Highlights from the Shoshin Ryu Journals

Journal Issue #91 – Fall 2018

MAAI (Distancing) by Sensei Westen Curry from Anchorage, AK

Maai or distancing is a functionally practical skill to get good at. Whether moving out of the way from a punch or being able to accurately land a knockout blow to an attacker, this skill is very useful. Your ability evade and or hit a target may be the difference in surviving an altercation or not. Here are three ideas you can apply to striking as it relates to Maai. Like every skill, practice makes you better at it. If you don’t practice, you don’t get better. You do this already in your training. Every time you run through an ippon kumite or do a kata or execute a throw. You are training your proprioception and honing the skill of how and where you are moving your body. You refine and enhance this skill by shrinking the target, repeating the drills and adjusting your technique to maximize your outcome.

Making a connection with your attacker will allow you to better anticipate their intent. This can be a physical or non-physical connection. An example of a non-physical connection would be like in the movies when you see two samurai lock eyes before a battle and make a connection. Soft eyes (watching the bigger picture through peripheral vision) and not anticipating are key. With a physical connection, like during randori, you can use the physical contact to help predict your opponent’s next move. Practice is key to getting better at this. Short or tall, big or small, use what you are to your advantage. There are gifts in every circumstance. A taller, longer limbed person could have a range advantage by practicing finding accurate targets at a distance. Someone who’s shorter can identify targets and practice finding them inside a long ranged person’s optimum zone, thus nullifying their reach advantage.

On the flip side of this idea is the ability to evade a blow or move out of range. This can be more important in an altercation. Just because you have a good shot at someone while they swing a baseball bat at your head, doesn’t mean it’s the right time to strike. Being able to get in and out of rage of a bat is a better indicator of your ability to survive that altercation.

Any of the three ideas listed above that can be used to attack a target, can also be used to defend against one. Practice evading and moving in and out of range of someone trying to hit you. If your attacker doesn’t have a connection with you, they won’t be able to anticipate your movements as well. Don’t get grabbed. If someone attempts to move into their optimum range, evade.

Choosing your distance is sometimes a judgment call. If your opponent is in your optimum range and not theirs, it may be the right time to go on the offense and be ok taking a strike while you’re at the advantage. If your opponent swings a hammer at your head that is not a good time to start trading blows. That would be a good time to evade.

Being mindful of your surrounding can have meaningful consequences during an altercation. Being aware of an attacker’s friends, weapons, or surrounding critical structures can completely reverse the outcome of the altercation. At the peak of an altercation it’s challenging to be aware of everything going on around you. One effect of an adrenaline dump is tunnel vision. If you are aware that you may be in an altercation, look around, be perceptive and take advantage of your surroundings; don’t let your surroundings take advantage of you.

The usefulness of being mindful of the space around you has practical applications outside of an altercation as well; not hitting someone in your car, being able to carry drinks in a crowded room, avoiding accidental projectiles to name a few. The awareness of your space and theirs is important to train and take advantage of. Your techniques may be excellent, but if they don’t reach the target they are useless. Make sure that you are being mindful of where you are. Utilize Maai as a tool in your martial tool bag to help you reach successful outcomes.




Journal Issue # 84 – Winter 2017

Shoshin Ryu offers its instructors the unique opportunity to improve their teaching and their skills by spending a weekend with the Senior Most Student (SMS). The program encourages instructors find time every other year and train with Combo Sensei (our SMS); working on teaching skills and better understanding the Art of Shoshin Ryu. It is another way Shoshin Ryu gives back to its instructors and raises the level of its practitioners (by helping its instructors teach better). We spent time on refinement of technique, tips on teaching better, and lessons on how to apply our Kokoro (heart) Series on and off the mat. While other systems have teacher’s classes where they charge $1500 for a weekend in class with 20 others; when you visit SMS – Shoshin Ryu and Combo Sensei pick up the tab, and it is just you and perhaps one other person getting personalized instruction. Peterson Sensei and I were fortunate enough to participate in the Visiting Sensei Program the weekend of 1 October 2016. We trained all day Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at the Minnesota dojo and were given some amazing tips that perhaps you can benefit from. While the bulk of your training should be at your local dojo along with personal practice outside of class, creating the habit of training a little each day and attending class multiple times a week is the best method towards becoming better at Shoshin Ryu. There are also many benefits in attending events such as Nationals (our summer conference), seminars at our permanent dojo in AZ, or weekend Gasshuku (intensive trainings). When you immerse yourself in training for a whole day or a whole weekend, you make big leaps forward in terms of your understanding and execution of techniques. This was one such event.


