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Showing posts from June, 2011

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

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

陰陽 In and Yo: The Fists and Breath of 仁王尊 Niou

Sugimoto-dera temple, Kamakura. photo by Flowizm I took the concept of In and Yo for granted. I had heard about this idea since I first began studying the Bujinkan in the mid '80's. But my mind always glossed over it. I was like yeah, yeah, In Yo - dark and light, yin and yang, positive negative - i get it. They are opposite but the same. Now show me that cool sword draw again! But I didn't get it.  Maybe I needed more life experience to understand. Maybe I needed a teacher who could do more than just talk about the concept but one who actually lived it. Whatever it was, I now find myself feeling like a beginner being inspired by this concept as if for the first time. One of the songs of the Gokui that Hatsumi Sensei has shared with us: "The two guardian gods take the form of In and Yo. The movement of their fists, and also the breath." Hatsumi Sensei changes the kanji to help us understand that this sacred song (seika 聖歌), can only be understood if we mak

Iro 色: Attach to Color, Follow the Color

Purple Grid - Yokohama, Japan photo by OiMax Many of you have seen Hatsumi Sensei's purple hair. Everyone wants to know what that is about. Iro 色 (color) is a very important symbol in Japanese culture and martial arts. Let's look at that idea first, then Soke's hairstyle. In martial arts Iro 色 is something that can be observed. For example: the color of your face, color of your sword, color of your attack, color of your Kamae, etc. The opponent's attack or his desire to win is often times described as Iro. I describe hearing Sensei refer to this on my blog post, Beyond Striking and Kiai Into the Mysteries of Toate No Jutsu: I was at a Friday night class with Hatsumi Sensei in the Hombu Dojo when Soke described toate no jutsu as a kiai or projection of spirit (maybe 気迫 kihaku?). Sensei said it was like the color of your heart projecting into space. That color comes from your character or can be that which you decide to project. He said all this with his purple ha

偸眼 Chugan: Eyes Like a Dragonfly Thief

photo by TANAKA Juuyoh (田中十洋) When I was a young man, one of my favorite movies was "The Karate Kid." The Sensei in that movie, Mr. Miyagi, played by Pat Morita, was full of patient but stern advice for his young student, Daniel-san. In one memorable quote, he chastised Daniel for looking down, "Look eye!, always look eye!" Very good advice for self defense. But there is a lot more to be understood about the eyes in our training. And, despite my fondness for that simple time in my life when a movie meant so much to me, I will break from Miyagi Sensei to suggest you don't always look eye. There is a lot of psychology in a glance. A lot of nonverbal communication that takes place before a fight. Looking someone in the eye can be perceived as aggressive and create tension or make you a target for their anger. At the same time, the right type of look can cause the opponent to back down. Takamatsu said that truly skilled martial artists can decide a fight by