Updated: Sep 23, 2022
A well-known saying is that "difficult situations reveal the creativity within us". So that's pretty much what happened to me...
Just like I studied from my Bujinkan teachers in Japan and from my teacher in Israel - Sensei Danny Waxman - also in our dojo, when we train and learn we work slowly. In fact, in many parts of the study, it is even "the slower the better". In the last practice, a student (who studied for many years under a different teacher) challenged me on the issue of speed; He really likes to work fast and thinks it's good and important and he didn't understand why I emphasize training at low speed. His questions and the discussion that arose with him stimulated me and pushed me to write this article. I hope you enjoy it and that it will be thought-provoking even for those of you who are not familiar with our Bujinkan and dojo approach.
What do we learn?
I think the first question every student - in any subject and field - must ask himself is: "What is the purpose of the study? What is the subject of the study?" The answer will help him navigate his way through the tangle of dilemmas and difficulties that may arise during his studies. So, in Dojo Caracal, just like in Bujinkan, we learn Budo (I think we learn much more than that, but I don't want to go into too long and deep an article here). Budo, in its narrow definition, is a martial art. Therefore - I believe - the basic question that every student and practitioner of Budo should ask himself is: "What is the purpose of Budo?". In my opinion - and as Hatsumi Soke defined it more than once - the ultimate goal of Budo is to enable a person to live a full and enjoyable life. But in order to live, he must survive.... and as teaches my teacher - Daishihan Danny Waxman - "sometimes you have to kill to survive". And no, I didn't kill and I don't know if I would be able to do such a thing if required and I hope I won't have to stand the test, but I am definitely ready and willing to fight in order to survive and live.
What does "fighting" include?
You can write long books on this topic at the doctorate level, but here I have to reduce, so in my opinion and my understanding fighting is mandatory:
1. Maintaining one's physical and mental fitness.
2. Ability to hurt and cause maximum damage to the attacker.
3. Maximum control ability - over myself and the attacker.
I suppose that many more components and sub-components can be added, such as: "ability to move", "quick position change", fast and strong hitting" and more, but in my opinion, these are "sub-components", derived from the 3 super-components, the mandatory components and maybe constitute an "interpretation" of some of the above 3 components. But in my opinion, all the above components require first and foremost - accuracy! Accuracy is reflected, for example, in my position during the confrontation/contact, in performing the correct technique, hitting/striking to the right point, etc. And to be accurate, inner peace and peace of mind are required.
The question arises: is "speed" a goal when fighting? My answer is clearly - no! There are certain situations where speed may be the right answer to the situation, but it is definitely not a goal when fighting.
My work approaches
First, it is important and worth clarifying that different teachers have different understandings, different insights and different working and teaching approaches. In general, it can be said that "every teacher is the pattern of his life's landscape" and his teachers are completely part of that "landscape". I am no different and I am influenced by all my teachers, especially Danny Waxman and Hatsumi Sensei and a number of other Japanese teachers whose work, personality and wisdom captured my heart. All these teachers teach and emphasize the importance of the 4 points:
3. Inner work - Mushin ("without thought"), Zanshin ("focus on the here and now"), Fudushin ("the undistracted heart").
None of these teachers works fast and I have heard some of them express opposition and negation of fast work. The question arises "Why?"
