The Top Ten Principles Of Yachigusa Ryu Aiki Bugei – #10 Back Pressure

Since I first stated that the techniques taught at my school were based on principles, and that we focus more on understanding the principles that makes things work than the techniques themselves, people have e-mailed me asking me if I could explain these principles in more detail.

Unfortunately, trying to explain many of these principals in writing is very difficult, since many can’t be explained in words alone. However, I will try my best to describe these principles for the “blog” readers, using words, charts and pictures.

Keep in mind though, that in order to sometimes fully understand a principle you have to also understand other principles that relate to it. Most principles aren’t fully useable on their own, and have to be integrated with others.

Back Pressure

Trying to explain the principle of Back Pressure in written words and illustrations is almost impossible. In fact, it’s hard to describe—period—even in the classroom. And in my experience, trying to explain “Back Pressure” often confuses people more than it helps them.

Of all the top ten principles in the Yachigusa martial art system, Back Pressure is most likely the hardest to teach. And it is definitely the hardest one to learn to utilize properly. However, once learned, properly executed Back Pressure will greatly increase a martial art practitioner’s efficiency and effectiveness at projecting others.

To be honest, even though we use Back Pressure in many of our techniques, to this day I still find it hard to come up with a concise description: what it is, why it works, or how to practice it. I am still looking for an easy method with which to teach my students how to learn to apply it properly.

The main reason why teaching the principle of Back Pressure is so difficult is that Back Pressure is basically an intangible force. It is intangible in the sense that Back Pressure cannot be seen, and when executed properly the movement that creates the force is relatively hard to perceive. This makes the movements hard for others to emulate.

Furthermore, Back Pressure is definitely one of those forces where “less is more.” Using too much torque/power actually makes techniques less effective. This means that Back Pressure is a principle that can’t be faked or forced; you either do it in the right way at the right moment, or it won’t work.

Now before I continue to try and explain what Back Pressure is let me start by stating what it is not. Back Pressure is NOT Chi, Ki, or some other mystical force. It is an application of science. However, I’ll be the first to say that one could easily con others into believing it is something else; and the truth is that many upper level martial art practitioners do.

However, while Back Pressure is not something mystical, when one is describing it or trying to understand it, one must think “outside of the box” in order to fully grasp the concept.

In the most simplistic language possible, Back Pressure is a specific force that is generated by rotating or sharply twisting the back/hips. This rotational force is used to accelerate one’s opponent— usually in a manner that projects them off balance and to the ground.

It is a circular force that basically moves in a semi-arching circle from point “A” to the centerline of the aggressor, point “B.”

In this photo Subject “A” rotates his back creating pressure to Subject “B’s” centerline.

While the “force” can certainly be felt, this “force” has no real direct relationship to the connection points (arms in picture above) between tori and uke. In other words, while tori and uke might only be connected at the arm, the force that actually makes the technique feasible comes from Back Pressure attacking the centerline of one’s opponent.

Confused yet? If you are, you’re like most of my students when first introduced to this topic. In fact, when I initially discuss the topic with new students, I often get perplexed looks; I often wonder if they think I’m just babbling.

While I do indeed often babble, the truth is that in order to understand Back Pressure one must understand basic “Body Geometry,” and some basic physics.

I’ll get to the physics later, but let’s start with the premise that human body exists on several planes. These planes are commonly referred to as the:

  • Coronal (Frontal) Plane – A vertical plane running from side to side; it divides the body or any of its parts into anterior and posterior portions.
  • Sagittal (Lateral) Plane – A vertical plane running from front to back; it divides the body or any of its parts into right and left sides.
  • Transverse (Horizontal) Plane – A horizontal plane; it divides the body or any of its parts into upper and lower parts.

As you will note, all of these planes share one common trait; they are all located along the midline of the body and intersect on the body’s axis. In addition, one can divide each of these planes into 45 degree sectors in a manner identical to the more familiar Happo No Kazushi (eight directions of breaking balance) diagram. I believe I’ve stated numerous times that Happo No Kazushi is an extremely important science to fully understand.

Thinking “outside of the box,” let’s pretend that the lines dividing each of the three planes actually exist and extend away from the body as in the diagram. Imagine that these lines are rigid (like rods), fixed to the body, and move in direct correspondence to the movements of the body.

