Foundation and Context

Recently, I had a discussion with a good training buddy of mine about how training can be conducted during one’s class. While we hit on many topics, one interesting point that came up was being productive in one’s training while studying techniques. For traditional Japanese martial arts, there are stories about students (usually those that are new) working on only one technique for the duration of a class. While there is much practicality in this in terms of building one’s foundation in a certain area, this is not a practice to embrace all the time, especially in today’s fast-paced society where martial arts classes only meet but a few times a week for around 2 hours. When working on technique, contextual training is necessary along with foundational conditioning. Both can be incorporated together to ensure a balanced learning experience, while adjusting according which one to focus on more based on a student’s level.

As an example, let’s look at a technique called “Jōdan Uke¹”, which is a basic blocking method in Taijutsu². Jōdan Uke is something new students will learn early in their martial arts career, as it is pretty basic and simple to mimic. However, what appears simple in appearance can be difficult in application without proper training. In the beginning, physical structure is an important point and one that needs to be focused on for a long time. Simply going through the motion of transitioning from shizentai³ into Jōdan Uke, then back into shizentai is effective, and can be a good way to train mental and spiritual endurance (during and outside of class). However, this may not prove to be the best way to understand Jōdan Uke if this is all that is done, especially in a 2-hour session. In a class setting where Jōdan Uke is the focus, let’s look at a method where both foundational conditioning and contextual training are combined for a balanced training session.

Demonstration of Jōdan Uke against a strike.

After class begins, with stretching, warm ups, and other formalities completed, students spread out to work on drilling Jōdan Uke. Working both left side and right side, they spend around 15 minutes going through the motion as a group under the teacher’s guidance. Next, they pair up with one another and again drill Jōdan Uke against a straight punch. This gives them a stimulus where they can learn how to not only execute it correctly with proper body form, but see their errors as well as understand where this technique fails if not done properly. This can be worked on with a similar time duration. The following exercise can then be worked on in the form of uke–tori⁴ practice, where one person (uke) executes a series of pre-set punch attacks (starting off, 2-3), while the other person (tori) works on defending against these with preset movements, with Jōdan Uke being one of those movements. The purpose of this exercise is to have the one using Jōdan Uke continue to learn how it works in order to overcome their opponent. If kept short (5-10 minutes) and time permits, several uke-tori practice drills can be used for the remainder of the training session, with the next using a different scenario that teaches how to apply Jōdan Uke (i.e. against a shirt grab, against a kick-punch sequence, etc.). To note, since the premise of this training is for beginners or newer students, it’s best that only defensive applications of Jōdan Uke are worked on, to ensure proper foundation building.

This is an interpretation of how one can apply a balance between foundational conditioning and contextual training. There is no official way to go about this, but one must achieve a correct approach that is productive in the long run, as well as effective.

1) 上段受け. Simple translation would be “high-block”.

2) 体術. Taijutsu is an older term for hand-to-hand combat, and is still used today by some traditional martial arts groups in Japan.

3) 自然体. Means to stand in a normal posture where you are neither on the offense or defense. Usually, one’s hands are to are sides.

4) 受捕. This is a joint word referring to training where one person take the role as the attacker and lose (uke), while the other takes the role as the defender and win (tori).