The Yari Kuri of Bujinkan 槍術 Sōjutsu

Michael Glenn thrusts into emptiness with the Yari, from a recent video on rojodojo.com
In a recent class we were training 四方技 shihō waza. This form has an important secret for all of Bujinkan 槍術 sōjutsu. Soke calls it 槍繰り yarikuri. This can be translated in various ways, like repetitive thrusting.

But we must consider why Hatsumi Sensei explains it this way. What he tells us about yari kuri is that,
“the thrust is kyo, the kuri is the jitsu.”
This means we should employ 虚実 kyojitsu in our thrusting with the yari. Where the thrust is the illusion or falsehood, and the repetition is the truth.

This means that each thrust with the yari can be either true or false. So how do you decide which is true and which is false? Hatsumi Sensei described this moment in terms of our bojutsu gokui, when he says
“realize the moment of truth, thrust in, and only after you feel a connection with something does the force naturally flow into it (the thrust).”

I recently made a video about this Bujinkan gokui


In this shihō waza, our first thrusts are probing. Then as we step out to the right we probe further. This second thrust drives in deeper. And there we make a grip change that is unique as the left hand draws the spear back to the right hand.

This creates the distance for striking with the ishizuki. But the deception continues because you quickly flip into another thrust. If he manages to block that one, you finish with a rising strike to the groin.

This is how the yari can play in the field of time (遊ぶ光陰). And time is nothing but the play of light and shadow. Learning to thrust with the yari this way is a revelation for your study of Bujinkan sojutsu.

Bujinkan Kyūsho: 呼吸 Kokyuu, 指 Yubi, and 目 Me

柴又八幡神社 Shibamata Hachiman Jinja, photo Michael Glenn
In the past few years, Hatsumi Sensei has been exploring more than one theme every year. And some of the Bujinkan yearly themes have actually stretched across more than one year. For example, one Bujinkan theme this year of “skipping stones” I first heard from Hatsumi Sensei during one class back in September of 2014: The 間 Aida of Skipping a Stone Across Water

Another Bujinkan theme that Hatsumi Sensei has been expressing the last few years is the use of 呼吸 kokyuu (the breath), 指 yubi (the fingers), and 目 me (the eyes). These three are not to be taken individually. They must be connected in the same way that the ripples on a pond are connected by the stone that skipped across it.

In one cold December class Hatsumi Sensei described this for us,
"(the eyes and the breath are) connected like skipping a stone. It’s connected together but really you disappear. Take the eyes and the fingers for jissen. In a real situation you don’t want to just go for them, you just kind of let them happen along the way. Take the eyes, the fingers, and stop the breathing."
These three things can be thought of as kyūsho. They are weak points on even the strongest opponent. If you attack the eyes, you destroy his ability to fight. The fingers are very sensitive to pain and break easily. And if you stop or interrupt the breath, the entire body and mind stops with it.

As always, Hatsumi Sensei embeds layers of meaning and wordplay into the things he shares with us. The word 呼吸 kokyuu means breath, but it also can be translated as a knack, a  trick,  or a secret for doing something. Hatsumi Sensei described one of these secrets in another class I went to,
"Don’t grab and hold, just move like this with the body.  The finger hooks on here. With this timing, with this rhythm."
Even though it wasn’t translated directly, Soke actually said 呼吸から愛人 kokyuu kara ai jin, this is the harmony of the breath between lovers. This means you match your movements or your breath to the same rhythm as the breath of your opponent. You harmonize and become one with him. Then when you break that rhythm, it shatters him like a wine glass.

In case you haven’t seen that happen, a wine glass can be shattered by sound (the breath or voice of a singer). This happens because the glass has a natural frequency at which it vibrates. The singer first resonates with this frequency, then breaks that by going beyond it.

Hatsumi Sensei said we can use the finger to attack the rib cage in a way that interrupts the breath. I witnessed this, but since it is a kuden, I would have to show you in person. Don’t be afraid to ask me to hurt you next time you see me!

Hatsumi Sensei added that this is why we don’t have to avoid a strike. Instead we interrupt the opponent's breathing. This becomes like sutemi. Here we find the feeling of being able to control with just one finger.

