Bojutsu Gokui: How to Get Hit Over the Head by the Void.

by pusgums
We were in the middle of a bojutsu class and I had an epiphany.  I was trying to explain how to hold the staff.  "You must hold it lightly.  Yet firmly connected to your kamae and spirit."  My words failed me.

Yet, I was feeling something with the rokushakubo I wanted to communicate.  I tried demonstrating various aspects of the movement and grip on the bo.  And none of these things held the idea I felt. Luckily, I remembered a quote from Hatsumi Sensei and I dropped it on the students:

In a verse of the gokui: "striking the void, if there is a response in your hands, that is the gokui."  You must have the enlightenment of the Buddha of the void (koku-bosatsu), whose heart was as infinite as the void itself.  Thrusting the bo into the mist is in truth thrusting one's heart and mind, and this is one method of koku - void training.

Yes!  I was feeling it.  You have to hold the bo very lightly to feel the response from the void.  The response I felt was like creation.

Not long after this exciting insight I was hit on the head by my uke's bo.  If you mess about in the void you might get hurt.   That's one thing I love about training- the immediate feedback that keeps me humble.

Hiding Behind Totoku Hiyoshi No Kamae

Seeing Totoku Hiyoshi No Kamae for the first time can be misleading.  Usually a student's first exposure to this kamae is seeing someone hold a sword out in front of themselves while someone else throws shuriken at them.  Then the instructor hands the sword to you and says, "Next."

by eflon

This aspect of Totoku is often perceived as one of those quirky things in our training that we may try out, but never take seriously.  After all, who has had to dodge shuriken for real?  I'm not counting the dishes your girlfriend threw at you during a recent argument.  Maybe you try this out, maybe block a few rubber shuriken and then forget it.

Totoku forms part of some very rich strategy in our art.  And the more you look for it, the more you will encounter.  I personally have heard Hatsumi Sensei reference it many times, and it wasn't anything to do with shuriken blocking.  It is a running theme in our taijutsu that has to be experienced from a qualified teacher.

Maybe a starting place to understand this kamae can be from the Tachi.  This sword was mainly held in one hand.  There was little tradition of handheld shields in Japanese Budo.  So how do you deal with incoming arrows, spears, or enemy sword attacks?  You use your own sword.  The first use of the sword is to protect yourself before cutting.  It becomes your first line of defense and your shield.

What if you don't have a sword?  The idea of Totoku goes even deeper.  It moves into the idea of hiding yourself behind a shield.  But what is a shield?  Soke speaks about this in reference to Goton No Jutsu:



Examine the character for "Ton" as used above in Tongyo ("hiding one's form"; or alternatively, "the discretion doctrine"), and you can discover it to be a combination of the characters "fleeing" with a "shield" - just as along the path of Ninpo.  The priciple of recognizing the value gained by winning through flight is one of Ninjutsu's cardinal rules.  However it is not simply a question of escaping.  What can one use as a shield?  One can use:
  • the Five Elements (wood, fire, earth, metal, and water)
  • the Five Rings
  • the Five Ways (the way of enlightenment)
  • the Five Arts
  • the Five Teachings
  • the Five Confucian Virtues (benevolence, rightousness, prosperity, wisdom, and sincerity)
  • Nature
  • the shining (or shadowed) glory of the martial ways
  • beliefs
  • politics (or rather policies for life)
the shields are multiple and varied.

Soke says on another occasion,

Everything is a natural shield.  So, anything can be a natural shield.  One should move in a connected way like Juppo Sessho, and Koteki Ryoda which include these teachings.  Such things are written in old Japanese scrolls.

And finally, I watched one day as Soke was demonstrating some of his mysterious muto dori, and he explained, "You must evade by the thickness of air.  Use the air as your shield."

Kankaku 感覚: Can You Smell It?

One night in my hotel room in Kashiwa, I had a personal breakthrough. It was after one of Soke's Friday night classes at the Hombu dojo in Noda. I was in the habit of taking detailed notes after training. Tonight these notes were different.





Normally, when I put pen to paper, the details of the class line up across the pages of my notebook faster than my hand can scribble. All sorts of details: names of techniques and henka, where Soke had his left hand, what weapons he used, things he said, etc. Tonight I stared at the blank page in a daze and wrote:

"Where to begin?

Holding without holding.
Striking without striking.
Technique without technique.

Accident turns to fortune.

Slipping - blending.
Letting opponent defeat themselves."

That was it? Vague ideas to be sure. These notes would probably be useless to anyone but me. But when I read them, they do trigger feelings from that night.

Sometimes in training I am left scratching my head. No matter how hard I try, or how intently I observe, I cannot repeat what Hatsumi Sensei has just shown us. I guess that's to be expected. Soke often states that he wants us to just get the feeling of his movement.

This is the idea of Kankaku
感覚【かんかく】
(n,vs) sense; sensation; feeling; intuition. Soke has many ways of expressing this. One time I heard him say that we might just notice the scent of it. It was a way of suggesting that the feeling was subtle and ephemeral and could pass by on a breeze. In my case, maybe I was passing a strong odor.

Another time, Hatsumi Sensei suggested that there was a strange wind blowing through the world. He said we should try to incorporate the mood of that wind into our movement. I don't know whether I can be that connected in training to invite the whole world into my movement, but I can at least open up to the feeling in the dojo. That is a start.


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