In other words, when the subject is standing still these lines are just as pictured. However, if the subject rotates his upper body, without moving his feet, those lines will also move the same distance.

Now, assuming these lines exist and are rigid like rods, they would push anything that may happen to be in their way as the person rotated. That would be Back Pressure.

Of course, in the real world there are no invisible lines that extend from our bodies. So the question I; if there is nothing there to actually “push” with, how can Back Pressure work?

As I was being taught the Aiki arts I was always told that one of the goals of proper Aiki technique was to learn to “blend/flow” with ones opponent. This often meant understanding the concept that when two individuals become connected together the truly become as one. They share a common point of center and any movement done by one person will create a direct resulting movement on the other.

Imagine there are two individuals sharing a common center of balance, which I’ll refer to as the “axis point.” It’s easy to see that if Subject “A” rotates his upper body rearwards to his left side, his right side moves forward a corresponding 45 degrees.

Since both parties share a common axis point, as “A” moves he also pushes subject “B.” The force may not come from the connection point, but since there is a direct relationship between the two subjects, whenever one moves so does the other. The torque of the body from Subject “A” produces the force that creates the movement, and that is Back Pressure.

Now for the more scientific explanation.

Fortunately for me, I have a student who majored in physics at Stanford University and has given the science of Back Pressure a lot of careful scrutiny. Due to his efforts, we actually have a working model we can demonstrate Back Pressure on at the school. Unfortunately, that model won’t work in this format, though we hope to eventually film it and add that to the “blog.” Until then. I will defer to his written explanation.

* * *

A Simplistic Model for Understanding Back Pressure

By Spencer Burns

As is traditional in physics, we should simplify the problem until it is almost, but not quite, trivial. The basic model I’m going to talk about consists of two masses connected by a bar. These represent the tori (who applies the technique), the uke (who receives it), and their connection. We want to think about how force can be exerted on the “tori” to cause the “uke” to move in a direction perpendicular to the connection with minimal effort or disruption. The apparent force that causes that perpendicular motion is the “Back Pressure.”

“Zeroth Order” Model

The simplest thing for thinking about the mechanics of Back Pressure is to imagine one of those “balancing man” toys.

Ignore the “man” in the center; he’s just a fulcrum. Consider the two weights on the sides: these are the uke and the tori. When you push on tori, then uke also moves. This is the most basic model of Back Pressure: uke and tori rotate as one around their common center of mass (at the fulcrum).

“First Order” Model

The major failing of the “balancing man” model is that in the real world, there is no fixed fulcrum. So let’s be more formal: the tori and uke are rectangles of width “w” and mass “m“. They are connected by a massless rigid bar of length “2d-w“; that is, the distance from the center of the bar (which is the common center of mass of the system) to the center of mass of each rectangle is “d“. This system has no fixed point and is free to move in any direction.

Naively, we push on the center of tori, perpendicular to the connection, with an impulse “I“. This would make tori move in a line at a speed of “I/m” if he weren’t attached to uke. However, the impulse moves the combined center of mass of uke + tori linearly forward at a speed of “I / 2m” while simultaneously inducing a rotational velocity of “I / 2md“. The instantaneous effect of this is that tori moves forwards at speed “I/m” while uke twists but doesn’t move laterally at all, as in the diagram below.

In a real world analogy, tori just applied back pressure incorrectly and has the feeling of having “bounced off” uke while uke just stands there well balanced.

This is the opposite of what we want; we would like to see tori stay stationary while uke moves. Consider instead what happens if we give impulse Ia backwards on the outer edge of tori and impults Ib forwards on the inner edge, with Ib<Ia. If we balance the forces exactly right, such that Ib = (2d+w)/(2d-w)*Ia, then we have the situation where tori is instantaneously motionless (but rotating), while uke is moving forwards at speed (Ib-Ia)/m—exactly the opposite of the naive case.

In a real word analogy, tori would be simultaneously moving both of his hips in opposite directions with a balance of force such that he can “hit” uke with Back Pressure without having to move or losing his balance.

In other words, the Back Pressure in this case involves balancing a translation motion of uke and tori perpendicular to their connection together with a rotation around their common center of mass in such a manner that tori remains stable while uke is displaced in a crisp fashion.

