The Ways of “Three” in Budo


In my time spent on the path of training and study it has become increasingly evident that the relationship to approach and numbers in the Japanese ways of martial arts is very much bound by the denominator of 3.

I have listed below some examples relevant to the practitioner, which are not complete or the span of extensive usage but act as examples to make you aware. The number is both celebratory and strategic both in thought and action.

I have used some references not of Karate or Kobujutsu but borne of the way of things in Japanese martial arts.

The references come from Yagyu Munenori (1571-1646) famous as the Shogun head sword teacher and head of the secret police and Miyamoto Musashi born on a similar date but not confirmed and who died in 1645 and was known as the greatest sword fighter of Japanese history. Both were famous for their prowess in actual fighting with many deaths and victories on their hands. Both were also famous for writing leading books on tactics and the way of fighting. Whilst not all relevant to Karate the principles are one of the same and should be known and practiced. The serious student of any discipline should not contain his study to the singular discipline line but look also at other ways.

I have also listed at the back some of the three approaches we practice in Karate today.

The Three Pre-emptions

Go Rin No Sho written by Miyamoto Musashi in 1643

Fire Scroll

  1. Pre-emptions from a state of suspension

Sen no Sen

  1. The pre-emptions from a state of waiting

Go no Sen

  1. The pre-emptions in a state of mutual confrontation

Tai no Sen

Pre-emption is gaining victory through the power of knowledge of Martial Arts!!!!!

The Three Paries

Go Rin No Sho written by Miyamoto Musashi in 1643

Water Scroll

The Three Shouts

Go Rin No Sho written by Miyamoto Musashi in 1643

Fire Scroll

  1. Initial shout (beginning of combat)     Ya = 8
  2. Middle shout (feint and shout)             Eii = 9
  3. Final shout (shout after striking an opponent down)     To = 10

You never shout at the same time as making the technique!!!!

The Three chapter approaches

The book of family traditions in the Art of War by Yagyu Munenori 1632

  1. The Killing sword
  2. The Life giving Sword
  3. No Sword

The Three Points to focus on

The book of family traditions in the Art of War by Yagyu Munenori 1632

The Killing Sword

  1. The Two Stars                                    The opponents 2 hands gripping the sword
  2. The Peak and Valley               The bending and extension of the opponents arms
  3. The Distant Mountains          The shoulders and chest (only when engaged)

The Three ways of Feinting

The book of Family traditions in the Art of War by Yagyu Munenori 1632

Killing Sword

  1. Sticking
  2. Pinning
  3. Studied Assault

The Three Rhythms

Simultaneous strike

Close in and strike when the adversary’s sword is raised

Cross over and strike when the adversary’s sword is lowered.

It should be noted that Musashi was known for his fundamental approach to combat and strategy whilst Yagyu being more intellectual fostered the indoctrination of Zen in his fighting philosophy. It should also be noted that Yagyu was responsible for the decline of Musashi as a sword teacher to the Shogun, stating, “The man had a dark disposition”. Responsible for killing over 70 people it is clear Musashi carried a deep and slightly demonic look about him.

Yagyu fostered the introduction of Buddhism in his teaching and the learning of Zen but was quick to point out that “the correspondence between Zen and Martial Arts is imperfect and incomplete”. Buddhists tried to nurture and educate the warriors.   Buddhists used there time cleaning up after the samurai follies burying the dead, raising the orphan children and sheltering the abused or abandoned wives.

If martial arts were really considered the highest form of study in Japan Zen masters would have been the students of the warriors and not the other way around!

The prolonged domination of Japan by the martial arts caste was an anomaly in human affairs. Because of the way martial arts was established by power it was fated to bend social and philosophical ideals to its own purpose rather than submit itself completely to the judgement and guidance of the traditional religions and philosophies it proposed to uphold.


In karate we practiced also many techniques in threes. For example basic punching

  1. Ichi ren tsuki
  2. Ni ren tsuki
  3. San ren tsuki (san bon tsuki)

Basic fist positions are also taught as three ways

  1. Seiken              (turned fist)
  2. Tate                 (standing fist)
  3. Ura                  (reverse or back fist)

We also have the 3 basic ways of kicking known as “Kerri waza” and after certain sounding “Gerri waza”

  1. Mae Geri
  2. Mawashi Geri
  3. Yoko Geri

In moving this is further practiced in three ways

  1. Sabaki              (side movement)
  2. Sagaru              (slide back movement)
  3. Hairu               (entry movement)

Being aware of attitudes, rythem and timing enhance the capability to merge as one in your individual training and with opponents. The subtle awarenes of the count and the attitudes constructed to enhance are important factors to study. Many karate kata have the one, one two count and for good reason. Enhancing combination attitudes and delivery sequence awareness stimulates the mind and body timing. In Japan when I did squad training with the city team and prefecture team we were always taught to prime at least 3 techniques in the attitude of Seme of Sen no Sen.

I watch Shingai Sensei in August 2017 when he come over from Japan to teach and was inspired by his timing and delivery. At 76 years he belied the passing of time and demonstrated the natural ease of movement to the kata and with the opponent. The count of 3 in his kata was subtley present and very evident in his demonstration of Tinbe-Rochin.

We talked at length during his stay of the mature way of Shizen and the necessity pf the subtle awareness of the count. With an opponent of the rigid overt attack he showed the need to pick up his timing and move exactly at the right time. Seeing with eyes insufficient, perceiving and knowing the timing and count enabling Go no Sen.

Such teachers of inspiration are a necessity to senior students to make them again light the fires of passion, see ways of belying the years and understanding the Japanese base of counting.

Do not neglect your studies and look deeper than the ways of just repetition. This causes the seed of boredom and neglect to grow, the growth of excuse and distraction to rise and the change of body and fitness so prevalent in martial arts today. Be not of the words used by so many that they used to do that or that they only teach now, elevated to a higher plane. Daily Hitori Keiko will keep you humble and keep the fire burning brightly and the desire to look further and go deeper