Kuzushi or breaking an opponent’s balance is probably one of the most important aspects of Ju Jitsu. We see its importance in almost every technique, whether it is a throw, lock or, strike. So why is Kuzushi so important? Why does it need to be used so much to make Ju Jitsu work?
Within many martial styles, there are stages within a technique that are broken down so a practitioner may better learn the principles within it. In Ju Jitsu these stages consist of Kuzushi (Balance), Tsukuri (Entering) and, Kake (Execution). Obviously entering properly is necessary otherwise, the technique cannot be performed.
However Kuzushi is necessary to ensure the technique can be executed. The principle of Ju or softness that underlines the art can show us why Kuzushi is necessary. By breaking an opponent’s balance and therefore their ability to generate power, they will find it difficult to resist you.
As animals we are in constant contact with the floor. In order for us to walk, run or throw a punch, we have to be able to generate pressure and torque through our feet and into the ground. This pressure comes from lowering our centre of gravity and aligning our bodies in a particular way. If your hips move forwards and past your toes, then you will fall over if you do not step.
By removing an attacker’s ability to support their centre of gravity and thus generate power, a person of weaker stature can throw or lock a much larger person. Using simple leverage, un-balancing an opponent can be done with minimal effort. This idea of taking the centre of gravity to a point where it is unsupported is at the heart of Kuzushi.
Kuzushi: Why not strength?
Surely many of these throws and locks can be done without having to take balance? Yes they can but, what makes them so devastating and effortless is the manipulation of balance. I’m six foot three and pretty well built for my size. I could probably throw most average people without worrying about balance.
But if I come across someone larger, and heavier than I am then I won’t be able to throw them. Alternately if you have a person smaller and weaker than their opponent, they must use Kuzushi or they will find it difficult to effectively resist.
Even striking uses proper body mechanics to generate power. A well placed strike can send a person falling to the ground by sending force along a particular angle. Use of Tai Sabaki or “body movement” is used in many styles as a way of changing the angle of your force, taking the opponents stability away from their stance. Everything in Jitsu will move the opponent to some degree. Kuzushi is about putting the threat in a vulnerable position from which you can strike.
Going back to the throw. If I now use Kuzushi, the opponents balance and weight is held entirely by me. In the brief moment before the Kake stage, the threat will be either wheeled around or backwards, their weight will be in transition. It is this sudden re-direction of motion and weight that causes these techniques to be so effective.
Kuzushi: Force Multiplier
The result of using Kuzushi is that I can maximise all of my force into the power of the technique, rather than struggling to make the technique work in the first place. Thus by adding to the opponent’s momentum I can add my own weight and power to the effects of gravity that are pulling him to the ground.
This can be seen in Judo where Tori follows Uke to the floor, effectively landing on top of them. If you consider this happening on concrete or hard ground then, we can maybe grasp the power behind effective Kuzushi. Rather than just tossing a man to the floor and him getting up again, these throws can be crippling if executed right.
Kuzushi is just one part of Ju Jitsu. However it is the principle of un-balancing an opponent that makes it so practical. A small or weak individual can still affect a larger one, with proper Kuzushi. Though Asian martial arts have an image of mysterious power, it is this simple use of body mechanics that allows for seemingly impossible feats to be done.