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.

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 make it a living song (seika 生歌).

How do we make this idea come alive?

To begin with, don't get lost in the philosophy. The symbolism in our art also has a real physical manifestation. I mean, you can use it in a fight.

陰 (In) can be shown by tranquility and inaction; and 陽 (Yo) can be shown by movement or action. Before fighting, you should have a calm exterior(In). While your mind remains active and alert (Yo), flowing yet fixing on nothing.

When attacking, your body goes into action (Yo) while your mind should stay calm and quiet (In). These flow from one into the other.
"... I do not fight for gain or loss, am not concerned with strength or weakness, and neither advance a step nor retreat a step. The enemy does not see me. I do not see the enemy. Penetrating to a place where heaven and earth have not yet divided, where Yin and Yang have not yet arrived, I quickly and necessarily gain effect." - Takuan Soho 
In the Gokui song the two guardian gods are the Kongou Rikishi or the Niou 仁王尊, shown in the temple gates in the photo above. They represent the use of overt power and latent power. Naraen is also called Narayana. As a pair, the Niō complement each other. Misshaku (aka Agyō 阿形) represents overt power, baring his teeth and raising his fist in action, while Naraen (aka Ungyō 吽形) represents latent might, holding his mouth tightly closed and waiting with both arms tensed but lowered.

A movement of fists and breath:
The one opens his mouth, in the "agyou 阿形" position (the shape of mouth saying "a" あ ) and sometimes holds a thunderbolt, while the other closes his mouth, in the "ungyou 吽形" position (the shape of mouth saying "un") and may hold a large sword .

They may appear different, but we must understand the connection and flow between these two. As Soke said some years ago,
"Life & death are connected. Like in-yo (yin-yang). This is my teaching theme for the year. Like a magnet and metal, life and death are attracted to each other, always getting closer. If you are born and given a life, death is inevitable. When death comes do not be surprised or shaken. Get on the rhythm of life. Get in balance with it."
This connection is like a rope or a spider's thread that you don't want to break. If you try to unravel In and Yo they dissolve and harmony dissolves with them. One is necessary for the other.

In fighting, If your body is active (Yo) and your mind is also in motion, you can become uncoordinated and easily defeated. This is like lashing out with a mind clouded by anger or fear. Conversely having an inactive body (In) and inattentive mind is like being caught off guard or being helpless and incapable of fighting.

Better to have one connected to the other so that as one shifts the other shifts in harmony.

Hatsumi Sensei recently described the Godan test as having a connection from the Kami above down through the upraised sword and heart of the person cutting... connected down to the heart and spirit of the person sitting. Neither person should sever that connection if they want to live through the test.

In class, Sensei told us to go further than even that:
"No technique or form, no yin or yang, or kyojitsu. Go beyond this. Do Kamiwaza. I teach things you shouldn't be able to understand."
This gets us to the real secret of InYo. As in the picture of the temple above, you have to pass THROUGH the middle and beyond In and Yo to get to the true meaning inside. Don't be frightened by the fierce expression on the temple guardians' faces. Just walk through the gate.

I've been exploring this in my life and in my taijutsu. Allowing the inside and outside to be as one. Keeping this connection from above alive and fluid has made for many wonderful techniques in my training, but also creates moments of wonder and surprise in my life. But it's not me doing it. It's just part of the natural flow.

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 hair and made reference to Kabuki theatre in which a purple scarf on the head denotes death.
The concept of Goshiki 五色 can be 5 colors. Usually we hear this word as 5 consciousnesses (Goshiki 五識). From the Great Buddhist Dictionary (仏教大辞典、小学館) we can learn the following:

"The five basic colors are Green, Yellow, Red, White and Black. They refer to the five Skandhas (goshiki 五識), the five Wisdoms (gochi 五知) or the five Buddhas (gobutsu 五佛) as an expression of the various Buddhist teachings.

In Japan there was the custom during the Heian period to hang a scroll of Buddha Amida Nyorai in front of a dying person, whith a fivecolored string (goshiki no ito 五色の糸) coming from the hand of the Buddha extending to the hands of the person. If you hold it firmly during your last minutes, you were assured a strait passage to the Paradise of the West (Amida Joodo 阿弥陀浄土).

One of the objects in the hand of a Kannon with 1000 Hands (Senju Kannon 千手観音) is a Fivecolored Cloud (goshikiun 五色雲).

The water poured over the head of the statue of Shakyamuni as a child during the festival for his birthday on April 8 (kanbutsu-e潅仏会) is called Fivecolored Water (goshikisui 五色水)."

You can also see these colors in 5 types of Daruma dolls, or Tibetan and Japanese prayer flags (goshiki ban 五色幡) .

