Drills for Unsoku and Unshin

There are a lot of things that make jissen a fun and challenging game, but the biggest thing that makes jissen difficult is that we must make our movements respond to those of our opponents. I’ve covered how to practice the individual unsoku and unshin movements elsewhere – these drills are designed to teach you to move around someone else.

Stimulus/Response Training

There are four main factors in using unsoku and unshin that we can train: timing, distance, strategy, and technique deployment. In most of the following drills, we will work these factors by building the ability to use unsoku and unshin as a response to various stimuli (of which an opponent could be one example).

First, I want to mention that, though these drills may look very basic and beginnerish, they can also be extremely powerful practices for advanced students. I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but especially the slow free-moving drills will reveal layers of subtle control potential in even slight turns of the feet – that is, for advanced students.

Whatever your current skill level, you will get as much out of these fundamental unsoku drills as you allow for yourself. I don’t have to tell the top students to take every movement as an opportunity to improve their skills, but the not-bad-but-not-yet-great students should really pay attention at this level, as these fundamental competencies are often the weakest links in their skill sets.

Partnered Preset Unsoku

This is the most basic of basic partnered unsoku drills. In the most common version, both partners face in opposite sides of kamae and move across the court using a boxy ko-soku and ten-soku combination. The goal is to build speed and sidestep distance while matching your partner’s timing and position. Of course, other unsoku patterns can be used as well: try So and In, Ka and Gen, and Hensoku.

Free Unsoku Within Area

In this drill, both partners are free to move as they like, with two stipulations. They cannot touch, and they cannot leaved a bounded area. The are can be made in various shapes, and more partners can be added. The goal is to move quickly without violating either of the two rules.

You can also create variations in which partners attempt to force each other out of bounds by their unsoku.

Free Unshin Within Area

Many students never get comfortable using unshin in jissen, and I believe this is because we usually practice unshin in straight lines with plenty of space for “safety.” After a while, it’s important to teach students to perform unshin movements near obstacles and people so they can gain the awareness of their surroundings as they move. Spatial awareness in four dimensions is a vital skill in mastering jissen, so I came up with this “confined unshin” drill. There are tons of possible variations, but here’s the most basic practice we often employed at Georgia Tech:

Mark off an area and get everyone to stand inside. For whatever period of time, everyone has to move continuously using whatever unshin they like. They must not stop moving, touch other players, or leave the marked area. You can specify which unshin students are to use or allow them the freedom to adapt as they wish. Ironically, the first option often becomes the more-difficult.

Slow Free Unsoku/Unshin in Full Court

in this drill, the idea is to get used to using unsoku and unshin together while facing a partner. Speed, complexity, etc. can be built gradually.

Slow Tag Jissen

In this variation, both partners are free to move as they like and attempt to tag their opponent. It’s usually best to specify a particular target area (shoulder, foot, back), but either hand may be used. Of course, this drill should begin slowly and build in speed as the players gain confidence. The game can also be played in a confined area, and I’ve even had students form teams with various player “positions.”

Free Unsoku/Unshin – Attack on Signal

In this drill, one partner delivers signals to which the other must respond appropriately. The signals can be anything: words, handclaps, whistles, gestures, etc. The responding partner moves freely in unsoku while the signaling partner delivers cues. At the cue, the first partner must deploy some predetermined attacking movement.

Eventually, several signals may denote several attack responses. There are plenty of options for building up the complexity of this drill. Use commands like jump, duck, and roll, or call technique names.

Avoidance on Signal

This drill has the same set-up as the previous one, but this time, the responding partner has to defend rather than attacking.

To begin, the responding partner has to distinguish between only two cues, one for inside fukuteki, and one for outside fukuteki. After a while, other types of fukuteki can be added, as can jumps, unsoku patterns, or even attack techniques. Complexity and speed build gradually.

