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Thread: Adapting Koryu

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    Default Adapting Koryu

    In the Free Practice in Koryu thread Pg Smith asked a pertinent question that I would personally like to explore further.

    Quote Originally Posted by pgsmith View Post

    While it is entirely possible to transfer that training to modern weaponry and tactics, I don't think that you could then still call the resultant training koryu.
    Can you adapt koryu? Make "gen-ryu?" or "ima-ryu" or gendai bujutsu while staying true to its principles and essence as a ryu?

    I cut my teeth in koryu with Ellis Amdur, who has written and taught extensively on this, so I am predisposed to believe that this is the case.

    I also think that historically this is exactly what happened: ryu were created by men who trained in one or more traditions, integrated their training and experience, and then started their own ryu, and the process just kept going.

    Many kept their old teachings but added new ones in new sections of the curriculum to deal with new realities.

    Today, you see headmasters re-defining, revivifying, changing and altering kata as their understanding changes or grows with their own practice.

    Does ko-ryu necessarily mean "no more changing, adapting, progressing, or entertaining new applications for timeless principles?"

    Is it the actual weapon type(s) that makes it ko-ryu?

    Can you faithfully, and with integrity, still call something XYZ ryu if you change that weapon to a modern one?

    For example: say I practice a jujutsu ryu: specializing in a short blade - say some 12 inches long.

    But being interested in adapting it to modern application, I use a modern combat knife, and I do it wearing modern military kit, and I not only do my "old" kata but I work variations of those forms and principles in things I might likely encounter.

    Am I still "doing" that ryu? Or do I have to be doing it in a hakama, with period weapons or facsimile, and in period situations?

    Or is what I am doing based on that ryu but must be called something else? How much of the latter can I do before I have moved on from the ryu and started doing something else?

    What if I do it wearing street clothes and with my Emerson CQC-7 tactical folder? Ryu or not the ryu?

    How far can I diverge from the actual techniques in the kata, while still maintaining the principles, and still be doing the ryu?

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    Beer That's not Koryu!

    Hey Chris - we cross-posted. I'll move my post here, as we overlap so much.

    Originally Posted by pgsmith
    While it is entirely possible to transfer that training to modern weaponry and tactics, I don't think that you could then still call the resultant training koryu.
    I emphatically disagree with that statement (sort of). It is certainly true that most koryu - define themselves that way. But not necessarily so.
    The tension of koryu-budo (the bujutsu/budo dichotomy is, in fact, a non-issue in Japan - only in Europe and America, thanks to Donn Draeger's over-compartmentalizing) - (koryu should mean "something with old roots that is a current into the present") is that one maintains that <old> practice, with <old>weapons and possibly brings it into the present as well, with some contemporary practices. I am not suggesting that one make, for example, an "Araki-ryu gunfighting system." There already are fully complete gunfighting training systems, so that would be silly. (However, it is conceivable that one's Araki-ryu practice could contribute to one's practice with firearms, and firearm practice could - no, DOES contribute to Araki-ryu.

    Beyond that, there is absolutely nothing within various ryuha ethics that precludes further research into its OWN parameters into modern times. For example, my Araki-ryu group in Greece trains in a BJJ school three times a week before their own practice. Within Araki-ryu practice, they train archaic torite and kogusoku kata, and then they BREAK the kata into randori - freestyle grappling with weapons, and every time they do so, it is different. They do not plan their waza, like they do in kata - but sometimes kata waza spontaneously emerge. So to others they learned in BJJ - some of which work, taking the blade(s) into account, and some would get them killed (that info is filed away). What they learn within BJJ -and also in their once a week open-mat, where they experiment against people from other disciplines in controlled freestyle as well - makes their koryu living.
    They are not ready to do so yet, but in my young days in Japan, I did the same with bokken (both within dojo and against men from other ryu).
    I've been working with a cane and a short stick and a flashlight - Araki-ryu parameters all the way. Some years ago, I was asked to participate in the development of using improvised weapons in the cabin of airplanes, and found several Araki-ryu techniques were "one-size, fits all" for whatever the flight attendant could hold in his or her hand. (the legal division of the airline decided the techniques were too violent).
    Many years ago, I presented at a large martial art demo - other ryu-ha were there, and we did a very dynamic set of Araki-ryu kata - semi-live (breaking the kata right there, with sparring rhythms and steps. An outraged person in the audience blurted out, "that's not koryu." Chuck Clark, who's been around forever both in budo and on the battlefield, turned around and said, "no, it's just that's the first time you really saw koryu."
    Anyway, come to think of it, I personally do not CARE if what I do is called koryu. That's a generic term, and ryuha are NOT generic. So, whether it's koryu is irrelevant. It's Araki-ryu. (I know I flipped on you from the beginning of this post - but not really . . .).
    Best
    Ellis Amdur