There are many other configurations in which Back Pressure can be applied, but they all involve similar physics. In each case, the “first order” issue is balancing rotational and translational impulses on the connected uke-tori “system” such that tori’s center remains stationary while uke’s center is displaced.

* * *

Like I said at the beginning, describing Back Pressure—especially in this format—is very difficult. Hopefully, between Spencer and I, we have at least started to transmit the core of what we know. Or, I should say, the parts that we have figured out how to explain in writing.

Fortunately, plans are in the works to film and post more details on this principle as well as the other nine already posted. While there is no projected date to complete this project, we should do it by the beginning of the New Year. At least, that’s what I’m hoping for.

Until then, please feel free to ask questions. Or, more importantly, if you have any clearer explanations please share them with me so I can continue my study of this principle.

I realize that almost every Aiki/Budo system utilizes this principle, whether explicitly or implicitly. I’m sure there are many instructors/students who have faced the perplexing problem of verbally passing on this principle. I, for one, would find it extremely interesting to see how others describe/explain this principle.

* * *

The article on this blog on the Principle of Back Pressure recently caused controversy after it was (much to our surprise) featured on the front page of the Aikido Journal website. Part of the anger we received was due to the fact that nothing in the “Back Pressure” article gave credit to Don Angier of Yanagi ryu.

That was a mistake on our part, and we apologize.

We had intended to give Mr. Angier significant credit for the debt we owe him, but due to negligence during editing, that section of the original article was not included. Indeed, in the other “principles” essays, Mr. Angier was given significant credit for his help (e.g. the essay on #9 Chains of Motion/Commutive Locking).

Mr. Angier not only provided the name “Back Pressure,” but he also really opened our eyes as to how to understand the subtleties. The way Gary has described it to me is that he had previously had an understanding of this principle on a less sophisticated level and had asked other instructors about it; most jujutsu instructors also had an intuitive understanding of Back Pressure, but no term to describe it. However, Mr. Angier was able to describe it in more detail and give us the language to describe it. So as a named principle, this is not something that was handed down to us from the ages, but we have adapted it because of its importance.

As has been pointed out, if one really wants to understand this principle more deeply, Mr. Angier would be a superior source of knowledge. Be we have found working on this article to be very educational for us and we hope that it has been helpful for others. Our intention has never been to try to take credit for Mr. Angier or anybody else’s work; rather, we are trying to better understand these principles of how the human body moves and share with others our meager understanding.

We are sorry once again for the omission.

–Spencer Burns
March 05, 2007

Dojo Injuries

Every now and then, conversations at the school arise regarding injuries people have witnessed while training in the martial arts. Sometimes these conversation revolve around the various injuries we personally have suffered while training, but more often than not we talk about injuries that have happened to friends and training partners.

Of course, like many conversations, these discussions often slowly but surely turn into a game of “one-upmanship” as each person wants to top the last person’s story or personal suffering.

Sometimes the stories are so bizarre that it’s hard to believe them, and people stare at each other in disbelief. Other times they are so funny that we forget someone really suffered.

In either case, these stories and the injuries they describe are a reminder that really bad things can happen, and that they can happen in an instant. One second of inattention or dropping one’s guard can lead to permanent scars, loss of limbs, or a reduction in one’s overall quality of life.

No matter whether the injuries are short term or permanent, these stories are clearly “Cautionary Tales.” Tales people should not take so lightly, and should learn from.

* * *

Case in point: Several weeks ago I told a story, which I have to admit is very hard to believe. To be honest, if I hadn’t seen it myself I would have to question whether it was true or not. However, I was there, and witnessed every second of it.

To this day, I’m still not sure how it happened, but I will never forget it, nor will I forget my emotions at the moment when it occurred. Shocked, sickened, and definitely in a state of panic worrying about the ramifications. I wish it had all been just a dream. However, bad things do happen, and to this day this event is always in the back of mind reminding me to be careful.

Many years ago, I had several friends I would practice with. We were a group of martial artists that worked together to figure out why our teachers made us do certain things in class, and how we could use what we knew more efficiently and effectively. It was sort of a study group where we analyzed movements within forms, and tried to make sense of all the various aspects of the martial arts we studied.

