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.


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