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.



What a good experience! If Hatsumi sensei would do a picture of a Manga comic , what you'll choice?
Greetings from argentina! Claudio

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