Each one of us had a different martial art background, as well our individual reasons why we trained. The one thing that united us was our desire to learn techniques that had real world effectiveness, and a desire to seek out knowledge we felt we were not getting form our respective teachers. Actually, we were pretty progressive for the early 80’s, and what we were doing was something we definitely had to keep hidden from our personal instructors.

Well one day while working on some iai-jutsu (sword draws) and drills, a friend of one of my friends decided to show us some new forms he had learned while visiting Japan. Of course, we were all excited to see them.

The first forms were executed with grace and precision. The guy actually looked like he knew what he was doing.

Then all of a sudden, disaster!

Sure, that last draw was excellent as was the cut to his imaginary opponent. Then came the chiburi (flipping blood off the sword after cutting an opponent), which at first appeared to be as good as the draw. In fact we were all ready to congratulate the guy on a job well done, and to ask him to teach us what he just done.

That, of course, was the calm before the storm.

Now, as he tells the story, everything was going fine, he had just completed the chiburi, and was getting ready for noto (putting the sword back in the scabbard). For some unknown reason he looked down at the ground and saw some red liquid spots on the floor.

Puzzled by what he saw, and sure these spots hadn’t been on the floor a few seconds earlier, he started to look around for their source.

As he looked more closely at the floor, he saw several flesh colored objects lying on the ground in front of him. Objects he definitely knew hadn’t been there moments before.

On closer inspection he discovered to his horror that they were severed toes.

Then it hit him they just weren’t just toes, they were his severed toes.

Yes, during his chiburi he had sliced off three of his toes.

It was a clean cut, and so fast and smooth he didn’t even feel it.

Of course, once he processed what had happened, and now that he was now minus a few toes, he fell to the floor in agonizing pain.

Now, you can imagine the shock and disbelief that overwhelmed the rest of us. I mean, you see things happen like this in the movies, but not in real life. I felt like this really couldn’t have happened.

Of course, as dumbfounded as we were, we had to quickly gain our composure. Our friend’s life was now in jeopardy.

It took a combined effort to clam him down enough to wrap his foot, gather and ice his toes, and rush him to the emergency room, but we did it. I’m not sure how. I’m also sure we broke every traffic law in the process, but within minutes he was at the hospital.

Now I’m sure you can imagine the looks we got, when we told the staff at the hospital what had happened. Sword injuries are not very common in the 20th century, and once again anyone who wasn’t there would have his or her doubts as to what actually occurred. In this case, because of our ages and the nature of the injury, the police were even called and his injury was investigated just to make sure we were not lying.

Fortunately, this story has a happy ending, and his toes were reattached. It took him months to recover, and he lost a lot of sensation. But except for some major scarring, one would never know what had happened.

Now, I share this tale with no intention of grossing people out. I, for one, actually think it illustrates how quickly things can go wrong. I tell this tale to show people how important it is to always focus on what they are doing, especially when it comes to working with lethal weaponry.

Sure, people kind of laugh when they hear this story, but we’re normally not laughing at the guy. We’re laughing about the morbidity of what happened, realizing that if we make a stupid mistake the same thing or worse can happen to us. It’s an uneasy type of laughter we share to hide our repulsion to the fact that these things happen.

* * *

By now you may be wondering what prompted me to share such a tale with the world. Well if you will remember I said these stories should act as cautionary tales. They should teach us to be careful and always pay attention to what we are doing.

When I told this story less than a week ago I never imagined I would have to relive it. However, on Friday Nov. 17th 2006 I did. Well, sort of.

On Friday the 17th we were having a tameshigiri class (cutting rolled reed mats). It had been months since our last one, and everyone was eager to try it, especially those who had never done it before.

Of course it also had to be one of those nights where I had a guest and also one where we had an uncommon amount of onlookers from the street. Both of these are fairly unusual events for my school.

The night started off normal enough, with each person taking their turn with mixed results.

The goal of the tameshigiri class was to have fun, while gaining some insight into the proper way to cut with the katana. It’s a chance to witness the lethality of the swords we use, which normally builds a healthy respect between practitioners and their blades.

