Feeding the Skeleton

体術 - "taijutsu", the classical form of martial arts. This word is formed using two kanji: 体 which is "tai" or "karada" and means body; and 術 which is "jutsu" or "sube" and means technique / method / means.

What is interesting about the firat kanji "tai" is the component parts: 一 "ichi" (one) combined with 木 "moku" (tree) and the radical 亻 "ri" (human). The essence of this kanji is "everyone at one tree" or "everyone climbs the same tree".

There is another etiology for this kanji though, which says that the radical is NOT 亻 "ri" (human) but rather a contraction of 化 "ka" (take the form of); which gives us "everyone takes the form of a single tree".

Interestingly enough, there is another perfectly valid form of this word, with the same meaning:

體術 - "taijutsu", the classical form of martial arts. Perhaps this is not used as much because the initial kanji is such a bear to draw, but it does give us another perspective. This kanji is composed of 并 "hei" (put together) with 豆 "tou" (beans) and the radical 骨 "kotsu" (frame, lit. skeleton). So, "put together beans on the same frame", or more generally "building upon the same structure".

So what is taijutsu? It is the means by which everyone climbs the same tree, or the methods used when everyone takes the form of a single tree, or the technique for building upon the same structure.

It is interesting that 体 and 體 (both are read as "tai") ALSO mean "body". The implication is that the classical form of martial arts begins with the body. taijutsu is a part of all martial arts and indeed, a part of all human physical activities from baseball to ballroom dancing (or ice dancing). Some heiho include taijutsu as a separate form of study, Hirakawa Ryu among them.

I will give two examples of our taijutsu principles and also the approximations used in various martial arts to start someone along the way. Some of you have heard these from me before, some have seen this demonstrated and there has been mention of these in past notes.

But first, let us pick apart the kanji 骨 "kotsu" (frame, lit. skeleton). At the top you have 冂 "kui" (an upside-down box) and inside of it 口 "kou" (mouth). Just below that you have 冖 "peki" (a 'wa' shaped crown). At the bottom you have 月 "gatsu" (month or moon). This kanji is put together more or less to depict or draw a human skeleton. What do we end up with? That is correct: a talking head ruling a lower body.

One of the most interesting insights can be garnered from the moon kanji 月 "gatsu"; if you look at it closely you will see six points aligned in a grid. These equate directly to the points of the shoulders, the points of the hips, and the center of the ankles. Below that you see the feet. One of the core principles of taijutsu is the alignment of the points of the shoulders, points of the hips and center of the ankles. All three of these points should align vertically on both sides and each of these points should be level horizontally from right to left.

Karate and TKD approximate these alignments by saying you should "stand with your feet one shoulder width apart" or "there should be the length of your foot between your ankles" and these are close enough for the beginner, but the more advanced practitioner should be aware of the actual basis for these rough approximations.

Also, note that the shoulder width is to the points of the shoulders, NOT to the outside of your biceps/deltoids. Ever watched a karateka or karatedeshi prepare for their kata and then the very first thing they do when they begin is pick up their feet and move them closer together?

And the other thing: "intent comes from the eyes, control from the shoulders and power from the hips"; or more simply put "the hips will always follow the shoulders". Watch an ice dancer making turns and jumps: you will see them turn their shoulders into a spin or a jump and when they wish to stop turning or rotating they will turn their shoulders away from the rotation.

Disagree? Go try to do yoko geri (side kick) while turning your shoulders away from your target. Now try something as simple as mae geri (front kick) but turn your shoulders so that they are not squared up to your target. Line three people up with targets, stand in front of the center target, and front kick all three targets without moving your shoulders away from square. Now do it again but this time move your shoulders slightly to the left, square and then slightly to the right (or vice versa if starting to your right side).

We approximate this by telling students to "look at your target" or to "keep your hands in front of you" or to "point both of your hands at the target" but what we really mean is "the hips will always follow the shoulders".

Back on May 3rd of 2105 I wrote of helping a young man improve his kata by changing one small thing. Now you know what I changed; and I did so by telling him "point both of your hands at the target".