経津 Futsu: Reflections on a Theme for 2012

Katori-jingu, Katori-shi, Chiba-ken, Japan photo by TANAKA Juuyoh
Training sometimes seems mysterious. Even more so when Hatsumi Sensei gives us Japanese philosophical ideas to consider.  Sometimes these mysteries come in the form of a stated yearly theme.

The idea or feeling behind the yearly theme continuously changes as our lives and training evolve through the year. So whatever we think the theme is, it's important not to get attached to any set concept and to allow the natural evolution of training to occur.

These yearly themes and ideas Soke gives us are like gifts that resonate throughout the year as reflected in our training, in our taijutsu, and our lives.

As we enter 2012 what sort of starting point might we have for the yearly theme?

UPDATE: 2012 theme seven months later: Shot to the Heart of Kaname 要

I was at a class earlier this month where Hatsumi Sensei gave us some hints. We spent a considerable portion of this class exploring concepts with a sword sometimes against long weapons like a bo or yari.

At the end of class, after bowing out, Sensei wanted to share some ideas with us, so we sat on the dojo floor as he began sharing with us some ideas about a theme for 2012. Connected to the sword training we did that night, he made reference to 沸 Futsu which he used as an onomatopoeia (giongo 擬音語) for different sound effects.  He started out describing its relationship to the sound a katana makes when cutting. But then Hatsumi Sensei was using a lot of wordplay that night.

He continued to explore these meanings by using the ぶすぶす Futsu sound of simmering or boiling. He compared this to 煮沸消毒 shafutsu shoudoku which is sterilization by boiling. He told us this was like a burning away of bad parts of the self.

When I began to look into Futsu with more depth I found a wealth of meaning. One idea in particular seems well suited to the possibility of sword for the coming year.

Please remember that none of us knows where the training or Hatsumi Sensei will take us in the coming year so these connections and ideas are my own.

In his talk, Hatsumi Sensei made reference to the Katori Jingu (photo above), where Futsu Nushi no Mikoto 経津主之命 Guardian deity of martial valour is celebrated.

Even more intriguing is Futsu no mitama 布都御魂 the Divine sword of Japanese mythology, possessed by gods Takemikazuchi no mikoto and Futsunushi no mikoto,
The personification of a divine sword. At the time of Emperor Jinmu’s 神武天皇 (Jinmu-tennō) campaign to the east, Amaterasu 天照 ordered Takemikazuchi to assist the beleaguered Jinmu, whereupon Takemikazuchi miraculously sent his divine sword Futsu no mitama to appear in the warehouse of Takakuraji in Kumano熊野 . Takakuraji found the sword and presented it to Jinmu, whereupon Jinmu was enabled to complete his campaign. In Sendai kuji hongi, Futsu no mitama is called “Futsunushi no kami’s sword of spirit,” presented by Jinmu to Umashimaji as a prize for killing Nagasunehiko and submitting to the imperial forces. It is believed to represent a divine sword worshiped by the martial clan Mononobe, who were instrumental in the early pacification of Japan, and is enshrined as the central deity (saijin) of Isonokami Jingū and other shrines.
--Kadoya Atsushi, Waseda University, Tokyo
Another connection for Futsu is the mirror as in the 真経津の鏡  Mafutsu no Kagami (alternate name for Yata no Kagami, the mirror of the Imperial regalia). When you look for your reflection hidden there it is like a search for the Buddha hidden from view or 秘仏 Hifutsu.

I hope my exploration of Futsu gives you some hints to reflect on for 2012. Happy New Year!

Fushaku Shinmyō 不惜身命: Mind and Body Like Diamond

Diamond Corridor photo by dickuhne
Hatsumi Sensei's classes are often too crowded to do "large" techniques. Or, to train with weapons that need "large" distances. Recently I was lucky enough to be in a class that was small enough for Sensei to have us using Bo, Yari, and Naginata. Along with the big weapons came some big ideas for training.

He was attaching these weapons to his uke's body or clothing, then moving in a way where the weapon seems to develop a life of its own. He explained he was using a reflection of the attacker. That was a big idea that reminded me of another time when he described 辛抱 Shinbo to us.

 One other large idea he put out there for us came at a moment of evading a yari thrust. He used the phrase 不惜身命 Fushaku Shinmyō. Roughly translated in this context it means sacrificing one's life to accomplish its resolution. It can be related to concepts of Sutemi and throwing away the self.

The roots of this idea come from Buddhism and the Nyorai Juryo Hon chapter of the Lotus Sutra: teaching of devotion that spares neither body nor life.

Some other translations for this phrase read: not sparing one's life for a worthy cause; courageous and selfless dedication; Self-sacrificing Dedication; or to place the cause above one's life.

How do you get to that selfless state? The state where the tip of the spear is no longer a threat and you can move undeterred against the slash of a sword?

One clue I found may come from the study of Goshin no kata. This is when you do a continuous, non-stop repetition of one of the (Sanshin, Gogyo) five forms endlessly without an attacker until one of two things occurs.  The form naturally and spontaneously shifts or changes to one of the other forms, OR you reach satori (a flash of enlightenment).

I found an interesting reflection on this in an essay from Chōjun Miyagi (founder of Goju-ryu) published in 1942. In his style they have a "Sanchin no kata." He writes,
"Kongoshin Fushaku Shinmyō no Kyochi

If you could attain Enlightenment or Satori through practicing
Sanchin, you were beyond life and death, and your mind and body
would become strong enough like Diamond."
Well I think a yari tip would break against diamond armor such as that.

How to Grow Your Own 器 Utsuwa

敲玻璃器 Break on through, photo by .HEI
Did I learn anything? Sometimes I wonder. I watch Hatsumi Sensei teach and then he does something or says something that I find fascinating. So I look around the Hombu to see how other people are reacting. Did they see what he just did? Did they understand what he just said? Did I?

That's the real question. What is my own capacity to understand?

Is everyone at the hombu dojo having the same training experience and are they getting as much from it as I am? Will I understand or experience the training as deeply as someone like Oguri Sensei who has been training more than 40 years and actually trained with Takamatsu Sensei?

The answer is no. We are not having the same experience or learning the same thing. No one there is. We all have different levels of understanding. As for myself, I can only experience training to the fullness of my capacity.

In Chinese they say, 大器晚成 it takes a long time to make a big pot. This suggests that great talents mature late or the idea of being a late bloomer.

The character for pot may look familiar to you 器. A few years ago, Hatsumi Sensei made it one part of the yearly theme with the idea of 才能魂器: ability/talent (Saino, 才能), spirit (tamashi/kon, 魂), and capacity/vessel/container (utsuwa/ki, 器)

That is an interesting idea: capacity.  It may seem like the capacity of a container, pot, or student is set at a certain level. But this capacity may expand or shrink depending on what it is being filled with.

Imagine Bujinkan or teaching like a flowing river. You may have a big glass or a small glass. Both will be full after being dipped in the river.

But you get to decide from what source you fill your container. This is a simple secret.

It is like an ura side to the concept of utsuwa/ki, 器. When we study budo, our capacity to understand, grow, or fill up is set by the size of the glass we drink from.
Did you get that? That is simple but powerful. Drink from a larger source and your own capacity will grow.
From my own training I have discovered just how powerful this is. For example, we might rate the size of various learning opportunities: On a scale from no training; to reading books; watching videos; attending a seminar; attending regular classes; teaching (yes this is part of learning too); visiting Japan to train with the Shihan and Hatsumi Sensei; Living in Japan and training regularly; Learning from Bujin or divine insight…

Or, finally, off the scale and beyond all is learning from or opening to the source that Soke often speaks about. Just recently I heard him say to invite nature into your training. He said if you are having trouble, let nature into your technique and let it take over.

You can discard your container's limitations and toss it away (捨身 sutemi) by connecting to the deepest source of knowledge. Opening yourself up to nature itself instantly makes your capacity limitless. Any training or experience then becomes rich with joy and insight.

I personally have had surprising results from this process in my training. But it is easy to feel overwhelmed and some days I crawl back inside my old jar. When I return to my old home it isn't as comfortable or as big as I remember.

You may be familiar with this concept if you've ever returned to your childhood home. It seems smaller and less vibrant somehow. Your experience and capacity has grown to encompass so much more of life.That is the same wistful yet amused feeling many people experience after going to Soke's classes.

