Kempo no Ritsudo To Nagare – The Rhythm and Flow of the Fist Law of Fighting

James Masayoshi Mitose was the first person to teach Kempo in the territory of the United States. His training in Kempo combined the Mitose family art of Kosho Ryu Kempo Jujutsu which was very Japanese in orientation and included training in the Koga method of Ninjutsu. He also received training in Shorei Ryu Kempo Karate of Okinawa, it is believed from his maternal uncle, Choki Motobu.
Unfortunately, when Mitose taught his art, many of the students were not interested in the non-fighting aspects of the martial arts. He wanted to teach a peaceful philosophy based on both Buddhist and Christian concepts, along with the peaceful discipline of flower arranging (Ikebana). His art also included fencing (Kenjutsu), swimming (Suieijutsu), and tree climbing (Hichojutsu), which some of his students could not relate to streetfighting and thus had no interest in pursuing.

What became the most noted aspect of Mitose’s Kempo training was the method he demonstrated in his book, originally titled, WHAT IS SELF DEFENSE? KEMPO JIU-JITSU. This method can be called Renzoku Ken, continuous fist of the Okinawan tradition, or simply Waza, techniques of the Japanese tradition. However, Mitose called it Jitsute, the real hand or real skill. Moreover, it is due to a complete misunderstanding of that volume and the actual way that Kempo, both Japanese and Okinawan, were originally taught by Motobu, Mitose, and their teachers, that has lead to the current methods of teaching used by many ‘American’ Kempo instructors.

Originally Mitose wrote the book, WHAT IS SELF DEFENSE? KEMPO JIU-JITSU, to be a philosophy and history book. He did not plan to have any techniques demonstrated in the book at all. The main reason for this is because there are no static techniques in the traditional arts of true Kempo. It is possible to practice certain moves in repetitive fashion, but the idea that a static move is being practiced as you will actually use it on the street, shows a certain level of naiveté in a student or instructor. Many times it also shows a level of inexperience.
Mitose, who had a Judan, tenth degree black belt, awarded by the Aikikai under the direction of Morihei Ueshiba, was like Ueshiba in the fact that he performed techniques extemporaneously. While Ueshiba might do a technique similarly to the way he first demonstrated it, there were always minute changes which adapted to the situation of attack during his exhibitions. Mitose taught his art in the same way using patterns for body movements, but being freestyle within the patterns.

To teach a memorized set of techniques, whether in the form of Kata or in the form of Waza (technique) actually breaks the concepts of Kempo. If you listen to most ‘American’ Kempo practitioners discuss their art, you will hear a lot of talk about the flow of the Kempo. Yet most of them do not really understand what the flow of Kempo actually is and what it is actually based upon. Most of all, they try to develop this flow through a set of prearranged techniques which, because of their prearranged nature, literally inhibit the development of true Kempo flow.

In the methods of ancient Kempo, both Japanese and Okinawan, the concept of the effectiveness of the flow of the art can be summed up in two principles; Ritsudo and Nagare Komi. It should be noted before continuing in regard to Kempo, that these two principles can actually be found in all ancient martial arts of Japan and Okinawa. They formed the foundation of Morihei Ueshiba’s Aikido, and can be found in most effective styles of martial arts. This is because most martial arts in these countries have their foundations in the temple martial art of Kempo. These effective principles were passed by the Sohei, warrior monks, on to the Jisamurai, farmer warriors, of the early years of Japan. These Jisamurai eventually developed into the Daimyo, Bushi, and Samurai who ruled Japan from the twelfth century until the nineteenth century. And it was through Tametomo Minamoto and his followers, in the twelfth century, that these principles passed on to the Okinawan royalty and thus into Okinawan martial arts.

Ritsudo is rhythmic movement and is found in the concepts of Maai, distancing; Choshi, rhythm; and Hyoshi, timing. Distancing is a part of the rhythm of a fight. It is extremely important to maintain proper distance from an attacker. When an attacker is standing within striking distance, it is possible for them to hit you before you even have an opportunity to do any kind of countermove, whether dodging or blocking. Proper distancing gives a defender time to perceive an attack and react to it. Without that aspect of time, one cannot properly defend themselves. Ma, referring to interval, and Ai, referring to union, reflects the musical concept of rhythm which means that each movement is a beat and the time it takes to reach from point ‘a’ to point ‘b’ constitutes the beat of a fight, with the necessity to close the gap the ‘rest’ of a musical piece.

Choshi is the rhythm that allows you to match an attacker’s movement, so that no matter how hard they may try to hit you, you can stay just out of touch. Real fighting is using that ability of moving in rhythm to make sure that an attacker misses you with their attack, while you move into position so that you can strike them. This was called by Bruce Lee, hitting on the half-beat.