The word for eyes or eyesight in Japanese can use different kanji as well. One of them is 目 me which can be translated as insight. Another is 明 mei which is a brightness or clarity of vision.

And the finger indicates the connection or link between these things. We must open up to these connections when we train on the Bujinkan themes. Remember the real training happens in your own breath and your own insight.

Make the Opponent Empty

a rare empty hall in Ameya-Yokochō, photo by Michael Glenn
I've been writing lots of articles for my personal Bujinkan mailing list which you can sign up for here: Bujinkan Training Notes

The other day I wrote about something very important in our Bujinkan training. It starts with a question that everyone forgets to ask:

Who is it that fights? When you are in a fight or an argument, who does the fighting? Is it you? Your opponent? Does it just happen by itself?

Obviously any fight requires at least two participants. Unless you are fighting with yourself. But in that case there are still two because you are divided against yourself.

What if you didn't participate? Remove yourself from the fight. What happens?

The fight dissolves. Almost as if it was never real. Leave the opponent to fight with himself.

In a recent class with Hatsumi Sensei, he told us how NOT to avoid a sword,
"If you evade, you will die. Move without any intention to fight. Make the opponent empty. Make him forget his own intent to fight. Make him forget that he’s fighting or trying to strike you."
Make the opponent empty. Make yourself empty. The fight is an illusion that you have created. You can stop believing in it.

Hold 間 Ma in Your Mind For Heijōshin

Mural wall art at 明治神宮前駅 Meiji-Jingūmae station, photo by Michael Glenn
I have an important suggestion for you if you plan on training in Japan. When you show up to the dojo, put yourself in the proper mood for training. I suggest a state of 平常心 heijōshin which is a steady and calm presence of mind. Otherwise you can quickly become lost in the depths of what you have just jumped into.

If you’ve ever been to one of Hatsumi Sensei’s classes, you know that a lot depends on the mood. Yes, the Bujinkan Hombu Dojo has a mood. There is a feeling or sensation in the air. Where does this come from and how does it affect our training?

For example, during one recent class I was tired from training 2-3 classes every day for two weeks in Japan. But I showed up to the dojo in an expectant mood. In fact, it seemed there was a mood of anticipation among all of my training friends in the Hombu that Tuesday night. But, when Hatsumi Sensei arrived, his mood prevailed over all of us.

And during this class, he told us,
“I’m not teaching budo, I’m teaching the feeling of contemplation of a divine poem.”
Well, I can only speak for myself… but I don’t think any of of us anticipated that this would be tonight’s lesson.

Before I describe more of what he taught that night, let me lead you back to heijōshin. Because this lesson is beyond what we think about martial arts or combat. It begins from owning the kukan in your own mind.

We often hear about 空間 kukan in Bujinkan training. It means space. Training helps us examine the spatial relationships between fighters, between ourselves and our opponents, and even the physical location of the fight.

But you may not know that 空間 kukan is both internal and external. The fight takes place in the minds of you and your opponent maybe more than in actual physical combat. We must use a fighting strategy that uses both the internal and external space.

That same night at the Hombu dojo, Hatsumi Sensei said,
“You have to be able to take the opponent with the kukan itself.”
This is puzzling if you think only in terms of the physical. Yes, you can corner someone, or strategically position yourself to win through the proper use of space. But the real victory is when you own the internal space. Capture the opponent’s mind while freeing your own.

The word kukan uses the character 間 ma. This is a deep idea in Japanese thought. Where time is not linear, instead it is contained in the circle of nature. Space is not empty, instead it contains everything. Ma can be the space between things, between moments, or even between thoughts.

Ma can refer to the space between the technique you want to do in your mind and what you actually do physically. It can be the space between what the opponent expects you to do and what really happens. But it also can be the ability to see all of this at once as if from outside the fight.

That is another type of kukan. The space to see the whole fight including the internal struggles in the minds of both combatants. You might call that a divine insight. What if you could use that perspective?

Hatsumi Sensei used that perspective as he taught. First he showed us a technique and then watched us fighting to repeat what he demonstrated. But he didn’t let us struggle for very long. He gave us a tip for how to use this space in our minds,
“Don’t think of it as a contest. Don’t think about making it a fight. It’s not a contest. This is heijōshin. Don’t think anything.”
This kind of 間 ma in the mind is necessary for heijōshin. That is one of the great challenges even in just entering the dojo. If we can’t even show up to class with that kind of mindset, what chance do we have in a fight?