Hatsumi Sensei tells us not to get caught up in thinking. Throw that away. Release yourself from it. Have this 生命反射 seimei hansha, or  reflection of life in your training.

Hatsumi Sensei VS. Pro Wrestler Rikidōzan

During a recent Sunday class at Hombu, Hatsumi Sensei was showing techniques  against a double lapel grab. He made a point of demonstrating these techniques on some of the largest foreigners in the room. He tossed them around easily and made them groan or whimper in pain.

He then said that all of the Jugodans in the Bujinkan should be able to defeat any pro wrestler. He wasn't talking about the kind of pro wrestling we see now that is full of theatrics and largely staged, but he was referring to the kind of athletes and matches that were common during his youth.

Hatsumi Sensei then told us about a story from his past when he had accepted a grudge match against one of the most famous of those wrestlers, Rikidōzan.

Soke shared with us the surprise ending to this event, but first let's learn more about this legendary fighter. From the Rikidōzan Wikipedia entry:
Mitsuhiro Momota (百田 光浩 Momota Mitsuhiro?), better known as Rikidōzan (Japanese: 力道山, Korean: 역도산 Yeokdosan, November 14, 1924 – December 15, 1963), was a Korean Japanese professional wrestler, known as the "Father of Puroresu" and one of the most influential men in wrestling history. Initially, he had moved from his native country Korea to Japan to become a sumo wrestler. He was credited with bringing the sport of professional wrestling to Japan at a time when the Japanese needed a local hero to emulate and was lauded as a national hero.
Here is more about Rikidōzan from a Wrestling Revue article in 1964:
"Though born in Nagasaki in Kyushu, Rikidozan was of Korean descent. And in Japan, Koreans are usually objects of contempt, often discriminated against. Rikidozan fought hard to overcome this stigma. In the process he developed a trigger-like temper, rebelled constantly, against authority. "Nobody tells me what to do," he used to boast."
"Riki, who was given the Japanese name of Mitsuhiro Momota (literally, "Bright Child of the Hundred Ricefields"), never dwelled on his early years. But he was known to have been a sullen, bad-tempered youth who, shunned by his prejudiced schoolmates and deserted by his parents, left home at the age of 13 and journeyed 800 miles to Tokyo.

Seeking a living-and an outlet for his repressed hostilities-he enrolled in a sumo training gymnasium and after three years of incredibly arduous training was ready for his first match. All the bitterness erupted out of him as he tackled his opponent. Riki now weighed 300 pounds, with the big, blubbery but tough-as-steel belly characteristic of sumo wrestlers.

Despite his weight, blown up from downing 18 rice bowls and four cases of beer at a single sitting, he was as fast and agile as a cat. He could run the hundred yards in 11 seconds flat and was so superbly trained that he could write a letter by holding a pen between his powerful toes. Riki pounded his foe savagely. with every blow, every kick, he avenged the hardships he had suffered in the gymnasium-getting up at 2 A.M. to work outside in the freezing cold...smoldering at a thousand humiliations...absorbing insults and beatings from advanced classmates... Well, things were going to be different from now on, he vowed, as the fans hailed his victory.

With dynamic drive, he battled his way up in the sumo ranks. At 23, he made the sekiwake grade and was on the verge of entering the ozeki domain which would put him in line for the grand championship. Then he destroyed a brilliant future by quarreling with a gymnasium official over a technical decision. In a rage, he quit sumo forever.

Out of a job and missing the adulation of the fans, Riki was at a loss in the big metropolis. But not for long. Tokyo was starting to boom-it was during the MacArthur occupation-and he easily found work as a construction laborer. Swallowing his disappointment, he worked for a year.

In his spare time, he continued to train hard, concentrating on karate, the deadly art of open-handed fighting that later became his trademark. Then, with a small nest egg, he rented a hall for wrestling exhibitions. In no time he built up a rabid following. As his fame spread, he accepted an offer from promoter Al Karasick in Honolulu. Riki was a sensation there.

He followed with other triumphal tours, capturing a fistful of titles all over the world, beating Haystacks Calhoun, Fred Blassie and even the great Lou Thesz. He was now down to 250 pounds. A siege of illness had melted off 50 pounds and Riki decided to stay that weight after he saw what happened to Tamanishiki, a prominent sumo wrestler. Tamanishiki, a 400-pounder, joined his honorable ancestors when doctors were unable to cut through the mountain of blubber during a stomach operation. 
Except for Thesz, Riki had nothing but contempt for American grapplers. He sneered at their hippodrome showmanship, called them soft compared with the Japanese. He called Blassie the "dirtiest wrestler" he had ever met. In the boxing and wrestling stables that formed part of his vast business empire which also included hotels, night clubs, golf courses and apartment houses, Riki was a hard taskmaster, demanding the utmost from his men and whipping them with a bamboo stick when they failed to measure up to his stringent standards.

By December of 1963, Riki had successfully defended his "International Title" 19 times."
Around this same time there was a Ninja boom going on in Japan. Ninja were appearing all over the media and Hatsumi Sensei was in demand for TV interviews and sought out for demos and his expertise. Sensei has never hidden his idea that real budo and sport fighting cannot be compared. Maybe he said something in an interview, maybe Rikidōzan was simply seeking publicity by challenging and criticizing the legendary Ninja.

There were exchanges of words and letters back and forth. Rikidōzan basically calling Hatsumi Sensei out to a challenge. Hatsumi Sensei wrote to Takamatsu for advice. Takamatsu being a veteran of many such matches in his youth, told Sensei to accept the challenge and began coaching Hatsumi Sensei on how to handle this opponent.

A week before the fight was to occur, Riki was killed by a Yakuza in "the chrome-striped restroom of a plush Tokyo night club." Here are two versions of the murder,
"On December 8, 1963, while partying in a Tokyo nightclub, Rikidōzan was stabbed with a urine-soaked blade by yakuza Katsuji Murata who belonged to Bōryokudan Sumiyoshi-ikka. Reportedly, Rikidōzan threw Murata out of the club and continued to party, refusing to seek medical help. Another report states that Rikidōzan did indeed see his physician shortly after the incident, and was told the wound was not serious. He died a week later of peritonitis on December 15."
Another account:
"On the night of December 8, tragedy struck. Riki, whose business interests brought him into contact with one of the numerous gangs which dominate Tokyo's night life, was in the restroom of the New Latin Quarter when a gangster approached him. The gangster reportedly warned Riki to "stay out of this territory." Riki, who never took any lip from anybody, told him to go to hell. They tussled. A switchblade flashed, And Riki collapse, spilling blood. Rushed to the hospital, Riki was told the wound was minor and would soon heal. But a week later, after bleeding copiously, he died of peritonitis at the age of 39."
Hatsumi Sensei simply stated to us that the wrestler was knifed by the yakuza. Sensei went on to tell us that it was a lucky break for him because he would have likely been destroyed by the wrestler in the fight.

Lucky indeed. I have also heard him say that Ninjas make their own luck. If you subscribe to my training notes (if you aren't a subscriber yet, you miss a LOT of free Bujinkan notes), you can get even more stories Hatsumi Sensei shares during my classes with him. 

Show the Truth in Your Training

The Robbery photo By gcfairch
Here I will share a story I heard from Kan Junichi during Daikomyosai that proves Hatsumi Sensei is not a superhero who can dodge bullets. Of course I joke, but the story does prove something very important about the essence of training. First let me explain why I am not a superhero myself.

I screw up often when I teach. I get things wrong, I slip, stumble, misspeak, let myself get hit by my students, use the wrong words, or misremember facts. If a mistake can be made, I've made it. But I always do my best to acknowledge and recognize this humbly. My mistakes are my most important teachers. Training is not real if there are no mistakes. Teachers are not real if they don't allow themselves this honesty.

I've met many martial arts instructors who are terrified by this. They must always project some kind of superhuman perfection to their students and others. They only demonstrate with uke's who make them look good. And they won't try anything that could make them look bad in front of their students.

Show truth in your budo. The only way your budo can be effective is for you to train honestly. Be honest with yourself and with your training partners or students.

