin grab” in pre-arranged practice… you still aren’treally doing them. It is a simulation…and that is fine! That is the best we can do safely! Making statements like those above, in either direction, is a dogmatic extreme. A serious martial artist should have moderation and dismiss both extremes.

The paradox is clear. If you train only in pre-arranged, no resistance formats – you can practice a wider range of techniques (neck breaks, eye pokes, groin kicks, throat strikes, etc.). The world of techniques you can practice is so much greater! However, because you NEVER actually fully execute them on a partner who is truly fighting you – it is impossible to have entirely objective data. You might not be as effective as you could be or think you are. If you have been training exclusively in pre-arranged format and have never REALLY had someone REALLY try with everything they’ve got to stop your technique how do you REALLY know that you are effective? How do you even know that you have the physical endurance to deal with it? How do you know you can take a hit (especially when you didn’t see it coming)? Because a teacher gave you a new colored belt or fancy title? How many honestly think that the average Aikidoka could redirect and throw the non-telegraphed punch from a truly determined professional boxer or the attempted takedown of a highly motivated collegiate wrestler? It is one thing to redirect a pre-arranged exaggerated punch from the optional distance with no resistance from an Uke all too willing to take ukemi and it is quite another to defend against a determined foe who dictates the terms of his own attack! Does that mean that all of the Aikidoka’s training and the techniques within the syllabus are invalid? Absolutely not! As Master Kano proved – it wasn’t the techniques that were the problem. It wasn’t even the format of the training that was the problem. It was the EXCLUSIVE nature of training in one format that was the problem.

On the flipside: If you train exclusively in free-style training formats like randori, kumite, ne-waza-randori, chi-sau, KMT Knife Fighting, etc. You may actually have the ability to fully apply your techniques against a resisting opponent but if you train only in one of those free-style formats (and are focused on point scoring) you leave major gaps in your overall development. Additionally, if you train exclusively in a realm where “forbidden” techniques and situations never cross your mind – such as eye poke, a groin kick, or a completely surprise attack – you become highly proficient in a specialized area but are severally limited in your perspective on what you could encounter in a real fighting situation. A high school wrestler trains in a freestyle format on a regular basis and might become HIGHLY effective (and tough) on the wrestling mat as a result. However, how effective could he be if suddenly head-butts were allowed in the match (or a knife attack)? How would the Olympic Tae Kwon Do champion fare if suddenly his opponent tried to grab his leg and throw him and then lock his arm in juji-gatame once he hit the floor? Such a tactic isn’t even on his radar screen because when he trains that is “never” allowed! If a situation is prohibited by the rules of the individual’s combat-sport than it isn’t worth training or considering. This is the perspective of many who advocate this approach at the exclusion of other training formats. This doesn’t discredit the training and value of free-style/live training – it simply reinforces the need for a balance between the various drills in the category as well as practicing outside of the category.

Balance equals power. Ultimately, Kano had it right. Do you?