Axis of the Zero

Jizo from inside 伝法院庭園 Denbōin teien. Photo by Michael Glenn
Two weeks ago, Hatsumi Sensei spun around in one of his classes to show us the back of his sweatshirt. We could see an 円相 enso silk screened there along with the English word, “zero.” He showed us this to put emphasis on a comment he had just made,
“We need to learn to move like this. we need to make everything… our entirety into zero.”
You may have heard Hatsumi Sensei speak about zero. He has used this term for many years to describe his martial art. But in recent classes, it has been a focal point to our training.

In fact, when I was in Japan last December, Hatsumi Sensei acknowledged arriving at this zero state. But it was not something he could teach. He said it had taken him 42 years to internalize everything Takamatsu Sensei had taught him. He added that in that 42 years he had given everything and taught everything, so now we are back at zero. He looked out at us during that special Wednesday class and said,
“There's nothing to show, nothing to tell. We're just going to continue with this zero feeling.”
He said this almost as if it would be the theme for the new year, but in the last few years he has been less and less specific about yearly themes. So when I arrived in Japan a few weeks ago, I was interested to find him moving from “zero” in all of his classes.

Hatsumi Sensei uses zero almost like an axis, or a pivot point. But it isn’t just a philosophical idea. It is very physical. When I attacked Soke, he seemed to disappear, but then his finger was crushing my eye socket. Immense pain has a way of drilling everything down to one point.

Hatsumi Sensei was very specific about this,
“When I say make everything zero, that actually is a point. Don't misunderstand and think that zero means nothing. You have to make each point zero.”
He then went on to explain that from zero there is a plus and a minus. That is where 陰 in (yin) and 陽 yo (yang) appear. Most people flip between these from one moment to the next, but residing in the zero that those energies spin around is the foundation of kyojitsu.

There is a famous zen paradox that comes from the Heart Sutra, “form is emptiness; emptiness is form.” And it seems in the martial arts to be an eternal struggle for people caught up in either 陰 in or 陽 yo, form or non form, technique or randori, kihon or not.

People in my classes or on my personal mailing list often ask me what is the “correct” kihon of a particular technique. The question itself reveals their own mind. Because if you are doing Soke’s budo, you are unconcerned with such a question. Consider that “kihon is emptiness; emptiness is kihon,” and reside within zero.

Hatsumi Sensei reminds us of Juppo Sessho when he says to remember that “zero” is a point, like an axis or a hub. From this pivot you can go ten directions. But ten is really an infinity.

This is a very practical matter in a fight. Hatsumi Sensei had people stab at him with a knife. He told us not to evade.

What?! How can you not evade? You will get stabbed… right?

Stabbed or not stabbed. In/yo. But what happens at zero? Soke reminds us that trying to evade takes too long. He suggested another way when he said,
“You can’t measure the time in real combat. The time has become zero. Then it becomes infinite.”
It is like that moment of pain when he clawed down on my eye socket. Everything collapses onto that one point and it feels like an eternity. The point of the knife when it thrusts also collapses down this way. So the answer is to make it zero so that you can find infinity there.

Hatsumi Sensei casually took the knife away from his opponent, then he told us,
“Don't try to force anything.  The important point is the zero. The axis point of the zero.”
When you try to forcefully grab the knife, or try to evade or do a technique, you give away too much information. The opponent may be faking his attack or notice what you are trying to do. In fact, he expects you to try something! Of course he expects you to evade or try to take the knife away. He is waiting for that to happen.

So you must not use technique, or try to evade. That is common sense that can be read or understood. And countered. Instead Soke tells us not to give away anything at all.

But zero does not mean doing nothing. In the Honbu dojo that day Soke kept reminding us,
“I’m not teaching whether to receive (ukeru) or not receive (ukenai) I’m teaching zero.”
Last December Hatsumi Sensei told us to connect to something in that axis point of zero. He suggested that within there's existence… there's presence (意識 ishiki) in that zero. A divine existence maybe. We must internalize that and make that transparent. Because the next wonderful thing will be born from that transparency.

