Acrobatics

Acrobatics skills are an integral part of the kurai kotori ryu. The overall purpose of such training is to attain a strong sense of spatial awareness and balance .

Karuwaza - Acrobatic Technique
the karuwazashi (acrobat) must learn to use every bit of knowledge about the arts of gaining a more dextrous body. Only by gathering all the information possible and constantly reviewing it can the warrior increase their knowledge of the body and how to improve its strengths while minimising its weaknesses.
The reason the kurai kotori warrior strives for the ability to manoeuvre their body on such an extreme level is because of their desire to attain a type of esoteric (physical) enlightenment. If the warrior can attain such excellence, they would have very few limitations to hinder them while travelling the path to esoteric (spiritual) enlightenment. Only by studying the "three stages of acrobatic understanding" can the warrior hope to be fully effective while employing karuwaza.


The First Stage


The five major areas of the body
the first area of knowledge that the warrior should be familiar with is that of the body and how it works. In the kurai kotori ryu there are five specific areas that are the subject of study.

Hips
the first of the five areas, and by far the most important is the hip area because it houses the "seika no itten," or "vital point," located about two inches below the naval and three inches inward. The seika no itten should be viewed as the warrior's personal centre, and this centre serves as the basis for all body movement. The reason the hips are of such importance is that, depending upon which direction the seika no itten is thrust, determines what type of acrobatic technique can be employed. The hips directional thrust is the most prominent factor in all of the warrior's acrobatic skills, because if the hips are thrown off centre, the technique will be thrown off centre For example; if a warrior is going to execute a back handspring, they would want to thrust their hips straight back while using their legs to push them off the ground as they arch their back and throw their hands to the rear, resulting in their hands touching the ground as their legs travel over the body and back to the earth. This would be the proper way to execute a back handspring because the hips are kept at the precise level to insure a well balanced recovery. A bad recovery would be the result if the hips were thrust either too far up or too far down. For instance; if the hips are thrust up and to the rear, the warrior would gain too much height, and in doing so, their hands would hit the ground too late and they would recover bent over as if they were touching their toes. If the warrior were to thrust their hips too far down and to the rear, their hands would not have ample time to support their bodies weight, and they would in turn collapse, forcing their head into the ground. So in effect the hips must be thrust in the proper direction in order to accommodate each specific technique. Besides the hips there are four other areas of the body that are important in karuwaza are the arms , legs , head and eyes . These areas are the ones that help the acrobat navigate what direction a manoeuvre will take them.

Arms
the arms are used as a means of throwing the warrior into whatever acrobatic manoeuvre that is being attempted. The warrior must learn to throw their arms in unison with whatever body dynamics are being employed. This is to say that if the arms are thrown out of sync with the rest of the body, the warrior will become unbalanced. The arms are also used as a means of support during some skills in which they are required to balance the body during springing techniques from hands to feet and feet to hands.

Legs
the ninja's legs are a primary tool in the execution of acrobatic technique. Without the legs the warrior would have no source of power in which to thrust their body into the air. Therefore the legs must be made strong, yet flexible at all times. The legs are also under extreme stress during landings, in which they are subject to not only the weight of the body, but also the momentum of the technique being used. In order to take the shock of landing without being injured, the warrior must learn to absorb the impact equally among their ankles, knees and hips. This can be seen when the warrior attempts a downward leap of ten feet or more. If upon landing, one of the three areas takes more shock than the others, there is a risk of injury to the joints and bones, as well as having an adverse effect on the respiratory system due to the fall.

Head
the warrior's head is the centre of equilibrium and it should reflect where their concentration is being focused. If the warrior does not concentrate on keeping their head straight, an unnecessary twist can occur that will alter the bodies balance. If this lack of concentration occurs it reflects an insecurity in ones ability. Often times, because of this insecurity, the head turns involuntarily during the application of technique. When this is done, the usual result is a minor twist in the manoeuvre being attempted. It should be noted that the head should never precede the arms during take off.

Eyes
the eyes serve as the guideline for each technique the warrior is about to undertake. The eyes should always survey the area about to be covered before the technique occurs. If the eyes wander, it is obvious that the warrior is not concerned with what type of terrain surrounds them, and is therefore risking failure due to the fact that they do not notice any predominant land features such as; holes, slopes and loose gravel.


The Second Stage


The dynamics of the acrobat
knowledge of body dynamics is a necessity if the warrior wishes to understand the techniques they employ. Each technique requires its own type of body dynamics, and the warrior must learn to manipulate their body to fit each manoeuvre There are four specific body dynamics that the warrior should be aware of.

