Bojutsu vs Kenjutsu vs Bojutsu vs Kenjutsu…

Cutting against his arm

This summer like most summers we train a lot more with long weapons since the dojo is too small to really use long weapons properly. This summer we train Bojutsu against Kenjutsu (long staff against sword). I think I teach and train a little different than most Bujinkan teachers out there, but I can’t really say maybe there is those who approach the training like I do. Let me explain.

Kote haneage followed by Haneage
Kote haneage followed by Haneage

First of all you learn how to use the staff, spinning and striking etc, this is mostly solo-training. Then you learn the Keiko Sabaki Kata (movement practice techniques) in my dojo we only practice one technique for the whole two hour class. Some students really have problems with coordination, others capture it quicker. In this first step I don’t mention distance, timing or anything except which strikes and blocks to make. This can also be solo-training and done alone against an imagined opponent.

Second I take the sword and we focus on how to handle the situation the best way with a sword. If he is attacking me with the staff I immediately counter him by stepping forward. I’m not gonna step backwards defending myself all the time, when he steps in to strike me in his preferred distance out of my reach; I boldly step in at the same time and block the staff and get even closer into my preferred distance so I can cut him with the sword. As I see it this is the only chance I have against a longer weapon, there is no point of running backwards.

Catching the staff and Tsuki
Catching the staff and Tsuki

Thirdly I take the staff again. I attack the kenjutsu-ka fully (not really, but almost) and make sure he does a good block, and as he block I don’t stay frozen or try to push harder on him. As I strike I’m already prepared for the next movement when he comes in and try to cut me, I move out to my distance and do the next strike.

Then I take the sword again and try to avoid being hit from this point in the technique, by blocking and countering again. I’m not really gonna give up or run away. If I can cut I will cut.

Then again I take the staff and try to deal with this really difficult opponent, I avoid his cut and counter him until the end of the technique where I make it impossible for him to do anything. Then the technique is finished without changing the sequences of the strikes, the only thing that is flexible is the distance and the timing. And this is where the true training comes in.

Then at the end of the class we record a short demo to video which will be available for download later. This is how we spend our two hour trainings at Kaigozan Dojo this summer.

No henka, no variations, true to the technique.

Kote haneage as he try to cut my left arm
Kote haneage as he try to cut my left arm

I always thought quality is better than quantity. It is amazing how cleverly these techniques is made up, it is so much more than executing the strikes rapidly against a rather passive opponent. If the opponent (sword-guy) is good and understand how to use the sword there is really not many options to change the technique and do something different, the possibility for henka becomes very narrow, what you can change is very small details. For me this is what henka means, you failed your initial technique and need to adapt because of miscalculation.

I know there are those out there only doing henka-training, but how do you do henka training only, henka of what? If you try to train yourself into intuition without basic foundation you are doing something I don’t understand. You weren’t born out from nowhere, someone did something very basic with someone and you was born. How do you henka anything into existence?

Victory ending of the technique
Victory ending of the technique

If anyone is interesting I’m doing three more one day Bojutsu mini-seminars this summer.

Happy Training!


Taijutsu Jodan-tsuki

In the previous tutorial I explained my way of moving the feets when I do the basic jodan-ukemi, so I thought I also show how I attack (still only footwork!).

In Kihon-happo we attack straight to the face with a jodan-tsuki (in basic it should be a shikan-ken), so I will explain from this point of view. If he has a good ichimonji no kamae, he point his arm straight to my center which makes it more difficult. If his front arm is pointing to the side (like Gyokko-ryu), I would try to step on his foot while entering. But he is too clever for that, so he force me to move around his left arm. Going to the inside is not good so I will attack him from his outside.


I keep both knees bent, with the weight a little more on the rear right leg. I keep the spine straight and relaxed. I should be able to jump or push the body in any direction with the left or right foot. When I move in to strike, I want to be as quick as possible without making any signs before I explode forward in to the opponent.


The distance to the opponent decides how big the first step with the left foot should be.