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    Ellis

    Thanks for the response.

    I'd love to hear your current thinking on an aspect of this that I think is very relevant to this approach:

    Legitimacy:

    I believe that what has been called "the whole legitimacy thing" is somewhat important. In order to investigate an operating system that stems from a particular tradition and its approach, it is important to know that what is being transmitted is an authentic teaching. I do think that it is knowledge that gets transmitted, not skill. But with that knowledge, the kernels of truth that are deep within the ryu's DNA, as you might say, are testable and knowable, and it is not something that was devised from whole cloth out of an attempt to be "like" a koryu.

    That is, built on a solid foundation versus one made of sand.

    Fakery is getting to the point that it is highly polished these days. I am of the belief that the lessons that a genuine tradition may hold in its principles and strategies - descended from a professional, armed, warrior class - will be of a different order, if perhaps more subtle and less obvious, than you can get from a Fox in Tiger's Clothes such as a "faux-ryu" might be.

    So in order to be adapting or embodying a ryu's principles in modern times it should first be based in a legitimate transmission of the ryu. That assumes a connection somewhere with Japan, through a teacher, etc.

    This I do not question.


    Experience in Japan:


    What is a question is whether experience in the modern,very safe, Japanese culture is a necessary component to understand the ways of a ryuha that was borne and bred in a very different society.

    Linguistically - as far as reading documents, understanding terminology etc. I get it, that of course makes perfect sense. One would necessarily need a background in Chinese, Japanese and maybe even Sanskrit studies, Shingon, Taoist and Zen terminology and ideas of mental concepts, etc.

    But is, for instance, enculturation (if that's a word...) in what has been said is actually a modern "soke" system really the equivalent to how these arts were practiced traditionally? I know its not so with Araki ryu, but others?

    Granted that is what many have become....but is that reflective of the "then" versus the "now?"

    Is that just the way it is, and in order to get to the Good Stuff you have to go through that process despite how removed it may be?

    This is not an attempt to "get around" what I believe many think is an absolute requirement to understand koryu - lots of time in Japan within the Japanese cultural milieu.

    Is that not a requirement to understand how koryu is conducted as a modern Japanese approach to its classical warrior tradition...not necessarily how its warrior tradition was actually conducted in its own time?

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    What is a question is whether experience in the modern,very safe, Japanese culture is a necessary component to understand the ways of a ryuha that was borne and bred in a very different society.
    Two parts to the question: I managed to find the unsafe Japan, and I had a teacher who, as Meik Skoss put it, ". . .a man who must surely be one of the most interesting and unique people teaching and training nowadays--as close to a modern bushi as I've ever met or seen." It is probably fair to think of him as simultaneously with one-foot in early Meiji and one in modern times (and if it's possible, sometimes stepping back into Sengoku times). This flickering back-and-forth is what one could expect with an "authentic" koryu practitioner - similar to Kunii Zen'ya, Uchida Ryohei and Toyama Mitsuru of earlier times. So that, personally, is part of the DNA i inherited, and try to pass on.

    However, the dislocation of Japanese culture and trying to understand it's rules may be a vital component. As a teacher, I've made some pretty florid mistakes - usually assuming that something was obvious, but my students simply have no idea. My mistake in each case was to try to convey information in a Japanese manner. These days, when someone does something wrong, I clearly explain it - but then expect it will never come up again. But I'm explicit.