Sometimes I think people doubt just how dangerous these swords are. As one person mentioned, he didn’t think his new sword really looked like it was sharp. Of course it was and it cut through the tatami mats with ease.

Like I said the class started off like normal. However, that was about to change. In an instant the whole mood and tone changed.

Now I could describe what went wrong step-by-step, and just how many mistakes my poor student made. How he didn’t follow instructions, or the lackadaisical way he approached his task.

I could air my frustration about what happened, but I won’t since I feel genuinely sorry for the guy. I have no intention to admonish him publicly. Let’s just say that he has done martial arts long enough to know the risks; he knows what he did wrong, and he is ultimately the one who will suffer until things heal.

The good news is my student didn’t sever any toes completely off. In fact, only one toe was injured, though I have to say that toe was sliced right to the bone from tip to base.

Now, expressions can be worth a thousand words, and his face at the moment when this happened was priceless. It was clearly a combination of bewilderment, and anger towards himself for doing what ultimately can only be categorized as stupidity.

At first what he did didn’t hit me. And even when he verbally validated what I thought had happened, I was hoping, should I say praying, he was kidding. Unfortunately he wasn’t. He had in fact cut himself. In many ways it was almost like my story coming back to haunt me.

To say that everyone was shocked would be an understatement. It took a while after he left for the hospital for everyone to regain their composure and start cutting again. Needless to say, everyone was a lot more careful for the rest of the night, and it will be something no one present will ever forget.

Now I know one day this story will be shared with others. Those that hear it will wonder if it’s really true or not. There will uneasy laughter, as the realization that these things are possible registers within each individual psyche.

All I can hope is that by sharing such stories I stop at least a few people from injuring themselves. If that means I make people stop and think about what they are doing, or the manner in which they do things, than all the suffering I have witnessed, the injuries I have suffered personally have some meaning.

I’ve always been told to “learn from the mistakes of others.” And to be honest, that phrase has a tremendous amount of validity to it.

[C.f. earlier postings on accidents and live swords:
Respecting Live Swords by Spencer on 2006-04-19
Live Blades by Gary on 2006-05-05
Live Blades A Follow Up by Gary on 2006-05-10
References for Live Blades – A Follow Up by Spencer on 2006-05-10]


When I was a kid, I used to spend my summer vacations visiting my father who lived in Sulphur, Louisiana.

Now, the city of Sulphur used to be one of those small rural cities you could drive by and miss if you blinked. It was the type of place where everyone seemed to know everyone and most people were related to each other in some manner or other.

It was “good old boy” country, except most of these good old boys were Cajun. They spoke French, listened to Zydeco, and who proudly referred to themselves as “Coon-asses.” (Yes, the term “coon-ass” is historically derogatory, but they called themselves that with pride. Go figure!)

Sulphur was also one of those places where there was almost nothing to do. I mean, they didn’t even have a movie theatre, and unless you were on a little league baseball/softball team a kid could die of boredom. It was clearly a place that if you weren’t interested in watching the daily soap operas on TV (must see TV for my relatives) you had to have the inventiveness to find alternative ways of entertaining yourself.

However, while visiting Sulphur could be frightfully dull, it was a place surrounded by wilderness, fishing holes, and small family farms with almost every variety of livestock imaginable. For a city boy like me, who loved animals and nature, Sulphur was paradise.

Or maybe I should say that it was because of the animals that I found Sulphur to be a so much fun. To be perfectly honest, as much as I like the “simple life,” if it weren’t for the animals and my father’s relatives (a very interesting lot), Sulphur would be more like Hell. If the heat and humidity don’t kill you, chances are the swarms of blood-sucking mosquitoes, poisonous snakes, alligators, garfish, torrential rain and lighting storms, or toxic sulfuric fumes from the refining plants will.

Of course as a kid, none of the heat and or other hazards seemed to matter, and I looked forward to my yearly trip. It was my chance to be the “farm boy,” to play with the animals, to go fishing, and to walk in the woods whenever I wanted to. It was a chance to experience country living, far away for the noise and congestion of the city. In addition, there was the added bonus that I could drive my fathers riding lawnmower each and every time the grass needed cutting, and the grass always needed cutting. For someone not old enough to legally drive that was a big plus.

