Shinnenjutsu (part 2)

心念術 (shinnenjutsu: controlling your opponent's perceptions)

Part 2: “Proprioception (Perception of Body Position)”.

In Part 1 of this article on Shinnenjutsu, we talked about Visual Perception, and how controlling your opponent’s visual perception, in effect, controls his mind.

Now we are going to look at some of the really fun stuff, Proprioception, and how you can take control of another person’s mind through touch. This area is talked about quite a bit in the Bujinkan (kinesthetic words like; relax, don’t use power, etc), but understanding the mechanism of controlling another’s perceptions through touch, and how to apply it, are another matter altogether. Let me state here that this is by no means the “definitive” and complete answer to the “magic” that Hatsumi Sensei and some of the Shihan demonstrate, but it does go a long way to giving you a set of tools that will allow you to see and understand, as well as perform, the kind of things that Sensei does with his Budo Taijutsu. Before we go into it, we need to understand a little bit about what Proprioception is.

The Proprioceptive Sense refers to the sensory input and feedback that tells us about movement and body position. That is the position of the body relative to itself (i.e.; the arms related to the torso), and the body relative to whatever it’s touching (the ground, a chair, another person, etc). . It is one of the “deep senses” and could be considered the “position sense” It’s “receptors”(called proprioceptors) are located within our muscles, joints, ligaments, tendons, and connective tissues. The skin, whenever it is stretched or pinched, also plays a huge role in positional awareness. If this proprioceptive sense is not receiving or interpreting input correctly within these muscles, joints etc., then we refer to it as Proprioceptive Dysfunction.

Without proper messages regarding whether muscles and skin are being stretched, whether joints are bending or straightening, and how much of each of these is happening, people will have the following “clinical” signs of Proprioceptive Dysfunction (an actual disease):

• Difficulty “motor planning”; i.e. conceptualizing and figuring out what each part of his body needs to do in order to move a certain way or complete a task (what is an unconscious sense to us, becomes an active, conscious, frustrating sense to them)
• Difficulty executing those planned movements: i.e. “motor control” (the brain may know what to do, but they can’t figure out how to make their body do it)
• Difficulty “grading movement”; knowing how much pressure is needed to complete a task (i.e. hold a cup of water, hold and write with a pencil, turn the page of a book, hit a golf ball into the hole, etc.)
• Difficulty with “postural stability”; i.e. the ability to hold and maintain one’s postural muscles and responses, giving you a sense of security and safety during movement

As you can see from the above, this sense of Proprioception is a key component and enormously important for us in the study of Budo Taijutsu. Although we are not creating a permanent case of Proprioceptive Dysfunction, the immediate effects are the same and thus useful for our purposes.

Related to Proprioceptive Dysfunction is the idea of Proprioceptive Dissonance.

Dissonance means disagreement or incongruity, the idea of Proprioceptive Dissonance refers to a situation wherein the proprioceptive sense is being given two or more different and antithetical (competing) messages, causing the mind to send faulty info back to the body. (It is important to note that your proprioceptive response occurs at the level of the nervous system, which has a very fast response time, not the much slower, higher-order conscious thought processes that we typically associate with “mind”)

Now that we have a definition of Proprioception and why we might want to cause Proprioceptive Dysfunction and Dissonance, let’s look at some ways that we can implement them into our taijutsu.

Proprioceptive Dysfunction

First, the receptors in the joints send two important pieces of information to the mind:

Amplitude of movement
Speed of movement


Amplitude refers to the distance that a joint is moved, while speed of course, refers to how fast that joint is being moved. So, when a joint (arm, leg, head, etc) is being moved too far, your proprioceptors send a signal alerting your mind that you need to make an adjustment. If an attacker has grabbed you in “kumiuchi” and you respond by pushing and pulling on his arms, his body will automatically adjust in order to keep a strong and balanced position. You can use this reaction in two ways:

Method 1:

The first is by not moving the arms (relative to the opponent’s torso) but leaving them in place and moving your body around them. This is where the principle of “move your body around the weapon, not the weapon around your body” (sabaki gata) comes into play.

(Don’t get caught up on the word “weapon”, in the case of omote gyaku, the “weapon” is the wrist, or the place you are using to control your attacker. It is much like a fulcrum and your body is the lever)

At the Bujinkan Zero Point Dojo here in Japan, we use the idea of Initial Contact (the moment you “come to grips” with your attacker) to convey the principle of sabaki gata. At the moment you and your attacker “clinch”, there will be a “shape” to where your two bodies are connected (look at the places you are connected, then look at the angles between his arms and torso – this is the shape). In order for you to create Proprioceptive Dysfunction, you need to leave that “shape” the same as you move with your feet, up to the point at which his balance is taken, but not so far that he has to take a step or falls down. If you move him past this point, his sense of balance will kick in and he will regain his structure. (This maybe somewhat difficult to do at first, but it will come quickly with a bit of practice.) The important thing here is this: your opponent will believe his balance and structure are okay, because you have kept the amplitude of movement small.

The other important piece related to this is speed.


When we talk about speed here, it is always relative to the attacker’s speed. You essentially want to mirror the timing of his movement. In the above example from kumiuchi, if your attacker puts tension into his arms and presses you, you must move with the timing of that press. This sounds self-evident, but most of us will want to move faster in an attempt to “beat our opponent to the punch” so to speak. This is counter-productive for the goal of mind-control.

You are probably familiar with the admonition to slow down when practicing your taijutsu. Besides the need for skill acquisition (which you must do slowly at first, then gradually at increasing speeds in order for maximum integration), there is another reason for moving slowly: it deceives your opponent’s proprioceptive sense (shinnenjutsu).

