Happo no Kuzushi:
Destroying Your Opponent's Balance
By Ronald L. van de Sandt
was learning some new techniques at the local karate
school. Tom was a 5th Kyu, and his Sensei was teaching
and demonstrating one of the basic karate principles
of motion. At his Sensei's order, Tom threw a right
hand punch right at his teacher's face - full force.
Suddenly, and with apparent ease, his teacher moved
slightly to Tom's left, out of the path of the punch,
while blocking and grabbing the punch with his left
hand. Spinning to the left, his teacher then grabbed
Tom's gi (uniform) at the shoulder and quickly bent
forward, twisting a little at the waist, and placing
his hip against Tom's waist. When his sensei pulled
down on Tom's wrist and shoulder, Tom felt himself
lose balance, then he felt his feet leave the floor.
As Tom effortlessly passed over his teacher's hip,
he felt his feet travel in an arch over his head as
he landed on his shoulders with a thump - slapping
the ground hard with his left hand to absorb the impact.
His instructor had performed a classic one-armed throw.
The whole event seemed to Tom as if he had been traveling
in slow motion. "Man, am I glad I practiced break-falling
when Sensei told me too!" Tom thought to himself,
amazed at the speed and ease with which his Sensei
had taken him to the ground.
This story demonstrates a very basic principle of
motion called in Japanese "Happo No Kuzushi."
Happo literally means eight (or all) directions and
Kuzushi means to destroy or break down. So this is
the principle of how to destroy an opponent's balance
in eight, or any, directions (Fig. 1).
This principle, is the first of three rules that
every Jujutsu and Judo student knows, and every martial
artist should know.
In order to make any technique work, you must:
1. Break the opponent's balance
2. Enter (position for) the technique
3. Complete (perform) the technique
Scientifically this principle encompasses and uses
Newton's three laws of motion:
1. An object at rest tends to stay at rest and
an object in motion tends to stay in motion with
the same speed and in the same direction unless
acted upon by an unbalanced force.
2. An object will only accelerate if there is net
or unbalanced force acting upon it. The presence
of an unbalanced force will accelerate an object
- changing its speed, its direction, or both (its
speed and direction).
3. For every action there is an opposite and equal
Simply put, it means that when an opponent throws
a technique at you, scientifically you should be able
to redirect, add to, and/or unbalance the force used
on you, increasing the speed of the force at the same
time. But first, you have to know why and how to apply
unbalancing force. By applying an unbalancing force,
you effectively use an opponent's own force against
himself. It all starts with the circles around you.
Happo no Kuzushi - the Principle of the Ball
Keeping Newton's laws in mind, picture a ball - circular
in every direction. Picture how most objects in the
universe relate to a ball, and you can begin to understand
the principle of the ball. The (round) moon circles
the (round) earth which in turn circles the (round)
sun, etc. - each reacting to the other (in a circular
fashion). This is the way of the universe. On earth,
there is always an unbalancing force called gravity,
which creates, or can be viewed as, the weight of
an object. Gravity then acts upon all of the other
forces that may be generated by our bodies, or objects
around us. Therefore, most physical forces on earth,
because of gravity, travel in a circle, or can be
pictured as a ball (a circle in every direction).
The size of the ball is determined by the size of
the object itself, other objects that the ball is
in relation with, and the forces being applied to
it. Another good example of this phenomenon is the
arched trajectory of an arrow when it is shot at a
distance. The size of it's "ball" is controlled
by the force that sent the arrow, the mass (size)
of the arrow itself, and the gravity pull of the earth
(weight of the arrow).
The three elements acting together cause the trajectory
of the arrow to arch (Fig. 2).
Now picture the human body having an invisible ball
around it that is as big around as its height (Fig.4).
Leonard Da Vinci depicted the ball around our bodies
in a sketch that showed the form of a man contained
within a circle (or ball) similar to Fig. 3.
Notice that Figures 3 and 4 both have eight directions
to it, hence the name of this principle.