Kan Junichi told us this story about a visit to a U.S. military base with Hatsumi Sensei:

"Near Albuquerque there's a military base. We all visited that base with Sensei and as we were walking in there were cameras everywhere. Sensei said, "Don't speak with words, speak with your eyes." And then Sensei was giving us directions without speaking but by using his eyes. 

There were many people watching and Sensei asked us to do a demonstration. Then a military instructor came and stood three meters behind Sensei and pulled out a gun, then asked, "What would you do in this situation?" . Sensei replied by putting his hands up and saying, "I can't do anything. I leave my life up to you."

Then everybody watching began to clap. The instructor told Sensei that many other martial arts instructors had done demonstrations before and they all tried something like a back kick or grabbing dirt off the ground to throw it. The gunman said to them, I am much faster on the trigger than you are with that kick.

So then he bowed to Sensei and said, "Thank you. You are real."

He continued on to say, "There are three ways to make martial arts teachers from Japan happy: One is with Sake; Another is by letting shoot exotic guns; And the third is by having pretty women there." But Sensei turned down all of these.

They had all manner of weapons and machine guns available. They brought a bunch of ammunition, rounds… They said here, go ahead shoot all these guns. Sensei said, "I don't need that." I don't need women. I don't need Sake."
The truth is like this. It's really nothing. At three meters here, of course the gun is faster. You try to throw sand or kick, you're finished, right? And so Sensei showed the truth here in his gesture. And I thought that was very important when I saw this."

Show the truth in your training. Show it to your students, but more importantly... to yourself.

The Kyūsho 五輪 Gorin: Sun Crossing the Belly

Navel Lady photo by Candida.Performa
Ideas as fundamental as Kyūsho 急所 (vital or tender points on the body) can seem mysterious when you try to really understand them. We have many Kyūsho 急所 in the Bujinkan. They have interesting names which vary according to the ryu. But their names and locations on the body are just the beginning and a door to understanding something deeper.

Let's consider the meaning of the kyūsho 五輪 Gorin.

I thought I was comfortable using this kyūsho until I read what Hatsumi Sensei wrote in his Advanced Stick Fighting book,
"The kyūsho known as "Gorin" means to point at "chi-sui-ka-fu-ku."
I was confused but curious about this statement. This inspired me to examine 五輪 Gorin more closely.

Gorin is normally explained as five vital points around the navel. That seems simple enough. But what are the five? and what about the variations of 五輪月影 Gorin Tsukikage and 五輪稲妻 Gorin Inazuma?

You will be hard pressed to find any Bujinkan teacher to explain more than the name and general area of 五輪 Gorin. But what does it represent? What does it do exactly? Why are there five points? And what about Hatsumi Sensei's reference above?

Usually 五輪 Gorin is translated to 5 rings. If you search for it online you will get the rings that symbolize the Olympics. Not too helpful for our study of ancient Japanese kyūsho.

In Mikkyō or tantric buddhism 五輪 Gorin is often symbolized by the Gorintō 五輪塔 which you will find all over Japan commonly used as memorial markers for the dead. These stone markers have associations with the five elements.
from JAANUS:
"Each piece in the five-story pagoda (Sanskrit = stupa) corresponds to one of five elements. The bottom story is square and corresponds to the earth ring (Japanese = Chirin 地輪). Next is the spherical water ring (Japanese = Suirin 水輪), surmounted by the triangular ring of fire (Japanese = Karin 火輪). Above this is a reclining half-moon shape (Japanese = Fūrin 風輪), representing the wind, and topmost is the gem-shaped ring of space (Japanese = Kūrin 空輪)."
Now we are getting somewhere! Hatsumi Sensei also made reference to these five elements. But where do the directions come from and why does the stone monument look nothing like 5 rings?

To go deeper we have to dig into the source of this imagery. The morpheme -rin can mean “wheel,” “circle,” or “ring,” but in this usage it translates as cakra (chakra) in the yogic sense of the five power centers of the subtle body. The gorin no tõ shows each of these power centers as having a different shape, and each of these shapes indicates a different great element. From bottom up these are: 1) square for earth, 2) round for water, 3) triangular for fire, 4) semicircular for air, and 5) a crescent moon-shaped jewel for space (or the three-dimensional equivalents of these shapes).

Historically the source of these 5 elements goes back to India, then through China and Taoist ideas and into Japan as often seen with the influence of Mikkyō. Some of the earliest references in Japan of these ideas come from 五輪九字明祕密釋 The Gorin kuji myō himitsu shaku (Commentary on the Secrets of the Five Cakras and Nine Syllables) composed by Kakuban 覺鑁 (1095-1143AD). In this text the five cakras 五輪 of the body are correlated with the Taoist theory of five viscera 五藏.

What does five viscera have to do with Gorin? Kyūsho are points to be struck, poked, prodded, stabbed or otherwise disturbed to have an effect on our uke's body and spirit during a fight. The five viscera in the Chinese system are: heart, lungs, liver, kidneys and spleen.

How does poking someone in the stomach affect the heart? Well, just have someone try it and you might find out! But this also connects to traditional Chinese taoist medicine: "Blockage of the six bowels causes imbalances of the five viscera." I've been hit in the stomach myself and I could well imagine striking these kyūsho around the belly contributing to this sort of imbalance.

The five phases of the chinese: wu hsing 五行; or Japanese: gogyõ are also correlated with these five directions: Earth is considered "north"; Fire is "south"; Ku is "center"; air is "east"; Water is "west". 
五輪 Gorin above the navel

These directions are related to the path of the sun, rising in the east, passing across the southern sky, overhead or centered at noon, setting in the west, then travelling under the earth through the darkness of the north at night. We can see this path represented on our kyūsho chart and as Soke Hatsumi has shown in his drawings.

I'm glad I found all these connections to help me understand Hatsumi Sensei's simple instruction about Gorin. Of course this rabbit hole I climbed into is deep and twisty. The information in this post is what I discovered out of my own curiosity and may not at all represent what Hatsumi Sensei had in mind in regards to Gorin. I'm sure I missed something or even could be completely wrong but that's what makes learning in the Bujinkan fun!

Our training is constantly evolving so we cannot be attached to any definitions. In fact, Sensei recently said he had written the kanji of Gorin五輪 with a different reading as Gorin 五臨. He said it was to encourage people to find and re-establish a dialogue and speak from their essence, face to face and dealing with the truth head on.

It is so important to train with good teachers and experience their truth directly in person. This is what I strive for in in my own classes and in every class with Sensei or with any of my teachers in the Bujinkan.

出花 Debana: Seizing the Flower of Intention

Lupin, anime figurine, Kadena-Cho Okinawa Japan. photo by satori.image
Timing is basic to combat strategy. Whether it is unarmed, iaijutsu, or even gunfighting. This variable and how you manage it contains hidden lessons.

Consider this example from a gunfight in William S. Burroughs' "The Place of Dead Roads,"
Suddenly Kim flicks his hand up without drawing and points at Mike with his index finger.
     He throws this last word like a stone. He knows that Mike will see a gun in the empty hand and this will crowd his draw….
     (With a phantom gun in an empty hand he has bluffed Mike into violating a basic rule of gunfighting. TYT. Take Your Time. Every gunfighter has his time. The time it takes him to draw aim fire and hit. If he tries to beat his time the result is almost invariably a miss….
     "Snatch and grab," Kim chants.
     Yes, Mike was drawing too fast, much too fast.
     Kim's hand snaps down flexible and sinuous as a whip and up with his gun extended in both hands at eye level.
     "Jerk and miss."
     He felt Mike's bullet whistle past his left shoulder.
     Trying for a heart shot.
     Both eyes open, Kim sights for a fraction of a second, just so long and long enough: the difference between a miss and a hit. Kim's bullet hits Mike just above the heart with a liquid SPLAT as the mercury explodes inside, blowing the aorta to shreds.
Violent and descriptive. Thank you Mr. Burroughs for an example that obviously comes not just from an imaginative writer but from real gunfighting experience.

In basic taijutsu timing, you can be early, current, or late or all the moments in between. In reality, making such distinctions has little to do with the reality of time as experienced in combat.

Time becomes elastic. People experience time differently depending on their age, psychological state, or even cultural background.

Burroughs' gunfighter, Kim, uses an early timing with his finger bluff. Let's consider this type of early timing. How do we define it?