I lift the left foot and quickly push the body forward with the rear right leg. I turn my left knee to the left in the same direction as the left foot is pointing (see the picture). There is no strange angles in the knee, I put the left side of the left foot on the floor first, and when my weight is over the leg, the whole foot will be rooted firmly to the ground.


Then I quickly put the right foot forward. As soon as my body weight passes the left foot I start pushing the body forward with the left foot, as I do this it is important that the left foot is rooted to the ground.

Soon after my right foot is placed on the ground my right fist makes contact. Then the spine twists, and my right foot and leg is starting to stop the body’s forward motion (if that is what I want*) as I strike through the target. The right knee should stop just above the toes, and you should have good balance and both knees bent. More weight on the right foot than the left foot.

*If the opponent jumps backwards or move quickly backwards, I can move the left foot forward very quickly with three more strikes in that left step (I will explain this in another tutorial if I there is interest). I can run after him much faster than he can run backwards, don’t think something else!

Also if the opponent doesn’t move properly here (like I explained in the previous tutorial) it will be very easy for me to kick him in the groin with the left foot (if he move the right foot too much to the side), or placing the left foot behind him for osoto-nage (if he moves his left leg off line).

* Ground the feet’s properly!

It is very, very important that the left foot (picture 2 & 3) does not turn on the ground as you are pushing forwards, then you will loose friction to the ground and you will slip very easily if you push forward strongly. Also Miyamoto Musashi spoke about the importance of rooting the feet to the ground and push the body forwards or backwards with the whole foot rooted, and not on the toes or balls of the feet.

Taijutsu uke-nagashi, the 45 degree step

I think most of you have heard about the 45° step when you do the basic jodan-uke for example, this does not mean that you end up in a 45° angle to the attack that I so often see. I think this is a misunderstanding, and I will explain here so that you have to be an idiot if you don’t understand ;-).

But first let’s make some reference points. To get the distance right we need to understand that the opponent will hit you in the head with his right fist. And that you want to end up at a safe distance where you can block the opponent’s right arm from the inside without being to close or too far away. So you need to move your whole body as one unit about one arms length. So measure how far that is. I will use the tatami mat as a reference point so that you can easily understand. I recommend that you also use the tatami mat as I do here so that you can do the step without looking. And then look down and check if you are on the correct spot, angles and length wise.

Remember that you move the body one arm’s length, it doesn’t matter how long the opponent’s arms is. If he knows how deep he should punch (just through the target and not an inch more!) it will be perfect distance for you.


When you move from point A to point B in the first step you should have the exact same angles but one arms length further back to the side. You should have rotated the whole body about 30° to the left, but the angles and alignment should be the same.


So when you start in the basic Ichimonji no kamae both heel’s should be on the same line and pointing directly against the opponent’s center. I won’t go into detail about anything else than the footwork here. I might do a part two of this tutorial later?


The right foot and toes should be pointing exactly 45° back to the right against the other corner of the tatami mat. Keep a rather low position with both knees bent (in basic training, be extra low), more weight on the right leg.


Lift the right foot and push the body strongly and quickly back to the right with the left foot. You should explode from the position, so make sure the front leg is not too straight. Do not move the left foot first (I say that this is a bad habit). If you keep your right arm straight against the opponent, he will not step on the left foot, as he have to move around your arm.


The right foot should go exactly 45° towards the corner of the tatami. Note how the right foot have turned a little, but the heel should be on the line. At the same time the left foot should follow the right foot in a straight line.


As you can see this angle is about 30° from the starting point. Also worth mentioning is that the feet’s is never this wide apart as it is rather a jump than step, step. It is important that the upper body should not go anywhere else but straight backwards to the side as if you where on wheels.


See how the left foot ends up on the same line. Now you have moved the body 30° back to the right. You should end up in the exact same position as when you started. Your kamae is “closed” and good, aimed directly to the opponents inside.


From here you block and take his balance… as you can see you have also opened up the opponent’s lower region. You have the opening where you will place the right foot as you step in and counter with your own attack.

