“I’m now going to teach you the secret of all martial arts” my sensei said to me. I was relieved; I’d just spent three times per week for the last six weeks learning and practicing my falls and at last I was going to learn “the good stuff.” My sensei then taught me happo no kuzushi (the eight forms of off balance). He very soberly informed me that “all attacks come from one of these directions” and that it was my ability to accept an attack from each of these directions that would determine my martial arts prowess. I’m sure he could tell how disappointed I was, since this was all Eastern philosophy mumbo jumbo to me and couldn’t possibly help me learn jujitsu. I just wanted to learn how to throw someone, and if not that, at least to learn how to break their arm, or something (As you can tell, I was bloodthirsty in those days!) He then told me to keep practicing my happo no kuzushi, and that as I achieved higher rank, it would mean more to me. I didn’t tell him this, but I knew he was wrong; there was no way happo no kuzushi could ever really help me learn jujitsu.
As I’m sure you may have guessed, despite my misgivings my sensei was right and I was wrong. The more rank I received, the more kuzushi meant to me. An epiphany came one day when I realized that my progress in attaining higher rank was driven by my better understanding of kuzushi, rather than simply obtaining a better understanding of kuzushi because of my rank.
At its simplest level, kuzushi means off balance and involves the use of the other person’s motion. I believe that most jujitsuans understand this intellectually, yet they have not made this intellectual understanding an integral part of their jujitsu. They don’t practice it, instead when an attack comes, they are more interested in stopping the attack and countering than they are in accepting the attack and allowing the attacker to choose his own way to die, by virtue of his kuzushi determining the technique to be used while he is in motion.”
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