The Methodical Pyramid

By Yossi Sheriff 2.1.1993


After nine years of studying and ingesting, instruction became the natural next step, and so - in 1985, my instructor, Doron Navon , entrusted me with a training group.

Since then, many more groups have evolved, and the roster includes hundreds of names of past and present students. As dozens of them have achieved the highest professional levels, it is only natural yet again that veteran students would mature and turn into colleagues.

The large community of beginners, students and fellow martial-artists requires knowledge that is not offered in training. The Methodical pyramid as a 'progress model' constitutes a proper framework for such knowledge. This model has yielded favorable results, not only in the actual performance of this martial-art itself, but also when applied for instruction purposes and solution of military combat problems. Such implementation has yielded impressive time-economy and casualty reduction.

As for the martial-arts trainee, the model's effectiveness depends on the extent to which it is internalized. There is no need to transform practice into a focus of complex philosophy. The fact that the model serves as a framework for practice does not infiltrate the practice itself. There is still that same aspiration to mastery in action. One may still assess one's ability versus others, and challenge one's own, inner limitations.

Daily use of this model is made by those teachers who develop new instruction tools. Although the main goal is to intensify the use of this model, another goal is no less significant: using this model and the contents of this manual to consolidate a uniform professional language. My many peers, practicing various martial-arts, use a large variety of professional terminologies and formulations, indicating an even larger variety of meanings. Understanding the methodical pyramid and its implementation in instruction will help build a common professional language that will enable reciprocal learning processes and transmission of knowledge.

Background of developing the working model


Ninjutsu is the inclusive name—not necessarily the most precise—for nine martial-arts that came into being centuries ago in Japan and China. The Bujinkan School, headed by Masaki Hatsumi, preserves these methods which have different origins, although they live under one roof. Three of the methods were probably created by the Ninjutsu clans in Japan's mountainous region of Iga, three methods were brought to Japan from China by warrior-monks and military men, and three were regularly practiced in Samurai warrior training.

Ninjutsu delineates a highly conservative notion of martial-art training. The knowledge of the nine different Budo streams we practice is contained and codified in more than 400 Katas, or choreographies, for both empty-handed and armed fighting. These Katas are practiced in pairs, each in numerous variations. Ninjutsu has sometimes been compared to a huge museum. One may observe this ancient method as a living, breathing museum; a library documenting warriors' martial past; a database that has preserved the conclusions arrived at on the battlefield and recorded it in the language spoken by warriors—the language of action and movement.

The reason for constructing the model in Israel

When Doron Navon returned from his years in Japan, practice was rigorous and tough. The time devoted to overcoming physical obstacles and pain did not leave much room for deeper examination. The Ninjutsu group trained by Doron Navon, my own instructor and the first non-Japanese ever authorized to teach the method, practiced Katas and sparred for over a decade without asking too many questions. Over the years, common problems that usually prevail among novices were solved, and were replaced by problems facing more advanced practitioners. Many questions originated in the small group of veterans who were authorized for instruction and began to transmit to new students the knowledge they had received.

As an instructor and member of that original group, I regarded them as central questions.

Tradition vs. change in martial arts

Martial-arts techniques are expected to produce combat effectiveness—producing the appropriate response in real fight situations. And here is the problem: real fight situations constantly change with time, and with the constant development of weaponry. They also evolve along with popular techniques and might vary to accommodate physical build, weight or limited flexibility.

This is nothing new. The warrior's need to prepare himself for an ever-changing battlefield was already mentioned in the Bible. For us, here, this is not just an abstract question; the preparation for fighting in Israel is especially complex and, unfortunately, real. The State of Israel is subjected to an ongoing state of war, facing either hostile neighboring countries or terrorist organizations. Most of the Ninjutsu trainees in Israel have served, are presently serving or will serve in the Israeli armed forces. They require a physical and mental preparation for their military service.

In this atmosphere, there is the need to update and re-adjust traditional techniques to contemporary combat situations. Several instructors have found themselves in inner conflict: on the one hand, they feel the need to preserve the traditional knowledge with which we have been entrusted, and on the other hand, the obligation to accommodate their knowledge to combat situations that have transformed since this knowledge was sealed in Japan. Japan has entered a time of peace and its need to develop warfare has died out. Israeli reality is tough and ever-changing, and peace still seen merely as a hopeful dream.

The methodical pyramid supplies tools to answer the following questions:
  • How does one examine the effectiveness of the techniques?
  • Can training injuries be reduced?
  • Can the enormous number of techniques be organized into a well-ordered syllabus?
  • How can a traditional martial-art prepare the trainee for changing scenarios of violence?
  • How is common language used to bridge technical gaps?
  • How can time be economized in training?