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.

Utsuru 映る: Is Your Mind Reflected in Your Taijutsu?

Dusk, Moon with Sunset Reflected in a Bubble. photo by arhadetruit
What have you been studying for the Bujinkan yearly theme of 2011? It seems that every year we start out on a journey of exploration. At the beginning of the year our minds seek something concrete to study. And Hatsumi Sensei puts something out there for us to consider. But as the year goes on, the theme evolves so that by the end of the year it feels like something else entirely.

However frustrating this may be for those of us who don't live in Japan to try to keep up, this is a very natural way of learning. And it is a lesson in itself. This year started out with Kihon Happo, but has transitioned to also include 万変不驚 Banpenfugyo and Juppo Happo.

There are many ways to look at Banpen Fugyo (Infinite change, No surprise). But how do you train on this? A very simple but profound example can be found in nature when we observe the reflection of the moon. I wrote about this before in my post "Ninpo and Mu: Waxing and Waning Like the Moon" but with this year's theme I think there is more to consider.

In Japanese there is an idea that can be expressed as utsuru 移る. This word has many interesting meanings for training, Like: shift;  move;  change;  drift;  catch (cold, fire);  pass into or to change the target of interest or concern. Or written another way, utsuru 映る - to be reflected;  to harmonize with.
"The mind is like the moon on the water
Form is like the reflection in a mirror

This verse suggests that the mentality proper for the martial arts is that of the moon’s abiding in the water. It is also the reflection of your body abiding in the mirror. Man’s mind moves to an object like the moon moves to the water. How spontaneously this happens!"
Yagyū Munenori translated by William Scott Wilson
The light from the moon can be considered like our shifting focus. If the water is disturbed (or changed) the reflection does not disappear, it rides on the ripples of change and as the water settles it remains pure and clear. Our focus never falters, only the water was disturbed.

Whether in everyday life or in a fight, no matter what happens, our focus should remain clear and undisturbed.

The moon can also be reflected in more than one place. Here in a puddle, in a cup of tea, and there in the lake… all at the same time. Our attention can shift but take in anything. It comes out from it's source at the clear center to be reflected everywhere.
"Enlightenment is like the moon reflected on the water.
The moon does not get wet, nor is the water broken.
Although its light is wide and great,
The moon is reflected even in a puddle an inch wide.
The whole moon and the entire sky
Are reflected in one dewdrop on the grass."
Dogen (1200-1253)
Violence in a fight happens very fast. But this does not have to present any problem for us. Our minds can move as fast as light from the moon. Yagyū explains that "… man’s mind moves to an object as quickly as the moon pierces the water." If you cover your teacup with your hand and then remove it, how quickly is the moon reflected?

What we train with our taijutsu is the ability to flow with this natural state. As natural as a moon's reflection. As Yagyū describes, "When the mind moves, the body will move there as well. If the mind goes, the body will go. The body itself follows the mind."

Of course if your heart and focus are unclear, then the movement of your body will be unnatural and slow. Please look at the moon tonight and consider that people in Japan have the same moonlight reflecting in their eyes. Try to catch that feeling in your training!

消体 Shotai: You Cannot Divide Nature

Chikuhō no kodomotachi (Chikuho’s Children) by Ken Domon
Hatsumi Sensei writes that sensing the true nature of things (消体 shotai) like budo and nature, shows that they are connected and cannot be divided. He explains this by way of photography:
"The mon 門 (gate), or shumon 宗門(religion), and bumon 武門(martial), are captured beautifully by the shutter of the famous cameraman Ken Domon."
Ken Domon, in advocating realism, said: "Realistic photography in the true sense brings us directly to reality. Photographic expression is an attempt at a truthful presentation of reality — in other words, it is a crystallisation of man's anger, his happiness and his sadness."

Domon famously defined his goal as a photographer as "the direct connection between camera and motif."

Domon's method of photographing temples was to stay at the location for some time before taking the first photo. He would then begin photographing based not on a systematic, scholarly approach to the subject, but based on how his feelings towards the subjects moved him to record them.