Friday morning, we worked on refining our Kihon (basics) by working up a Mudansha and Yudansha version of blocks and punches. Tips given were to keep the head looking forward, use rotational energy with the whole body, and keep the knees in line with our feet. I quickly became aware that I had to improve my stances and full body mechanics to avoid twisting my knee to the inside and outside of my feet. Keeping your knees in line with your feet offers better balance and reduces risk of injury. We reviewed the key details within our kicks such as simplifying our motion, hitting with the correct part of the foot, and structural alignment for increased impact upon delivery. Combo Sensei told us he is a ‘greedy’ Sensei. He said that means even if our technique is good, he is going to find many things we can still improve on. Have you ever done a Kata thinking, “Oh yeah, that was a good one!” only to hear your Sensei find at least two things you need to improve on? Greedy Sensei. When you get lots of corrections, don’t get frustrated, get excited. When amateur sports players get corrections, they tend to get defensive and start making up excuses for why they didn’t do well. When professional sports players get corrections, they get really excited. They are hungry to learn and eager for new tips on how to get just a little bit better. Professionals are constantly asking their teachers/coaches for more and more refinement. What kind of person are you at the dojo? Do you get upset when Sensei gives you corrections or do you get excited? Do you take those corrections home and work on them so many times to where you know it as well as your own name. That’s when you truly own it and can execute it without thinking. Sensei’s job is to give you corrections and suggestions, your job is to practice it 1,000s of times until you own it. The amateur trains until the get it right once. The professional trains until he can’t get it wrong.


Saturday morning Peterson Sensei and I were given the opportunity to teach Combo’s Saturday class of about 25 students for 30 minutes each. Later that night, Combo Sensei gave me feedback on how I taught the class. Some tips I learned that those of us who are teachers/instructors can apply towards teaching better are:

• Safety is number one.

• Break the technique down into steps. Teach step 1, then step 2. Repeat steps 1 and 2. Teach step 3. Repeat steps 1, 2, and 3.

• Carry a theme from the Kokoro series throughout the lesson.

• Give the correction that makes the biggest impact.

• You are speaking to the whole room when you teach.

• Understand the biomechanics behind the technique.

• Every student is important – find ways to connect.


Sunday we practiced knife defense by baiting Uke to block a strike and stripping the blade off of Uke’s body. One of the strips led to an arm drag, which needed refinement, so we spent time working up our arm drags as a solo drill. After lots of practice, we finally started to get an arm drag that spun Uke right around without us having to take a step. Then we dropped Uke to the floor with a simple head tilt and back bend. What do you do when you encounter a difficult technique? Do you just move on and hope to learn it someday or do you work on it before and after class? Do you ask Sensei for suggestions? Maybe there is a finger of the Shoshin Ryu fist that is weak for you. Is it Kata (forms), Atemi (striking), Nage (throws), Ne Waza (ground fighting), or Buki (weapons)? Why don’t you make a decision right now to put extra time and practice into making that your new strongest portion of the curriculum? It’s your Art. It’s your decision to drill and refine areas that need improvement.


One big principle we discussed all weekend was stacking more odds in your favor. The better you apply the below tips, the higher your chances of succeeding in Self Defense.

• Basics are the foundation of your art. Constantly practice and refine your basics.

• Relax more to remove unnecessary tension, thus increasing your speed.

• Keep your weapons facing Uke and make sure Uke’s weapons are offline. (i.e. weapons can be hands, elbows, knees, feet)

• Become more efficient by removing unnecessary steps or combining steps.

• Use soft eyes to see the entire room.

• Put intent into each movement.

• Stay balanced on all edges of your feet.

• Disrupt Uke’s center/mind from first contact.

• Every time you move is an opportunity to hit or further control Uke.

• Don’t fight Uke at the point of force, but rather pivot around that point with rotational energy.


Over the weekend, we drilled the Nidan version of Ippon Kumites (Renraku Waza) by interactively playing with natural responses that Uke presented. The technique is supposed to end with a choke, but what do you do when Uke blocks your choke? We came up with three responses to Uke blocking the choke. Do you listen to Uke? If Uke grabs your wrist, he or she is telling you to apply a wristlock. If Uke’s hands are low, he or she is telling you to hit high. If Uke is charging forward towards you, he or she is telling you to redirect their energy into a wall or another person. If Uke is off balance, he or she is telling you to execute a throw or foot sweep. Listening to Uke is applying the “Ju” in Jujutsu. “Ju” in Japanese means being gentle, flexible, and pliable. There is no need to spend a lot of energy resisting Uke’s natural reaction; use Uke’s reaction to your advantage. If Uke wants to force his or her way out  of an arm bar, be flexible in your technique and flow into something else such as a wristlock or foot sweep. Effective Jujutsu practitioners listen to Uke.


I ended my weekend demonstrating a Kata to Combo Sensei and getting reminded of all of the lessons he shared with me over the past two days. It was amazing how I had to hear the same lessons over and over again. When your Sensei tells you the same correction repeatedly, don’t get frustrated, be thankful he/she cares enough to keep helping you. Part of the natural learning process is spaced repetition: learning/ refining the same thing over and over again. If you want to learn faster, try writing down the corrections that Sensei gives you. Make a mental note of things you need to work on and start self-correcting yourself as you train. It may be difficult to apply five corrections at once. Instead, focus your efforts on the biggest correction first. As you train, become self-aware of when you are applying the correction and when you are not. Have a classmate video some of your movements and look to see if that correction has been fixed or still needs more work. You can accelerate your learning by studying your technique as if you were looking through Sensei’s eyes. What can you improve? What were the corrections Sensei asked you to work on? Never settle for good enough. Always strive to become a little better each day. I took a great deal away from my weekend of training with Combo Sensei. Taking advantage of opportunities to train like the “Visiting Sensei Program” are important in evolving one’s Art. In fact it seems sort of crazy not to take advantage of a program that is willing to help cover costs of a trip that focuses just on me getting better in all areas of my training. I hope my experience can help you a bit, even if you walk away with just one lesson that you can use – it was worth it.

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