How to Read the 徴  Shirushi Taught in 口伝 Kuden

Hachiōji, Tokyo photo by LaPrimaDonna
One morning during training, Hatsumi Sensei gave us an interesting 口伝 kuden, explaining to us the nature of the footwork we were using. He told us,
"There's a reason for this movement of the feet. You're leaving footprints. And it's actually an indication (徴  shirushi sign;  indication;  omen) You're leaving a warning or an indication."
Sensei wasn't just telling us about footwork. He was talking about a larger idea. And this idea is that there are subtle signs and hints everywhere for those who are awake, aware, or sensitive to them.

You could take this at the surface meaning. For example, a hunter can see signs of his prey as he tracks it. So he follows the tracks to catch dinner. Yet someone who is not a hunter would never notice these hints. Or if you were thirsty, the signs would mean something different. You might follow the animal trails that lead to a stream.

But the meaning Sensei was leading us to, was that there are signs left for us by those who have gone before. These are everywhere in the Bujinkan. You find them in what is taught and not taught. They are in the kata. In the kuden. In the densho.

Here is an interesting example: In 九鬼神流打拳体術 Kukishin Ryū Dakentaijutsu there is a kuden:
切紙  急所説明 48穴当込みの場所 , 口伝
Basically it explains the 48 openings for kyusho when striking. But the hint that it leaves us is obscure. It calls this 切り紙 kirigami which is the art of paper cutting.

If you aren't familiar with this art, it is a very advanced craft similar to origami where paper is cut to create artistic expression of nature and life. But the method and rhythm of it is uniquely Japanese. This is a hint.

Another hint or meaning for kirigami is the esoteric notes and oral teachings transmitted from teacher to student. Here the text itself is being cut so that its meaning shifts and is shaped by the teacher. Anyone who has trained with Hatsumi Sensei can attest to this feeling.

Sensei will never just give you the surface meaning of a text. The meaning becomes fluid and dynamic in the moment much like the changing image of paper as it is transformed by kirigami. As Hatsumi Sensei teaches, the 要 kaname of his teaching transforms to suit the moment.

That morning, as we shuffled around trying to emulate Sensei's footwork, we were following in the footsteps of Bujin and the warrior spirit of our ancestors.

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