Posts from September 2007

Sport Ninjutsu?

In the last few years we have been doing a lot of grappling and Brazilian ju-jitsu techniques, with references to our own Koryu tradition, though not all of us got the hints. Exercising combat sports is fun and helps us improve our stamina, strength and “clean submission” techniques. Through combat sports part of our team-mates became excellent sportsmen who manage to subdue their opponents in almost any ground situation.

Maybe our will to become experts in all combat sports technique can be equated to an orthodox Jew who wants to be religious but asks to eat un-kosher foods. How do the two connect? Well, you can eat kosher and you can eat treif* (non-kosher), but when you try to find the interim solutions, for instance to eat kosher pork, the end result seems to lack honesty. What can we do? Even a brief study of techniques delivered to us by Maasaki Hatsumi, shows us that Ninjutsu isn’t a combat sport.

Ninjutsu differs in essence from martial sports
Everything taught in the best martial sports clubs, is very practical mainly in a sports ring. Meaning, it might not be relevant to us and our violent and “messy” business. We believe that our organization has been experiencing a fair amount of confusion for the past few years, as a result of trying to combine elements from combat sports in our training.

While participating in the last “AKBAN 24 hour training“, we understood that a technical gap exists between the Beer-Sheva group, for instance, and the Tel Aviv group. The Tel Aviv group showed cleaner ground techniques, whereas the Beer-Sheva group showed a more rounded combat approach, a fighting “spirit” truer to Ninjutsu. In the past few months we have been witnessing to a reoccurring problem in black belt examination, where we see clean execution of techniques at the expense of the traditional Ninjutsu fighting spirit.

It’s both important and good for our warriors to join combat sports clubs
Some AKBAN veterans have turned to combat sports clubs, like Boxing, Judo and Brazilian ju-jitsu clubs. Some have even become advanced students in these fields. Our pupils have to spread wings and leave the nest, so to speak, to other combat sports clubs. Training in our groups should continue in our traditional and spiritual approach true to our discipline. Inserting “sport” into our organization can come in three shapes:
1. Inviting people from other discipline to train with us.
2. Going and practicing in other clubs.
3. Giving “tastes” and perspectives from other discipline during our lessons.

We believe the instructor should give examples of other doctrines. If for example we are practicing katas, we should expect our opponent to use various techniques from various disciplines, to do that he must know the basics of other martial arts.
We should learn the base knowledge of combat sports such as – Muai Tai, Boxing, Judo, Wrestling, Kendo etc. inserting them into our syllabus in order to give a new perspective of ourselves as well as “knowing thy enemy”. The practice of combat sports within our organization should continue in order to answer the question of how to handle efficient sports martial arts used in the ring against tough opponents. We should be using our traditional technique and try to solve these problems.
The academic approach to martial arts
There is another thing, given our academic endeavor, we should systematically research Ninjutsu and its interface with other disciplines even if some of them are competition based martial arts.
The main rational for the academic study is one of the foremost principles in the growth of our school’s knowledge. With that said, it seems wrong to try and limit study in an academically manner using only our discipline’s “scientific” terminology, we must engage in practice.

Testing combat efficiency
Ninjutsu combat efficiency cannot be compared unless it will be tested in real experience. If we really want to test our combat efficiency we must analyse combats. This is done not through investigating combat sports in a ring but through the pinnacle of the methodical pyramid – the Tatakai. This information, derived from documented live events such as video clips & credible testimony of professionals is the base of our knowledge. It can be further gained from security agencies, army footage, police & civilians caught in a violent situation.

In the combat sports’ ring Ninjutsu does not take first place. We must only see the combat sports ring as an experiment lab for our traditional martial art. We must remember that our most valuable simulator, the randori or the MMA competition, does not include all the characteristics of the street fight or what we consider a true harmful event.

Even though the best vindication would be by testing in randori, the Ninjutsu shown in a randori is a censored one.
This is the essential problem – we can never prove efficiency by randori alone.

A major part of Ninjutsu is its use of the environment and surprise against the adversary, disrupting his tactical offences by breaking the rules of engagement and digressing from normal thought patterns. This approach is in constant conflict with the combat sports perception and does not fit what usually occurs in the ring.

We have learned that many street fights in the US have finished on the ground with position/submission. Meaning efficient ground work is an important drill. Though, many pupils of AKBAN that have experience in street fights we feel that the secret to winning a fight is one, managing to rally your aggression and two, Luck. Our experience in the IDF has shown only a limited emphasis on technique.