Training drill

A very good training drill is to stand in Ichimonji no kamae and move from point A to point B as explained above. Repeat this several times, you should move in a big circle keeping a perfect Ichimonji no kamae the whole time. Then change side and do it to the left. This is a good exercise that strenghten your legs and gives you a good foundation.

Happy training!


Kukishin-ryu Bojutsu – Keiko Sabaki kata – 03 – Sashiai

Disclaimer; this is not necessarily the correct way of doing this technique, it is the way I see how it should be done.


Technique No 3 from Kukishin-ryu Rokushaku Bôjutsu – Keiko sabaki kata

Bojutsu - Keiko Sabaki kata - 03 - Sashi-ai(A)

1. I assume Chûdan no kamae and plan to make the opponent open up his left side…

Bojutsu - Keiko Sabaki kata - 03 - Sashi-ai(B)

2. I move the left foot forward to the left and enter in to the opponent’s right side. I angle the body in a way to draw the attention to my left hand and hide the right hand sliding back to the end of the staff.

Bojutsu - Keiko Sabaki kata - 03 - Sashi-ai(C)

3. I step forward with the left foot and thrust in chudan-tsuki to the opponent and force him to move. Since I enter on his right side I pretty much force him to move to his left.

Note: If he is not moving I strike through his guard and get him. If he put force into the block it is better for me, but I’m not waiting to feel it (physically) then it would be to late for the next step.

Bojutsu - Keiko Sabaki kata - 03 - Sashi-ai(D)

4. I quickly move the right foot forward and strike his left elbow with dô-uchi.

Bojutsu - Keiko Sabaki kata - 03 - Sashi-ai(E)

5. Then another quick kote-haneage strike from under to his right arm to completely disarm him. The kata officially finish here, but it is easy to keep going and take control of the space and the weapon he just lost.

Bojutsu - Keiko Sabaki kata - 03 - Sashi-ai(F)

6. Then I jump back to Seigan no kamae and assume zanshin (because the next kata starts from here which makes it easier to remember the next kata).

After you and your partner have learned the kata, try to work on a better defense with the sword. Try to be more offensive and gradually make it more difficult to attack with the staff, instead of moving backwards move forwards and be more offensive. The swordsman’s distance is shorter and he need to be on a safe distance or closer where he can get the opponent with the staff quickly. The person with the staff need to be outside the swordsman’s reach or be completely covered. You can practice this technique with more freely distance and timing, but keep the same sequence of attacks (keep to the kata). If you do this I suggest you use safe weapons (padded weapons) and maybe protections, or just be very careful.

There is also kuden; things taught personally from teacher to student, so please find a good teacher and study with him/her.

Happy training!


足運びの構え Deep kamae

One of the shihan who have been training with Soke for 47 years! Said that in the beginning when they trained in the basics they to did very deep kamae. But the feet was just shoulder width apart not so wide apart as most westerners do when they go deep in their kamae.

He said that they did this for some 20 years, then the next phase in training came when the theme changed to much wider stances. And this was around the same time the first westerners came to train in japan in the late 70’s and early 80’s.

足運び ASHIHAKOBI is the name of the technique the Sumo wrestlers use when they walk with the center of gravity as low as possible. With the feet’s too wide apart it would be very difficult to move quickly. And with the center of gravity too high they would be easily pushed out of the ring. Maybe now you get the idea better. 

Please don’t misunderstand me, keeping the feet wide apart makes it more difficult and useful in training, which I strongly believe is good for training drills. I think it is better to make the training drills more difficult and more demanding. But in practical use you should not keep the feet too far from each other because it will slow down your movement too much. It is very important to know what is a practice drill and what you would do in reality! 

Here is two video clips of Sumo matches, one is very bad use of ashihakobi, and one is good. The first one is the bad example, with these not so good “sumo wrestlers“. Compare the center of gravity of the previous ones with these two and you clearly see the difference. It is also a quite funny Sumo wrestling clip.

The first kanji 足 means foot or leg. The second kanji 運 means `carry’, `luck’, `destiny’, `fate’, `lot’, `transport’, `progress’, `advance’.