Slow Avoidance of Prop

At Tech, we call this game “don’t get hit by the guy with the stick”, and it’s always a lot of fun for at least one partner. Bryan and I learned this game from John Okochi, back when it was still OK to hit students with a shinai. Now, it’s apparently abusive and dangerous, but our students don’t seem to mind. If you think swinging shinai at each other is too “hardcore” for you, by all means, use something else. The American honbu has padded sticks, and in Japan, we often swing our belts. It doesn’t matter what the prop is, so long as you build the game properly.

We begin this game with the “stickman” kneeling. This precludes much reaching and seems to make defenders a little more comfortable starting out. Defenders make kamae and practice responding to three signals on each side. The signals and responses (from left chudan) are: jump over low swing, fukuteki away from left-top swing, fukuteki away from right-low swing.

After building basic competency, we start to mix up the “attacks” and gradually increase speed. Then we start moving around a bit…

Free Unsoku with Avoidance of Prop

This is the moving version of the stick game. Stickman chases the defender around the court, deploying low swings, high-to-low swings, and low-to-high swings at will. The defender’s job is to use unsoku to move and “don’t get hit by the guy with the stick” using jumps and/or fukuteki. Speed, frequency, and variety are your intensity multipliers here, and they have to be carefully controlled to ensure gradual escalation.

When students get good at this game, we add two more “signals”: a straight thrust and an overhead down-smash. The correct response to either was best summed up by Mr. Miyagi, when he said “Best defense for punch – no be there.”

Free Unsoku with Avoidance of Prop and Counter

In this version, the defender is encouraged to counter any attack with a punch.

Two Sides to the Story

You may have noticed that many of the above drills are one-sided, e.g. they tend to train only one partner at a time. Of course, any of them can be adapted to be symmetrical drills in which both partners are active. In the signal drills, for example, one partner attacks on a whistle, and the other partner attacks on a handclap.

I didn’t include too many specific examples, nor did I write out every possible variation; these are just a few broad frameworks for creating your own drills depending on the needs of your own training. These can also be combined with the other drill templates presented elsewhere on Taido/Blog.

Baby Steps

Any of these drills could be considered preparatory for kobo or jissen practice, either as a teaching step or a warmup. The allow students to learn to make decisions quickly and move accordingly using various types of stimulus and movement. Importantly, they are all sans-technique, which makes them less stressful than jissen.

Having the preknowledge that their partners will not just punch or kick them, students are free to play and explore and learn at a comfortable pace. Once students have gained this basic confidence and competence, they can get more out of their kobo and jissen practice.

Basic Kobo Drills

These basic kobo drills are designed to on work on specific weapon deployment and defensive response. The drills on this page build on the abilities to implement unsoku and unshin in relation to your partner (these come from practicing the Drills for Unsoku and Unshin). You will refine these abilities as you integrate them into your kobo practice.

Basic Kobo Drills

These basic kobo drills are the foundation of sotai skills. You probably already practice something like this (well, occasionally…). The problem with kobo in its simplest form is that it only offers a narrow foundation for building skills. By injecting a little creativity, we can build a wider base for jissen.

Slow, Stationary Kobo

Partners face off. One executes a predetermined attack, and the other executes and predetermined defense. They repeat this many times, gradually getting faster and stronger. Later on, we add some footwork. In theory (not my theory, mind you), this effectively teaches the defending partner to become almost immune to the practiced attack. Yeah, right.

Most kobo practice begins and ends with this drill style. Pretty lame if you ask me. While it may be OK practice on some levels, it is going to condition habits that may not always be productive unless we exercise a little creativity in our approach. Let’s discuss how.

We learn from all practice, whether we want to, or not. We all know that those who do half-assed practice for hokei end up with half-assed performance of hokei, even when they try to move cleanly. The standard style of uninspired kobo practice makes us hyper-suggestible to the attacks practiced. The result is that good players know how to make their opponents jump by pretending to do manjigeri, while they are actually setting up a second attack. This is just the most basic example of the counterproductive conditioning that can occur with poorly conceived practice methods.

