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The Kuzushi Question
The Kuzushi Question
by Ross Robertson
08-31-2015
The Kuzushi Question

Martial blogger Peter Boylan <http://budobum.blogspot.com/> writes and maintains an interesting and compelling set of articles. Although he is quite knowledgeable and ready to forward a carefully considered opinion, what I most like is his willingness to explore and look at things from new angles -- and then engage his audience to get their views and feedback. This is not unlike good martial practice itself: definitive, but fluid.

He recently wrote on the subject of kuzushi <http://budobum.blogspot.com/2015/07/...balancing.html>, arguing that its understanding needs to be broader than just the standard judo basic interpretation. I agree with the points he makes, and my intention here is to extend the discussion rather than refute anything in particular.

First though, some disclaimers. I've never formally studied judo, my own aikido lineage does not include judo the way some others styles do, so the kuzushi, tsukuri, kake sequence was never made explicit by any of my teachers. Further, I'm not a native Japanese speaker, and only modestly educated in the language, so I can't claim any linguistic basis for my views.

I've always been a little bit bothered by the concept of "breaking balance" in aikido, whether it's expressed in English or with a Japanese equivalent. Although the idea of "breaking" anything can't be ruled out in serious and effective martial discipline, it's not a default assumption I want to have when I engage in my own approach and understanding of what aikido aims to be. So for me, there's something just a tad unsavory about the notion of "breaking balance," at least as a fundamental pillar of the art.

But that's still not really what irks me. We can gentle it up all we want, and call it shifting the opponent's balance, or "undermining the foundation," as the article mentions, and I still have some issues. It's an improvement, but as yet does not encompass the fuller picture for me.

To me kuzushi in its broadest sense is about balance and imbalance. This can be mechanical or structural balance; a balance of power; or a balanced equation. Kuzushi specifically seems to focus on the imbalance of a system -- how it breaks, falls, comes apart, shifts, or simply changes. Therefore to me kuzushi is not just something that I must do to an opponent, nor even something I want to avoid happening to me. Kuzushi is something which potentially is distributed through the whole system of two or more people interacting.

The vision of aikido to which I subscribe is that it's about the maintenance or restoration of balance throughout as much of the system as possible. I cannot say it often enough -- aikido is a healing art. Kuzushi, in its vulgar sense, literally undermines what aikido is to me. Yet in its broader or perhaps more "elevated" sense, it is a fundamental part of understanding a system and its vulnerabilities. In this interpretation, kuzushi is something that must be explored and appreciated, but ideally something which should be avoided if at all possible.

Part of the paradox of O Sensei is that we never see him "lose" in an encounter, yet we hear tales of how severely students would be chided for thinking in terms of winning and losing. Or more specifically, for trying to defeat others. And I think that's part of what rubs me wrong in normal conversations about kuzushi… no matter how it's framed, it ultimately comes down to doing something to disadvantage another.

I try never to bring up O Sensei as Appeal to Authority, but I do think the Founder's ideas are important for consideration, and we owe it to ourselves to come to terms with his bold assertions. For me, the idea that aikido is a martial way of reconciling the world through love is central to what sets the endeavor apart from most other things I've encountered.

In my view, kuzushi happens the moment someone holds a violent thought towards another. It is a cognitive or emotional kuzushi within an individual. If action is taken to execute violence on another, then a link is established which creates a system between people, but simultaneously the harmony of the system is broken. Or put at risk, minimally.

I want my discipline to make me aware of when this is happening, whether within myself or in the world around me. If I can take steps to restore the balance, then kuzushi is undone.

If you're reading quickly let me slow you down just long enough to repeat that last point: I would prefer, when possible, for kuzushi to be un-done, rather than done.

With perfect skill and awareness, I could always do this without first creating more imbalance. My skill and my timing are not perfect, so it may be the case that I first have to break the balance of an adversary, or even break the adversary, as a means toward greater balance. So it might be fair to "fight kuzushi with kuzushi," but I see this as an inefficiency to be avoided if at all possible.

My practice, like yours, involves a lot of throwing and pinning. I don't go to the dojo to sit seiza in rapturous bliss with all my fellow students. I go to train as a broken person encountering other broken people who diligently and mindfully represent to one another how the world may try to break us further. Learning with deep understanding and compassion the nature of brokenness should not be avoided.

Yet I also want my training to be about the receiving of balance, and perhaps the catching and correcting of balance. I want my martial discipline to examine and extend the nature of shared balance as essential to the preservation of life.

Through kuzushi, I want us all to be a little more whole, and our relationships to be a bit less broken.

