Releasing the Power of 力を抜くChikara o Nuku

川蝉 Common Kingfisher photo by yamatsu
I was at a recent class at the Bujinkan Hombu dojo where Hatsumi sensei threw his opponents around all night. But mostly they were thrown. He emphasized, that he was not doing the techniques. How might this be possible?

He used a phrase "刀を抜くkatana o nuku, 力を抜くchikara o nuku." This has many layers but by dropping the power or the intention out of your technique it becomes effective. Even dropping the technique from technique. But there is a trick to this that many students of Sensei apparently neglect to understand.

Many people think they know what Soke means when he speaks. That night in class, one of Sensei's frequent translators came up to me and told me, "That's not what he said!" Meaning that the current translator had gotten it wrong. So then he explained to me what he thought Sensei meant.

I just listened to his explanation and didn't agree or disagree. I brushed this off as a personality conflict between translators. Or maybe it was due to the extreme difficulty of concise translation of Japanese in the dynamic environment of the Hombu. But when more people complained to me about the translation, I figured there might be more to this.

So in order to participate in the confusion, I will offer my own thoughts about what we were witnessing in that class. I haven't yet seen anyone offer the explanation I will make below. But maybe you all know this stuff already.

You cannot have 力を抜くchikara o nuku if you don't first have chikara. Otherwise there is no power to take out of the technique. One common way that I have witnessed Hatsumi Sensei and the other Japanese instructors do this is by going from  力を入れる chikara o ireru (using force, strength or exerting effort) to 力を抜くchikara o nuku.

I myself have had great results using this in my taijutsu. For a simple example, it is like the children's game of tug o' war. Two teams pull on a rope in the opposite direction. Whichever team is stronger pulls the other towards their side and wins. But when I was a kid, we thought it was great fun to 力を入れる chikara o ireru and pull with all our might, then quickly release the rope for 力を抜くchikara o nuku. Relaxing suddenly and letting go of the rope made the other team fall on their asses.

You will see this concept everyday in the Hombu as the uke seem to throw themselves.

So 刀を抜くkatana o nuku is something I have been practicing for quite a few years. I have a visualization that I use to explain the principle. To get the tip of the sword to the target in an effortless and quick motion, it is like releasing a bird from your hand and the bird flies directly to the target as if it is spearing a fish. But first you must be able to capture or hold the bird.

Hatsumi Sensei described this method of drawing to us that night. He said that with katana o nuku, you are not drawing the sword, you are letting it free from the saya (like my idea of releasing a bird). It is very dangerous, with this motion the sword will kill with no effort at all. The blade finds its target.

This is what I understood from Sensei's class that night. Other people who were there may have different ideas that are valid. I hope that sharing my thoughts helps you to discover your own understanding about our art.

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