We know that kata is the heart and soul of our training in Danzan Ryu Jujitsu. But at times we may have found ourselves wondering if we should be doing something other than kata. We are told that Prof Okazaki tested the effectiveness of our system successfully and that we can trust that it works. Yet, we may still have questions, such as: Will my arts work in real life situations? What happens when things are not pre-planned like in kata? How can I develop skill in areas where I need work? What can I do to counter techniques being done to me? How can I vary the techniques? And maybe just asking our teachers, can you please just tell me how you want me to do the technique?

A framework that I have found very useful to make sense of these types of questions was developed and taught to me by my Sensei, Prof Robert Hudson. After analyzing the design of our system, he delineated six different facets of training. Using these different dimensions can help us define the type of practice we are doing and be clear on the goals we are working to achieve. All six are important in your training for different reasons and are relevant at different times in your martial arts development. They are:

  • Kata (standards)
  • Waza (techniques)
  • Gaeshi (reversals)
  • Kunren (drills)
  • Mohojiai (mock contest)
  • Fusegi (self defense)

As with everything in jujitsu, there is so much to investigate and explore. Below are my thoughts on each dimension and how it relates to how I practice and teach Danzan Ryu.

Kata. The kata is where all the principles and concepts of the system are transmitted. This is where we learn the fundamentals of posture, distance, movement, etc. Danzan Ryu is designed as a cumulative system where skills developed in the early part of the curriculum are built upon as the student progresses through more advanced arts.

In the purest sense, there is only one kata for each technique and that cannot be changed, adapted or “improved” (in quotations since improvement is open to interpretation). However, in practice we see that there are slight variations from sensei to sensei. This may be due to different lineages, different backgrounds or different preferences.

The AJJF Kata Manual is our way of standardizing the curriculum so that we can have a consistent baseline for training and for evaluation at our national black belt exams. Ultimately though, the kata is the way your sensei has taught you and wants you to perform the techniques. Typically this is what it is in the kata manual and if there are differences, it is a good idea to make sure you understand the reasoning behind it. Remember the kata manual only gives a broad stroke of the technique, it is your sensei who fills in all the details.

I describe kata as “what your sensei wants you to do.”

Waza. This is where the techniques can be varied and explored. Sometimes we refer to them as variations or applications. If you hear someone say things like, “this is not kata, but I like to do it this way” or “this is an improved version,” then they are doing waza. It also may be application-based, such as doing a nage technique from a punch defense instead of from kata walk. Or it might be exploring all the different ways you can escape from an outside wrist grip. Or it might be techniques from other martial arts that the instructor is sharing to highlight concepts that are in Danzan Ryu.

When practicing variations, it helps to think about what is being varied. Is it the attack that is different or is the feed the same and the response is what is being varied? Exploring the different ways techniques can be applied can help you gain a better understanding of how our core principles work. It also allows for creativity and experimentation and can free you from the constraints of the set forms. While kata has a quality of memorization and comprehension, waza brings you to the level of application.

I describe waza as “everything that isn’t kata.”

Gaeshi. These are the reversals or counter techniques. They can fall into either kata or waza. We know gaeshi is an important part of our training by how many kata arts are counters. In nage, we have ushiro goshi as our first introduction to a reversal where we are defending against an attempted seoi nage. In shime, many techniques start with a countered tomoe nage. Throughout the system we are shown counters (and counters to counters) to our own techniques.

Beyond kata arts, we can explore different ways to counter and reverse our techniques and other common attacks as waza. Applying the principle of yielding can help inform what motions we use to reverse the techniques being attempted on us. Again, this is more than memorization or comprehension, it taps into the higher order thinking of application and beyond. The important thing in this aspect of our training is to make sure that we are staying consistent with our core concepts. This is part of training where we do not want to attach to the outcome, but rather strive to apply the principles of our art to yield and go around conflict.

I describe gaeshi as “uke and tori switching roles.”

Kunren. These are drills and patterns we use to develop our skill. The word kunren is a classical martial arts term that means training, drill, practice and discipline. It works well to describe the sentiment of this dimension (though it is not a term used by Prof Okazaki). The purpose of drills are to isolate movements or concepts to allow us to practice them without the distraction of the other components of the technique. Then we can repeat the drill over and over again with deep focus to more quickly build the skill.

Most Sensei have their favorite drills that they weave into the day to day practice in the dojo. Maybe you do buddy falls in the sutemi line or practice footwork movements in warmups. Perhaps there are some patterns you practice where you transition from technique to technique. Every drill has a purpose to develop some type of skill. For example, drills can help develop dexterity so you are able to transition more smoothly and without gaps. Or drills can be used to isolate a common missed point. They can be used to build sensitivity, balance, timing or can be used to develop specific movements in the kata arts. Advanced practitioners can take this a step farther and create their own drills to improve their skill or to help train their students in particular aspects of the art.

