Ataru is a much storied Form and Formula. It is desired by so many and ridiculed by the same number. There are those who wish to achieve its feats of acrobatics and flash. It represents aggression, something that emboldens the novice with thoughts of super human strength and endurance. The reality of both Ataru and feats of super human agility and strength, are far less impressive to the young and ego centric.
There are two manifestations of Ataru. The first is the most recognizable, movement. But the second is exactly the opposite, stillness. The movement aspect of Ataru we call Ashla. The stillness aspect we call Bogan. The Ashla aspect is easily seen and described, therefore, it is more popular. The Bogan is the part of the formula that makes it work. If you do not have both, you have nothing.
Ataru is not about movement, it is about power. And the power that comes from your body and being, not your weapon. It is learning to move with effortless power and apply strength with grace and beauty. It is learning to not only go, but to stop. It is an exploration of extremes, and it is reacting with in that frame.
Ataru trains this through three types of methods: Su Ma (rotation), Mu Gee (Jumping), Vor/Go’gwa (accelerating). Each compartment of the training has both aspects of Ashla and Bogan.
Ashla is the aspect of Ataru that it is recognized for, much to a fault. Much of the power of Ataru is developed in subtle ways that the uninitiated cannot see. Even seasoned martial artists are fooled into thinking that any performance where the fighter jumps around and uses large, noticeable sweeps and spins is Ataru. Ashla is only one aspect of Ataru and is only half of the formula.
That being said, Ataru’s jumping and acrobatic training are useful in the extreme. Not for direct use in battle, but in preparation for that battle. We learn movement with the idea that it should always challenge us. Some practitioners will take this to almost absurd lengths to flip and kick and spin with speed and grace. This should not be seen as the pinnacle of the art. It is impressive, but it’s purpose is not to create such effects in use.
The jumps and flips challenge our “Su” or rotation. The energy put into allowing us to leave the ground is enormous. If it can be focused into our target, it’s destruction is assured. This brings us to the next aspect: Bogan
Bogan is the effect of the Ashla. Ashla is the Force made visible. Bogan is the Force hidden from sight. Anything we do in Ashla is to feed and strengthen Bogan. To jump high shows we can produce the force in Ashla. To focus that force into our target shows we understand it enough to strengthen Bogan.
Bogan is the opposite and equal. For every push there is a pull. If we strike something, the shock will rebound back to us. if we are too weak it will injure us. To move a heavy thing fast, we must over come it’s inertia. The faster it goes the more we must fight it. This recoil and reaction is the key to mastering Ataru.
If you wish to go forward faster, find what must go backward. Like a single arm punch. The harder and faster you pull the opposite arm into your body, the faster and more powerful the punch. These are forces we cannot see, but can feel. Where as Ashla is making your body do something it does not want to do, Bogan is stopping from doing what it does wants to do. The faster you turn, the fast your blade will move. The faster it moves, the more it can destroy. But if it cannot weather the force, you will break and not your target.
Rotation to increase power and inertia. This is what Su Ma is about. The root words “Su” (rotation, round, cycle etc) and “Ma” (energy, power, etc.) are from the Soresu formula. They appear in the Resilience Codex and in the ancient document “Of the unity of the Grid and Circle”.
“Su” is the word for that which rotates or turns. The obvious spinning that the su ma training takes is only one connection. Legend says that Ataru and Soresu were developed out of each other. Whatever the truth of that is, there are incredible similarities between the two Formula. The footwork ,for one, is identical, and builds on the previous lessons equally with both. Both use the rotation of the saber around the body to accomplish their goals, even though those goals are completely opposed.
This is the lesson of both and why the are included in the system as one of the Four Pillars of development. The only true difference between the Forms III and IV is intent. While walking with the force bears superficial similarities to the Su ma, they are completely opposite in application.
As in Soresu, we can turn toward two directions, or “Sora”. Sora means “door” and is used to indicate the direction of rotation around the swordsman’s vertical axis.
Big door: Ka Sora
The Big door corresponds to zones 3 and 6. It is also called the “front door” as it represents the front of the body when the dominant side is forward. When this is the case, it is called “Closing the big door” or “Big door closed”. as the big door angles are covered from attack. “Opening the big door” entreats an attack by presenting the opposite stance.
Small door: Rut Sora
The “small door” refers to zones 2 and 5. It is also called the “back door” as it represents the back of the body with zone 5 forward. Ataru often starts with the “small door closed”. The reason for this is to give the opportunity for a passing step through the big door. Su ma rotation is valued over all things and a full step will invoke any of them.
There are three types of Su Ma: Ton Su Ma, En Su Ma, and Jung Su Ma. There are exercises which favor one or the other, but it should not be thought that any of these concepts is used in isolation. The Su Ma theory states that these axis are in use all the time in every motion. The Ashla is the axis that is predominant in the movement. The Bogan is the subordinate axis. The remaining axis is the Empty axis as the one that is the most vulnerable to attack. Movements are designed to place the Ashla before the Bogan and the Bogan blocking the Empty.
Ton Su Ma is the rotation around the vertical axis.
This axis is the up and down axis. It is the Ashla of the upper and lower level strikes. The force should move you through this axis using the power of gravity. It gains it’s force from Mu Gee, either jumping or landing.