The other night in my class we were training the kata 隼雄 Shunū . In this kata, as your opponent moves to draw his sword, you enter before he can execute his draw and while his sword is still partially in the saya. At one point I moved in really early before my uke had acted at all. You might say  I jumped the gun (heh). From the outside maybe it looked like I made a mistake. But the timing felt right. And the results I got confirmed that to me.

Many people train this kata unrealistically. Largely because the attacker has a terrible draw that never had any intention of being completed, or was so poor in execution it never had any chance to cut anybody. But if you train with a competent swordsman the timing changes.

Here's the reality. If a competent swordsman has correct distance, and you attempt to enter when he starts his draw, you will be cut down. The only hope at this moment of timing is that you are facile with kyojitsu or you abandon your entrance entirely.

A good swordsman has ways of adjusting his draw to catch you coming in, retreating, or standing still. So entering early in this context has a different meaning. Hatsumi Sensei references this timing with the concept of 出花 Debana,
"Attacking the opponent before their own attack has formed; this is the art of seizing the flower before it blooms. The expression "debana" can be traced to the Fushikaden by Zeami ("Flower of Appearance," a Noh drama book of the 15th century). It refers to the state of a flower just before blossoming."
This timing is not the same as a preemptive strike which is an even earlier timing. Like paying a visit to your opponent's house the night before while he is sleeping. Even though preemptive strategies can be useful, that are largely illegal. The "出花 debana" timing catches your opponent just when his intention shifts.

That is where the secret hides. As Zeami wrote, “秘すれば花  Hisureba Hana” - "That which is hidden is beautiful" or, “when you keep a secret, a flower blooms.” To use this timing you have to notice and be aware of your opponent's shifting mind or intention. He of course attempts to keep that flower hidden. So how do you find it?

Hatsumi Sensei says,
"Use kyo-jutsu (present truth) to discern the hidden aim of the opponent and strike them before they can execute the move." 
This is your tool. Use 虚実 kyojitsu. If he responds to the 虚 kyo (illusion), give him the 術 jutsu (true form).

This is exactly what Burroughs' gunfighter did in the example above.

This can't be taught in writing, but must be experienced. So how do you know when you've got it? Well, in my own class the other night, my uke was startled by my entrance and froze. In my own experience, whenever I've executed 出花 debana correctly, my opponent stutters, freezes, or hesitates in his attack. It's like you interrupted the signal from his brain to his body.

During this interruption you have ample time and space to watch the flowers bloom.

Why Do You Take Ukemi?

photo by rick manwaring
Bujinkan ukemi doesn't look impressive. It's not supposed to. It has other goals.

In my Tuesday night class we were studying koshi kudaki. There are many levels to studying such a simple looking technique. First you need to understand the attack which is normally a type of hip throw like o goshi or harai goshi. As we were studying the attack, one of the students who also studies Judo was taking proper Judo ukemi. I suggested to him that this was creating a bad habit. His ukemi looked great, so what was bad about it?

It is important when studying any martial art to understand the goal of the study. In many modern arts, the goal is sport. In sport, there are judges to determine points or winners. But the judging gets more insidious. Your teacher naturally judges your form or technique. Your fellow students judge as they watch you. You even judge yourself. All this judging creates an impulse toward pretty form. Clean moves. Flashy kicks or throws. Satisfying slaps on the mat during ukemi. Even tapping out becomes part of the aesthetic.

Then ukemi training becomes very formal and repetitive to develop form and instant response.

None of this is real. It is all set up under false conditions that would likely never occur in combat. Hatsumi Sensei says,
"Don't take ukemi. When you take ukemi you create openings. In the moment you think, "I have to take ukemi here," you're actually open because your mind is occupied with something else. Don't take ukemi. Just let it happen. For example, if you use your hands in taking ukemi, you won't be able to use weapons against your opponent and you'll be killed as a result. You're occupied."
Bujinkan ukemi is more about natural response in the moment. It has few flashy moves and is not a big crowd pleaser at martial arts demos.

The Bujinkan sometimes faces criticism in the martial arts community because it doesn't have this aesthetic appeal. People don't understand what they are looking at. It is often hard even for experienced Bujinkan students to understand what Sensei is doing even as he does it right before their eyes.

What are some of the goals with our ukemi?

One is safety for the uke. Being able to survive being kicked, punched thrown, grappled, stabbed, shot at… whatever the situation demands. Survival ukemi isn't showy. And no two incidents look alike. In many martial arts dojos you walk in and find students all falling the exact same way repetitively. In Bujinkan classes, rarely do you see any pair of students falling or taking ukemi the same way. Training cookie cutter, repetitious ukemi can build bad habits that can get you injured.

Another goal of our ukemi is escape or evasion. You won't see this in any competition. So the training that sports martial arts do also has this large gap or absence in their curriculum. And, the ukemi they teach may be corrupted and dangerous because of this.

A third important aspect of our ukemi is countering. Often, the ukemi is the counter. Sports martial arts do have this but their end goal is different: i.e. pleasing judges (or the audience), a tap out or submission, maybe KO). These end goals again corrupt the use of natural ukemi that is a very powerful tool for countering.

Our ukemi has other goals as well like kyojitsu, searching and situational awareness, or accessing weapons.

Natural ukemi rarely looks impressive. It looks sudden, clumsy, chaotic or when done superbly, just blends with the attack to appear like nothing at all. But if it meets any of the above goals, then it was correct ukemi.

Hatsumi Sensei says,
"Those who take ukemi as Budoka are just amateurs."
For those of you who study arts besides Bujinkan, please ask your self next time you hit the mats: Why fall this way? Why be thrown this way? Why slap the mat? What is the purpose of your ukemi?

Jōtai 状態: The Art of the Situational

Making His Move, photo by Petteri Sulonen
Hatsumi Sensei often speaks in English. Of course his accent is Japanese so you may not notice or understand. One English phrase he says often is "case by case." When he says this the translator will often repeat it just because it is hard for ears not accustomed to the Japanese accent to catch the meaning.

What might he mean when he says "case by case?" In English, when someone says to consider something on a case by case basis, it means to judge each situation independently and as unique, even though it may appear similar.

Hatsumi Sensei also uses the word 状態  jōtai which is the current status;  condition;  situation;  circumstances;  or state. This suggests the ever changing state cause by the bufu blowing through the kukan and our connection to this.

When we study fighting in class, our actions often become fixed. The opponent repeats the same attack as we attempt the same technique over and over to study it. This is not real. And students often get confused when they realize this. A question that I often get from them is, "What if?"

What if the opponent changes his attack? What if he had a weapon? What if there are multiple attackers? My opponent would never let me do this, what if he resisted?

So of course, each individual situation is unique. We can't study them all. So we build adaptability and flexibility into our taijutsu. Like a rope.

Jōtai can be written with different kanji: 縄体 meaning rope. Hatsumi Sensei has used the rope as a tool to help us reach this understanding. And I highly recommend this study. In my Sunday classes we are making a thorough exploration of Hojojutsu, Hayanawa, and all flexible weapons. It is challenging indeed.

Here's something you can try. Take any kata. One that you feel you know well. You know you can do every step blindfolded while eating tacos. Then introduce a rope into the movement. Try to use the rope during the kata.

What happens next is that the rope has a mind of it's own. It will do it's own thing. So every time you do the kata it will be unique. Most people's results end up being sloppy and awkward as their taijutsu is abandoned while they try to cope with the chaos of the rope.

One hint is that the effective use of the rope is in connection. Connecting to your opponent through the kukan. The rope can physically represent this connection like in a game of tug of war. Or the connection can just be through your kamae. Or even further, the connection is not just with your opponent. It is like the spider web from heaven in Hatsumi Soke's Daruma painting.

One day in class Soke said that Takamatsu told him,
"What works most effectively is to make the connection and then push. Don't think of doing anything, just think of making that connection there."
Sensei then went on to remind us of our larger connections and responsibilities,
"When you're fighting or  tied up like this, and you think of trying to take a lock or something that doesn't work - these things are very effective. This is martial arts. Therefore don't teach anybody bad. Only good people. Just know budo and teach those people with good hearts and keep going."
Even though I am too young to have met Takamatsu, it's nice to feel that connection from Hatsumi Sensei back through Takamatsu and to all the Bujin that have gone before.