If we go back to the story, when Tom punched at his
Sensei's face, his force was directed toward the top
of his sensei's ball. Since his sensei placed himself
(and his hips) at the center of the ball, Tom's motions
become the outer areas of the ball, so when he is
thrown, the sensei's ball rolls forward. As his sensei
bends at the waist, the ball becomes smaller and faster,
and Tom's body takes the shape of the outside of the
ball. In addition, because of Newton's second law
of motion, Tom's initial forward motion changed direction,
and increased in speed due to his teacher's use of
unbalancing force. As Tom travels the outside of the
ball, his head and shoulders travel toward the downward
side of the ball while his feet travel up toward the
upward side, illustrating Newton's second and third
law of motion (Fig. 5).
The same principle would work no matter
which direction the "ball" rolled, such
as if Tom had kicked low and the ball rolled in the
opposite direction. His body would still continue
moving in the shape of the ball (circle) until another
force stopped him, such as the ground, thus illustrating
Newton's first law of motion. Destroying your opponent's
balance means you are forcing him out of his ball,
and making him become the outer part of your ball.
An opponent's balance must be broken before a technique
such as a throw can be properly applied. Many times
Judo and Jujutsu stylists will break the opponent's
balance by either pulling or pushing suddenly against
These are the principles that martial artists should
utilize and exploit very extensively. You can readily
see the shape of this ball in virtually every throw
performed. When an opponent is charging you, if you
stop one point on the opponent's body such as the
head, the rest of the body has to continue the force,
and you have now effectively changed it's direction
from straight line to a circular (ball) path. If you
stop the feet, the ball rolls forward, and the head
goes down. Using this principle you can now redirect
the other person's force to your advantage, and from
any of the eight directions.
This can be seen very clearly in a game of pool.
The pool player calculates the spin of his cue ball
(you) and its effect on the other balls (attackers)
on the table. If the cue ball is spinning upward because
the cue stick struck the cue ball below its centerline,
upon contacting another ball, the other ball will
spin the opposite direction (downward). (See Fig.
A good pool player becomes very adept at controlling
the direction and speed of the cue ball, and other
balls on the table. This is how they can make a ball
curve away from them, toward them, and go forward,
backward or around another object, and stop exactly
where they planned. As a martial artist, if you truly
learn and understand this "principle of the ball"
like a pool player, you can control situations and
opponents in the same basic manner.
Since this principle is based on natural laws of
physics, the principle works well in everyday life
too. Have you ever approached a heavy door, and then
planted both feet to get enough force to open it?
If so, then try this instead: as you approach the
door and reach out for the handle, keep one foot back.
Then, picturing the motions of a ball, allow your
whole body weight to go back, rocking onto the reserved
foot. You are utilizing the ball principle by using
the force of your body weight, while at the same time
keeping your own balance. If someone from the other
side pushes, and the door swings too quickly toward
you, you'd normally lose your balance because you
have planted both feet. By using this same technique
you again use the ball principle, the back foot catches
you, still keeping you on balance. Now try to look
around and apply this technique in other areas in
your life. How do you walk, sit, dance, and push a
car? The applications become endless, since the principle
is based on the physics of motion.
The bottom line is that everyone uses the ball principle
everyday, without realizing it. Because the principle
is simply the physics that act on us in our every
movement, we tend to ignore and not pay attention
to why things move and act as they do, and therefore
sometimes the ball principle works against us. By
understanding, applying, and practicing the art of
balance breaking called "Happo no Kuzushi"
in your everyday life, you begin to work with nature,
not against it. In so doing, you also develop the
skill of balance keeping, as well as balance breaking,
in both your martial arts, and in your everyday life.
About The Author:
Ron van de Sandt has been in the martial arts since
1972 and has studied American Kempo, Shorin Kempo
and Sholin Karate - a blend of Shorinji Ryu and
Shorin Ryu Karate. Mr. van de Sandt currently holds
a Dan rank in Sholin Karate, and runs the Sholin
Karate Club, at the Fairborn YMCA, Fairborn, Ohio.
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