February 21, 2019


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Everything is a Weapon- Part One of Three -

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Vanishing into Mist -

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Escaping a Sealed Choke -

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Ninja Invisibility -

Monday, April 9, 2018

Ninja Media

Distancing and Positioning in Ninjutsu


All martial arts have theories and instruction about distance and positioning. It is a fundamental that must be understood for all competent execution and instruction. Along with timing it is also one of the most challenging aspects for students to learn. It is complex and many subtleties exist.

The level of complexity depends really on what you are trying to achieve through movement. There is a significant difference between moving in and disarming an assailant armed with a knife and blocking a punch or kick if that’s what your art teaches you to do.

Talking about distance is not relevant without simultaneously discussing positioning. You can be a certain distance from your opponent, but you may be beside them, in front or in back of them. You may be facing them, or not. When we discuss positioning we also are talking about stances. What you do within that distance and what you can reach will be determined by stances or postures.

This is not a subject that can be easily addressed in a short article. We can discuss some fundamentals about how Ninjutsu handles these concepts.

While we may try to always follow certain rules of combat regarding distance and positioning, it may not always be possible to do so. For instance; martial artists are fond of advising their students never to turn their back on an enemy. You may strive to always achieve this, but then again it can easily happen for many reasons. The question then becomes what you will do when this happens to you? Do you have the technical repertoire and ability to handle attacks from behind? We rarely see training for these kinds of attacks, especially against an armed assailant.

If the goal of training is combative preparedness, and the prepared martial curriculum does not address some these more challenging questions, then it would be necessary to expand the repertoire.

Some will point out that they turn sideways towards the opponent therefore the front and back are both trained (at least cognitively). The argument in favor of this is that a sideways stance protects vital points against attack and makes it easier to keep your opponent a certain distance from you. It also makes you a narrower and smaller target. While these points are true, turning sideways makes the back easier to access and attack, and creates blind spots. Although common, sideways facing stances are not favored in many combative techniques even in traditional arts. We tend to believe that if we are going to be attacked that we will see it coming, and it will be by someone who has already made threats and therefore declared their intent. While this is true if we are about to be assaulted as part of a deteriorating argument, it is generally not so in other circumstances.

In the vast majority of cases practitioners will logically turn to face the enemy, and rarely will there be any level of comfort dealing with an enemy coming from behind. It’s as if the discomfort of dealing with such attacks has led to the blind assumption that they will not happen, that we will be too alert to let it happen, or we simply forget to train against them. Taking maneuverability into consideration, facing the opponent has more possibilities than side stances. All positions and stances can be argued for or against and even if favored by one art or another, these positions need to be realistically understood for what they offer, unless stylistic concerns are considered of greater importance.

In a mass attack, any direction can leave your back exposed. The question of position becomes almost meaningless. Then we enter discussions about whether to maintain a fixed position or to keep moving constantly. Often students will have to try these things in sparring or some form of randori in order to experience what this feels like. Then they will learn that one enemy impedes the movement of the others. The proper use of the enemy as a barrier to attack is essential for survival in a mass attack. This approach is preferable to attempts to escape. Often a mass attack is specifically intended to prevent escape and that is its strongest point. Counter attack changes the dynamic and allows avoidance of the strategies strong points and exploiting its weaknesses.

It’s important to talk about positioning before exploring distance. Our limbs don’t move much behind us and lack reach. Adjusting to attacks on our vulnerable sides requires us to reposition in order to use our limbs in their most natural way. The more movement we make the more time we take, the more we lose any advantage based on our unpredictability. Your range of motion and distance behind you is quite different than facing or sideways.

Once engaged in combat: At its most basic level there are three ranges of distance, and many associated positions. If the enemy has a leg extended, or is crouching this changes reach, but from the body’s center there is arm’s length, leg length and beyond. By beyond we mean weapon combined with limb length. In the range beyond, reach is predicted by a weapons capability including that of projectiles.

Whether we mean limb length, or that combined with a weapon, there are a few basic things to understand. The limb or weapon and limb is a distance “X”. Different weapons have very different properties, and this affects the critical range one has to achieve to gain control over the enemy. Critical range is the distance a person must cross to gain access to the control of the enemy’s weapon. This is typically the hands and arms. It’s naturally different between a stick, machete and a knife. What the weapon can do is very different depending on the distance from the hands. We consider the danger relative to the weapons properties. The tip of the weapon, shaft and grip.

The basic length “X” is broken down into three areas. That involving the extreme end of the weapon, the fist or foot. The middle, and where the limb or weapon is proximal to the body. These areas are not arbitrary, but not exact either. There is a general range at which the properties and capabilities change within each. For example, in going after your enemy’s 6 foot staff and you are engaging the middle section, it does not matter that much if you are six inches closer to the hands or the other end. Some would argue otherwise and they may be right depending on their arts requirements. But not so in Taijutsu, Ninjutsu.

As your enemy closes the distance between you in an attack, your opportunity is to either increase, decrease or maintain range. If you are trying to escape, you will, of course, increase range. If your intent is to play with them, or simply stand ground you might maintain range. This requires effort, skill and prolongs the encounter. It is also very dangerous. If your intent is to take on the enemy, in Taijutsu you must engage at close quarters and take control of them.

According to where you are in one of those three areas, your techniques are very different. At the extreme range, most weapons are most dangerous. The imperative is to first avoid being hit, then closing in while impeding the enemy’s movement, then take control of the enemy and in the same movement the weapon. This involves special use of the legs and often taking control of the head and therefore the spine.

It should be remembered that for the enemy to generate power to strike and maneuver, they need controlled contact with the ground and a clear sensorium. If your techniques can affect these then you gain advantage.

At the middle range of the weapon it’s important to safely impede the play the enemy has, in order to gain access to control. At the closest range it is possible often to ignore weapons of any substantial size and go for control of the body. In the case of small and hidden weapons which merely extend and render more dangerous the hands it is more important to control the limbs and the body simultaneously. This can be difficult and is why many consider small and concealed weapons more dangerous than even large weapons such as machetes, swords and various sticks.

Based on earlier analysis, it should be understood that getting behind someone with a weapon limits their ability to attack, but also makes the weapon hard to see and engage. Training against a weapon wielding enemy should involve how to disarm them from behind.

These basic concepts are at the root of a more involved strategy and tuition that completes the dimensions of the curriculum of Taijutsu and the systematic way in which to understand it. Taijutsu and Ninjutsu is very complex and requires a depth of understanding that cannot be easily intuited. There is a systematic way to approach it and teach it.

Many of these concepts and by extension the framework will be explored in more detail in future expositions.

Michel Farivar MD.

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