2015.08.08
Ross Robertson
Still Point Aikido Systems
Honmatsu Aikido
Austin TX, USA

www.stillpointaikido.com
www.rariora.org/writing/articles
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Old 09-01-2015, 02:02 PM   #2
Janet Rosen
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Re: The Kuzushi Question

Quote:
Ross Robertson wrote: View Post
Ack. "It's" second paragraph should be "its."
Took yer own balance for a second there, eh?
Thank you for a thought-provoking essay.
One way I've heard it expressed is that the attacker creates the dis-harmony and the aikidoka simply does what allows it to fully manifest, keeping intact her own structure/integrity/insert word here.
Yet from a pedagogical point of view, I think in most dojo we tend to look at and ask juniors to be aware of and use the small steps along the way that increase dis-harmony in the attacker (from a structural point of view, say, forward weighting; from an energetic point of view, say, momentarily putting their mind over there rather than over here).
Dan Messisco teaches having nage purely concerned with her own place in the world, keeping integral structure and moving from one pose to another, not concerned with uke. A very intriguing exercise at seminars I've attended but I'm not sure how it works as a consistent training model.
I don't have any "answer" but keep working on the questions each time I train :-)

Janet Rosen
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"peace will enter when hate is gone"--percy mayfield
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Old 09-03-2015, 01:47 PM   #3
jonreading
 
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Re: The Kuzushi Question

I would echo some of my earlier comments to Peter's blog and won't repost them here.

From my perspective, balance and structure are not the same concept. Kuzushi, I think, is a concept targeted not towards one's physical (or emotional) balance, but rather their ability to accept and respond to force. I have worked out with some number of good people who can be quite precariously balanced or unbalanced but remain difficult to throw because they are still able to accommodate the forces affecting their body. There are several good judo videos in which you can clearly see a visible displacement of posture/balance but no kuzushi. It's maybe in the breakdown of our ability to manage forces affecting our body that we see kuzushi.

It's in this sense that I think more about my partner as a catalyst for my mismanagement, a role that can be also filled by a child's toy laying on the ground or a raised crack in a sidewalk. All these failures are a breakdown in my ability to manage my body. From this perspective, I am always seeking to remain within my own ability. Much as Messisco sensei says, "my own self" - I just don't happen to be a 6th dan aikidoka training for 50 years. It's also a key distinction between taking ukemi and being thrown. When I take ukemi, I remain in control of my body. When I am throw I lose control of my body. As I am prone to say more often, I think we need to keep our eyes on our own paper more. If I move in balance then it should prove difficult to achieve kuzushi against me. If I move with aiki than I should have impact on forces that come into contact with me.

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Old 09-03-2015, 02:29 PM   #4
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Re: The Kuzushi Question

Quote:
Jon Reading wrote: View Post
It's in this sense that I think more about my partner as a catalyst for my mismanagement, a role that can be also filled by a child's toy laying on the ground or a raised crack in a sidewalk. All these failures are a breakdown in my ability to manage my body. From this perspective, I am always seeking to remain within my own ability. Much as Messisco sensei says, "my own self" - I just don't happen to be a 6th dan aikidoka training for 50 years. It's also a key distinction between taking ukemi and being thrown. When I take ukemi, I remain in control of my body. When I am throw I lose control of my body. As I am prone to say more often, I think we need to keep our eyes on our own paper more. If I move in balance then it should prove difficult to achieve kuzushi against me. If I move with aiki than I should have impact on forces that come into contact with me.
This makes a lot of sense to me -- in fact, as I was reading your first paragraph, my thought was, "So, 'kuzushi' means 'no longer driving the bus'". Yes?
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Old 09-03-2015, 02:45 PM   #5
Janet Rosen
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Re: The Kuzushi Question

Quote:
Jon Reading wrote: View Post
I would echo some of my earlier comments to Peter's blog and won't repost them here.

From my perspective, balance and structure are not the same concept. Kuzushi, I think, is a concept targeted not towards one's physical (or emotional) balance, but rather their ability to accept and respond to force. I have worked out with some number of good people who can be quite precariously balanced or unbalanced but remain difficult to throw because they are still able to accommodate the forces affecting their body. There are several good judo videos in which you can clearly see a visible displacement of posture/balance but no kuzushi. It's maybe in the breakdown of our ability to manage forces affecting our body that we see kuzushi.

It's in this sense that I think more about my partner as a catalyst for my mismanagement, a role that can be also filled by a child's toy laying on the ground or a raised crack in a sidewalk. All these failures are a breakdown in my ability to manage my body. From this perspective, I am always seeking to remain within my own ability. Much as Messisco sensei says, "my own self" - I just don't happen to be a 6th dan aikidoka training for 50 years. It's also a key distinction between taking ukemi and being thrown. When I take ukemi, I remain in control of my body. When I am throw I lose control of my body. As I am prone to say more often, I think we need to keep our eyes on our own paper more. If I move in balance then it should prove difficult to achieve kuzushi against me. If I move with aiki than I should have impact on forces that come into contact with me.
Reposting in entirety, especially appreciating your note on diff. between balance and structure.