These flag colors also represent the 5 elements:
Ku: Blue is the sky;
Fu: White is for the clouds;
Ka: Red is fire;
Sui: Green is water; and
Chi: Yellow is for the earth.
Each wave of the flag by the wind is considered one complete reading of the prayers printed on the flags.

On an ancient battle field,  5 colored flags were used for moving troops.
YELLOW shows the location of base camp or rally point.
When the other flags are raised:
BLUE:    Frontline Troops will GO EAST
RED:     Frontline Troops will GO SOUTH
WHITE:  Frontline Troops will GO WEST
BLACK:  Frontline Troops will GO NORTH

This is where we get the expression "色につき色にしたがふ" (attach to color, follow the color) and even though these ancient battle field strategies have been forgotten, the expression survives till this day in kenjutsu practice.

In a Japanese Shrine, you may find four animal flags in each direction:
East: Blue Dragon
West: White Tiger
South: Red Peacock
North: Black Turtle

So what about Hatsumi Sensei's purple hair? If you ask him you may not get the answer you expect. He told someone I know that it was to protect him from STD's (sexually transmitted diseases). For a straighter answer, here is what he told Doug Wilson: Smoke On The Water.

We can learn a lot about the color Murasaki 紫. In Feng Shui it symbolizes Yin, spiritual awareness, physical and mental healing. A purple Daruma (there are some!) is for a long life and preventing disasters. The pigment Murasaki is taken from the root of the plant  with this name and in Japanese poetry it denotes perseverance.

Murasaki iro 紫色 also suggests high rank and leadership. In the ancient courts of Japan, there was The Twelve Level Cap and Rank System (冠位十二階 Kan'i Jūnikai), established in 603. The highest rank was assoiciated with the highest virtue. At the top was 大徳 Daitoku Greater Virtue and it was represented with purple.

murasaki no kumo ni itsu noru nishi no umi

on purple clouds
when will I set sail?
western sea

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 looking at each other. The better fighter knows he is better and graciously gives his adversary an opportunity to back down. If the weaker has any skill at all, he will perceive his opponent's superiority and concede to him.

A proverb says that the eyes are the window to the soul. This creates weaknesses and opportunities. If, you give away too much in your own eyes, your opponent can see your bluff, or know what your next move will be. Or, if you look in his eyes and see fear. You could easily reflect or manifest that same fear in yourself.

On the other hand we have the idea of Seigan, ‘Correct eye’ 正眼 with the feeling that you can manipulate your enemy and control his mind. As Soke says,
"to cloud the mind can be another important way of blinding the eyes. I would like you to know that it is the core of the metsubushi techniques to make the eye stop working."
This brings us to a more advanced use of the eyes for mind control. Ganko Issen is a sudden flash or glint of light of the whites of the eyes which can create the effects of Fudo Kanashibari and is also a basis for Toate no jutsu (striking from a distance).
"I have no eyes -- I make the flash of lightning my eyes." - unknown samurai c.1300
Hatsumi Sensei says that it is possible to "see" without using the eyes, and to "hear" without the ears. He says that, "In Ninpo your whole body must act as your eyes and ears."

This brings us to the concept of 偸眼  Chugan - looking askance; pretending not to look, or stealing a look. Maybe another word for it is tōshi 盗視 or 偸視 a stealthy glance;  furtive glance. I see Hatsumi Sensei do this all the time. In fact he often advises us to do this.
With a pilfered glance, the dragonfly evades the shrike.
This idea has many layers. One is that by not looking directly at your opponent you can make your focus broader to take in the whole environment. People and animals often do this naturally when surrounded. Looking nowhere but everywhere. This can be called Happo Nirami (staring in all directions). One benefit here is that your opponent's actions will be caught in your peripheral vision which responds very well to sudden, quick movement.

Another layer is that you can confuse your opponent by shifting his mind along with your line of sight. This can be simple misdirection like looking at one target on his body with your eyes but attacking another. As in 二目遣い Futatsumetsukai from Noh theatre which is a double glance where you look first but your mind does not stop there; or you look at your opponent when you appear not to be looking.

But it is also something more profound. When he attacks, especially if done with anger, he is looking to confront another soul directly. By shifting your awareness, it is like you are sidestepping his intent (like shifting your spirit back at 45 degrees) and his attacks will dissipate when they encounter nothing.

Hatsumi Sensei is constantly saying things that allude to this concept. Like "dissipate" the attacks, or you just "disappear" in the face of the attacks. Become zero.

Thank you Miyagi Sensei. I was sad when actor Pat Morita died in 2005, but his lesson is immortalized on film. And I'm sure he would agree, acting is all about the eyes.

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