Echo (yamabiko  山彦) of Hatsumi Sensei

It's strange how training in Japan feels like coming home. Even though I don't travel here as often as I'd like there is always a moment after all the stress of travel drops away and I can relax into this experience that just feels right.

Maybe it's the family feeling that exists in Hatsumi Sensei's Bujinkan. Maybe it's all the friends and good memories here. Or maybe it's just reconnecting with the source of this art that is such an important part of my life.

Class with Sensei Tuesday night was truly wonderful. There were so many important discoveries I found in Soke's taijutsu that I told my teacher Peter Crocoll that even if all I had was that one class my trip was worth it. He said he thought the same thing last night.

It's hard to convey what happened in writing, but I will be working on this material for many months to come in my classes at home.

Sensei had us working on kage no tsuki for a bit. Then he made reference to existing in the kukan. He said you use a point in the kukan and you live there. For me it is like balancing on a needle. But you can make an entire life at that point as your spirit expands to open up space for you. Very esoteric stuff.

Sensei also made reference to yamabiko  山彦 or echo. The technique he did took the attacker's intent and echoed it back on him. If you think about how a mountain echo works, it starts at one small point, your shout, then expands outward, bouncing off the canyon walls, to return to you in waves that seem magnified.

I was also fortunate to watch Hatsumi Sensei write a scroll for Peter. He told Peter it was next year's theme and this was the first time he wrote it. I'm not sure I should say more about that here, except next year should be great!

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Groping the Void with 探り回る Sagurimawaru

Photo by judepics
There are various types of awareness we use to gather information.  Maintaining good situational awareness is key to succeeding in any complex environment or encounter.  Once, when we were studying taihenjutsu and ukemi with Soke Hatsumi, he made reference to the term 探り回る (Sagurimawaru) which translates roughly as "to grope for, or fumble."

But Hatsumi Sensei didn't talk about this in a way us English speakers might normally consider the term fumble, as some kind of clumsy, unskilled, movement.  He spoke of it more as a exploration and a searching about the environment to see what you may discover.  It was a process of discovery.

So if we fumble about the Japanese language and look at other related terms in our art or just in the Japanese idiom, we may discover something:

You may have heard about the Ashinami Jukka Jo- The ten ways of walking according to the Ninpo book Shoninki, but we also have 探り足 Saguri Ashi and Saguri Aruki which are used for stealth and to feel your way with your feet when your eyes are not enough to set your path.

When you are trying to understand someone else you may use 探り合い  saguri ai to probe each other or sound each other out.

Maybe you are uncovering secrets:  探り当てる saguri ate ru - to find out

If you feel like Marcellus from Hamlet that something smells rotten in the state of Denmark: 探り出す saguri dasu to spy out / to smell out

Maybe you lost your house keys and need: 探る saguru to search / to look for / to sound out

Many people use training in the Bujinkan to: michiwosaguru 道を探る to seek a path;  to find one's way.

If you have bad manners you could saguribashi 探り箸  using your chopsticks to find a food you like by rummaging in your dish, pot, etc. (a breach of etiquette)

So at the root of understanding 探り回る Sagurimawaru in our training are two contrasting perspectives on your approach as a student in class.  Are you fumbling about blindly or are you on a path of discovery?  This is a choice you make everytime you step into the dojo, whether you slip in with saguri ashi or trip over the threshold.


Nakaima 中 今: a Privileged Moment in Eternity

photo by Guitarfool5931
People in the Bujinkan often mention distancing, angling, and timing as part of fundamental taijutsu.  While we train to get these right, there are many subtle nuances to what is "right."  For example, there is early, middle and late timing, but also an entire spectrum in between these measurements.  And there is a way to step outside of this measured time entirely.

The ability to do this can be related to awareness in the moment.  Soldiers in combat are encouraged to keep their head on a swivel so as to maintain situational awareness.  Another simple look at states of awareness in combat can be found from Jeff Cooper, founder of the American Pistol Institute ("A.P.I.") in 1976 in order to teach the Modern Technique of the Pistol as a method of the handgun for self-defense.  He describes this color code:

"In White you are unprepared and unready to take lethal action. If you are attacked in White you will probably die unless your adversary is totally inept.

In Yellow you bring yourself to the understanding that your life may be in danger and that you may have to do something about it.

In Orange you have determined upon a specific adversary and are prepared to take action which may result in his death, but you are not in a lethal mode.

In Red you are in a lethal mode and will shoot if circumstances warrant."

In the Bujinkan, we focus on awareness from the learning of kamae leading to the experience of the Godan test and beyond.  Hatsumi Sensei talks to this point as the secret of winning.  He says,
One never knows when a fight might start.  That is why in Budo one keeps prepared, so that should a fight arise, one can settle it as quickly as possible.  In a dangerous situation, you act swiftly without any hesitation.  That is the secret of winning.
He describes how to do this,
You must KNOW that you can win, and use this energy in your encounter.
In Shinto there is a word, "Nakaima," which literally means "the middle of now."  It teaches us that the current moment embodies the whole of time, and consequently, that how you live the current moment is of supreme importance.
Nakaima 中 今 as described by Shintoists repeatedly appears in the Imperial edicts of the 8th century. According to this point of view, the present moment is the very center in the middle of all conceivable times. In order to participate directly in the eternal development of the world, it is required of Shintoists to live fully each moment of life, making it as worthy as possible.

Hatsumi Sensei may also be referring to this concept with the idea Kanjin Kaname.  This can be translated as "what is truly important," but another reading is "the heart and eyes of the gods."  When you are in accordance with this, you are in accord with the laws of nature or heaven.  You cannot fail.   You may achieve kamiwaza (divine techniques).  Isn't that what you are studying in your dojo?

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