Janet Rosen
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Old 09-03-2015, 02:46 PM   #6
Janet Rosen
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Re: The Kuzushi Question

Quote:
Mary Malmros wrote: View Post
This makes a lot of sense to me -- in fact, as I was reading your first paragraph, my thought was, "So, 'kuzushi' means 'no longer driving the bus'". Yes?

Janet Rosen
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Old 09-08-2015, 10:35 AM   #7
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Re: The Kuzushi Question

Quote:
Mary Malmros wrote: View Post
This makes a lot of sense to me -- in fact, as I was reading your first paragraph, my thought was, "So, 'kuzushi' means 'no longer driving the bus'". Yes?
In a sense, yes. As I see other applications of aiki the question arises, what if two people are doing aiki and they meet? The end of the Universe, obviously. Otherwise, I think the person leading the spiral energy has the advantage. However, the person following the spiral is not yet undone (kuzushi) until such a point as that spiral breaks the defender's ability to manage the force. Messisco sensei does this in his ukemi all the time - you are never leading his ukemi spiral so when he just decides to change, you realize you were never leading that dance.

I like the "drive the bus" because I don't think at higher levels we should equate kuzushi with "winning". It is probably better to think of kuzushi as the first step to undoing your partner. Back to our judo parallels, there is a reason why judo players do not equate kuzushi with a throw (it is only a step of a process). In aikido, we have this idea of "kuzushi on contact" - the undoing of our partner as a consequence of coming into contact with us. This is the aiki body. Every time we touch our partner, we should feel there is a mismanagement of our body so we can find it and fix it. As we train, we should see two outcomes: 1. it should be more difficult to create kuzushi in our body, 2. it should be easier for us to fix kuzushi in our body.

If you have ever trained with Ikeda sensei, he does this thing where he can put energy and unbalance into specific parts of your body. Usually, it's the knees, hips, shoulders or elbows. Its very precise instruction to illustrate a problem in your body. The better your aiki body, the stronger you can illustrate the problem.

Back to Ross's post, I am not sure I would argue kuzushi is something distributed through an interaction of two or more people. Aiki is not a four-legged animal and there are a number of threads on that topic. Rather, kuzushi is a symptom of a state of being that should emanate from me (but not affect me). Aiki is not sympathetic; it can be empathetic. We sometimes argue it because we kinda realize that we are also out of whack as nage - it's a convenient excuse for our own mismanagement. That's not what we should be doing, though. I think we sometimes attribute roles to nage as a white-hat character and create duelistic relationships between uke and nage. Uke can attack with violence but nage should not. Uke is aggressive, but nage should not be. I do not believe training in duelism is either productive (because half of your training is "wrong") or efficient (because half of your training is not doing aikido). But it does often craft a character of good guy and bad guy.

My instructor used to speak about uke's obligation to resolve waza. Nage's responsibility was to create a legitimate scenario of kuzushi. Uke's responsibility was to safely resolve that kuzushi. The aiki body creates a distinct and demonstrable illustration of kuzushi that uke should not be able to ignore. This exacerbated state of mismanagement should give uke the feedback to find resolution. From this perspective nage is "helping" uke to recognize where/when her body is out of whack and give her the opportunity to fix the problem. I think if we choose to remain in the realm of "doing" something to create kuzushi, we are not transcending our jujutsu curriculum. Ideally, we want our very standing to be a cause of kuzushi. If nothing else, this is the state where we can best help our partner to understand their problems.

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Old 09-11-2015, 02:09 AM   #8
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Re: The Kuzushi Question

In aikido practice, I like to see the "break balance" as what everyone does when walking - you have to get yourself off balance to take a step. So, in aikido getting off balance is a joint venture.

When everything is in balance nothing moves, nothing happens.

I think it can be said about the whole universe. Everything in it is continuously searching for balance, which is what keeps everything moving. If balance were to be reached, nothing more would happen.

Balance, then, might be an illusion - or the goal we should all be grateful that we never reach. What we can accomplish by aikido, ideally, is centering in this eternal turmoil. Both tori and uke. And yes, that's balance of sorts.

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Old 09-11-2015, 09:17 AM   #9
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Smile Re: The Kuzushi Question

Thanks for posting an interesting essay Ross. I have a few thoughts on the matter and they are as follows.

