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The Value of Goshin Jutsu Kata for Police and Military

Martial systems were refined and tested regularly on Japanese battlefields for a period of approximately 600 years. During this time warriors had ample opportunity to experience direct spontaneous technique. Training time was therefore spent on perfecting the skills that would provide the base from which such techniques could arise when needed. This was done through repetition of kata, series of prearranged techniques practiced with one partner as “doer” and the other as “receiver”.

“…the bushi [warriors] limited and directed their study by means of a steering device called kata, or prearranged form. Kata became, and remains today, the central training method for all bujutsu [warrior arts]. It is the only way by which the action that characterizes the bujutsu can be practiced without the practitioner’s being wounded or killed.” - Donn F. Drager, Classical Bujutsu: The Martial Arts and Ways of Japan

Using these reasonably safe, self-contained, responsive sequences, warriors were able to train at the edge to develop the reflexes, intuition and determination to survive in battle.

The modern Goshin Jutsu Kata was designed to provide realistic training for 20th century self-defense. It was established by the Kodokan in 1956 as an update to the Kime-no-Kata (also called Shoru-no-Kata, or Kata of Combat) which dated from the 15th Century. A brief outline of the Goshin Jutsu Kata sections follows:

Attacks Without a Weapon

  • Unarmed attacks at close quarters (7 techniques)
  • Unarmed attacks at a greater distance (5 techniques)

Attacks With a Weapon

  • Dagger (3 techniques)
  • Stick (3 techniques)
  • Pistol (3 techniques)

These ranges correspond to real world situations, but, of course, require judgment as to the distance and movement to affect the correct posture for the requisite response.
Imagine you are suddenly confronted from behind with a pistol at your back. A command is given for you to remove your service weapon. Your life is definitely in jeopardy. You could comply (and possibly be killed), or disarm your attacker by moving reflexively with speed and confidence flowing from your practice of kata doing exactly this type of scenario hundreds of times. It could save your life.

So, for illustrative purposes, we will take the example of a modern threat such as a pistol or revolver held at close range. This situation is addressed by the “Pistol” section of Goshin Jutsu Kata. Here there are three techniques that can be employed depending on the position of the attacker.

The Attacker:

  • points a pistol from the front (Shomen-zuke)
  • holds a pistol at his/her side (Koshi-gamae)
  • points a pistol from behind (Haimen-zuke)

Excellent illustrations of the sequences are available in the book “Illustrated Kodokan Judo”. A number of quite good representations can also be found on the Internet, especially those under the heading of “Forms of Judo (Kata)” at: http://judoinfo.com/.


A foreseeable scenario might be an assailant coming in to a ‘safe’ area such as the chow hall or gym and engaging unarmed personnel. In that case, an effective disarming technique that is instinctual and quick could avert disaster. How quickly could you drop the dumb-bells, or jump off the treadmill, close the 10-20 paces to the attacker (hopefully while they were distracted elsewhere) and effectively disarm/subdue him or gain control of his weapon? A rushing, ‘football-style’ tackle that focuses on the lower torso and/or legs might not be effective as the assailant could be much larger physically, and it leaves the arms and upper torso uncontrolled—still a lethal situation if the assailant is holding a weapon. Priority must be given to moving off the line of fire, controlling the weapon and keeping the assailant off balance (both physically and mentally). Here is where training in a set of reflexive moves can yield a wide range of positive outcomes.

Once you gain control of the weapon and ensure it’s no longer pointed at you or other friendly parties, you can utilize one of the many techniques of Judo to quickly upset the attacker’s balance and bring him to the ground where others could help, or a submission could be performed. Likewise, an attacker with a weapon holstered (or at his side) could be engaged by controlling his arms and upper torso, de-stabilizing his balance and then subduing him further on the ground. A weapon held at the rear becomes more challenging, until we realize that by placing himself behind you, the attacker has already partially put himself in a position to be surprised. However, this is provided you can ‘feel’ the handgun muzzle and sense where it is pointed at your body or you are able to take the opportunity to look behind you and verify the weapon. Either way, responding in this manner mandates that once started, you complete the technique and control the gun barrel’s direction as you finish. If this sounds difficult, consider the alternative, allowing the assailant to shoot you from behind. Performed quickly and explosively, a kata-honed technique could extricate you from an otherwise fatal situation.

As the authors were completing this article, a trusted Afghan Air Corp officer returned to base with his American issued 9mm sidearm and ordered both American and Afghan troops to line up so that he could shoot them execution style. It is unclear if they were unarmed. But often on forward deployed bases within the CENTCOM theaters, troops are either not permitted to carry weapons while off-duty in certain areas, or if required to have their weapon on their person, as is the current SECDEF instruction for OEF/OND [Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan) / Operation New Dawn (Iraq)], they would not have had ammunition on them, or even a magazine inserted in their weapons. Only when you left the base and traveled into the community would you have a weapon on your person, in various states of ‘readiness’, magazines loaded, round chambered, etc., depending on the threat level and current ROE instructions. So, in the case of the Afghan Air Corp incident, the victims were, in effect, helpless despite being on base and surrounded by thousands of weapon-carrying US service personnel. Had someone at close range to the shooter been able to use an effective disarming technique, he or she might have prevented this atrocity.

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