Understand? Good. Play!


In western martial arts schools, it’s mostly very like Karate Kid. There’s a fixed, correct form and that’s drilled into you. You repeat the form of the move and repeat it to a flawless ideal. Gaining coloured belts moving up to black belt is often just drilling out that repeat. There’s a correct way, you repeat it. Whether that’s demonstrating an isolated strike or a kata (which is a set flow of moves), it’s the same. You show the one right way of doing it.

Of course, in a real fight, or even sparring in that martial art, all that goes out the window and you respond. But all I’ve seen taught in so many schools is the correct form.

The Bujinkan is a bit different, it’s rooted in a long running Japanese approach that persists through all Bujinkan affiliated clubs in the world.

At the heart of Bujinkan Taijutsu is two basic sets of kata, the Khion Happo and Sanshin No Kata. These two sets of 8 and 5 kata sequence contain within them the essence of the entire martial art. They teach you distance, movement and core sets of basic forms. They are distilled and simple.

At first, you learn the basic form, but soon the Sensei will be showing constant henka, or variations, to these forms.

The core message, repeated regularly is to understand the core form. Once you understand that core form, play with it. All the sensei in the school will use the same message the Soke does - Do you understand how this form works now? Good, then play with it! Take your learning deeper, build on it.

From here, the development is amazing, seeing how the same basic concepts can be applied in a myriad of different ways. The core concept is of building that deep understanding of the body movement aspect, experimenting and applying.

That’s a core concept I think is super important to take and expand into everything you do. Repeat the basics till you understand how they are working, which will be done by varying them and drilling them. But whilst doing so reflect on what you’re doing, how and why it works. Then once you feel that understanding come together, play with it. Try different things that the basics show you are possible. You do not just mindlessly repeat the same basics again and again, if you do, you’ll not be able to apply them to new problems and challenges.

You can apply this across anything you do, whether that’s digital work or physical things. It’s a really good way of really embedding and advancing your skills.

A good analogy for me is cooking. Follow some recipes, but don’t make your own till you understand how the others work. Combining the right flavours that work together instead of making an abomination using the same technique you used to produce something tasty! And if you get the basics, you can make a meal out of whatever you have in.

Understand? Good. Play!