The principle of kuzushi is a cornerstone to understanding most, if not all types of martial arts. Literally the word kuzushi means at the same time to offset the balance and to break something.
Many interpret kuzushi simply as breaking one’s balance thus causing them to fall. However, there is a subtler understanding of the term that by understanding and practicing it our technique will yield better results. This interpretation in terms allows us to analyze and polish subtler parts of our technique and understand a much broader range of situations in the dojo and outside of it. But to understand kuzushi we must first shed some light on an elusive part of our personality we often fail to regard as such.
It is quite obvious, once we put our minds to it, that we have some semi-conscious parts of our mind that constantly adjust our body posture to avoid falling. We need not to constantly think about stabilizing ourselves yet we need to be stable in order to function. This challenge is not a small feat if we consider the fact that we are standing on two legs with no balancing tail.
These parts of our mind/body are so intimately connected with our other mental capacities that we should consider them an integral part of our personality.
So far we saw how Mr. Antigravity caters the body and mind by taking upon himself the ungrateful job of keeping us erect. This job is actually very demanding since the only time Mr. Antigravity gets to rest is when we are submitting ourselves to the field of gravity and lie down. He is constantly coming up with ingenious solutions that keep us standing on our feet or sitting in a chair or on a ball and seems to do all this without bothering us.
Mr. Antigravity is usually very servile. As long as he is not bothered he caters for all the needs and whims of our other mental capacities. He makes sure we don’t fall while we are daydreaming, even if we wonder off our course. If we are in a bad mood and as a result we are hunched, it needs to provide our knees and pelvis corrections to avoid falling forwards. If we are stroking our hair it needs to adjust the spine to accommodate for the rising of the hand etc.
However, Mr. Antigravity is not totally mute. He usually prefers whispering in the background, but if he is distressed he doesn’t hesitate to get quite vocal. When our stability is challenged Mr. Antigravity takes command of our body and even our mind. The moment our physical balance is challenged he will freeze all our mental and physical activities and allow us to do nothing but what is needed to resolve the crisis either by avoiding the imminent fall or by accommodating for it.
The moment Mr. Antigravity takes over is not a pleasant moment. Our conscious mind does not give in easily. The sensation we experience in this moment of fight over dominance between our consciousness and Mr. Antigravity is of utter fear and loss of control. An untrained person will invest considerable energy trying to fight the takeover, and paradoxically, by doing so will prolong the state of mayhem instead of allowing Mr. Antigravity to take care of business and have it done and over with.
Strange enough, the moment Mr. Antigravity takes over the sense of panic subsides, and the mind is again free to function. This nasty moment of anxiety we described is kuzushi.
I believe that by training as we do we improve ourrelationship with Mr. Antigravity , and this is one of the main reasons why people that practice martial arts often feel more confident and relaxed.
So Back to Kuzushi
The moment our uke is finally off balance one of the following will happen: either he will take action to avoid falling, or he will start taking actions to orchestrate and arrange the process of falling: prepare for rolling or break falling by arranging the body so less vulnerable organs will absorb the impact. An uke in a more aggressive state of mind may even turn this change or fall into an offensive move.
From a martial arts point of view kuzushi puts the combatant in a very weak spot: much the energy is invested into maintaining a stability that in reality can no longer be achieved. The freedom of movement in this state of mind is extremely limited: since in the combatant’s decision to make the change has not ripened yet, there are very few actions that can be taken in this fragile level of stability.
This is not to say that in reality no better action is available, but it does mean that in this very moment any foreseeable movement that doesn’t contribute directly to maintaining the current position is shunned, even though often allowing ourselves to surrender to the inevitable change is the key to finding the optimal next move.
It is therefore in our interest as Tori to keep our uke in kuzushi for as long as possible, and prepare as much of the setup to our technique before the Uke “realizes” the position they are so costly trying to maintain can no longer be kept. The moment the uke reaches the realization that change is inevitable, he or she will start preparing for the next stage: either preparing a counter act or in the least prepare for an organized fall. The longer we can keep our uke in kuzushi, the less prepared he or she will be for the next stage.
Controlling kuzushiis a subtle art. It requires sensitivity, practice and patience. The more subtle we become, the less obvious our next move becomes, and as a result our control of the situation improves.
Once in kuzushi, the uke loses the capacity to initiate, which makes it safe for us to proceed even in places where otherwise we would be exposed to counter strikes.
The inherent need to hold on to our current position is what make kuzushi possible. As we train and gain experience our systems learn to give in to necessary shifts of balance earlier, thus minimizing the window of opportunity for our opponent. Once we lose our instinctive fear of falling we are less intimidated by the need to maintain balamce at all costs and we gain a new type of stability: dynamic stability. Dynamic stability, which will be discussed in detail later on is the capacity to avoid the loss of control we attribute to losing balance by participating in the change that is forced on us and trafficking its outcome.
To be continued…