In conclusion, our Budo Ninjutsu is the best discipline for us and for who ever asks to join, it is not suitable for everybody.

Not all reasons for our practicing martial sports is to do with martial efficiency, there are a few other good reasons for practicing:
1. Acquiring physical and mental confidence.
2. Getting into a better shape and strengthening our body.
3. Drilling patterns and working at a higher level of intensity.

Bring back the Hakama
After years of experience in martial sports, we find we still lack understanding in the school we train in. It’s time to find a path and practice katas in the ‘protect’ format, with very few variations.
We would like to train together in a more guided format in order to reach better understandings of the katas and material.
We believe, in parallel to loving the sport part of what we do, that we should continue practicing and learning what we once saw as authentic Budo-Ninjutsu. Training that develops and preserves a low risk of injury, in good social atmosphere. We hope that the fun we are having in this process will preserve us for many years to come.


Video, Surveillance cameras and martial arts practitioners

Yossi Sheriff

Recent years has seen the number and spread of video and surveillance cameras on the rise. We can safely assume that the number is going to grow. The current terrorist fright that effected the western hemisphere since the September eleven attack, has given a green light to the explosion of surveillance and surveillance cameras. The state sanctioned videoing, and the fact that many cellular phones have video cameras, leads to a level of transparency unheard of: in youtube alone, 523,000 videos tagged with the word “street”, 15000 tagged with the word “neighbor”, 97,400 tagged with the word “violence”.

What we do can become visible and recorded. Exposed Recorded Action ( ERA) will be a feature of modern life.
Only three decades into the internet-cellular revolution, the lives and actions of an individual are more public then ever. Community and institutionalized surveillance present an immense cultural change. We in AKBAN try to factor this major change in our eclectic discipline.
ERA is intriguing because it has not yet passed the test of time, documented visibility did not have time to evolve and integrate itself into personal habits and individual lifestyles (1).

When we imagine surveillance or as we call it, Exposed Recorded Action (ERA), what might spring to our thoughts is a government taking satellite pictures of terrorists in faraway mountains (2), or the mall or municipal security handling disturbances using CCTV cameras (3 PDF) . But in addition, there are new concerns that rise due to the increase of documenting devices. For example, camera equipped cell phones (4) in private hands.

Whether it will be through “Google street view (5)”, cell phones posting or the far reaching percolation of youtube clips, more parts of our lives are going to be public. It can be safely predicted that new software capabilities will filter, search and sift through visual information, video and images. Some initial projects already exist. These have rudimentary abilities to do basic image processing. For example, search for a specific face in many images. Andy Warhol predicted: “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.” We might guess that this fame will be immortalized (6 PDF) and searchable using the World Wide Web.

Through legislature, communities might try to control the amount and scope of knowledge that various organizational institutions have on our lives, but controlling the crowds is not only a different problem but one of a completely different magnitude. Transparency will probably be a dominant feature of our life.

What has this to do with martial arts practitioners one might ask, well, we think, a lot. This immense cultural change has to be reflected by a change in practice, a change in that part of martial arts that is labeled as “self defense”.

Now, web literati are thinking about many ramifications of the exposure of the most private data (7), but what we suggest focuses on this part of personal security, our document-able visibility. The visibility problem is a small but significant part to the more generalized problem, the loss of privacy. Documented Visibility is not only martial artist’s problem, it’s everybody’s problem. Here we focus on the implication to the practice of “self defense”. We use our structured methodical practice to highlight the new challenges and to suggest some new solutions.

In a fight, most of the times, the proceedings are not always clear-cut. Sometimes something was said before, an incendiary remark, sometimes, way after there is no danger from the opponent, one of the involved hits again, carried by a wave of adrenaline, rage and fear. The possibility of the fight being documented must be factored in. Making the correct decision and protecting ourselves and dear ones from violence is one big part of what martial arts are. In AKBAN, we try to look at things from different perspectives. A confrontation does not end when the physical clash stops, it can reverberate for many years.

In this era, all actions of self defense oriented martial arts should be conducted accordingly. To put it clearly, we suggest a lower level of violence in all possible scenarios. Martial arts have many aspects and specializations, in the field of reactions that are intended for defensive use, whether the user is a cop (8), a security personal an soldier or a regular civilian – the possibility of Exposed Recorded Action must influence the level of aggression and the actual nature of the techniques used. Everything has to be moderated down.

