How You Avoid Being 餓鬼 Gaki in the Bujinkan

Ouch! photo by Harry Sherman
There is a certain type of student in the martial arts and the Bujinkan who is like 餓鬼 gaki. A gaki in Japanese is the spirit of a jealous or greedy person who, as punishment for mortal vices, has been cursed with an insatiable hunger or thirst. No matter how much it consumes, it cannot be sated. Gaki is also a slang word for bratty kids.

Could you be a gaki? Would you even know if you were this type of student? And if you are, how can you leave behind this cycle?

Sometimes we focus on the wrong things in training. It's easy to get lost in the details. Where did Sensei put his feet? Which hand did he strike with? What are the steps of this kata?

After asking these questions we are still no closer to understanding what was taught. Then we try to mimic the teacher and cannot. Or we do mimic but don't get the results. This becomes frustrating for many. Some give up and quit.

Some even adopt a strange strategy of trying to mimic the teacher when he was younger. (how they think they can accomplish this I have no idea… old video? stories from the so called "old days?") Many people sink deeper into details, training on form to the extreme.

We should have compassion and understanding for these gaki. In Japan they even have a special day in August (or sometimes around Halloween) called segaki 施餓鬼 which is for feeding these hungry ghosts. In training, many so called teachers cater to these unfortunate students and sell them anything they wish to consume.

None of this offers a solution. You have to go back to the original problem. What do you focus on in training?

True experts make it look easy and effortless. What does that mean to appear effortless? It means to not show effort. Masters in any art are really masters of what to leave out. What not to do. Mistakes not to make.

They narrow their focus to the absolute essence of the movement. It looks so simple. And in truth, it is!

Soke Hatsumi writes,
"... with the Zen style of painting where anything unnecessary is omitted, and the place where it has been omitted is where the genuine illustration of Zen can be seen."
We should be focusing on what is not shown. What is not attempted. What steps are not taken.

If you can discard what the master left out, you will be left with the essence. Start from this basic, ground state when learning. The teacher shows what he shows for a reason. Don't think you know better than him to go do something else.

In training we only require the ground beneath our feet. Just like Soke. That is where he begins every technique. Connecting to this realization clears away the heaps of junk that are injected into our minds by people with a variety of agendas. Know also that many teachers cater to Gaki students and have an agenda for saying what they say. Their intentions are not to help you learn, but rather "sell" themselves and promote their ability. Your training with them will be full, but you will always be empty.

You have an innate wisdom that expresses an intuitive understanding and clarity that cuts through ego, anxiety, and aggression. Every student I meet has this ability to know what is good when they allow themselves this freedom.

Good training is going into that place in yourself where this exists naturally. You do this over and over until you no longer have to search in yourself for it. You embody it and all you require is the ground. It becomes the body you live in.

When you get to this place and find your spot on the ground, you have a responsibility to reflect it in your life. Bring it forward through personal example and responsible action. This is how to teach without ego, from your own truth.

Look for that teacher or be that teacher. Anything less is like being a gaki.


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