Kuzushi (崩し) is a Japanese word for unbalancing an opponent. It comes from the verb kuzusu, meaning to pull down or demolish. You’ll find it commonly used in jujutsu and derived arts such as judo and aikido. Normally it is the act of taking an opponent’s balance rendering them incapable of counterattack. In most schools kuzushi is a physical process.
In our school of Ketsugo Jujutsu, as taught be Peter Freedman, sensei – we recognize three levels of kuzushi – mental, physical, and spiritual.
Physical kuzushi is where the jujutsuka (practitioner of jujutsu) does something to take an opponent’s physical balance – which can often lead to a fall, takedown, or throw. Sometimes kuzushi means that an opponent must take a step or otherwise move to regain balance – which may create an openening for another attack. There are many ways of creating a physical kuzushi – pushing, pulling, bumping, locking, striking, kicking, or merely moving out of the way at the last moment.
Mental kuzushi is the act of creating confusion in one’s opponent (mental unbalance) causing their mind to slow and thus their reactions. Mental kuzushi may be caused through trickery, words, confusing phsyical techniques, hidden strikes, etc.
When we talk about spirit, this is more akin to “fighting spirit” than the religious sense of the word. We are talking about emotion. Spiritual kuzushi causes emotional unbalance, frequently sapping the will to fight, or causing rash action. An example might be causing an opponent to bleed or pointing out that they are bleeding. In a multiple attacker scenario, sometimes taking out the “alpha” attacker takes the fighting spirit of the rest of the group. Extreme pain can also be a spiritual kuzushi.
A single defense against an attack may encompass all three types of kuzushi. When an opponent strikes, let’s say we shift out of the way at the last moment. Our movement may cause the opponent to off-balance himself physically. We may land a hidden strike which, combined with our last minute shift, may confuse him. And, he may grow angry, upset, or even frightened that his attack didn’t work and he’s now in unexpected pain – a spiritual kuzushi.