Kihon: The Heart of an Infinite Circle

Enso by Isan Shinko (1740-1815)
I'm sure you've all studied kihon happo. But it's one thing to study those eight basic fundamentals and a entirely different thing to study the kihon OF the happo. Hatsumi Sensei says this idea can be expressed very simply with a common Zen symbol of Enso which I will share below, but what will it mean to us?

Sensei has said that the word happo suggests infinity. He said that placing the number eight on its side gives us that symbol ∞. Soke goes on to explain that a technique does not have a beginning or end but just flows one into the other like the symbol.

A simple way to consider this is with tai sabaki. In angling we often start with cardinal points for evasion or striking (please excuse my clumsy finger diagrams):


Then we split those four directions to make 8:
 Then split again:


You can see how it begins to get infinite... especially if you add the up and down directions so any angle in space is possible leading to a sphere:

Or the Japanese Zen symbol of Enso:

Hatsumi Sensei says that kihon is like thrusting your sword into a point about which there is an Enso or limitless circle (happo) and existing in the space is the kukan.
If you want a clue to the study of that infinite space, you may read the calligraphy of the first Enso I posted at the top of this post by Isan Shinko. In the center is the character for heart, which you may recognize as part of our 忍 "nin" symbol. And the calligraphy says,
"Keep yourself firmly centered inside here and nothing will be able to shatter you. "
If you subscribe to my training notes (if you aren't a subscriber yet, you miss a LOT of free Bujinkan notes), you can get even more of these ideas that Hatsumi Sensei shares during my classes with him.

我無し Ware Nashi: No More Us

Desi being shy.
My dog Desiree died this week after being part of my family for almost 18 years. Although not unexpected, I definitely feel her absence. As I sit with this feeling, I am glad for the heart found in our training.

Hatsumi Sensei said that Takamatsu Sensei gave him a calligraphy which read 我無し ware nashi or "no self." But there is another reading of that concept which can give us a different strategy in combat or life. And since this is a martial arts of distance, we can find a very intimate distance when erasing the self.

Something sensei often repeats is that there is no difference between attacker and defender. So one reading of 我無し ware nashi is "no opponent" or "no enemy"... no we or no us. No separation. How do we get that distance? Sensei explained this once in a class at Ayase,
"In training you have to understand the opponent's heart. If you don't read his heart, if you only read your own heart and do your own technique on him, you will lose. You have to be able to read his heart and match it. This distance is heart distance."
If you reverse the kanji for 我無し ware nashi, you get 無我 muga. This is one of the core ideas of Buddhism which is "No I" or Anātman. This is selflessness;  self-effacement;  self-renunciation or anatman (no-self, the Buddhist concept that in nothing does there exist an inherent self, soul, or ego).

In this old poem we can feel the intimacy of 我無し ware nashi. In 1025 Fujiwara no Nagaie wrote this after his wife died in childbirth,

Morotomo ni
Nagameshi hito mo
Ware mo nashi
Yado ni wa hitori
Tsuki ya sumuran

She who watched with me-
Ah, we stood side by side-
And I too am gone;
Now it is the moon alone
Whose shining fills our home.

I feel this loss of self in a very personal way this week. Strange feeling kinship with a Japanese courtier from 1025.

Seimeisen 生命線: Walking the Line of Life and Death

Photo from Gifu Prefecture by tallkev
One of the hiden 秘伝  (secret teaching) ideas of the sword is that life and death are just flip sides of the same instant. The reason this is a secret is not because no one talks about it, but because you must discover its mystery for yourself. Hatsumi Sensei is always reminding us that just as we can end life with the blade, we can also protect life or what he calls, the "life giving sword."

So what about this secret and how does this translate into sword technique? When you are in kamae, and about to cut or thrust to your opponent's suki, there is a Seimeisen 生命線, or an invisible lifeline between you. If your sword is on this line, it is "live," if not it is   considered dead. This line is very fine and there isn't room for two blades there. So only one blade can give or take life. This is also an aspect of Shisen 死線, the point between life and death.

To truly understand this lifeline requires a state of fudoshin. That is the only way you can stay on the line without being diverted. And when you are in that place it gives you a mysterious perspective that allows for some useful sword strategy:

後の先 Go no sen when you know where your opponent will strike so you let them strike there before you counter.

先の先 sen no sen is where you know what your opponent will do so you strike him first before he can move. Similar to tai no sen.

先々の先 Sen sen no sen where you sense what the right strategy is by intuition alone and subtly guide your opponent's strategy so that you may win.

Sen 先 and Saki share the same kanji but one meaning is future and one is previous. So Saki no Saki may be a more familiar feeling to anyone that has taken the Godan test.

蝦蛄拳 Shako Ken: Strike Like A Hawk

photo by shirokazan
Hatsumi Sensei was trying to help us understand an aspect of kosshijutsu while we were studying 隼雄 Shunū from Gyokko Ryu and he said to hold the opponent's kashira like a falcon.

He went on to explore henka using variations of 蝦蛄拳 Shako Ken and 指刀拳 Shitō Ken. Soke told us,
"Not using just your fingertips, but using your whole body here. Doing this with shuko- it becomes even more scary. It's like a hawk catching its prey.

This is not just your fingernails, it becomes like your canine teeth, incisors."
What are the talons of a hawk, or the canine teeth for? They are for piercing flesh and tearing it away from bones.

This is kosshijutsu. Scary indeed.
photo by MJ/TR (´・ω・)

Return top