    The larger question of enculturation is huge. I think the question is if the ryu actually has its own culture, or if they ARE just koryu. The latter, far more common these days, would have only minimal interest to one like yourself. They are the equivalent of a museum that preserved some interesting stuffed animals. What they have is better than nothing, if the animals in question are extinct - we can learn <something> from them, but not the living beast. I can think of several ryu, and more particularly, several people, whom I would study from, to this day. I can think of far more - most - that I wouldn't study with - ever.

    This is not an attempt to "get around" what I believe many think is an absolute requirement to understand koryu - lots of time in Japan within the Japanese cultural milieu. Is that not a requirement to understand how koryu is conducted as a modern Japanese approach to its classical warrior tradition...not necessarily how its warrior tradition was actually conducted in its own time?
    There is no doubt that we go to learn the modern Japanese approach, not the original - but that's not all, if the lineage is alive. I have a sense of - not communicating with Araki Muninsai - but rather, embodying him, and each of his successors, like a multi-leveled overlay. Each generation distorts/overlays/improves the original - but with the intact ryu, we can still get a sense of the founder. To some degree, I know internally what it felt like to be him.

    So what happens next, so to speak? The enculturation is person to person, in large part, not based on living in the country One of my Greek Toda-ha Buko-ryu students moved to Japan, started training in the Japanese dojo - and I hear good things about him from the shihan there. He may still be learning aspects of Japanese culture or language, but he got Toda-ha Buko-ryu culture - and the language there is how well you cut and thrust with the weapon within the ryu's parameters.

    I've never been big on the LARP aspect of koryu training (which is huge). I refused to buy a kimono, dressing at embu in just my practice uniform. I think it is conceivable that I may have a successor or two who never go to Japan. They may learn Araki-ryu culture without being versed in Japanese culture. I would expect that over some generations, it will change, but as long as they keep the basic operating system, they are doing Araki-ryu or Toda-ha Buko-ryu.
    Best
    Ellis

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    Ellis

    Thanks - very good stuff to chew on.

    Perhaps it is destined to pretty much be an individual pursuit for people that want to go that far, rather than a group practice thing.

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    Thanks for starting a new thread Kit.

    I feel like I need to clarify my thoughts in making my original statement. It was made in response to one by Johan about modern combatants, LEOs, military, etc ... While I agree whole-heartedly with Ellis that the koryu should be living entities, they cannot remove themselves entirely from the past and still be considered koryu.

    Koryu, by their very definition, are based in the past. In order to still be koryu, they have to remain true to the weaponry and ideals of that past. If you were to utilize the teaching methods and ideals promulgated by your particular koryu, but purely in a modern format with modern weaponry, it could no longer be considered a koryu art as far as I can figure. While I can easily see how the methods and strategy of a koryu could be transferred to the utilization of modern weaponry, I feel that you would first have to learn the methods and strategy of the school through the traditional weaponry that they were created for. I don't see how it would be possible to transmit the essence of the school strictly using modern weaponry.

    Perhaps it is destined to pretty much be an individual pursuit for people that want to go that far, rather than a group practice thing.
    I think that's exactly true, and why the koryu are still as small as they are. There just aren't that many people willing to put in the effort required to learn it properly.

    Those are my thoughts on it, for what they're worth. I readily acknowledge that I don't have nearly the koryu experience that Ellis does, nor the writing skills that both of you have shown to clearly share my thoughts and ideas, so I hope I haven't muddled them too badly.
    Paul Smith
    "Always keep the sharp side and the pointy end between you and your opponent"

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    Paul - you are right, and/but:

    1. By definition, a koryu has to have originated before the Meiji period - that's all.
    2. Essentially speaking, I agree with you.
    3. But - let's say I have some students who do modern military combatives and I teach them Araki-ryu or Toda-ha Buko-ryu from alpha to omega. They learn it all and understand it as well or better than I do. And then, they say, "we aren't going to use archaic weapons any more. We are going to use a modern knife, a trenching tool and fire arms, and we see a way to do all of that with x-ryu in every fiber of our actions. If they did that before receiving menkyo, I'd tell them to change the name. If they'd received menkyo, they would have full rights to call what they did Araki-ryu or Toda-ha Buko-ryu, if they so chose. By definition, whether one aesthetically likes it or not, they are continuing that particular ryu.