In order to demonstrate this, grab someone nearby by the arm and jerk it, you will see how they automatically adjust to accommodate and tense up. This is called the stretch–reflex, it’s a proprioceptive tool and its purpose is to prevent the muscle from incurring damage, this reaction (the tightening up of the muscles around the part of the body being jerked on) is amplified in a high-stress situation. This also means you will be helping your opponent generate more force against you. Unless you are confident that you can easily overpower every person you might meet, try to avoid this.

Just as with controlling our opponent’s visual perception, you want to move first, but move slow. When you feel like you’re moving slowly enough, try to move even slower. In practice, take it down as slow as you can while still maintaining good structure.

The second method to play with is:

Method 2:

Purposefully moving your attacker’s arms in order to elicit the proprioceptive response you need from him.

Again, from kumiuchi, this time you can push with your right arm onto his left arm as if you were going to take mushadori, at the same time turning your body and softly slipping your left elbow over his right arm. At the moment he reacts to the movement of his left arm (proprioceptive response) by tensing his body in an effort to prevent your taking the mushadori, you drop straight down, trapping his right arm with your left in the ”real” mushadori! This is a more obvious example of shinnenjutsu.

Proprioceptive Dissonance

In implementing Proprioceptive Dysfunction we seek to send incorrect or incomplete signals to the proprioceptive sense, in effect controlling our attacker’s minds through deception. Now, with Proprioceptive Dissonance, we will take control of our opponent’s mind (proprioceptive sense) through confusion (sending too much and/or competing information).

In order to successfully do this there are several movement principles you will need to implement:

• Many Points of Contact – “Glad-wrap” his body with yours.
• Push – Don’t Pull.
• Use 3 dimensional movements (spirals or arcs).
• Move into the space they need to occupy next.
• “Slide” along the contours of the body

Many Points of Contact:

In the Bujinkan we are often admonished to have “as many points-of-contact as possible”. The general understanding of this is because it allows us to “control” (through feeling) what our opponent is doing. This is true enough, but there is another reason it is so useful, because all these points of contact are sending information to our opponent’s proprioceptive sense (he is feeling too), which means that we can send the information that we want to send, creating Proprioceptive Dissonance (mind control).

I use the term “glad-wrap” (the plastic that you use to cover food and store it in the refrigerator), because, when you cover the food, glad-wrap takes the shape of the food, but it doesn’t actually move the food!

Because you have these points of contact, you can apply pressure with your whole body, (knees, elbows, hips, etc) not just your hands. This means that your opponent’s mind is busy trying to keep track of all the sources of information coming in, much more than it normally deals with on a day to day basis. Since you are “covering” your opponent’s body, you can apply specific pressure throughout your opponent’s structure. (How to apply this pressure is covered next)

Push Don’t Pull:

This idea is a bit harder to convey in terms of what is meant by “pushing and pulling”. Generally, the force of your pressure should travel away from the body (push), not travel back into your body (pull). The motion of your force when doing a push-up is, of course, a push; the motion of clapping your hands is a pull, because if your hands did not stop each other they would continue to travel until they touched the body. When you are touching your opponent, they are relying on you for proprioceptive feedback that allows them to maintain balance and posture – in effect, you are supporting them. The act of pushing takes away this support. Pulling does the opposite; by pulling, they move closer to your center, which gives them increasing amounts of valid information that their proprioceptive sense will take advantage of.

Use 3-Dimensional Movements (Spirals or Arcs):

Proprioceptive Dissonance occurs from receiving too much and/or competing data. Therefore, we want to use more complex movements (3D), instead of less complex movements (2D). If you push your opponent’s shoulder straight back it sends some data to his proprioceptive sense, if you push his shoulder in an arc towards his weak line (90 degrees to the line that runs through his heels), it sends vastly more data to his proprioceptive sense. Now, if you push his hips in an arc that is 90 degrees to the arc his shoulder is moving through, you will overload his proprioceptive sense, once again, taking control of his mind.

Move Into the Space They Need to Occupy Next: As you move around your opponent, keeping lots of contact, pushing along their body, not pulling, you need to move into the space that they will need NEXT. Hatsumi Sensei is always talking about “tsugi tsugi” the next next, meaning; be looking for where your opponent will have to go next in order to keep attacking you successfully, then take that space (controlling the kukan).

For example; if you push someone into their left, rear quadrant, you need to move around their body and into that space first! At this point, they will be slightly leaning on you, because you are still “covering” them like glad-wrap, which means that they are now relying upon you for their balance and sense of position. From here it is quite easy to “take them out” as they will not be able to appropriately respond to whatever you do. (As you can imagine, in order to do this well, you will have to be very close to your opponent. In training, I talk about keeping them in your “hug zone”, the place where someone would be, if you were hugging them. This will mean less distance to cover.)

Slide Along the Contours of Their Body:

Hatsumi Sensei does this quite often, rather than shoving his opponent, he gently “slides” his arm or leg along the shape of his opponent’s body. There is a touch-response that reacts to this, causing the body to move away from the touch. If you push too forcefully the effect is negated.

For instance; if you place your left hand lightly on your partner’s right shoulder, then slide it along his back to his opposite shoulder, you will find that he has shifted his balance over and onto the front of his left foot. (Of course if he knows what you are doing in advance he will resist and move differently!)

Since this is a subtle shift, it is most useful when your opponent is already moving. In order to truly appreciate this (and all of the Proprioceptive Dissonance factors), it must be felt in person. Anyone who has trained with Hatsumi Sensei has heard him say this. Another thing that Sensei says, in every class, is to play with these ideas.

This brief article really cannot do justice to the subject at hand. I encourage everyone to look into the role that Proprioception plays in our martial art and to come to Japan and study it in person.

If you want more information or want to train with these concepts first-hand, go to:

Rob Renner
September, 2007