誠 Makoto: In Defense of Sincerity

Michael Glenn reflection selfie in Harajuku
I just watched Hatsumi Sensei make an attacker kill himself. This has been happening in every class for the past week. Sometimes it is with a sword, sometimes a knife. But the opponent always ends up cutting or stabbing himself.

I'm in the middle of my Bujinkan training trip here in Japan. And I haven't had much time to write. But also some things in Soke's budo are difficult to express. Like how does he get the attacker to do this?

Hatsumi Sensei told us,
"It's important to do this kind of action through the kukan. Use the kukan, become the kukan. You need to receive the opponent's power and be grateful for his power."
This sounds like a joke but Hatsumi Sensei sincerely meant it. In fact, sincerity became something of a theme my first night here. Hatsumi Sensei painted 誠 makoto for me on a scroll. Of course this has more than one meaning. One is sincerity, another is truth or reality.

Hatsumi Sensei was trying to get us to understand how to use sincerity as a strategy. You may not know this, but kyojitsu only works when it is backed up with sincerity. Truth becomes false, or the false becomes real.

Soke said we can understand the truth from a lie.  When you hear a lie, doesn't it betray the truth? He told us that if we tell a lie we must be very sincere.

In fact I will be very sincere right now when I tell you this: the opponent's attack is a lie. He doesn't really want to hurt you. He may think so, but he only wants his own destruction. You can help him find this truth.

When one attacker cut in very fast, Soke was not concerned. He said that the way to deal with a very fast attack, was to have 平常心 heijoushin. This is a normal calm state of mind that is not disturbed  or surprised by the attack.

Then Soke changed the last kanji of heijoushin. It becomes 真 which can be read as "shin" in the case of truth... or, makoto for sincerity. So what does having this type of heijoushin do for you?

It means that you sincerely want to help the attacker get what he is seeking. This may be his own destruction. And because of your own sincerity, you know from the moment he attacks where to move. His attacks can never hurt you, but they will find their true target. Even if he doesn't know it yet.

空き Aki: Fill Your Bujinkan Training With the Light of Emptiness

Michael Glenn Holds the Empty Teapot, 深川江戸資料館
Hatsumi Sensei told us about a very scary moment in his training with Takamatsu Sensei. One evening they were relaxing at Takamatsu Sensei’s house. Takamatsu was drinking sake. He poured himself another big glass and held it up. He said, “Let’s go train!” And he gulped down all of the sake, slamming down the empty glass on the table.

They went to the nearby jinja. It was late and cold, but the moon was shining down on the shrine. Takamatsu Sensei took out his sword and said, “This is where you live or die. You must grab my sword.”

Hatsumi Sensei told us in that moment his fear left him. Takamatsu came at him with the sword. He instinctively grabbed the blade. He told us that it was a cold night and his fingers didn’t work very well, so he couldn’t fully grasp the blade. He thinks that is what saved his hand from being cut.

Soke said this fact was testament to how good Takamatsu Sensei’s teaching was. This made me laugh because it sounds more like madness than teaching. But, teaching is not necessarily a rational process. And, that Friday night in the Bujinkan Honbu dojo, Hatsumi Sensei could see us struggling to understand this type of technique. He told us,
“There's nothing to do. Wrap him up. The 空き aki, emptiness or the hole is important. In Spain you say aqui, but aki can also be this kukan this emptiness. you connect to this nothingness without doing anything.”
Soke called this idea shinjutsu. Another way of writing aki is 明き. This is like a bright light that opens up to fill the empty space. You don't think about it, but it's there when you need it. You can feel this connection with this kind of space.

Hatsumi Sensei went on to tell us the secret to make this happen,
“You won’t see any waza or technique here. You have to become nothingness, make your body nothingness (体無いし tainaishi) and stay in that nothingness.  If you don’t have to do anything, don’t do anything. In the end it’s not a physical power that matters. It’s being transmitted through the space. It’s more of an energetic or spiritual thing. “
I bet that Hatsumi Sensei didn’t think about all of that under the cold moonlight so many years ago. Takamatsu’s teaching was an organic process that brought his student Hatsumi to this place of life or death naturally. The sword cut down, and in that moment when his fear left him, that's when he became nothing.

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