    Ellis Amdur

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    Paul - thanks for jumping back in, the contrast in perspectives is valuable.

    But it calls to mind some things - IF that is true, WHY was there any idea at all that LE and military were more suited as koryu students in terms of Draeger's writing, or was that another Draeger overstatement, for lack of a better word.

    Clearly that idea did not continue from the bulk of koryu students today.

    And how does it remain "living" in the sense of preserving what it was (which was actually present-focussed) versus having become something different? Or is that living defined by the change from a combative and ethics discipline to a primarily historical and cultural one?

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    Ellis,
    I see your point, but I don't have to like it! But by the same token, would it be possible for these students to be able to pass on the essence of Araki ryu or Toda-ha Buko ryu without the use of the archaic weapons that the training was developed around? Wouldn't that involve having to create totally new kata using modern weaponry and abandoning the old kata and the archaic weaponry?

    Kit,
    I agree with Mr. Draeger that those martially involved for a living make better koryu students because they don't have to imagine or simulate the stress of armed confrontation, as those not so involved would have to. As to keeping the koryu as 'living' entities, I believe that has to do more with how they are taught, rather than anything inherent in the koryu themselves. As I understand it, it is possible to use the underlying ideas and movements of the school no matter what the weapon in your hand is. As weapons change, additional movements and ideas may need to be added periodically. Those koryu (and I've encountered some) that are rote repetition of what was taught are merely museum pieces now. The underlying movement and methods have been lost, or insufficiently learned to be passed on, and they are now simply a preservation of what was originally conceived. While there is some value in that, I don't consider those 'living' koryu.
    Paul Smith
    "Always keep the sharp side and the pointy end between you and your opponent"

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    Paul, you crack me up.

    You write to me:
    I see your point, but I don't have to like it!
    And then to Kit
    As to keeping the koryu as 'living' entities, I believe that has to do more with how they are taught, rather than anything inherent in the koryu themselves. As I understand it, it is possible to use the underlying ideas and movements of the school no matter what the weapon in your hand is. As weapons change, additional movements and ideas may need to be added periodically.
    And you ask me:
    But by the same token, would it be possible for these students to be able to pass on the essence of Araki ryu or Toda-ha Buko ryu without the use of the archaic weapons that the training was developed around? Wouldn't that involve having to create totally new kata using modern weaponry and abandoning the old kata and the archaic weaponry?
    So here's the answer:
    It depends on the ryu. It'd be a lot harder with Toda-ha Buko-ryu, to say the least. BUT still possible. AND - I see kata as simply "pattern practice." Maybe a certain modern weapon wouldn't require the kind of pattern practice we refer to as kata, anyway. These days, in Araki-ryu grappling, I have my guys do the torite kata one or two times (that's the general pattern) and then breaking the kata, do freestyle - still with ryu parameters. We do something similar with sword, actually - a "semi-freestyle, in which you start in one kata, and then you have three or four options, any one of which the other person has to be able to respond.

    Could one do that with gun retention, for example? I couldn't - because I don't have the knowledge of firearms. But let's say Kit got back in the ryu, for example. Once he learned the ryu parameters on a bone-marrow level, could he? Of course.

    Now, to be quite clear - I WANT to retain the archaic weapons, for a myriad of reasons. But that doesn't mean that one cannot a) add new training methods b) drop or add whole areas. See, here's the thing. If one is a warfighter, then one wants to do the very best one can, in training, for survival of self and team. If that is not a question - even philosophically - then you hear, "well, the people 600 years ago went to war, and I never fought with a nagamaki, so I won't change anything in this kata, because what can I possibly know?" As if, in that 600 year period, there are no changes.

    Take TSKSR, that oh-so-unchanged and classical school. I can see discernible differences between Otake, father and son. Sugino and Otake did things differently, and in some ways, Otake's teacher, Hayashi, looks more like Sugino than he does like Otake. So multiply that through centuries. Maybe an occasional reboot is necessary. I've observed koryu, in person, for almost 40 years (quite aside from the ryu I've trained in) and I can see significant changes in other ryu, from the last generation to this.