Danny told me more than once that "fast work exposes you to the opponent and harms your stability", but it seems to me that this explanation "is not absorbed" by some people who grew up with a different approach, therefore I want to mobilize for the sake of the explanation a "neutral" sports field, which is perceived - and to a large extent right - as "a field whose goal is speed", and I am talking about the field of motorcycle racing; In the past, I rode dirt bikes for over 20 years. Riding of all kinds. I started with a style of "excursion riding", which in essence is slow riding, which allowed me a controlled study of the techniques I used later. Gradually, while gaining experience, I moved towards extreme off-road riding - super-fast riding, on any off-road route and at high risk. Such a ride "consecrates" the speed (yes, I became addicted to adrenaline and other emotions and feelings that such a ride brings) and to a large extent, it is similar to the "grand Prix ride" of road motorcycles. To the observer from the side it seems that "the winner is the fastest rider", but no! It's a mistake! Because those who are experienced and know a little about the field know very well that "the winner is the rider who is the most accurate, the most controlling and the most mentally stable" (and of course also rides at the highest speed...). Because if you are the fastest but lack precision, you will crash in the first turn on the track or in the first hole in the field and if your mind is distracted (remember "mushin"? "no thinking"?) - if because of a split second's hesitation, or because of any dilemma, you will find yourself scratching the floor with your nose. And note that we are talking here about a speed competition, a field in which the goal is to be the fastest on the track, and not about combat, in which, as mentioned, we have a completely different goal (very rare are the cases where you have to subdue an opponent under time pressure, but also in those rare cases, the same rules apply: always be protected from harm, control the situation and subdue the opponent without getting confused).
The understanding and especially the internalization of this truth guide my way: accuracy, safety and control precede speed! But it's not that I think speed has no place in battle; Sometimes speed is required, but mostly (if I work correctly and well) it comes as a reaction, as a result of the opponent's work and not as a goal in itself and above all: it does not come from my own initiative. The speed in the battle comes from the work of the opponent.
I think a lot of times people confuse explosive power and agility with speed, but it's not the same thing. Because agility is defined as "the ability of the human body to change direction in a certain movement, as efficiently as possible" (and note: "efficient", efficiency... a concept that is very closely related to accuracy!). Yes, agility requires both strength and speed, but also a great deal of precision, inner peace and the three mental components - mushin, zanshin and fudoshin.
Slow speed training
There are many more reasons for slow work and especially for slow training; Many people and trainers (and I am among them) find that slow work raises attention to the small particles that build the big movement, increases physical and mental awareness, and yields the fastest and best results in technical improvement of movement and technique. But working at a slow speed also allows for physical and not mental learning, thus turning the movement into an instinct ("the unification of body and mind"). Another bonus of the slow work is the awareness of the opponent's position: performing the movement slowly allows me to feel more easily any change that takes place, for example, in the opponent's posture and movement (this is most noticeable in judo - when it comes to performing a perfect kuzushi, getting off balance without effort) this allows me to make appropriate changes in movement, technique and posture (for the Bujinkan people: performing "Bampen-Fugyo"...).
And the main thing for me: all these elements do not exist in work/training that puts speed as its ultimate goal, but it is clear to me (also from my motorcycle experience) that once the technique has been assimilated into the body, the speed will appear on its own in real-time when the unification of body and mind is required.
Finally, it is important for me to emphasize:
that there is no substitute for experiencing a training fight (randori), because the fight allows a person to test himself, and to what extent the learned material has been assimilated into his body and mind. But even in randori, the principles learned in training must be maintained, and it is forbidden to surf for a "speed competition"! From my experience, randori causes many people to surf into a "power and speed competition", the ego pulls and drags them... this situation must not be reached! The Randori is the test and one of the best lessons, before the battle of truth; It allows us to examine all aspects of studying the Bujinkan - from technical to mental aspects. But - and this is the teacher's responsibility and duty - the randori must take place under close supervision and adapt to the goal of the training and the level of control of the trainees and we must all remember that the randori is not "a place of learning", the randori is not a competition either. The randori is a self-test for the trainees, which comes to set before them the points on which they should focus more strongly in their regular training.
Fast work/movement is not a negative thing. Sometimes, especially during a real fight, fast movement is required, so it is advisable to practice this in training as well. But, in my opinion, a student should, first of all, acquire a high skill in all the other elements of the art (especially in the matter of accuracy and placement), before he starts working quickly. Because the too early introduction of fast work into the training system will create students lacking precision and a poor understanding of the essence of Ninpo-Taijutsu work.
Bibliography/extended reading (recommended):