The Role of Spine in Escapes by Mahipal Lunia, Sensei
The turnout was small on this wet, cold, and dark December night.
But two students demonstrated resilience, showing up to our open air dojo, the grass serving as our mat, the sky our roof. This kind of professionalism and attitude should always be honored.
I do so by giving them something MORE and on this night it would be special:
Yawara Jutsu and its counters.
First some history. Formally, the term jujutsu came into being in the late 16th-early 17th century and it encompassed all of the grappling arts of Japan. Prior to this period, we saw many different schools/specializations such as taijutsu (body art), Kogusoku Koshi No Mawari (sword grappling), and wajutsu/yawarajutsu (arts of harmony or soft arts).
"Yawara" is the same kanji as the "ju" in "judo" and it means "soft" or "flexible". In essence, Yawara Jutsu was the generic name for any Japanese unarmed combative art.
So within the system as we practice it, Yawara Jutsu are the "generic" holds that originated in or before the Azuchi–Momoyama period (1568–1600).
We began with the holds, most if not all of them leading to the "freezing of the structure."
They are perfect arrest methods.
A student asked, "Why are we studying these old arrest methods and what are we getting out of them?"
"One," I replied, "you may not want to hurt everyone you fight with and a way to capture 'high value targets' or 'vagabonds'. (Vagabonds a term for paid assassins.) Now remember there is a whole tradition of those who specialized in this, and all I will say is that these Shinobi were a real threat . Two, it is an integral part of the tradition we practice."
I explained weapons were not allowed into the compounds of lords, therefore, being a highly trained martial artist was critical to complete a "mission" whether that be saving or killing a target.
While on a mission, being captured was a real threat. And no self respecting Shinobi nor Samurai would want that. The pain and humiliation they would experience as prisoners far overweighed their fear of death. So they would give it their all to escape or die trying.
This meant that the "soft" yawara holds or the Oishikiuchi methods better be real good if you are on the side doing the capturing. You want this guy alive to extract the relevant information. Then, you make a lesson out of the infiltrator to send a clear message. Thus born the methods to "freeze the opponent" and take him alive. If there ensued a major struggle joints would be dislocated/broken but the man kept alive.
The idea is to make escape impossible by "taking away mobility." No matter what part of the body is caught, the goal is to "climb up to the spine" and make it immobile. Once this is accomplished, the infiltrator/opponent imore or less in one piece and YOURS until help arrived.
Now the shinobi/vagabonds/mercenaries and in some cases, samurai of opposing camps, would not want to be taken in such ways, obviously. This was a disgrace and a painful way to go. So they, in turn, spent a lot of time learning how to escape these holds. Your life and your master's honor depended on it.
I proceeded to show the students a handful of lockdowns and escapes. "Do you see a pattern here in the escapes?" I asked.
I got a handful of guesses and then silence.
"To escape, you have to take yourself to the place where the problem is not. I repeat, move to where the problem is not. Every good lock and takedown works on progressively freezing the skeletal structure until the whole of the spine is under control. Once the spine is frozen, you are done."
"Two concepts come into play here are 1) don't wait for any lock to complete and 2) sacrifice the small to save the big."
"Any lock once completed or near completion becomes nearly impossible to escape. Don't get into that position. Develop your sensitivity to flow through this into a new position where the lock cannot be applied. Done right, this is magical. This is Aiki, invisible and powerful (as opposed to Kiai which is powerfully visible)."
"Sometimes the small has to be sacrificed to save the big. That's perhaps sacrificing an arm or a leg to gain that momentary control needed to either escape from the capture or kill oneself or your target. Painful yes, but far less than if you were captured."
"I will leave you with what I consider a big secret." I continued.
There was silence as their attention fixated on what was coming next.
"If you work on maintaining the integrity of the spine and making sure it has full range of motion at all times, you will notice that the locks on your body parts will unlock themselves."
One student asked, "How do we do that sensei?"
"By being where the problem is not" I replied cheekily.
But that is a great secret in life itself. We find ourselves wrestling with all things to maintain what I consider an illusion of control. The trick is to give that up and learn to flow with the forces acting upon us. And to do this, don't make it about your ego and learn to become sensitive, very sensitive.
By becoming aware and receptive to the pressures acting upon us, we gain the ability to merge, flow and transform them. That to the very essence of Aiki, and is nothing short of pure alchemy.
My hope for all of you in the coming year is the same. May you learn to find yourself where the problems are not present. This is not an escapist method, but rather, a self-aware way of being on the right side of forces acting upon us.
And it is the spine that holds the secret of most escapes. Learning to always have it in a place of full mobility is a high art. Keep that micro-cosmic orbit functioning well and with ease, as well as the three dandiens/haras' in structural integrity. When this is achieved you will literally be in a state of FLOW, a state of AIKI, and you can claim that the "force is with you."
Until Next time, Train smart and pay attention to "The Spine"