死門 Shimon: Gates of Death

Old City Gate photo by cliff1066™
Hatsumi Sensei tells us that we should awaken to the fact that we are only living in the space between life and death.

I've had a lot of death in my life recently. Every year that goes by, it seems that I know more and more people who are no longer around. That is natural as I grow older I guess. But in noticing this I also determine that death is always there, I just am not aware of it.  This awareness is an important quality in Budo.

People can misunderstand the famous quote from Hagakure, "The way of Bushi is the way of death." I think Soke is leading us to different understanding of that phrase. He says,
"All worldly things are impermanent; life and death are but one. Bushido is what runs through the Wabi and Sabi (transient beauty) of nature. Yet I feel compelled to say that enduring to the end no matter what happens, persevering with life despite being prepared for death at any time, is actually the secret of Bushido."
This "secret" has opened up important lessons for me in my training and my life. That space between life and death exists in the kukan. One day in class Soke told us to make space in the kukan where we could live. It confused me at the time. But I'm beginning to discover how to use that in the midst of danger. This is one aspect of the idea 九死一生 (kyuushi isshou, nine-deaths-one-life), meaning “a narrow escape from death,”

Sensei quotes the famous Zen Samurai Suzuki Shōsan,
"Knowing life and death; therein resides enjoyment."
Being aware of death in this way can get us intimately aquainted with the effects of impermanence. Shōsan taught that no one should forget their own mortality. But how does one find enjoyment in that?

As I write this, the founder of Apple, Steve Jobs just passed away. Here is his take on death awareness,
“Almost everything–all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure–these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.” – Steve Jobs’ Stanford Commencement Address
If you take this lesson to heart you won't waste time being a 八方美人 (happou bijin, eight-directions-beautiful-person) or someone who tries to be all things to all people. You may quickly find yourself at the 死門 shimon gates of death. In buddhism this is the gate, or border of death, leading from one incarnation to another.

As I think of all my friends and family that I have lost recently, I try to remember that there is a connection from birth, through life to that 死門 shimon. I cannot honor the joy that their lives brought me without also accepting their death. Or that my own path will follow theirs. Sensei says,
"Life and death are connected. Like In-Yo. Like a magnet and metal, life and death are attracted to each other, always getting closer."
So if you truly want to understand our training, it won't be morbid or wrong to do as Shōsan suggested: "Make the one character "death" master in your heart, observing it and letting go of everything else."

Kill Assumptions with 捨て身 Sutemi

Hatsumi Soke Painting For Me
Assumptions are deadly. They kill the chance to learn anything in class, and they can get you killed in combat. Sometimes they are subtle and you are not aware that you are making them. One simple interaction I had with Hatsumi Sensei illustrates this.

I was training at Hombu dojo one Sunday. Sensei was generously making calligraphy and ink paintings for the students. When he had my blank shikishi 色紙 board in front of him, he took one look at me and said,

"You like manga right?"

For some reason this question threw me. Sometimes Sensei takes requests from people. People often request calligraphy of a certain phrase or kanji that is meaningful for them. Some people just let Sensei decide.

In the many times Sensei had painted something for me before, he had waited for my request. This time he did not. He just asked that question.

So what were my assumptions? I had two. And they were both off the mark.

One had to do with my poor understanding of Japanese. When he said the word "manga," in my mind that translated to Japanese comics. That's how most people define manga back home.

But Soke may define manga differently. He says,
"I am expressing inner secrets in three ways - through painting, pictures, and a combination of pictures and calligraphy. It is my sincere wish that people can grasp a feeling of the inner secrets."
"Here we use the word manga 漫画 for picture. Change the characters and it becomes "infinite pictures" 万画. Flip the order and change the characters and it becomes "perseverance" 我慢. Indeed, it is because we persevere that we receive the power to draw the infinite pictures."
The day before, when I was thinking about what picture to request from Hatsumi Sensei, I thought I would just let him decide in the moment unlike other times when I had requested something specific. But when he said manga, all of my presumptions about what that meant and what he thought I wanted jumbled up in my mind so that I had no response to his question.

He didn't wait for my answer. He just seized the moment and made a beautiful picture for me. I went home with my picture and everything was fine, but for some reason this moment stuck with me.

Another assumption I made was that he would have just done this regardless of who he was painting the picture for. But as I thought about this, and I looked at all the pictures Sensei has made for me over the years - I realized that I almost always requested some sort of picture rather than any specific kanji.

Hatsumi Sensei probably remembered this when he saw me, and that's why he asked that question. It never occurred to me that he would remember out of the many hundreds of paintings  he makes every year.

If I make assumptions about things this simple and I am wrong or muddled in my understanding, what other faulty assumptions do I make about my teachers and what they are teaching?

This is an aspect of sutemi 捨て身, throwing yourself away or sacrificing yourself. My friend Paul Masse describes it as "Being caught in yourself means stopping the flow." Throw away your assumptions before you come to class or you will be as lost as I was.

百景 Hyakkei: One Hundred Famous Views of My Mind

Footprints, Gifu Prefecture, Japan. photo by tallkev
Well I've done it. Something no one else in this office would ever have thought possible. I've done something that most would consider a foolish and wasted effort. Something that only history will judge in it's fickle wisdom:

I've written ONE HUNDRED blog posts. This one makes 101.

I never set out to do that many. In fact, I don't know what I set out to do exactly. I simply started writing. One every week. And then I persevered.

Just like people start with training. They start for many reasons. None of those reasons matter so much. Just starting and then showing up for class every week. It's the perseverance that leads to growth and enlightenment in our art. You eventually find yourself with a lot of knowledge under your belt. Enough knowledge so that you are courageous enough to admit you know nothing.

Hatsumi Sensei says that he didn't start out to teach:
"When I first started accepting students, it was not truly for the purpose of teaching but rather for my own self-study and training"
I started my own classes here in Santa Monica for the same reason. And I still conduct my classes with this goal. The side effect of this is that some students join me on my journey, and as we travel the path together, we go further than we could by ourselves.

The funny thing is, I didn't realize I was starting my blog for the same purpose. I thought I was starting it for two reasons. One was to share, because when I was a young student in the Bujinkan I would have loved to have a weekly blog to read.

The other reason was that new students always ask me for a training manual. I don't really believe in training manuals, so I thought posting my thoughts on a blog would help my students with some information they were seeking.

But, as my blog grew, the reason for doing it evolved. It became about my own "self-study and training" as Hatsumi Sensei described. But more than that, as I started getting visitors from all over the world, It became part of my connection to the Bujinkan community and this path we are all on together.

Together the path becomes greater. We may travel farther.

I heard Hatsumi Sensei say a couple of years ago that even though his teacher Takamatsu had passed a long time ago, Takamatsu was still growing and walking ahead and Sensei was still following along in the footsteps of his teacher. May we also continue in the footsteps of the Bujin and the warriors who have travelled before us.

The Natural Form of Gogyo Hidden in Steam

Steamed Hokkaido potato seller, photo by robizumi
The study of form. It is where most classes begin. But it also leads to some of the biggest failures and flaws in martial arts training. So much so, that Hatsumi Sensei constantly reminds us not to focus on or memorize forms.

Yet, it is hard to teach or learn anything without using form as a starting place. How do we resolve this paradox? We can look at one of our basic forms to seek answers to these questions:

Gogyo no kata: why and how does form corrupt our training of this basic concept?

I will give two examples that have far reaching implications in the Bujinkan worldwide.

In the first, it comes from a natural human tendency to take something new and compare or relate to something else we already are familiar with. This happened many years ago in the Bujinkan with the Gogyo. It was the concept that the gogyo should be a spiritual concept like the godai.

Sensei has said this isn't the correct approach:
"We are training with the gogyo no kata: chi, sui, ka, fu, ku. If you think of this as something as religious then that can be a really bad mistake. Some people try to make this a study of "godai no kata" from a religious aspect but then you lose track of the real martial arts. Experience the gogyo no kata as a universal form - the natural form."
This seemingly small choice to compare gogyo to godai has travelled the globe and the decades so that the misconception persists very strongly even today. To the extent that people will insist on it. So if I am learning a form from someone who insists on this approach, what am I learning? What is the form in the form?