    Final point - maybe that reboot is necessary on a spiritual level. Rather than the smug - we, unlike you, do something <<<old>>>, and therefore we are special, or our ryu was tested in combat 570 years ago and so we are for real - maybe a question, from top to bottom, is in order, if only to keep oneself as honest as possible.

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    Very interesting back and forth, gentlemen.

    Ellis, FWIW most firearms practice is basically ONLY kata training - or kata and target shooting. Most firearms competition is actually kata competition, much in the same way tameshigiri competitions are judged and conducted, except with a time competitive element added.

    One of the problems, in fact, with how firearms training is conducted is this fact, but that is a complicated discussion.

    It does not lessen how critical kata is - patterning is exactly the right word -to ingrained firearms handling, especially as the stress goes up.

    But handling a weapon well and handling a weapon well while in a combative situation while simultaneously having to make tactical decisions, deal with an opponents actions, and manage uncertainty are of another order altogether.

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    A thought:

    How much of this might be conditioned by the view of the ryu you do? (say that five times fast...)

    A kogusoku system may naturally have more of a modern application simply because it involved parameters that still happen in the modern day.

    Less so a sword or naginata system, as that kind of combat just doesn't happen. There is more of a remove because the things that are applicable in the latter are more in terms of principle and strategy. Teaching modern soldiers or SWAT cops naginata forms is along the lines of that mismatch I noted previously, at least for men running M-4s rather than contact weapons.

    The former may stay more connected to the essence of practical application, and therefore more amenable to it, the latter may tend more toward historical preservation?

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    Chris - I definitely agree with that. Couple that with the fact that group tactics in even police academy training is superior to that in almost any koryu, the link would be pretty tenuous

    What I mean is that in the police academy, let's say you have two trainees practicing keeping their firearms both aimed at a potential aggressor while seeking cover and moving around. They are communicating with each other as to position, as to cover, as to any incoming individuals, and ensuring that they aren't standing in front of the other's weapon. There's nothing like that kind of practice in koryu, which trains almost exclusively in individualized combat - in other words, most koryu trains for duels rather than combat.

    It is fair to say (and I know both military and police who would agree) that as individuals, they have benefited from koryu training in naginata, sword, or the like - but the benefits are, for the most part, mindset.

    One can take an extreme position and assert, correctly, that a ryu, by definition, can innovate as they will, realistically speaking, I think you are correct. Those already practicing methodology that are analogous to combative requirements today (kogosoku or tantojutsu, for example) can (and should, I think) innovate, at least in training methodology. But it would be pretty silly for Morishige-ryu hojutsu to be shifting to, for example, the M2HB 12.7mm (.50 caliber) machine-gun, with a recent upgrade to the M2A1 standard.

    So there is an interesting tension with innovation in koryu bujutsu, from the obvious to the edgy to the absurd.
    1. Obvious - in Toda-ha Buko-ryu, there was a particular thrust with the ishizuki of the weapon. It was done in such a way that one could, if incautious, slide the blade right through one's hands. In discussions with Nitta sensei, we agreed that "incautious" is exactly what one would be in combat, and the way we were doing things compromised practice as well - (we were mannered rather than all out, to avoid cutting our hands). We made a simple adjustment in the grip - just as powerful, spacing the same, and no risk of (hypothetical) injury.
    2. Edgy - My instructor in the "last" generation, and I in this generation, have, as I've already written, changed training methods in Araki-ryu, bringing back randori type training, and also breaking apart and reworking kata, so that they are, unquestionably more powerful.
    3. Silly - Reinventing the wheel (adding information that can already be accessed elsewhere - why work on an absolutely "unarmed" style of grappling, when there is already judo, BJJ, wrestling and the like?) or adding weapons with no cultural link (Persian shamshir techniques for Kashima Shinto-ryu).
    4. Worthwhile - taking something like gun retention - a simple cross-training study to ascertain if there is anything within a classical ryu's methods of kogusoku that would be worthwhile for a modern individual, information that was not otherwise available.