I describe kunren as “drills to develop skills.”

Mohojiai. This is the sparring aspect of our system. The term means “mock contest” and is different from a contest or tournament. This is an important distinction because in a contest there is a winner and a loser, but in training we are meant to focus on the principles versus the outcomes. The purpose of this training is to see how to apply the arts in new and novel situations when things are not preplanned. This will help develop your ability to move more freely and spontaneously – Kyoshin Tankai is the term Prof Okazaki used for this quality. It is important to focus on the training and try not to attach to the outcomes. Make maintaining the principles be your main goal instead of winning. This will help keep you from using muscular strength inappropriately.

There are many levels and ways to work on this dimension and it is helpful to think of it in different progressions based on what is set up and what is unknown. In the beginning, you may just take a set blocking pattern and have uke vary the order the strikes come so the attacks are now random, but within a set framework. Placing your arms wrist to wrist with your partner and using an egg beater type motion can be a good way to engage in a free form way, where you and your partner can take turns applying techniques or both go at will and at random. Setting the parameters for what types of techniques and resistance will be used and keeping it to what you can do without unnecessary strength or escalation is important for training safely in this mode. As you develop control you can start to include more and more aspects of the system. It is also a good idea to have an instructor or third person to help monitor the situation and keep things from escalating.

I describe mohojiai as “structured free play.”

Fusegi. This is self defense. We have the term goshin in our mokuroku which means protect the body. Using this term instead, helps separate it from the kata component and signifies that it crosses all aspects of our art. While all the other dimensions can inform the application of our art in self defense situations, it is important to recognize the differences. In self defense, the preset movements and agreements in the other phases are no longer valid. Even mohojiai at its highest level still has constraints and conventions that are not in self defense (such as the mat, the gi and the ultimate desire not to hurt each other).

Practice in this area includes more than just physical movements. Here we need to think about the context of the situation. Who is attacking? What is your relationship with them? Where are you? Who else is around? Why is this happening? What is the appropriate level of response? In self defense classes, we often hear about scenarios with an unknown attacker in a dark alley, but in reality, many times the attacker is a partner or acquaintance and attacks can take place in homes. Another important consideration is the level of attack. For example, the lowest level would be annoying, but not dangerous, such as unwanted touch. The next would be real harm, but not life-threatening. And finally, potentially life-threatening, for example, the attacker has a weapon or there are multiple attackers. Thinking through the different potential levels of response in relation to the threat level is important. There are also the legal ramifications to consider as well as your own ethical and moral considerations.

Training in this dimension requires you to think about more than just how to respond to an attack. It requires you to think about what happens before the attack, to develop awareness skills, and to learn how posture and voice can be used for self defense. Thinking through the scenario and making it part of the practice acknowledges the relationship between threat level and your response. It is also important to think about what happens after an attack no matter the outcome, because there are always consequences when we use self defense for real. Training in this dimension can be difficult for people who have experienced violence in their lives so it is important to make sure that you are taking care of each other during this type of training.

I describe fusegi as “scenario-based self defense.”


Here are the six dimensions of training with my short descriptions:

  • Kata (standards) is “what your sensei wants you to do.”
  • Waza (techniques) is “everything that isn’t kata.”
  • Gaeshi (reversals) is “uke and tori switching roles.”
  • Kunren (drills) is “drills to develop skills.”
  • Mohojiai (mock contest) is “structured free play.”
  • Fusegi (self defense) is “scenario-based self defense.”

These six dimensions have helped me in my practice and in my teaching to clear up confusion about the practice of the art and answer the kind of questions that can get in the way of training. Just by naming the dimension we are practicing as we work helps us set the correct intention for our training. Lately, I have been taking a single kata art and exploring it across each of the dimensions in one practice session. Looking at how the activity changes based on the different aspects of the framework has been very informative. And we can spend a couple of hours on one technique and never get bored.

Investigating the art we practice is an important part of our development, especially as we move through the ranks. This does not mean that we need to change the system or to imply that it needs to be improved. Rather training is all about changing ourselves and evolving our practice of the art. Each of us needs to travel down our path to reach our own understanding of the art, and ultimately of ourselves.

Professor Hillary Kaplowitz is Sensei of Pacific JuJitsu Kai in Santa Monica, CA. Follow on Instagram @pjk_ohana or visit pacificdojo.com

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