Form inherently limits freedom. Of thought, of movement. This brings me to my second example.

If you learn any form in a specific way, you end up memorizing it with your mind and body. Then the form gets repeated. A lot. It is supposed to be some kind of practice I guess. Memorizing and repeating form is substituted for real learning.

So if you are shown a new way, or are corrected, it is difficult to change. In the gogyo I see people all over the world perform it in a way that can be traced back to poor understandings from the '80's. I have even watched Sensei try to correct them. Over the years he continues to correct when it comes up. But bad habits die hard.

In my own classes, I sometimes have people join us for training who learned different versions of the gogyo. No problem. I show them my version. Then I ask them to share their version so we can learn something new. But often, everyone is so attached to their own form that they cannot even do another. Even after being shown it repeatedly.

I observed this same lack of flexibility when Sensei corrected the gogyo he saw people doing. They were so trapped in their bad habit, they understood nothing he was saying or showing them in that moment.

Form is a container for ideas that cannot be seen. We can take some feeling from the Sui of gogyo. But what is the essence of water? How do you contain it? Even today science does not comprehend all of its properties. Sensei says he is teaching steam:
"In martial arts it's common sense to think of water as something that flows from high places to low places. But in places you can't see, this water turns into steam and rises up into the heavens."
This is a hidden lesson of water. Another is that it does not memorize the form of the landscape it flows over. Every rock and twist of geography, or falls in elevation. Water just flows or changes state as needed.

So if you look at the form that is being shown in class, look further. Sensei says,
"Always understand one step beyond what is being shown. then be able to go on to the next step. Even if a bad person uses some fantastic techniques, you'll always be able to go beyond that and defeat them."
Do you see that in the form of gogyo you practice?

Purifying the Senses with Less Muscle

photo by davco9200
There are different ways to consider the words rokkon shoujou.  When Hatsumi Sensei put this idea out for us as a theme for 2010, many of us gave the concept a lot of thought and smiles (he did say it was the purification of the senses through laughter). But it is not only about thinking. To succeed with rokkon shoujou, we need to include it in our everyday practice and training for it to have any effect.

Our training consists of fighting and combat. How does one purify the spirit while fighting?

I can give you something to work on in every training session that will get you started. But first please consider how training reflects your spirit. Maybe you've heard a song of the gokui that says,
"If you possess a heart like clear water, the opponent is reflected as though in a mirror."
Well the opposite of this is also true: if your heart is muddled and confused it will be reflected and magnified in your taijutsu. Another gokui reflects this idea,
"Bottomless waves that reflect on the water's surface, it is humiliating for my mind to be known."
One of the easiest ways to spot this in yourself or an opponent is the over reliance on strength or force. I know you've heard this from your teachers before. "don't use force," or "do it without muscle…"

So you seek to remove force. This is an act of purification. Overuse of strength and muscle in training reflects something about the spirit of the forceful. There is something in your personality or in your heart that seeks that release of power (or fear).

Hatsumi Sensei says,
"In the case of any technique you are practicing, it is necessary to absolutely eradicate any excess strength or power from your technique - in essence you must purify yourself of these ways."
If you do this every class - focus on this one simple aspect of training - then you will be living the practice of rokkon shoujou. And you may discover that one natural way to remove too much strength is to train with laughter and a light heart.

嵐 Arashi: Don't Get Caught in Your Own Storm

when it rains in HK, photo by rocksee
I read a curious poem this morning in a story from Saigyō.
The Japanese poet Saigyō (1118-1190) was a Buddhist monk and lived most of his life as a traveling mendicant and hermit. His poems often relate the tension he felt between renunciatory Buddhist ideals and his love of natural beauty.
In the story I read this morning, he was caught in a rainstorm during his travels through Osaka. He tried to take shelter at a brothel. Yet he was turned away by a prostitute. But this was no ordinary prostitute. In the legend, she was an incarnation of the Bodhisattva Fugen who symbolizes meditation and practice. Knowing this, Saigyō was frustrated that someone so enlightened would  force him back out into the rain. He wrote:

How difficult I suppose,
    to reject
This world of ours.
    And yet you begrudge me
        a temporary stay.

In his frustration, Saigyō could get angry at this teacher in disguise and miss an important lesson. Do you ever get angry at your teachers? What happens after the storm fades?

I have been angry at my teachers. Or at least, thought they were wrong about something. The worst is when someone shows me something about myself I do not wish to see.

In Bujinkan training I have seen many students get angry. I have seen them quit training over it. I have had my own students angry at me. And Hatsumi Sensei has had many critics and ex students who got stuck on some point of contention.

When we get angry at our teachers, an inflection point occurs where learning stops cold. Or, if we are ready, learning explodes forward from that point to even greater understanding.

Anger at teachers happens for many reasons:
  • The teacher is flat wrong or in error.
  • You think teacher is wrong even though he is right.
  • You want your teacher to be wrong because you don't like what he is showing you.
  • You don't feel acknowledged for how well you are doing.
  • Your teacher focuses only on how badly you are doing.
  • You don't like the way a teacher runs his class or handles other students.
  • Your teacher sets a bad example.
  • The teacher fails at something.
  • What the teacher is teaching doesn't match your view of reality.
  • The teacher reflects something in you that you don't wish to see.
If you get angry at your teacher, first look at these reasons and decide what they say about YOU before you dismiss the teaching. And then, if you still think your teacher is bad, you should try to consider your history with them. Is it a history based on trust and respect? Has the teacher taught you well in the past, and is there hope of learning and growing more in the future?

For Saigyō, the prostitute in his poem responded in this way,

Having heard you were one
    who rejected this world,
My thought is only this:
    Do not stop your mind
        in this temporary stay.

A deep lesson if Saigyō was ready to hear it. Admittedly difficult to hear in the middle of a rainstorm. But the most profound lessons often show up when we are most uncomfortable.

The rainstorm symbolizes something temporary that will not last. In Japanese there is a play on words: a rainstorm - 嵐 arashi, but it will not stay あらじ araji.

For us Bujinkan students, in our training, this means we can't let our minds stop or get stuck on technique. But also, don't get stuck on points of disagreement with teachers. If you stop to argue you might miss the learning that never stops. Keep going.

It doesn't matter if you think your teacher is wrong, because your only teacher is yourself. 

万変不驚 Banpen Fugyo: Emptiness in the Midst of Constant Change

Infinite Dots - elevator ceiling, Fujisawa. photo by randomidea
You may have heard about 万変不驚 Banpen Fugyo and how it has emerged to be part of this year's theme along with Kihon Happo. This arose partially because of the earthquake and other events in Japan, but this is also how Hatsumi Sensei seems to explore every year. Soke says,
"To be able to survive and live in the midst of this constant change, it is important to comprehend that which is the essence. To this end, I believe it is important to vary this theme of change every year."
Maybe you have a teacher who reminds you of 万変不驚 Banpen Fugyo all the time. You get the idea of "Ten thousand changes, No surprises", but how to put it into practice?

There is a poem from the 22nd Buddhist Master 摩拏羅:Manorhita,

心隨萬境轉 the mind follows the ten thousand circumstances and shifts accordingly;
轉處實能幽 It is the shifting that is truly undefined.
隨流認得性 Follow the current and recognize your nature;
無喜復無憂 No rejoicing, no sorrow.

How do you recognize your nature and what is it exactly? Manorhita asked one of his teachers this:
“What is the original nature of mind?” Vasubandhu answered, “It is the emptiness of the six sense bases, the six objects and the six kinds of consciousness.” And hearing this, Manorhita was awakened.
The six sense bases are seeing, hearing, tasting, touching, and so on. The six objects are forms, sense, sounds, and so on. The six consciousnesses are the acts of hearing, seeing, tasting, touching, and so on.

What does it mean for these to be empty? This word emptiness in sanskrit is Śūnyatā. It can also be translated as void, or relative or contingent. Roshi Gerry Wick describes it this way:
"Śūnyatā is really a wonderful, tender, limitless embrace. It’s always complete. It is without having to strive, without having to not strive. Another implication of emptiness is empty of any fixed position or state of being."
While this is an important lesson for life, the ten thousand changes in combat are the actions and strategies of your opponent. If you pay attention to every punch, kick or technique, your mind gets taken and trapped in following each thing. The same trapped mind occurs when you focus on performing your own technique or style. You will be surprised when something unexpected happens. This will lead to your defeat.