Elevation
to gain height in one's technique, the warrior must first rid themselves of any fear they may have of leaving the ground. The first exercise that aids the warrior in learning to gain height is a dive roll. The student should start by diving over small obstacles into a tucked roll until they feel comfortable with both their take off and recovery. After proficiency is attained, the student should begin diving over larger and higher obstacles until they can dive at least six feet in distance and four feet in height.
The second exercise that is taught is that of gaining speed during technique, because the greater the speed, the higher the elevation. Speed can be attained a couple of different ways. The first of which is a fast forward run into a small leap before take off. The second is based on gaining speed through consecutive acrobatic techniques. The purpose of both these methods being to conjure enough power to thrust the body high into the air.
Unfortunately speed alone is not enough. The warrior must also learn to properly position their body in order to have a good take off. There are various methods of take off that can be used depending on what type of technique is being attempted and the type of recovery that will end the technique. However, one factor that is present no matter what type of take off is that of strength , specifically in the arms and legs. For example; if the warrior is executing a forward handspring, both hands should take equal weight in order to properly thrust the body back up into a standing position. It should also be noted that if one arm is used more than the other, the body may lose elevation because the limbs are not being used correctly. Only if the arms are used equally, along with proper body positioning, will the bodies elevation be at its maximum level of efficiency. Remember, elevation is determined by how high the hips are thrust into the air.

Rotation
rotation is a concept that is easily understood, but not easily learned. Rotation is a direct result of contracting the limbs close to the body to force it to turn. Depending on how tight the body is tucked determines how fast the rotation will be. If the body is tucked tight, the rotation will be fast. If the tuck is loose and open, the rotation will be slow. The amount of rotation needed for a technique is determined by what level the hips are thrust (elevation). For example; if the warrior is about to attempt a front flip they should thrust their hips up and forward to gain enough height to execute either a tight tuck or an open tuck. If enough height was gained, the warrior should be able to rotate and land in a standing position. If the hips are thrust forward only, no height will be gained, so a very tight tuck must be used in order to get the body back around to the feet. This is because there is less time to rotate due to the lack of elevation. It should be noted that if the tuck is tight and low, the warrior should recover in a crouched position because the body has no time in which to expand to a full standing position. Remember, the type of rotation needed is based on the bodies elevation.

Extension / expansion
the concept of expanding the body is directly related to the elevation and rotation of a technique. The warrior must know just when to expand the body during rotation. This can be one of the most difficult problems the warrior encounters during their acrobatic training. For example; if during a back flip, the body is extended to soon in the rotation, the body will land off balance to the front. And if the body extends to late during rotation, the recovery will fall off balance to the rear. To overcome this problem there is only one answer...repetition. The warrior must learn to instinctively know when their body should be expanded during rotation.
Only by learning to relate expansion to the bodies height and rotation can the warrior begin to understand when to remain contracted and when to expand. Expansion can be seen in the simple execution of a forward roll. If the body is extended while the back is still touching the ground, the warrior will not be able to return to their feet. So in order to gain proper extension, the warrior must keep their roll tucked tight and wait for their feet to touch the ground before proper extension can be executed and a standing position attained. Remember, expansion is the key to proper recovery.

Recovery
the recovery is the final outcome of an acrobatic technique. The recovery is based on what type of elevation, rotation and expansion methods are used.
There are four basic recovery positions used, each one with its own specific purpose. The first recovery technique is known as a "stand out," in which the warrior finishes in a standing position with their feet at shoulder width and their arms at their sides. The second recovery technique is a "walk out." When using the walk out technique, the warrior exits their acrobatic manoeuvre in a protective fighting posture. The third recovery technique is an "ankle out," in which the warrior ends up in a kneeling position. The fourth recovery technique is the "crouch out." When using this recovery, the warrior finishes in a low catlike posture.

The four as one
when the warrior puts all four dynamics into action at one time, they will begin to understand and appreciate each individual phase of acrobatic technique. By paying close attention to all four of the stages and putting them together, the warrior can create unlimited acrobatic feats.


The Third Stage


The passage of breath
the student of the kurai kotori ryu must learn to maximise the power behind their techniques to ensure success. This is accomplished through "karumijutsu," which is the little known art of "lightening the body." As depicted in an ancient Japanese chronicle, every living creature is predestined to have only a certain number of breath's available to them during the course of their lifetime. This is known as "naga-iki," which translates as "long breath, long life."