Many koryu (traditional Japanese martial systems) techniques are not defendable under any scrutiny in the court of law. Western self defense law prohibits any violent action that is not in response to threat. Old style martial arts carry ancient messages that are just the opposite, for instance, Kendo seitei gata, that initiate a sword cut, cannot be legally justified under regular circumstances.

Even more potentially dangerous are sport oriented martial arts. In sport oriented martial arts a practitioner learns to do the routines, combinations and techniques under stress. Drilling and competing under stress enhance memorization and assist in automatic retrieval under stress (9). In duress, the adrenaline and usability that are gained in competition might prove to have a carryover effect: from the competition to the confrontation. Any automatic level of devastating responses might not be legally justified.

What we, in AKBAN, try to teach in recent years is a segregation of ancient and sport techniques from techniques that are self defensive. We can continue to learn tradition and accumulate a wealth of very devastating techniques, but we must try and separate these from those that will protect us both during violence and afterward, when the video of the confrontation will be public.

Failing to segregate sport techniques, or aggressive illegal ancient patterns might cause severe legal problems, even to an innocent defender.

Not all the time, but many of our actions, especially the dramatic ones will be watched. We must learn new strategies, ones more adaptive to the new circumstances, keep what is appropriate and legal and preserve all the rest as a relic in the training ground only. Failing to do so can get us into deep legal and monitory problems. The era when nobody was watching is gone, now comes the time when we all will be watching.



"In a place where there are no men "

By Kfir Mazaki

As a civilian security professional and a martial arts practitioner for many years I’m always dwelling on the ways in which we use power. The recurring questions arise: where are the boundaries and what amount of force should be used? are translated into particulars: should I storm forward the aggressor or just try to contain the situation?

Or maybe a different reaction should be used?

After many years of on field experience I still have many questions and uncertainties.

Daily life make us meet different kinds of people, every one of them will have his own insights according to his experience and the way he deals with it. Accordingly his reactions to the events will be unexpected.

I can not expect a behavior that suits my caprices, and I can not judge a person. We all have good and bad days, but inside this cauldron I hang on to some sort of guiding principle written in Pirkei Avot by Rabi Hilel Hazaken: “In a place where there are no men strive to be a man”, or as I see it: to try and be humane at the most basic level when I need to do my job in front of impolite or aggressive behavior.

Every time when things are boiling around me (and in my profession there are many times like this), I see myself being tested in three areas: ethics, personality and self control. These situations are the best places to check myself.

What does this mean? From my point of view it means two things: paying attention to the surroundings, the human environment, and being aware of my own feelings inside the complicated situation.

The need to use force is sometimes necessary in a confrontation; in this case I do not have time to hesitate. Afterwards I look at the “emotions after” and have many questions: did I use force properly? Was it to satisfy myself, to prove something? Was it for protection? Was I hot-blooded? Was I afraid?

Last years have seen me react better, in a suitable way. In situations I encountered I did not fret too much but remained attentive to my inner principle. For me, this kind of a motto is like an inner Kamae.

“In a place where there are no men strive to be a man”

link to the AKBAN ethical code


The secret behind the fighting stance – the kamae

By Yossi Sheriff

The defense and attack positions in the Budo Ninjutsu are an internal state of mind that we project using the body. Like many things in our school, the meaning, the importance, are hidden behind tough physical work.

First the practitioner learns the mechanics: how to stand correctly, what is a straight back, how the feet stabilize the pelvis and the most efficient position of the hands in front of an opponent. When stances and the transitions between them are preformed well and become instinctual, the student is ready to learn other important parts of Kamae.

The positioning of the hands, the tension in the face and abdominal muscles, breathing and especially the intent turn each stance into a seal of fighting emotion.

The warrior’s state of mind has utmost importance, as important as technique. A perfect technique dwells in a winning frame of mind. A proper inner state wins battles, good technique, alone, does not. A warrior who finds himself in real combat must know that winning or loosing is not only the outcome of physical ability. Budo Ninjutsu Stances are an internal seal of emotions that helps us put things in order during chaotic situations.

Our waiting and attacking positions where designed hundreds of years ago and are continually practiced to this day to face a variety of situations: fighting against many opponents and fighting along inner fears.