If instead you allow the mind to dwell in emptiness, for example - looking at the opponent's eyes but not focusing on them (some suggest looking at the spot where the lapels of the gi cross) - you will react naturally as the situation dictates. Anything your opponent manifests will just appear to be part of the natural flow and not surprising.

By paying attention to the non existent, you will be able to see the existent quite well.

Kokū 心空: Striking the Empty Mind

Empty Mind photo by DerrickT
How do you know where to strike? This is a question I often hear from students. It seems like it should be obvious. And sometimes it is. Strike where you find an opening… or where it will do the most damage. But as simple as that sounds, it is not easy to find those spots.

Many of us have had the experience of watching Hatsumi Sensei strike someone at a particular spot or kyūsho and the strike causes a dramatic effect in his uke's body. It sends the guy flying, or he is writhing in pain. Then we try to hit the same spot on our uke, and nothing happens. Even if Sensei told us what kyūsho he was striking.

This is frustrating indeed. Some people blame their Uke for resisting. Or they think, if I "really" hit him with damaging force he would react. Sometimes people just shrug and say that of course Hatsumi Sensei does it better because he has way more experience. And while that is true, shrugging it off doesn't help us understand what is actually happening.

One way to understand how to strike effectively is to learn that when you strike your opponent's body, to have maximum impact, you should be striking his mind as well. That sounds strange so let me explain a little.

We can find a clue to this in the Bōjutsu Gokui:
"Thrusting into the space with the tip of the bō staff, if you feel a response with your hands, this is the gokui."
There are many subtle lessons in this verse. But let's consider the Japanese word for space or void used here. It can have a double meaning which can help us understand where to strike.

This word is kokū 虚空. We usually think of this as meaning empty space or empty sky. But this word is sometimes used to refer to the mind (which has no form or color) of your opponent. Kokū 虚空 can be read as emptiness or even "false" emptiness. Another way to write kokū is 真空, which is a true emptiness. Or even kokū 心空 emptiness of mind.

So what does this mean for striking? When the mind does not move, it is Emptiness. When Emptiness moves, it becomes mind. For example, When your opponent's fists grasp his sword but do not move, and you quickly strike his fists - this is called striking at emptiness空をうて.

So you strike him where his mind is not moving, or in other words: frozen, stuck, or even trapped. If you hit in this place, the strike pierces into the void and expands outward to have an effect much more profound than the actual physical strike should have on its own.

Sensei seems to have a genius for finding these spots on his uke. And we all witness the profound effects as we watch his uke's go flying or yelp in pain.

How does he do it? Maybe with bōshin 棒心, or I've also heard Sensei refer to Shinbō 辛棒. I don't know because I'm still working on these two ideas myself. But maybe Sensei just has way more experience…

At any rate, I do know that if you strike into the emptiness of your opponent's mind, you will be surprised at the results. This I have experienced and can attest to.

Utsuru 映る: Is Your Mind Reflected in Your Taijutsu?

Dusk, Moon with Sunset Reflected in a Bubble. photo by arhadetruit
What have you been studying for the Bujinkan yearly theme of 2011? It seems that every year we start out on a journey of exploration. At the beginning of the year our minds seek something concrete to study. And Hatsumi Sensei puts something out there for us to consider. But as the year goes on, the theme evolves so that by the end of the year it feels like something else entirely.

However frustrating this may be for those of us who don't live in Japan to try to keep up, this is a very natural way of learning. And it is a lesson in itself. This year started out with Kihon Happo, but has transitioned to also include 万変不驚 Banpenfugyo and Juppo Happo.

There are many ways to look at Banpen Fugyo (Infinite change, No surprise). But how do you train on this? A very simple but profound example can be found in nature when we observe the reflection of the moon. I wrote about this before in my post "Ninpo and Mu: Waxing and Waning Like the Moon" but with this year's theme I think there is more to consider.

In Japanese there is an idea that can be expressed as utsuru 移る. This word has many interesting meanings for training, Like: shift;  move;  change;  drift;  catch (cold, fire);  pass into or to change the target of interest or concern. Or written another way, utsuru 映る - to be reflected;  to harmonize with.
"The mind is like the moon on the water
Form is like the reflection in a mirror

This verse suggests that the mentality proper for the martial arts is that of the moon’s abiding in the water. It is also the reflection of your body abiding in the mirror. Man’s mind moves to an object like the moon moves to the water. How spontaneously this happens!"
Yagyū Munenori translated by William Scott Wilson
The light from the moon can be considered like our shifting focus. If the water is disturbed (or changed) the reflection does not disappear, it rides on the ripples of change and as the water settles it remains pure and clear. Our focus never falters, only the water was disturbed.

Whether in everyday life or in a fight, no matter what happens, our focus should remain clear and undisturbed.

The moon can also be reflected in more than one place. Here in a puddle, in a cup of tea, and there in the lake… all at the same time. Our attention can shift but take in anything. It comes out from it's source at the clear center to be reflected everywhere.
"Enlightenment is like the moon reflected on the water.
The moon does not get wet, nor is the water broken.
Although its light is wide and great,
The moon is reflected even in a puddle an inch wide.
The whole moon and the entire sky
Are reflected in one dewdrop on the grass."
Dogen (1200-1253)
Violence in a fight happens very fast. But this does not have to present any problem for us. Our minds can move as fast as light from the moon. Yagyū explains that "… man’s mind moves to an object as quickly as the moon pierces the water." If you cover your teacup with your hand and then remove it, how quickly is the moon reflected?

What we train with our taijutsu is the ability to flow with this natural state. As natural as a moon's reflection. As Yagyū describes, "When the mind moves, the body will move there as well. If the mind goes, the body will go. The body itself follows the mind."

Of course if your heart and focus are unclear, then the movement of your body will be unnatural and slow. Please look at the moon tonight and consider that people in Japan have the same moonlight reflecting in their eyes. Try to catch that feeling in your training!

消体 Shotai: You Cannot Divide Nature

Chikuhō no kodomotachi (Chikuho’s Children) by Ken Domon
Hatsumi Sensei writes that sensing the true nature of things (消体 shotai) like budo and nature, shows that they are connected and cannot be divided. He explains this by way of photography:
"The mon 門 (gate), or shumon 宗門(religion), and bumon 武門(martial), are captured beautifully by the shutter of the famous cameraman Ken Domon."
Ken Domon, in advocating realism, said: "Realistic photography in the true sense brings us directly to reality. Photographic expression is an attempt at a truthful presentation of reality — in other words, it is a crystallisation of man's anger, his happiness and his sadness."

Domon famously defined his goal as a photographer as "the direct connection between camera and motif."

Domon's method of photographing temples was to stay at the location for some time before taking the first photo. He would then begin photographing based not on a systematic, scholarly approach to the subject, but based on how his feelings towards the subjects moved him to record them.

Profile of Ken Domon (土門 拳, Domon Ken, 25 October 1909 – 15 September 1990):
One of the most renowned Japanese photographers of the twentieth century. He is most celebrated as a photojournalist, though he may have been most prolific as a photographer of Buddhist temples and statuary.

Born in Sakata City, Yamagata Prefecture, in 1935 Domon joined Nihon Kobo, an organization that produced news photographs. He later worked as an independent photojournalist recording the tremendous changes taking place in Japan until he was stricken by cerebral thrombosis in 1979. During his career he produced many photographic collections including Bunraku (1972), Hiroshima (1958), Fubo (1953) and Koji Junrei (five volumes, 1963-75). Reflecting on the inadvertent role he played during WWII producing propaganda photographs, he became a main proponent of the postwar photographic realism movement that focused on society and the lives of ordinary people, and his powerful works influenced many amateur photographers of the age. Declaring his love of Japan and the Japanese people, Domon changed his focus and attempted to capture the essence of his photographic subjects. The photographs he took of Buddhist images both prior to and during WWII remain among the most highly acclaimed of his works and are thought to exemplify his photographic aesthetic. Before his death in 1990, Domon donated the entire body of his works to the city of his birth, and in 1983, the city of Sakata honored him by opening the Ken Domon Memorial Photographic Museum.