    In sum, the tension is to maintain the old ("ko") while also maintaining the flow/connection (ryu) to this world we live. One can fail through maintaining a "living" museum piece, and one can fail by de-blooding the ryu through empty innovation, ahistorical or culturally heterodox amalgamation. One could add jazz to a Mozart sonata - but it would be trivial, and probably ugly. But some of the best jazz pianists were classically trained.

    best
    Ellis Amdur

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    Kit,

    It's funny you mentioned teaching naginata to cops. One of my Daito-ryu sempai also studies naginata. He told me years ago that he found the naginata training more useful for police work than Daito-ryu because of the maai it teaches (I think this was along the line of the "why women should study koryu weapons" article Mrs. Skoss wrote a number of years back). I am assuming this has to do with keeping suspects at a better distance so you never have to get hands on with them in a fist fight. This goes into some of the tactics vs. survival conversations we've had though. In a perfect world good tactics should be all you need but the world ain't perfect and cops get ambushed all the time. I wish I would have questioned him further on the topic. I should look him up and try to get more information from him. I think this also depends on what sort of cop you are and what you do too. A guy on patrol I think needs to keep a greater maai than someone like me who has more of a CO type job, has fewer tools and needs to do it in a shorter maai.
    Christopher Covington

    Daito-ryu aikijujutsu
    Kashima Shinden Jikishinkage-ryu heiho

    All views expressed here are my own and don't necessarily represent the views of the arts I practice, the teachers and people I train with or any dojo I train in.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Kendoguy9 View Post
    Kit,

    It's funny you mentioned teaching naginata to cops. One of my Daito-ryu sempai also studies naginata. He told me years ago that he found the naginata training more useful for police work than Daito-ryu because of the maai it teaches ...

    ...I am assuming this has to do with keeping suspects at a better distance so you never have to get hands on with them in a fist fight. This goes into some of the tactics vs. survival conversations we've had though. In a perfect world good tactics should be all you need but the world ain't perfect and cops get ambushed all the time. I wish I would have questioned him further on the topic. I should look him up and try to get more information from him. I think this also depends on what sort of cop you are and what you do too. A guy on patrol I think needs to keep a greater maai than someone like me who has more of a CO type job, has fewer tools and needs to do it in a shorter maai.
    I remember, and I would want to ask him what exactly he meant by that.

    I think that a (naginata) maai is probably common in the kinds of situations where you have a prior warning of a higher threat. Which is actually most of them. In that case, it would be more useful.

    The difference is at that range, if you can control the range (and many times you can when you call out a relatively cooperative guy who is obeying commands or at least not actively engaging you), your better option is projectile weapons, not contact weapons: lethal, less lethal (taser and/or munitions) and those in combination (this is where Ellis makes a really good point about team tactics and communication). This is of course the PREFERABLE thing to do in most tactical/higher threat situations. So I am good there...


    However cops SHOULD NOT BE FIST FIGHTING WITH SUSPECTS. If you are there, things have gone wrong and it prolongs an encounter to try to keep distance rather than breaking distance and escalating to a weapon or closing and putting a suspect down rapidly (or closing and accessing a weapon while tying him up, but that is more advanced skill that most cops frankly do not have).

    Striking has a place in both those things, but in the same sense that it has in jujutsu/kogusoku: it is a distraction and a force multiplier, not a pugilistic fight.

    If the distraction finishes it, great!


    Since less lethal weapons are often not effective with highly motivated subjects, and Tasers have some real problems just with the way the weapon works (we have a pretty high failure rate), at that distance, you really don't have much time to operate if the suspect is not affected by the LL and closes the distance.

    Regardless, no matter HOW you deal with a suspect you will eventually have to go hands on. This is where a lot of sudden attacks and weapon grab attempts occur. In this case those with base grappling abilities are far better prepared than those without.

    With most lethal encounters occurring inside that naginata range, I would rather spend more of my time working there. It is far less frequent, but far more dangerous when you end up there. Likewise with ground: the officer being in a bad spot on the ground is rare (only once in my career), but it is exponentially so much more dangerous that I think spending more time on it is vital.

    Having the increased confidence at the close range bleeds over into the ideal ranges that something like a naginata range would offer, or further out if you can control your approach and contain his movement.

    Goes way beyond the koryu discussion, I know.

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