Now before I get into heart of my story I should inform the reader that there is a big difference between raising animals for food, and raising animals as pets. Those individuals that raise animals for food view farm animals as commodities; while I never witnessed any animals being mistreated, these people know where the animals will eventually end up, so never really build an attachment to them.

I on the other hand, being from the city viewed all of these farm animals as “cute and cuddly” pets, or—should I dare say—as playmates. The realization that many of these animals would end up being someone’s dinner didn’t occur until many years later. I mean, how could anyone eat poor Fluffy?

Because I viewed all animals as “pets,” I rarely considered the potential hazards of interacting with them, or the possible injuries these animals could inflict. At the time, it didn’t even dawn on me that many of these animals had little or no exposure to humans, and if given the choice would avoid human contact all together. Needless to say, I often learned this lesson the hard way. And let me tell you, even a duck can cause severe injuries with the right provocation, even provocation with the duck’s best interest at heart.

Of course, interacting with various animal species does teach a person a lot, especially how animals think and react to specific stimulus and how to read body language correctly. These lessons were useful for understanding and dealing with the more unpredictable two legged animals in my career in law enforcement many years later.

More importantly, interacting with animals can also teach one a lot about life-protection skills. Skills such as: how to run very very quickly when threatened or outmatched; how to dodge/block oncoming attacks from beaks, claws, horns, and teeth; how to improve vertical jumping skills in order to clear high hurdles/fences; and how to develop the art of improvised defensive weaponry. I think I know at least 20 ways to use a feed-bucket in the art of “Barnyard-Jutsu.”

Of course, a lot of these lessons could have been avoided if I would have listened to the people who were raising the animals in the first place. Giving credit where credit is due, farmers know a lot about the animals they raise. While a lot of what they tell you seems far-fetched, normally their advice is worth taking. Their advice illustrated in advance the risks I took; I was clearly informed what could happen and how to avoid it. Of course if I had taken their advice my life, at least as far as my training in the martial arts, may have turned out very differently.

Now I don’t want to give the reader the wrong impression. My father didn’t have a farm, nor was he a farmer. However, he always had a variety of animals on his property.

Most of the time he kept rabbits and several types of chickens. But every now and then he would decide to raise something bigger, that he would eventually use to fill his deep freeze.

One particular summer, when I was about 14 years old, that larger animal turned out to be a male Holstein calf I named Peanut.

Now, for those of you not well versed in the various breeds of cattle, a Holstein is a fairly large breed. It is one of the most common breeds found in the US and Holstein’s are famous for their unique black and white patterns (no two Holsteins have the same pattern). Calves are often born weighing a hefty 90lbs or more, and by the time they are adults a bull can weigh over 2000 pounds, stand 58 inches tall, run at over 25 miles per hours, and have a vertical leaping ability of over 6 feet. Fortunately, they are fairly mild-mannered; but if provoked, threatened, or agitated they are a force to be reckoned with.

Now when I first met Peanut, he was about four months old. He still had the oversized ears, big brown eyes, and lanky awkward gate of a calf. But he was already at the point where he was maturing into a little bull—or should I say, a “big Bully.”

Peanut was definitely king of his pen. He made it clear to all intruders that their presence would only be tolerated for a certain period of time. That time was normally no more than what it took to feed him and change his water bucket.

Intruders out-staying their welcome were confronted with snorts, aggressive head swipes, and mock charges. If that wasn’t enough to make the intruder leave Peanut then went into head-butt mood. At that point, the intruder had a choice: either run or do your best impression of a Matador.

Now for those who have read some of my other postings, you may already be aware that I have somewhat of a stubborn streak. That was even truer when I was younger. Certainly, I was of the mindset that I wasn’t going to let some little bull boss me around or chase me out of his pen. The battle of wills was on.

Round one definitely went to Peanut. I learned that getting a full on head-butt to the back and legs is quite painful. I also leaned that bulls don’t stop once their target is down. No, Peanut wasn’t about to stop hitting me until I was out of territory. To say I got my butt kicked that day would be an understatement.

Of course it was also a learning lesson. I first learned that calves can move really quickly, and can turn on a dime at full speed. I also learned that they have the uncanny knack to move one part of their body in one direction while the other seems to go in a completely opposite direction. In other words, bulls can move in a really deceptive ways.