I hope you can find inspiration in photography and art as well as budo!

Mutō Dori 無刀捕: Hidden Strategy is Beautiful

Hiding Dog - Sapporo, Japan. photo by MJ/TR (´・ω・)
We have a profound strategy in the Bujinkan which often goes unnoticed. I think it is not obvious because the name creates a certain idea. Mutō Dori 無刀捕 (no sword capture). People hear that and they already have an idea in their head about dodging sword cuts.

Hatsumi Sensei makes reference to this strategy not just when he is unarmed facing a sword wielding attacker, but also during unarmed taijutsu, and while using all manner of weapons.

So forget the sword for a moment, and let's discover some hidden layers in Mutō Dori.

First, relying on any weapon or technique is a trap. If you become an expert, your mind will get stuck there. Use your weapons or techniques with the same mindset as mutō dori. This is a natural, everyday mind.

In avoiding a sword, if you think about avoiding, you will be cut. If you think about not avoiding, you get cut. You should think about nothing and when the sword cuts, naturally get out of the way. Wherever your mind stops is a trap.

Second, don't try to take your opponent's weapon or defeat him. Use 虚実 kyojitsu. If he responds to the 虚 kyo (illusion), give him the 術 jutsu (true form). Or if he has decided not to be fooled by your misdirection, and his mind stops there, determined not to be faked out, the kyo becomes real. It becomes the jitsu. You win by not attaching to either.

Third, Don't let your own weapon or technique be taken. Don't get cut. Makes sense at a basic level- of course you don't want to get cut. But this only occurs when you know the mind or intentions of the opponent.

Hatsumi Sensei says that he was told this by Takamatsu:
"In the instant that the opponent creates a Kiai, you need to avoid the attack."
This is not when you hear or notice the Kiai, but the instant it is created. You must be open and connected enough to the spirit of the opponent to recognize that moment when his mind or intent has shifted (or he has decided) to attack.

So to explain these three strategies in a slightly different way,

You must handle weapons freely, yours or his, no matter what kind of weapon and without being attached.

Understand and master the mindset of mutō dori. Not only in your own mind, but the opponent's mind also.

Be able to win without using a weapon.

Make a connection in the kukan without being cut (or cutting the opponent).

Wait, WUT? a connection to what? That is a whole other topic, one that I am just starting to explore in my own training, but don't know how to share yet. Sensei has been talking about these connections a lot the past few years.

Hatsumi Sensei quotes Zeami,
"秘すれば花  Hisureba Hana" (That which is hidden is beautiful)
and then Soke goes on to say,
"Those that live within kyojitsu and uncommon sense (秘常識 hijoshiki) possess a hidden sense."
When I glimpse that in training… or I am lucky enough to experience it myself, I definitely find it beautiful.

拍手 Hakushu: The Sound of Ninjas Clapping?

Silent Hill, photo by Jon▲
What's with all the clapping when we bow in?

One of the first strange things a new student in the Bujinkan has to do - after putting on a hood and tabi to scale the castle wall on a moonless night to sneak into the dojo - is learning and performing the bow in before class. Hopefully it only takes them a few mumbles to learn the phrase "Shikin Haramitsu Daikomyo," while they clap and bow, even as their face shows the strain of a beginner sitting in seiza.

We all went through this. No matter our age or rank. For me, I remember just trying to fit in during the class. Saying nothing at first, hoping to time my claps with the rhythm of the group. I first learned about one translation of the words when I was trying to learn to pronounce them. I won't go into that now (another post maybe). But what I will say is that the bow in process turned into a habit that lost what little meaning I could give it.

Many years later - maybe when I first had to lead a bow in myself - I gained a deeper understanding of that process.

So how does it go?

Sanpai sahō 参拝作法 The usual way to worship in the presence of the kami (at a shrine) is to bow twice, clap twice, and bow a third time.

This is like a secret for how to jump start 心伎体 Shin Gi Tai.

The body (deeds), mouth (words) and consciousness (thoughts)- are made one and equal in one instant while the concentration is undisturbed.

In the practice of esoteric Buddhism the body becomes the symbol or mudra, the mouth expresses the mystic sound or mantra, and the mind is absorbed in meditation.

So just what does the clapping symbolize? For me it is like light and sound coming together in an instant of Daikomyo! But in Shinto it has different aspects:

It is used to get the attention of the Kami. And to purify with 言霊  otodama - the spirit present in sound or language.

According to the Kojiki 古事記 (Japan's oldest surviving text complied around 712 AD) and Nihon Shoki 日本書紀 (Japan’s second oldest book, compiled around 720 AD), the sound made by clapping hands is the same sound that divided chaos into heaven and earth and gave birth to Japan.

It could be the sound made by the closing of the cave door after the sun goddess Amaterasu came out of the cave where she had been hiding)

Hand clapping is distinguished by the number of claps, such as "short clapping" one to three times (tanhakushu) or "long clapping" of four claps (chōhakushu). 

There are also distinctions based on the manner of clapping, which includes shinobite, raishu, renhakushu, and awase hakushu.

Shinobi te involves silent clapping and is performed at "Shinto funeral ceremonies" (shinsōsai) and other occasions.
Raishu is performed, for example, when presented with a cup of sake. At Shinto ceremonies, "two hand claps" (nihakushu) is generally common. Moreover, according to the conventional explanation for kashiwade as an alternative word for hakushu, kashiwade is a popular name derived from confusion between the character for "oak tree" (kashiwa 柏) and the character haku 拍. Another theory suggests that the name kashiwade is related to the raishu etiquette of hand clapping before "food served on individual tables at a banquet" (kyōzen) following a Shinto ceremony as well as to the fact that both kyōzen and "food served on individual tables" (zenbu) are called kashiwade.

— Shimazu Norifumi

So what does all this mean for you? If you are not a practicing Buddhist or Shintoist, maybe not too much. Maybe it's just one of those odd things you have to do before you start punching your buddies. But I think if you consider it in terms of unifying and bringing together your thoughts, words, and actions - it may develop into something more powerful for you.

平常心 Heijōshin: a Heart Like Clear Water

Water Sunset, Tokyo. photo by xxspecialsherylxx
I don't spend a lot of time in front of a mirror. Those of your who know me may think, "that's obvious." But when I do get in front of a mirror, after I get over the shock of my appearance and really look to see what is reflected there, it makes me smile. The smile comes from a recognition of my own spirit reflected back at me. Thankfully, that is a happy reflection.

In training it is said that we are polishing each other's hearts so they are clear like a mirror. If we get this natural clarity we will have 平常心 heijōshin and reflect the hearts of our training partners (or opponents) back to them.

One of the songs of the gokui says,
"If you possess a heart like clear water, the opponent is reflected as though in a mirror." 
This state of mind is like 無念無想明鏡止水 munen muso meikyōshisui,  "Without worldly thoughts, clear and serene as a polished mirror or still water."

This is very powerful advice. Reflecting your opponent's technique, rhythm, and spirit is a strategy that has many rewards. Not just for battle. It works in sports, business negotiations, and your own personal communications.

One of the primary ways to achieve this is through heijōshin. Just like the cat in the Neko No Myōjutsu story who defeats the furious rat by mastering this principle of life and death.

Hatsumi Sensei wrote that:
"Gokui means to live an ordinary life, to possess an "everyday mind" (heijōshin), and it is naturalness epitomized."
A mirror reflects everything because it has no form of its own and is completely clear. So with heijōshin, If your mind is formless and clear, whatever stands before you is reflected. This will allow everything you do to be effortless.

How can we get to this clear state? Well, it is both simple and easy, yet profoundly mysterious. One answer comes from Zen: 渉念無念、渉着無着 Shonen munen, shochaku muchaku - "Use thought to arrive at No-Thought; use attachment to be nonattached." 

Or, as I heard Hatsumi Sensei suggest to us once in 2009, right after he had dropped three guys into a tangled pile on the floor,
"Humans get caught up in thinking. throw that away, release yourself from it. Cultivate this reflection of life (生命反射 seimei hansha) in your taijutsu."
I guess the strange character staring back at me in the mirror is just a reflection of my life... and I have to smile.

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