Learning to use the time it takes to close the gap allows for the development of timing in a fight. This is Hyoshi. Timing is the ability to make sure that your technique strikes or captures the assailant’s movement so that you can actually apply countermoves. It is literally possible to punch too fast and too slow. Obviously a strike that is delivered too slow will simply allow the opponent to move out of the way of the weapon. However, to strike too fast can mean that you occupy a space before the opponent’s target. In example, let us say that you throw a right jab at a person’s face. Each time you do, you notice that the person dodges their head to the left. So the next time you throw your punch, you aim where you know that the person moves, but if you punch too fast you will get there before the attacker, thus you miss. If you watch enough boxing or full contact Karate bouts, especially among amateurs, you will find that this actually happens a lot.

Thus Ritsudo, rhythmic movement, in relation to a fight, calls for you to maintain proper distancing so that you have time to react as the person attacks. Next you need rhythm, so that you can avoid being hit by the attack and then finally you need timing in order to be able to hit, throw, jointlock, or whatever, the assailant. Thus Ritsudo is made up of Maai, Choshi, and Hyoshi. This has been considered the secret of the ancient Okinawan martial art of Bushi Te and is usually referred to as Odorite, literally ‘the dancing hand’.

The next aspect of the flow of Kempo is Nagare Komi, which literally means, ‘to flow in’. Nagare itself is the term used to mean the flow of anything. This can be used in reference to a river, the air, life, and combat. In the Oriental way of thinking, as it developed in Taoism and influenced Buddhism, all of life is a flow. To learn to move in harmony with that flow is to master living. In regard to combat, to master the flow of the fight, is to master the martial arts.

In Nagare Komi, the idea is that each motion, following the law of nature and the construction of the human body, in harmony with the concepts of physics, as expressed in the laws of energy and motion, should naturally flow into the next movement. What is commonly called technique in Kempo are examples of this flow. However, in the past, the masters demonstrated extemporaneously their understanding of flow and encouraged their students to practice until they could come into an intuitive understanding of this flow.

Thus the idea is that from one move to the next, there is a Nagare Komi, a flowing into. This flow needs to be understood in a three dimensional manner. It is not enough to understand that there is a flow, but how that flow relates to target availability. Thus the flow can be used in three basic manners. First of all, there is lateral symmetry, which refers to striking left, right, left, and so on. This is easiest to see in regard to hand techniques and in the use of the hip for power generation. As the right hand strikes, the left prepares to deliver the next strike with full hip rotation, for full power, and then back again with the right hand, if necessary.

Next there is vertical symmetry, which is the harmony of the use of hands and legs. Just as a person flows easily from one hand to the next, they should be able to do the same with the legs and the hands. This type of symmetry usually also involves lateral movement as well, depending upon which targets are open to attack.

The third manner is single symmetry. This opportunity occurs usually in reference to the hands, though now a days many people now have the balance and dexterity to use their kicks in this fashion. This refers to an opportunity to block with one hand, turning that block into a strike, and possibly even into another one.

In each of these cases, there must be the Nagare Komi, the flowing in of each motion into the next motion, so that no time is wasted, and so that time is used in proper rhythm, thus each strike landing on the most available target, achieving the maximum effect for an effective self defense combination. For Nagare Komi to be effective it is essential that Ritsudo is mastered, for a flow of techniques that are unfocused, off target, and mistimed, will be completely ineffective. This is the reason that just learning through memorization a bunch of techniques cannot possibly produce a person capable of effective self defense, for a person can know hundreds of ‘Waza’, but not have developed an understanding of; timing, rhythm, distancing, rhythmic movement, or flow.

It is time that Kempo practitioner, regardless of style, return to the basics of true martial arts practice. It is time to research the facets of Ritsudo and Nagare Komi as preserved in the ancient forms of Kempo which form the foundation of the Japanese and Okinawan Bujutsu. It is time to understand the Takeumu, martial creativity, of the Minamoto martial arts, as preserved in the arts of Ueshiba’s Aikido, as well as, the Odorite maintained in the ancient Okinawan Bujutsu. Finally, it is time to realize that it is not enough to simply have a lot of memorized Waza or Kata, but to have an intuitive understanding of what principles form the base upon which those combinations were created. Most of all, it is time to comprehend the ancient methods of practice that were born of the freedom of motion as taught in Jiyu (freestyle) methods of Kata and Embu, which are the actual ancient forms of practice. When this is done, then the Kempo practitioners of all styles will truly understand the flow of Kempo.

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