How to employ karumijutsu
begin in a kneeling posture and take a deep breath. Imagine the air travelling in a path along the back of your head down to the stomach (hara). Concentrate on expanding your stomach rather than your chest. Once the stomach is full, exhale the breath for a full fifteen seconds in a smooth rhythmic fashion. Don't rush it out. After practising this first exercise a few times, begin again, this time exhaling with the audible sound "ahh." While doing so, listen for any disturbance in the rhythm. If any fluctuation is heard it must be corrected before breath can flow freely. These exercises should continue until the warrior can exhale steadily for twenty to twenty five seconds. This breathing method is necessary because the body must be saturated with air if karumijutsu is going to work. The body must feel as though it is made of air. If such a state can be attained, the warrior will become light and graceful, which will minimise the stress put on the body during the application of acrobatics. To prepare for an acrobatic manoeuvre, the warrior should allow the breath to enter the body and fill the stomach to its full capacity at the same time as keeping a relaxed mind that is focused on the bodies centre As concentration commences, the warrior should feel as if their whole body revolves around their centre with the lower body being viewed as if it were dangling lightly below the centre, while the upper body is viewed as if it is floating softly above. Upon execution of technique, the bodies energy should expand out in all directions like the wind. This gives the warrior the ability to float through the air as if carried on a cloud of their own breath.
The result of improper breathing causes undue stress on the body that will in turn make the warrior unbalanced and encumbered by their own weight. This is because if the warrior holds their breath, they are restricting the vital flow of energy that must be released from the body. By doing this, the warrior must rely solely on strength to complete a manoeuvre, which in turn increases the risk of injury because the body takes the full force of impact during recovery. In essence, karumijutsu not only lightens the body to attain greater elevation, it also acts as the shock absorber during recovery.

The goal of the warrior acrobat
all who study karuwaza will acquire a heightened sense of awareness through their training, but not every warrior is meant to do all the same manoeuvres. The philosophy of the student must be to learn which acrobatic skills their own body is capable of, and in turn, practising them diligently. This is an important factor because acrobatics are used to increase the warrior's dexterity, not as a means of competing for some form of recognition. Some students just don't have the desire, or perhaps the ability, to become renowned acrobats. This is in no way a disgrace to the warrior. Everyone is gifted in different areas. Just become the best you can with what you can. This is the true secret to maximising your agility.

Breakfalls
1. Mae ukemi - front breakfall
  a) tobi mae ukemi - jumping front breakfall
  b) moguri mae ukemi - dive front breakfall
  c) hanten moguri mae ukemi - half turning dive front breakfall
  d) rasenkei moguri mae ukemi - diving spiral front breakfall
 
2. Koho ukemi - back breakfall
  a) tobi koho ukemi - jumping back breakfall
  b) moguri koho ukemi - dive back breakfall
 

c) rasenkei moguri koho ukemi - diving spiral back breakfall

   
3. Yoko ukemi - side breakfall
   
4. Kuki ukemi - air breakfall
  a) mae kuki ukemi - front air breakfall (to dorsal position)
  b) ushiro kuki ukemi - rear air breakfall (to ventral position)
 

 

Rolls
1. Mae kata kaiten - front shoulder roll
  a) jibutsu mae kata kaiten - front shoulder roll over an object
 
2. Yoko kaiten - side roll
  a) jibutsu yoko kaiten - side roll over an object
   
3. Koho kata kaiten - backward shoulder roll
  a) koho himitsu kata kaiten - backward stealth shoulder roll
  b) koho kakucho kaiten - backward extension roll
   
5. Moguri kata kaiten - dive shoulder roll
  a) hanten moguri kata kaiten - half turning dive shoulder roll
   
6. Tora kaiten - tiger roll

 

Leaps
1. Yoko tobi - sideways leap
  a) jibutsu yoko tobi - sideways leap over an object
   
2. Uwamuki tobi - upward leap
  a) jibutsu uwamuki tobi - upward leap onto an object
   
3. Shitamuki tobi - downward leap
  a) shitamuki tobi / kaiten - downward leap and roll
   
4. Kyori tobi - distance leap
  a) kyori tobi / kaiten - distance leap and roll
   
5. Hanten tobi - half turning leap
  a) jibutsu hanten tobi - half turning leap over an object


Handsprings
1. Mae tetobidasu - front handspring
  a) moguri mae tetobidasu - dive front handspring
   
2. Koho tetobidasu - back handspring
  a) hanten koho tetobidasu - half turning back handspring
   
3. Yoko tetobidasu - side handspring
  a) hanten yoko tetobidasu - half turning side handspring
  b) kaiten yoko tetobidasu - full twisting side handspring
   
4. Ashi tobidasu - springing to the feet


Air rolls
1. Mae kuki kaiten - forward air roll
  a) hanten mae kuki kaiten - half turning forward air roll
   
2. Koho kuki kaiten - backward air roll
   
3. Yoko kuki kaiten - side air roll