Q. How is a training session structured?
A typical class begins with a warm up to get people moving and increase blood supply to the muscles –
sometimes this takes the form of running, or other aerobic activity. This can frequently be expanded upon to bring in aspects of training such as co-ordination or teamwork exercises.
This is followed by comprehensive stretching of the major muscle groups to warm up the joints and reduce the chance of muscle strain. On regular occasions the warm-up exercises can include a combination of rolling and "break-fall" exercises. These are essential "injury prevention" skills, for which regular practice is recommended, ensuring students maintain control if thrown, or falls, to the ground.
Although every class is different and there is no set syllabus, instructors occasionally start with a demonsration of a traditional technique and once this has been widely performed by the class, it will be expanded to show limitations which may have crept in over time, or how the technique can or cannot be used in modern times. The aim is to capture the essence of what makes a technique work in certain circumstances instead of just repeating the instructors movements. When practicing techniques, control and precision are the important areas. Speed and force are often used to compensate for sloppy technique or an incomplete understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of a technique and the student. The experienced student works to control both themselves and their opponent through correct distancing, timing, balance and angling.
To ensure that students train in a controlled fashion, beginners are partnered with experienced students to ensure that the beginners movements can be monitored and that they are training in a safe and controlled environment. Students are required to regularly change their training partner to ensure they are progressing and learning how to use techniques against opponents of various builds and skill levels. An essential aspect of one-to-one training is that of respect for your training partner. Simply put, this involves each pair (or group) training at a level within the experience and capability of the beginner or less-experienced student.
Q. Will I get to train with weapons?
Weapon training is not reserved for senior students but is introduced early in the students training and continues throughout all levels. The primary weapons studied include a 3ft staff (hanbo) and 6ft staff (bo),sword (katana) with/without its partner sword (wakizashi) , knife (tanto) and chain (usually kusari fundo). Under no circumstances are students permitted to train with steel swords, knives or chain as even an unsharpened blade can be potentially lethal. Traditional wooden knives, bamboo swords and rope are substituted in place of the real implements – these can still leave a mild bruise or rapped knuckles to engender a sense of respect for the weapons within the students and encouragement to be observant, controlled and maintain a strong defence!
As with traditional unarmed techniques, the emphasis is placed on overcoming your opponent by controlling the distance, balance and timing of the encounter. Weapon work usually starts with basic familiarisation – showing the available strikes, defences and parries before moving onto techniques. As with an unarmed technique, usually a traditional technique is demonstrated which illustrates a particular movement or aspect and this is gradually built upon to give a wide grounding in particular techniques and variations.
One method of training is to demonstrate an attack to all students followed by a technique that takes advantage or nullifies the original attack. A counter-technique can be added and so forth, which allows the student to observe an attack from both sides and become aware of the ways in which even a strong attack is not without it’s weaknesses – the objective is to develop an awareness of your strengths and understand where an opponent is likely to perceive real or feigned weaknesses.
Within many martial art styles, it is a common theory that weapon techniques are to be taught separately to empty handed techniques – within the Bujinkan this is reversed. The fundamental essence that allows an empty handed technique to succeed can often be utilised with weapons and vice versa. Using correct distance and angles, a successful throw or lock can be incorporated into a strike with a staff or sword – with correct training the student is able to perform the same technique with rope, staff, sword or an improvised weapon.
When training with a partner, students are encouraged to swap weapons through the technique and not to always choose the same type (e.g. sword vs knife/unarmed) (for example - depending on the individual technique employed sword length can vary from 2.5ft to 4ft). This is to encourage students to concentrate on seeing the weapon as an extension instead of focusing solely on the weapon at the expense of understanding how the body and the weapon work together to deliver explosive techniques.