Several exercises can be used to improve our skills. Try these five steps before freestyle training:
This kind of training help us to be aware of the next movement of an opponent, and can be used with many Bujinkan techniques (including with weapons). It must be practiced: each step many times. Furthermore, try some of those:
1) Atemi no Tanren / Keiko (Hit training)
Bujinkan has some exercises that improves the body strength, develops attack or counterattack rhythm, and increase speed. Atemi no Tanren or Atemi no Keiko is one of those exercises.
Below, you watch some videos with techniques from Koto Ryu Koppo Jutsu and Shinden Fudo Ryu Dakentai Jutsu:
2) Incomplete Kihon Happo (基本八法, eight basic techniques)
A training partner attacks you with punches, kicks and grips on different timing and positioning, when you counterattack with one of Kihon Happo technique (use incomplete form). This practice helps you on positioning (and footwork), control of the space/distance, timing, touch, awareness, and speed. You should consider every aspect. Especially, you help your training partner on how to absorb, how to change attack without show externally his/her intention etc. After that, practice with many opponents, an armed opponent (various weapons), and some armed opponents. Do not forget, ground fighting.
3) Different Combinations
Consider the flow or transition (soft) between techniques, try some combinations of defense or attack.
Go through freestyle practice. However, remember that martial art training is about reflexes. If you practice an unnatural flow you will probably need years to fix it. Moreover, it is impossible to reproduce a real life-threat event at the sparring. After all, how to deal with fear is another topic…