So, about that creative approach…

Slow, Stationary Kobo – Again

Remember that kobo are not answers. If there are “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover,” then there are at least 100 ways to respond to sengi (especially, if the person attacking does happen to be your lover). This time through, we need to come up with some of those other ways. Think of this as exploratory kobo, and you’ll be right on the money.

Let’s take the speed back down and drop the footwork for now. We’ll start over from the beginning, with the provision that the “defender” needs to be creative and come up with a personal favorite few methods of dealing with the “attacker’s” movement.

We already know that you can do hienzuki to defend against manjigeri. The problem is that everyone doing manjigeri knows this too, and they adapt their technique accordingly. Thus, people who have practiced defending against manji still get hit with manji. If we want to avoid getting hit with adapted techniques, we have to adapt our defenses. Keeping with the analogy of manjigeri, there are lots of ways to defend besides hienzuki – this drill requires that you find a few of them.

With your partner, brainstorm a bit. Look at the motion of the attack and think of where it is strong and where it is weak. Where does it come from, and where does it go? Try to think of ways to use ideas like ohen fubi and rendo rentai to come up with responses (hint: review your seigyo methods).

Repeat this process as many times as possible, working slowly and with an open mind – you will never exhaust your options, but any one you discover may save your ass someday in jissen. For each promising application, build speed gradually, as you would with your usual kobo practice.

Slow Again with Variable

Now that you have options, you can practice choosing the right one on the fly. This is difficult to simulate, but every attack, however similar is going to be a little unique. Try and base your defense choice on the specific instinct you have in the moment. Instead of deciding beforehand what you plan to do (since reality will always deviate from your plans), react in realtime with one of your options. At the very minimum, spend some time cycling through your various options in various orders and speeds. We want to be very careful of building set patterns, and this is where that happens, so be aware.

As before, build speed and power gradually. When you can avoid full-speed, full-power attacks by at least three or four different responses, you are ready to move on to the next drill.

Slow Again with Preset Unsoku

Now take the speed back down, and do the same movements after some pre-determined unsoku combination, for example ko-soku or hensoku-ka/gen. Build your speed up, and work through each of your variable responses individually. Change the unsoku pattern and do it all again.

You will find that, as attacks from various unsoku patterns are slightly different, certain defense variations will lend themselves better to some than others. Work with advancing and retreating footwork on both right and left sides. Get a feel for what works with each of these subtle variations and you will start to see the utility in the previous drill.

Unsoku and Variable

Slow down again, and do the same thing, this time using a free selection of unsoku movements and the variations you have practiced. Then, build your speed back up gradually.

When you are comfortable with all of your variations at full-speed, the attacker can begin to vary the speed at will, moving from fast to slow to fast. While the attack timing gets trickier here, the attack is still the same, so the defender can choose the appropriate response. This step is excellent practice for matching the speed of your defense to the attack as it happens.

Unsoku and Unshin with Variable

This is basically the same s the above drill, but both partners are now free to use both unsoku and unshin as they see fit.

Baby Steps

With all of the above drills, speed, intensity, and power, are the primary variables for incremental increase before adding complexity. Most other factors are going to be fairly constant (for example, which movements are being practiced). This allows low-stress graduation to higher levels. If you try to get cute and change too many things at one time, you are going to defeat the purpose of these drills. Sure, you may overcome and look as if you are getting better and better at various motions, but that’s all you’ll be learning – how to go through the motions.

You will actually be conditioning yourself to react in certain patterns as a panic response if you don’t progress slowly enough. Instead of flinching, you condition yourself to jump. This seems like an improvement, but the jump is actually just a different manner of flinching, and you are no better off in the long run. You may feel that you have gone from beginner to intermediate rather quickly, but you will find yourself having a hell of a time moving from intermediate to advanced.

Go slowly on these lower-level kobo drills. Really take the time and explore the possibilities they offer. It doesn’t matter how “advanced” a student you are; you can get a lot out of the above practices. Allowing your ego to seduce you into attempting practices that are above your level leads to injury in sports training. Kobo is no exception.