Because Japan is located on the ring of fire, it is plagued by earthquakes, and has been for centuries. Due to the amount of destruction and loss of lives, the Japanese investigated how to make earthquake proof buildings. What they noticed were many of the old pagodas always survived the earthquakes, even if they were located at the epicenter of a major earthquake.

The question is; what is special about the way pagodas are built to protect them?

Well, obviously they are built solid to be able to last centuries, and to carry the vast amount of weight from the many levels above, but the most important aspect that has protected them, is that they are also flexible. The old way of building skyscrapers were with very strong, and solid framework, but in an earthquake they would just crumple because they were too rigid. The new way of building, is to not only be solid, but able to move with the earthquake.

In Oriental medicine we talk about this as well, especially in how the emotions apply to the body. Anger, and stress are ruled by the wood element, and there is always the yin/yang (in/yo) present. The yang (yo) aspect of the wood element is similar to the mighty oak, very strong, and unyeilding (rigid). On the other hand the yin (in) aspect is similar to bamboo, strong but very flexible.

Okay but what do buildings, and wood have to do with the study of martial arts? Plenty!

Again there is the yin/yang (in/yo) or ura/omote of the structure of who we are as students, teachers, and as an individual. If you are like the mighty oak, you’ll stubbornly hold on to doing things the way you’ve always done them, or believe them to be. There is no flexibility, and this limits your learning, and growth. However, if you take on the qualities of the bamboo, you are able to be flexible to gain new insights, and understanding to various techniques, and movements. Also, consider are you one that is easily pushed to anger, or are you able to let things slide more?

On a physical level, structure is VERY important to the study of budo. I drill into my students this concept; we are studying Taijutsu (body art), it’s foundation is Taisabaki (body movement), but it’s foundation is Ashisabaki (footwork). Well, part of Ashisabaki is the structure of a kamae (stance). It needs to be solid, so you don’t fall off balance, but also flexible so that you can move, and adapt to the situation at hand.

Without proper structure we limit the effectiveness of the technique we are doing, not to mention running the risk of losing our own balance, which could open us up for a counter, or just losing control. Thus we should always be moving from structure to structure, whether it’s a forward structure, rearward structure, or neutral structure.

Many students look up to the Shihan, and state how their structure isn’t deep. therefore they shouldn’t have to do so either. However, it is through years of training that they are able to refine their structure, thus they are able to have a shallower stance that may not seem as stable, but still maintains solidness, and flexibility. But you have to remember, it’s all based on the foundational training of developing a strong structure, from deeper stances, etc.

When we train, we need to be aware of our structure at all times. When and where are we in good structure, or lacking structure. How does that affect what we are doing at the time, and if we are lacking structure, how would proper structure affect what we are doing? Therefore, when we train alone, or with a partner, we should take the time to stop and analyze our structure, correct it as needed, and program it into our subconscious.