Well, after our first encounter, I made it a point to be in charge of feeding Peanut. Twice a day I would enter his pen, and twice a day he would go through his routine of posturing, mock charging, and ultimately attacking at me.

At first Peanut would win and I routinely had to run out of the pen. However, battered and bruised I vowed, “Tomorrow was another day.”

A few weeks later, as I caught on to Peanut’s tactics, our clashes became more dance-like. Peanut would charge and I would evade by turning or stepping out of the way at the very last instant. Ole’!

Within weeks I finally started applying the aikijujutsu skills I had been learning back home against Peanut. At first, my movement wasn’t efficient enough nor was my timing accurate to always get off line enough to avoid being hit. Initially, I was also unable to do follow up evasion movements that would counter Peanut’s ability to turn or twist as he realized he missed me. I also had to watch out for his ability to kick with his hind legs—in almost any direction he wanted to—which at first caught me by surprise.

If I learned anything at this time it was that tension really can kill; the more tense I was the harder it was for me to react or flow with the impact. In addition, I discovered that thinking about what to do didn’t work. I had to let my instincts and natural survival skills direct my actions.

By the end of my second month of vacation, Peanut and I were “playing” more equally. He would get his shots in, but more often than not I was evading, blocking or blending with his movements. His attacks, however, became slower and more calculated. For anyone who thinks animals don’t learn, Peanut slowly discovered what I was up to and made adjustments.

These adjustments were a good thing though, since they forced me to make my own adjustments and develop the mindset not to react until I really processed what was happening. In other words, I learned a certain level of zanshin, calmness when confronted with a potential threat.

As I learned to relax, my reactions became quicker, and more precise. I started thinking less about what I should do and stared just doing things reactively as Peanut went about his various charges, twists and turns.

I would still be hit from time to time, but that happened less often, and even when it did the force was greatly reduced. I didn’t get knocked to the ground as often, and normally our sparring matches would end because Peanut would get bored and trot off to chase something else. He was, needless to say, a poor sport when he didn’t get his way.

As my summer vacation drew to an end Peanut became less interested in sparring with me. We had developed a certain understanding, and he was happier to show his superior physical prowess by head butting other objects (tires, big 55 gallon buckets, chickens, etc) in his enclosure and making sure I knew he had the ability to destroyed these items.

Of course being partially ignored lend to another lesson in the life-protection arts. NEVER TURN YOUR BACK on your enemy or any potential threat.

Now, I’m not sure how a 500-pound plus bull sneaks up on a person, but he managed to do just that. Out of nowhere Peanut charged at me full out. If I hadn’t rolled to my side he would definitely have gored me, which I’m sure was his intent.

Flustered, all the lessons I had learned went out the window. All I wanted to do was run, and run I did. Bull bearing down, I ran at full speed until I hit the electrified fence, which fortunately wasn’t on at full power. Ricocheting back towards my charging adversary, I did a back roll—basically rolling under Peanuts legs.

My actions must have startled poor Peanut because he went crashing into the fence also. Laying there on the ground all I saw was a bull tumbling back towards me.

Now I can’t say just what I did to avoid Peanut from landing on me, but just as he hit the ground I moved out of the way.

Now just imagine this picture, a bull and a boy lying on the ground looking at each other both knowing what the other was thinking. It was a look that said, “What the hell just happened here, and I hope no one saw that.” If Peanut had been a person I’m sure we would have shared a momentary laugh; but Peanut just got up, snorted, and walked off like nothing happened, or as if he had meant to do it.

I was a little more stunned, so it took me a while to get up and leave. In addition, by the time I came back to my senses, my father was already present. He was yelling about the damaged fence, and how it happened. I’m not sure at that moment what I was more scared of, my father or another sneak attack from Peanut.

This sneak attack marked one of our final battles, and a few days later I was on a plane returning to San Francisco.

Returning to my teacher’s house, I was exhilarated to tell him about how I had used my evasion techniques and blending skills to avoid Peanut’s attacks. I also couldn’t wait to tell him how our summer long sparring match had given me new insights to relaxing when threatened. All aspects he had been trying to instill upon me during our daily practice.