Preserving a fighting tradition is like gardening; The knowledge that the warrior receives must be rooted and nurtured in a supportive environment and under proper conditions. Our knowledge lives.

The essential conditions are: an instructor, real contact sparring and outdoor practice. With these a trainee progresses from practicing the physical aspects of stance in front of an opponent to creating and maintaining a proper inner state in life.



Fighting spirit and a warrior’s insight

By Carmel Zitronblat

In our daily life we can aspire to be decisive but calm. Every action that we will do in this frame of mind will be simpler and correct. We can see a simple example for this in a test we attempt to answer. If we encounter a difficult question and stress accordingly we will perform below our abilities.

As practitioners of martial art it is important that we get acquainted with the inner feelings in a violent confrontation and aim to be in the best inner attitude to deal with these situations.

Soldiers who fight professionally learn very few techniques. A soldier learns a limited number of rote reactions to many situations. It seems to me as the basic level of being a warrior; it is most suitable to armies where you never have enough time to learn a large variety of techniques. Sometimes in this sort of fast military training, the warrior acts from an emotional base of fear and anger and not from real understanding. Misunderstanding and lack of insights in military training, and training that duplicates it, can leave a residue of negative emotions and fix the warrior in a sub-professional techniques, reactions and behavior.

A warrior or martial art practitioner who practices for a long time should be based in understanding so he can work out the optimal reaction to the many possibilities of violence.

Myamoto Musashi – a legendary Japanese swordsman from the 17th century, wrote in his book that a warrior should step into battle when his spirit is clean. In battle the warrior is under life threatening pressure that has physical and mental aspects. In this situation it is better to stay calm and sharp so the best solution will not be obscured. So better not to fight with fear, anger, hatred or any other strong emotion that might cloud our senses and affect our decision making. That, in my opinion and experience, is the ideal we should aspire to.

To understand fighting and have the correct fighting spirit we must train many years. Many training situations and various tests and encounters will promote our professionalism and give us the best set of tools to deal with violent situations. These tools can later be “left”, be “broken” to leave a clear no-mind attitude according to our individual insight and character.


Martial arts and childishness

By Shay Dill
There’s always someone telling me I’m being childish. Of course, it starts with my mother who usually says, especially after an injury: “What where you thinking? When will you stop with this Ninjutsu stuff? When will you act your age?”
And it goes on with my wife who thinks that my version – “only those people who participate in some discipline or have a hobby are interesting” is a bit of a childish exaggeration.

Maybe one of the main characteristics of children is that they see things in either black or white. When you grow up you understand there are some grays. I stayed with my black and whites, somebody is either good or bad, I love something or hate it. Of course there are embers of grey. Grey is mostly an uninteresting color.

Some weeks ago I had a conversation with a remarkable lady. I told her that sometimes, when I look at people who do not practice, their lives look very boring. On the other side, when I look at people who train or have some discipline, their lives look more passionate, more involved.

There are many anecdotal contradictories – I met a guy who runs diligently and he’s a bore, or a girl riding a bicycle for triathlon that was even more dreary.

To go back to the interesting woman, she commented on my childish observations and said that her goal in life is to do whatever she does the best, perfection. I can honestly declare that I do not share this goal. I know that in order to do something perfectly you have to invest much more than if you aim for doing it 90% good. I’m sure that this post contains some mistakes but it doesn’t bother me enough. Maybe it’s because I never have spare time. My attitude is that once I get to the core goal, perfection is not that important.

The woman I was talking with, the one whose aim is “doing whatever she does perfectly” is the best mother I know. Alas, she does not understand a thing in martial arts. Does this mean she has uninteresting life just because I don’t see her at the dojo twice a week? Probably not; I stand corrected.

To get back to where I started, am I childish? Being childish is fun!! Life is simpler, colors are clearer and you sure have good time. In every instance someone tries to pin me back to the ground (not a training mattress but the grownup ground) I desist (unless it’s my wife. In that case I tell her she’s right, I’m sorry, I’ll try to be more mature – there’s no end to what a person has to do for a peaceful home).

Probably there is no clear-cut conclusion here. I gather now that other people have interesting life even though they do not train in martial arts, but when I immaturely compare, I see: we people have a common interest, a forward moving skill and we really do have fun. Maybe this is because martial arts in our school and in similar places attract people that essentially posses young spirit. Hey, just look around and see, so many people smiling. This is not the way adults look!!!