Jung Su Ma is the rotation in the horizontal axis.
This is the side to side axis. If you wish to do Sai Tok, this axis must be strong. Rotation is the key to mastery here. This gain’s it’s power through the Su Ma and rotation. This is why Su ma is often only considered this axis and thus, Ataru is always spinning. Neither of these assessments is true. This axis is often ignored in favor of Ton in the Bogan aspect.
En Su Ma is the rotation in the lateral axis.
This is the most difficult axis to find power from. It is the easier to release power from, however. It has much in common with Ton Su Ma but it is to the side. Being weak while exerting on this axis will lead to stumbling and falling. This is why Dom Cha is practiced. This axis is best used for recovery.
Mu Gee is the use of the gravity. It means not only to jump and is the method of escaping gravity’s hold but also to stomp using it’s pull to create power by lowering the center of gravity. This skill is one of the most fundamental skills for power development. A smaller person can increase their inertia by falling on their opponent. A larger one can imbue each strike with the full force of their body to smash through a defense.
There are two basic Ashla methods of Mu Gee: Mugan and Mugai. Mugan is a jump off of both feet (for bipeds) and Mugai is from one foot. Both can later be combined with Go G’wa (Vor) to create a rushing forward saber swarm.
There are also two forms of Bogan Mu Gee: Mu Ton (Stomping) and Mu Jung (shifting). Stomping is lowering all your body weight down into your foot. Shifting is similar to jumping but you do not leave the ground and simply shift your foot position.
The student must be wary not to over reach their ability. Injury from this training is common both from the outside and from ones own actions. Make sure your stances are near to perfect to protect the lower extremities.
There are two methods for increasing your momentum while in the air. The Ashla is called “full moon jump”, where you bring your knees up toward your chest after leaving the ground. This gives power forward to kicks and and upward strikes. It is rising energy. The beginning is the power phase, the end is the recovery phase.
The Ashla is first paired with Mugai as it is weak at the beginning and strong at the end.
The Bogan is the “crescent moon jump” where the legs are flung behind you and your torso stretches back. This places the Force back and issues power on the recoil or during the rover phase. The forward folding on f the body to recover and land is used along with the downward fall to create huge downward strikes.
The Bogan is paired first with Mugan as it is strong at the beginning and diminishes to the end.
Mugan is the basic and first essential concept to grasp. This is jumping off of two feet. The act of jumping in this way is that it allows you to tap into 100% of your body’s power. Push off the heel to go up. Sink back and load the back of your legs, then explode upward. Reach high with the top of the head and lift your arms to help you rise. Try to hang in the air for as long as you can and drop back to the ground landing with the toes first then sitting back into the heels.
There are two types of Mugan:
Jump — jumping from and landing on two feet
Post — jumping from two feet and landing on one foot
Mugai is jumping off of one foot. But more importantly, it is pushing force through one foot. There are several basic ways to perform Mugai. From one foot to the same foot (hopping), from one foot to the other foot (leaping) and from one foot to both feet (planting)
The same principles apply here as in Mugan. The jumps will be shorter if one is attempting to lift off the ground. But if one is only concerned with adding power in the upward direction, this will be most successful. The leg that is not jumping must rise as high as you are able along with the rest of the body. This follows the rule of inertia. Keep as much of your being moving in the direction of the force.
There are three types of Mugai:
Hop — jumping from one foot and landing on the same foot
Leap — jumping from one foot and landing on the other foot
Plant — jumping from one foot and landing on two feet
This is the landing phase of any jump. Your foot must absorb the shock or transform it into another kind. When landing from a jump, the front of the foot touches first to absorb the shock. But you can also stomp your foot to add power to strikes. When you do this, the heel is what should be given attention.
When you stomp your foot in the ground, it produces a shock. This force can be used to add power and strength to strikes.This is accomplished by sinking your weight down into one leg and you stomp that foot. If you lower the center at the same time and simply think of stomping while standing, you will be able to produce enormous power. The method for this is dependent on timing but the force produces can be sent in any direction.
The dynamics of the stances are deep and yield great wisdom. In Ataru, being able to switch stances and orientation that is the focus of the Formula. Being able to control how one turns their hips is what separates the novices from the experts. Mu Jung is a method by which you can switch stances without performing a passing full step. The center should remain still and at the same level through the entire movement.
Called “running” Go G’wa is also known as the base. It is concerned with the interaction of the feet with the ground, in walking, jumping , running, fighting, stomping and standing. It is a concept that is combined with the other two to create the Formula of Ataru.
The Ashla of Go G’wa is called “Sha” and means to rush. The Bogan of Go G’wa is “Vor”, meaning to stop.
Sha: There are many ways to gather force for a jump. Using sha, one runs up to the point where they will jump. The idea is to build up enough momentum and speed that you may escape the bounds of gravity or put force into a weapon. This phase uses the balls of the feet and running as it’s main mechanical principle.
Vor: “The real trick to going anywhere, is the ability to stop.” Vor is used in connection with sha to create Go G’wa. When one approaches, there are two main methods of changing the forward momentum into upward momentum: Jumping off of both feet, or jumping off of one. There are variations within these but these are the basics categories.
This is the formula of aggression: Ataru. Learn it well and master yourself and your weapon!