I’m not sure just how my teacher reacted to my story, or felt about the fact that I had spent my summer bull fighting, but he did notice the changes in how I reacted to being attacked. I now flinched a lot less, reacted more instinctively, and focused less on the attacking object and more on my whole surroundings.

Whatever the pros and cons were in spending my summer sparring with Peanut, that period when I returned to San Francisco became the turning point of my training. It was the point when I went from just doing basics to learning the more in-depth elements of the martial art I now teach.

I owe that little bull a lot of thanks.

Now I would love to end this story saying that Peanut lived a long full life, but that was never his fate. While it’s true that I would have loved to believe the story my father contrived to spare my emotional ties to Peanut, I will never be able to forget the fact that my father’s deep freeze just happened to be bursting with beef when I went there the next year.

Sure there were other bulls in the area to spar with, and since Peanut’s time I’ve even had the chance to interact with some major Rodeo bulls that weighed in at over 1800 pounds. However, none of these other bulls had the same zest Peanut had when it came to attacking me.

These full size bulls might have hit harder and moved quicker, but they lacked the delightful smirk Peanut had when his attack was successful. They didn’t seem to revel in the pleasure of the battle. They didn’t seem to have the same tenacious personality that made them attack me daily or with the same intent.

No, battling these bulls, never felt the same. I stilled learned valuable lessons about how to move my body, blending, and relaxing when threatened, but it never felt the same as my summer with Peanut.

Sugino, Yoshio – Martial Arts Legend

Sugino, Yoshio (12/12/1904 to 06/13/1998)

While I never had the opportunity to train with this man, or see him live in action, from everything I’ve read, or heard about from others, his skill in the Japanese martial arts was legendary.

Besides his 10th Dan Hanshi ranking in Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto Ryu, during his 75 years of training Sugino Sensei also attained rankings in Judo, Kendo (under Master Shingai Saneatsu, one of the initiators of the kendo reform), Daito Ryu Aikijujutsu, and Yoshinki Ryu Jujutsu.

He is also known for being the fight choreographer of Akira Kurosawa’s “Seven Samurai” as well as many of Kurosawa’s later movies. In addition, he was one of Toshiro Mifune’s primary marital arts instructors.

For years I’ve known that there was a video available in which Sugino Sensei demonstrates various forms of Iaijutsu and Naginata. He completed this film when he was 90 years old.

Available at Mugendo Budogu for $49.95

However, while I knew the video existed, the price has always been more than I could justify. And, to be honest, I was never sure what I would actually get for my money.

Well, while checking out some of the videos posted on, I came across the below movie clip which shows Sugino Sensei in action.

His technique is flawless. Watching the movie clip, I can see why so many people speak so highly of his technical abilities. It is also really refreshing to witness Iaijutsu as opposed to Iaido.

Now, I’m the first to admit I have a strong predisposition when it comes to my opinion of Iaido. For the most part, I don’t believe that Iaido—the way it is presented to the public and propagated today—resembles the actual swordsmanship employed by the Samurai. That is, I do not think that the way Iaido has developed since the Meiji Restoration reflects how samurai used swords prior to the reign of the Tokugawa shogunate.

Given my baises, I found this movie clip very refreshing since Sugino Sensei does not do any kneeling draws from seiza (sitting posture). The emphasis on draws from seiza is one of my biggest issues with modern day Iaido, and one of the main reasons I feel Iaido as taught today is not traditional swordsmanship. (For more info on this debate, see this thread.)

Sugino Sensei draw his sword from tatehiza (iaigoshi — kneeling posture). To be honest, this makes a lot more historical sense than draws made from seiza do. In addition. Sugino Sensei does not perform any overly broad cutting motions or large elliptical movements, two elements often seen in modern Iaido forms.

In fact, in contrast to many Iaido forms I’ve seen, Sugino Sensei’s forms look a lot more like real swordsmanship. The movements are short, crisp and to the point. There is no wasted motion and there are no overly extended body parts. His movements are swift, controlled, and absolutely precise—just like a true swordsman should be.

While I’m not sure I’m ready to invest $50.00 to buy Sugino Sensei’s video I will reconsider that option. Until then however, I hope more video clips of this legend are posted on the Internet.