Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu Dojo, Victoria BC Canada

6. Retract

Retract, as in re-organize, re-align, respond. Retract, as in get your body moving on the new line of force and interacting with the kukan created from your previous action. Retract your strikes, your kicks, your tai ken, your shoves. Retract yourself, constantly; adjust.

Not retracting a strike (also known as dojo-itis) creates opportunities to explore the physical dynamics of two bodies interacting in time and space. Lack of retraction, that lazily lingering arm and open stance, makes available a vast array of kukan, and thereby creates opportunities to explore taijutsu – taijutsu that is technically on point, taijutsu in slow motion, taijutsu that’s pretty, taijutsu that thrives between experienced practitioners. Dojo-itis perpetuates because it is a useful learning practice. But taijutsu needs also to be practiced while everyone retracts.

In order to rely on your movement in a conflict situation, you must be able to respond at the speed of the altercation. Practicing retraction improves your real-time taijutsu by improving your ability to realign and retain your defensive structure. Improve your taijutsu by improving how, when and where to you retract.

Instead of thinking about retracting as pulling back and striking again, think about retracting as returning to a tactical position (a position that advantages your next set of possible movement). Instead of thinking about retracting as only associated with striking, think of retracting as realignment of your defensive structure and reorientation of your weaponry. Instead of thinking about retracting as finality, think about retracting as transition.

In the dojo we often have the luxury of having to keep in mind only a limited series of movements in order to practice techniques and develop our skills. In a defense situation we are required to perform an unknown amount of movements, rapidly, for an unknown period of time. Until we are have fled to safety (or are otherwise victorious), we must constantly assess and enact our next series of tactical options, including the next things we will break, attack, or utilize for victory. Retracting trains you and your training partners for unpredictable combat.

Retracting helps to create authentic learning opportunities adaptive to various levels of skill and pace. Yes, beginning students will benefit from a lack of a retraction some of the time and at first (much as any of us may benefit from a slow retraction while learning new movement). However, at some point, skills must be put to stress. Retract to train your endurance for the fight, retract to re-position yourself in the tactical space, retract to bait your opponent, retract to understand the dynamic exchanges of control and balance that occur in violent situations.

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