Winning by Mistake

I was training with my teacher Peter Crocoll this weekend and I made a critical error that led to an injury to my eye. Peter was teaching sojutsu, and the worst possible thing happened. I blocked a seven foot spear with my eye.

This injury could be devastating. Yet I am fine. It could have been embarrassing, yet was not. Instead, my taijutsu protected me and I came out with some wonderful knowledge. I won.

Soke says to always be winning. He references Daruma who fell down seven times but got up eight. In other words, don't fall down- fall up.

I was supposed to use my hips to redirect the spear with my weapon. Instead I used my hands alone and the thrusting Yari was directed right at my eye. What saved me was my experience with taijutsu. I FELT what was happening and was able to ride the strike so that it glanced off my eyelid. The injury I received was a swollen bruise. Oddly the yari didn't even make contact with bone or my eyeball. How does a seven foot spear thrust into your eye and just miss? Thanks bujin.

So often we strive to be perfect and be mistake free. But maybe the illusion of perfection is the mistake. My mistake was very important for my training. I'll happily accept the bruise.

This goes for teaching as well. I heard Hatsumi Sensei say that teachers shouldn't be afraid to make mistakes or look foolish in front of their students. This idea really frees up teaching and makes it more honest.

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Kamae Gokui: My Tiger Kamae is Strong.

1985. I'm having lunch with my friends from high school. We chose this spot on campus because no one bothered us there. We could be the goofy teens that we were without trouble. Except today.

I was about to experience maybe the most important lesson about kamae that Soke has offered us. I had been obsessed with ninjutsu and devoured every book, magazine, or VHS tape I could find. I was still a few years away from any real training. It just wasn't available then. There was no such thing as the internet in '85, and very few legit teachers of Hatsumi Sensei's art anywhere.

We were sitting on a bench, eating our lunch, and around the corner comes some guy I had never seen around campus. He asks for a cigarette. None of us smoke. He demands money from me. I tell him to leave us alone. He states that he will take it from me.

I stand up. "You can try," I tell him. Then I take a deep pose in what I now know as doko no kamae (sometimes called the angry tiger posture). He suddenly looks quite insecure. He considers his options and says, "You're crazy." Then he leaves.

My friends sit frozen on the bench looking at me, lunch falling from open mouths. We burst into laughter. I collapse back to the bench. My voice and hands shake from adrenaline. We eat for a minute, then each decide that maybe we should get to class early today.

I was lucky he didn't call my bluff. I had no idea what to do if he attacked. I had zero training. I was just copying a pose I had seen in a book. But with kamae it is all about spirit. And apparently I sold it.

Hatsumi Sensei makes reference to this gokui of kamae often, for example, "In referring to seigan no kamae one may be in any stance. What is important is the spirit. Not the form. In fighting it is what is inside of you that counts."

Soke also describes this as an aspect of Banpen Fugyou (many changes, no surprises). "This is the truth of spontaneous change. Therefore, I never go against nature and favor the quiet mind that is never surprised, that remains free from conflict."

Soke describes kamae simply as "the moment before change."

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A Fistful of Nothing, or the Void of Koku.

Some of the best lessons of the Bujinkan lie in between techniques. Before the attack or after the battle. Or simply in the air between combatants.

In this space, this void, there exists everything and nothing. Both peace and conflict can arise. And anything in between.

虚空 Koku
If you don't find this idea in your training then you miss out on a great power in our art and in life.

Hatsumi Sensei gives us a roadmap to understand this in the following quote:

It is taught that the foundation of Budo is to first understand taijutsu, through which you can fight even if you have no weapons. This means to persevere in the martial ways (bufu ikkan), and to train consistently and with utmost effort. Then you will grasp the secrets of muto dori (no-sword technique). Succeeding in this, the mysteries of the secret sword (hiken) will be revealed, and no matter what weapon you hold, your heart and your taijutsu will dance skillfully in the void (koku).

While these ideas may seem esoteric or advanced, they have great practical application. If you dismiss them as something apart from the reality of training or combat then you miss a very large variable that can harm or protect you. The void doesn't take sides.

Paul Masse reminds me of this idea in his blog:

(妙術、実)あると思えば,ない. ないと思えば, ある。If you think there is something, there is really nothing. And when you think there is nothing, there is something.

Ignoring ideas about Ku in training can be the same as ignoring how to punch or kick. You need both. And nothing.

Soke continues to say:

Facing an opponent, armed with a sword, adapting to change (henka), hiding in the void (koku), accepting change, and acquiescing to the void - this is never about killing the opponent or benefiting from the aggression of your allies.

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