Profile of Ken Domon (土門 拳, Domon Ken, 25 October 1909 – 15 September 1990):
One of the most renowned Japanese photographers of the twentieth century. He is most celebrated as a photojournalist, though he may have been most prolific as a photographer of Buddhist temples and statuary.

Born in Sakata City, Yamagata Prefecture, in 1935 Domon joined Nihon Kobo, an organization that produced news photographs. He later worked as an independent photojournalist recording the tremendous changes taking place in Japan until he was stricken by cerebral thrombosis in 1979. During his career he produced many photographic collections including Bunraku (1972), Hiroshima (1958), Fubo (1953) and Koji Junrei (five volumes, 1963-75). Reflecting on the inadvertent role he played during WWII producing propaganda photographs, he became a main proponent of the postwar photographic realism movement that focused on society and the lives of ordinary people, and his powerful works influenced many amateur photographers of the age. Declaring his love of Japan and the Japanese people, Domon changed his focus and attempted to capture the essence of his photographic subjects. The photographs he took of Buddhist images both prior to and during WWII remain among the most highly acclaimed of his works and are thought to exemplify his photographic aesthetic. Before his death in 1990, Domon donated the entire body of his works to the city of his birth, and in 1983, the city of Sakata honored him by opening the Ken Domon Memorial Photographic Museum.

I hope you can find inspiration in photography and art as well as budo!

Mutō Dori 無刀捕: Hidden Strategy is Beautiful

Hiding Dog - Sapporo, Japan. photo by MJ/TR (´・ω・)
We have a profound strategy in the Bujinkan which often goes unnoticed. I think it is not obvious because the name creates a certain idea. Mutō Dori 無刀捕 (no sword capture). People hear that and they already have an idea in their head about dodging sword cuts.

Hatsumi Sensei makes reference to this strategy not just when he is unarmed facing a sword wielding attacker, but also during unarmed taijutsu, and while using all manner of weapons.

So forget the sword for a moment, and let's discover some hidden layers in Mutō Dori.

First, relying on any weapon or technique is a trap. If you become an expert, your mind will get stuck there. Use your weapons or techniques with the same mindset as mutō dori. This is a natural, everyday mind.

In avoiding a sword, if you think about avoiding, you will be cut. If you think about not avoiding, you get cut. You should think about nothing and when the sword cuts, naturally get out of the way. Wherever your mind stops is a trap.

Second, don't try to take your opponent's weapon or defeat him. Use 虚実 kyojitsu. If he responds to the 虚 kyo (illusion), give him the 術 jutsu (true form). Or if he has decided not to be fooled by your misdirection, and his mind stops there, determined not to be faked out, the kyo becomes real. It becomes the jitsu. You win by not attaching to either.

Third, Don't let your own weapon or technique be taken. Don't get cut. Makes sense at a basic level- of course you don't want to get cut. But this only occurs when you know the mind or intentions of the opponent.

Hatsumi Sensei says that he was told this by Takamatsu:
"In the instant that the opponent creates a Kiai, you need to avoid the attack."
This is not when you hear or notice the Kiai, but the instant it is created. You must be open and connected enough to the spirit of the opponent to recognize that moment when his mind or intent has shifted (or he has decided) to attack.

So to explain these three strategies in a slightly different way,

You must handle weapons freely, yours or his, no matter what kind of weapon and without being attached.

Understand and master the mindset of mutō dori. Not only in your own mind, but the opponent's mind also.

Be able to win without using a weapon.

Make a connection in the kukan without being cut (or cutting the opponent).

Wait, WUT? a connection to what? That is a whole other topic, one that I am just starting to explore in my own training, but don't know how to share yet. Sensei has been talking about these connections a lot the past few years.

Hatsumi Sensei quotes Zeami,
"秘すれば花  Hisureba Hana" (That which is hidden is beautiful)
and then Soke goes on to say,
"Those that live within kyojitsu and uncommon sense (秘常識 hijoshiki) possess a hidden sense."
When I glimpse that in training… or I am lucky enough to experience it myself, I definitely find it beautiful.

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