In Aikido we learn to use the intent to disrupt harmony and lead it back to our partner in a way that is instructive of harmony. In this way the nature of intent is harnessed and transformed. Bit by bit it sinks in, or it doesn't. It is an activity where ego will get you to the door of the dojo, but is best left outside for optimum results.

After 32 years of Aikido, some kendo and a little (very little) Daito Ryu, this is what I understand. It may change, of course, but it is what I currently understand.

In a sense, what I am saying is that the solution is actually in the problem. As soon as an attacker's intent is initiated, kuzushi has already occurred. This is not something that nage has 'done' to uke, uke has managed this all on their own. Nage merely borrows uke's intent and leads it to its logical conclusion.

Sometimes, of course, strategy can be used to encourage an attacker to reveal an opening which nage can use to their advantage. This is more commonly seen in competitive activities, like kendo and Judo, but it can also take place in Aikido when we adopt a particular hanmi to expose a wrist, neck or torso.

Indeed, I would go further and say that nage can also offer a very poor hanmi and induce uke to try and take kuzushi by being slightly off balance - a favourite ploy of Yamaguchi Sensei.

I once witnessed two elderly Kendo Hachidan in a match. Both stood motionless, neither moving. At the end of the match the crowd broke into spontaneous applause. There was no opening from either party.

I imagine that it takes a lifetime to get to this level, and personally I find that encouraging. It tells me that I have a long way to go, and that is something to look forward to.

Kuzushi - to take or not to take - may seem like the question, but it is really only relative to the field of conflict, when conflict is actually occurring. To deliberately try and take kuzushi is a bit like fighting for peace.

Kuzushi, it seems to me, is the natural outcome of the intent to disrupt harmony and can be resolved through taking ukemi and recovering one's posture and equanimity - assuming of course that one has that to begin with.
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Old 09-18-2015, 01:54 PM   #10
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Re: The Kuzushi Question

Really enjoying the discussion... Keep it up!
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Old 09-18-2015, 03:51 PM   #11
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Re: The Kuzushi Question

Quote:
Stefan Stenudd wrote: View Post
In aikido practice, I like to see the "break balance" as what everyone does when walking - you have to get yourself off balance to take a step. So, in aikido getting off balance is a joint venture.
I'm not sure I agree with this, as the logical conclusion is that balance requires complete stasis. Even if that were true, I don't think that lying on the ground without moving is the ultimate goal of aikido. Certainly there's plenty of video in which O Sensei moves all over the place without being the least bit off balance, no matter what his students are trying to do.

I much prefer the idea of a dynamic equilibrium: using opposing forces within one's body to maintain posture, whether moving or stationary, being attacked or not. And thereby creating a situation where, if uke wants to maintain his own posture, he has to abandon his attack.

Katherine
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Old 09-22-2015, 03:54 AM   #12
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Re: The Kuzushi Question

In Judo the only time anyone ever breaks anyone's balance is when they do kata, and actually, they do not actually break it, rather, just like in Aikido, uke gives it to them on a plate. The norm in Judo is to forcibly disrupt the opponent's sturcture, who is to a large degree still in control of his balance even when structurally a little compromised, then tsukuri is made with speed and power and the throw taken. Of course, the ideal should be a little different but this is the reality I see. My point is, you cannot learn kuzushi if uke just gives it to you and as such the bridge between kata and randori in Judo is a mile wide and will not be crossed anytime soon. If your throw doesn't work in randori the advice is basically to 'hit the gym'.

Last edited by Rupert Atkinson : 09-22-2015 at 03:56 AM.

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Old 09-25-2015, 09:50 AM   #13
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Re: The Kuzushi Question

For me, training to remain in a state of balance is a fundamental task. I interpret a critique of our state of [poor] balance as evidence that we are not moving correctly. This is not only fundamental to managing our bodies, but also expressing aiki.

As a point of clarification, I understand "balance" to be an athletic endeavor. It is not an executive toy balance, but rather and athletic balance full of energy. I interpret a comment about balance being devoid of energy/movement as evidence with are not moving with ki. Balance is not equal to stasis. I can have movement in balance (as yin yang is sometimes animated, for example); I can have imbalance held in stasis. A gyroscope in motion has balance and movement.

The idea of claiming a judoka is "off-balance" because they intend to attack you is almost laughable. Granted, some of them are a bit off-balance in the head anyway . Seriously though, you're rarely going to find good fighters who exist in a state of physical imbalance, which at best leaves you with a philosophical argument about the mental state of someone else. This is another type of role framing where we perceive an attack against us (aikido people) to be an imbalance in the universe. From my perspective, attacking while in a state of kuzushi is reflective of a poor attack - to that end, it is advantageous to the defender.

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