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?

6 comments:

Michael Tucker

Perhaps another way to look at it is like so:

Chi = Solid. Unchanging. You can see it and feel it. You can grab it. Strict form.

Sui = Fluid. Changing. You can still see and feel it. You can hold it but not grab it. Henka.

Ka = Fluid. Changing. You can't grab or hold it directly. But you can still see and feel it. Spirit.

Fu = Fluid. Changing. You can't grab or hold it. You can still feel it, but not see it. Freedom.

Ku = Beyond fluid or solid. You can't grab, hold, see it, feel it, or really even describe it. Beyond freedom or attachment.

Just spontaneous thoughts off the top of my head.

Bujinkan Santa Monica

Thanks for those thoughts, Michael T.

You can choose to explore the kata however you'd like, but defining the elements in the way you just did is what I was recommending not to do in my blog post. I suggest that it's better not to get stuck on form, whatever it's source. Even those nice spontaneous thoughts you just shared.

I'm not saying you would get stuck there, but many Bujinkan students do get stuck on similar ideas.

Michael Tucker

I think we may be saying the same thing, but with different language.

My thoughts weren't necessarily to define, but a way to look at the progression of training.

I think it's important to not be stuck on the form, but also important not to move away from the form too soon. It should be a natural progression.

I agree that many get stuck on similar ideas.

Of course, writing about it is pretty limited.

Unknown

Really enjoyed this post Michael. It's very difficult for me to break away from the "form", (especially when my representation of the form is so crappy!) There are some good considerations in this blog. I like the idea of the "hidden lesson" in water. The molecular structure does not change, the form it presents itself in does! Could there be a connection to the Kamai, or perhaps the molecular structure here? But, alas, I am already trying to stick to something tangible!

Bujinkan Santa Monica

Michael T. I agree that writing about these things is limiting. I definitely think it is worth trying to work these things out in the progression of training that you describe.

We may be saying the same thing in terms of natural progression. And a punch is still a punch. (:o)

Bujinkan Santa Monica

to "Unknown" commenter:

Thank you for your feedback. Yes steam or fog suggests the mysterious that goes beyond form as in the Yugen no Sekai concept Soke often alludes to.

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