The Changing Flame of 変火 Henka

Ghost in the Rain, Hyodo Rinsei, The Sanyutei Encho Collection at Zensho-an
I have been studying something in my training for 3 years. Ever since I witnessed Hatsumi Sensei show some henka during training that seemed to come from another place. But his explanation of the source was what was astonishing. It was a source of power that I had never considered in my training before.

Despite what you read here on my blog, I am largely a practical, show me, kind of guy. I like to read and write about the mysterious, but in the end, If you don't get out of the way, you get hit. But Sensei made the mysterious real for me that day.

To understand the source of what he was connecting to, I have been trying to connect to it myself for the last three years. And, as I have pointed out here, and in my 稽古記録 Keiko Kiroku training notes, I have had some success. Results which have astonished me.

It is difficult to explain this source of power. Hatsumi Sensei has been explaining it for many years, but if you are not ready to hear it it is meaningless. We can begin with an innocent question:

Where does henka come from?

A simple question that everyone thinks they know the answer to. I did. In fact I wrote a blog post about how to create henka!  It's not that my tips were wrong, they were just directed at someone who is just learning how to create henka. Or, someone who is training from their own intellect or ego.

I think it is important not to throw away this kind of training because it is very useful for discovery. And we need a foundation to grow from. So I stand by the tips I wrote about.

But the kind of henka Hatsumi Sensei showed he has compared to a changing flame. 変化 Henka can be read as 変火 Henka, changing flame. A flame seems to have no discernible form as it flickers and changes constantly.  It also changes effortlessly no matter what obstacle it encounters. And it burns out without warning. It is there, then gone. quite mysterious. Soke explains how we can glimpse its essence,
"The crucial thing for humankind when handling fire is to know that fire is an apparition, a ghost, and we should pursue this image."
He compares it to the spark of life. It is like that which causes birth, death, or the change between elements and states.

Soke says we can find the ghost of the essence in the writings of San'yūtei Enchō, a Japanese author / rakugo performer of the late Edo and early Meiji eras. He was/is known for classics in Japanese horror stories. You can imagine what feeling that horror would bring to your taijutsu!

When I first opened my eyes to this source in my training, it was because Soke framed it in terms of connecting to this immaterial essence that causes change. He had been hammering home the idea of connecting to your opponent. To his rhythm, technique and spirit. The concept being that if you had this connection, you could use it to protect yourself or counter his attacks.

This connection happens through the kukan. So naturally Soke suggested we open up the connection to something bigger than the two (or more) combatants embroiled in that momentary drama. This connection was to be made to the source of henka, of birth, death, flames…

In the three years since I have been training on this, I have developed my own strategies for making this connection. They are many, because this concept brings you to straight to the infinite. I will happily share some with you when I connect with you in training!


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