Within Tensoku Ryu one of the most fundamental, useful, and omnipresent concepts is that of the center, or centering. The “center” refers to where your body is currently focused, while “centering” refers to the process of moving your body so that it will face or establish a new center. Let’s first focus our discussions on the concept of the center.
If you place your elbows on your sides, set your forearms so they are parallel to the floor, and then extend your fingertips until they touch one another directly in front of you, then you have defined your Center Triangle. Your hands and arms are strongest when they are within the region defined by your hands, arms, and chest. If your hands or arms move outside this region they quickly begin to lose strength. If you press against something (like an opponent’s arm) when your hands are outside of your center triangle you will be more readily destabilized or moved out of a sound structural alignment. As a result we always strive to keep our hands operating within the Center Triangle. While your arms are within this triangular area you are afforded the best protection from attack and imbalance.
While in this same position if you were to draw a line that is parallel to the floor and extends from your sternum through your fingertips then you will have defined the direction to which your center is pointing. This is your Center Line. If you rotate your torso slightly to the left or right (ideally by rotating your feet) then you will notice that your center moves in that direction as well. Furthermore, if you lean forward your center will descend toward the floor in front of you.
An essential part of Tensoku Ryu is remaining acutely aware of where our center is pointing, and ultimately, where our opponent’s center is pointing. We strive to move in such a way that our center remains on our opponent, while our opponent’s center is focused anywhere but on us. As you train you will develop the skills and experience necessary to ensure you make effective and beneficial use of your center at all times.
If you are out of alignment with your opponent then the act of bringing your center around until it is focused on your opponent (or your path of escape) is the act of Centering. This can be done continuously as you move (i.e. your center continually shifts so it stays on your opponent the entire time as the two of you move about), or it can be done as a secondary action after some prior movement (perhaps to twist your opponent away as you bring your center to bear on your opponent). Both have their uses and you will explore these as you train.
You will use the center concept and centering methods to ensure your blocks, strikes, kicks, and stances are all properly aligned for maximum benefit, power, and speed. You will use it when throwing (Nage), in locks (Kansetsu Waza), and whenever you are manipulating an opponent. You will learn the importance of the center when you utilize weapons which require good centering practices to offer you essential protection, power, and focus. You unconsciously use it when walking and running or when picking a cup up from the counter. Once you begin to appreciate this concept you will find it is an essential component in everything you do. In Tensoku Ryu we make this a conscious tool that you will learn to employ for your benefit in a deliberate and focused manner.
It takes new students a considerable period of time to appreciate this concept and how it can be of benefit. This is not a simple concept to master and new students will frequent find themselves off-center or poorly positioned because they do not yet fully appreciate the concept. But with time students start to find they apply centering methods without much thought. They become second nature. This is the fundamental point of Tensoku Ryu. Once you appreciate something you can apply it immediately without any thought. You simply know what needs to be done and can do it without deliberate intent. If you want someone to fall, you know how to employ centering methods to make that happen. These innate skills have become, in essence, part of who you.
Let’s look at a simple example to see how centering might work. For a moment let’s assume that someone steps forward with his or her right leg and throws a right lunging punch (Migi Oi Tsuki) in your direction. We will assume the opponent is approaching from your Octagon angle 1. With both hands raised to guard position you step to octagon angle 5 with your left leg, causing you to move just outside of the opponent’s strike. For additional safety you pull your right leg in that direction as well to ensure you move completely off the line of attack. Now you turn and rotate your center toward your opponent’s new position. Your right arm presses into the back of the opponent’s right arm, forcing the opponent to turn away from you (the opponent is now rotating counterclockwise). This moves the opponent’s center away from you while your center is locking in on the opponent. It also checks the opponent’s right arm so it cannot be employed against you again in some other manner (this is generally, but not absolutely true). Together these two things make an immediate subsequent strike from your opponent increasingly unlikely. As your center reaches its final destination you strike with the left hand perhaps to the opponent’s right ribs or head area. The opponent can do little about it.
However, a trained martial artist will still have many options you will want to consider as well. Nothing is ever absolute in the martial arts and there are no guarantees anything you try will be successful. It is why we train to make our movements intuitive and responsive. We need to be prepared for anything.
The above example is perhaps the most fundamental and simple application of centering methods. The same attack scenario above could employ twenty or more methods for dealing with the opponent, all of which would make heavy use of the centering concept. The provided example, while certainly useful, may not be the best strategy to employ in any specific circumstance. There area great many variables to be considered when determining how you want to deal with someone who is attacking you. But the example does demonstrate some of the power of this essential concept.
Here is one final piece of advice for students who are finding it difficult to perform some unrelated skill or activity. It is critical that students learn not to get off center. This is a naturally occurring problem when students are in the early phases of learning Tensoku Ryu. They will work with another student and suddenly find they cannot make some skill work properly. In a large percentage of cases it is because the student has moved and is no longer properly centered. If you are finding some skill hard to master, consider how you are centered and how you are employing centering skills. There is an excellent chance this is the root cause of your difficulty. Centering is fundamental to everything in Tensoku Ryu.