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.

過去現在未来之術 Kako Genzai Mirai no Jutsu

Bujinkan Hombu 畳 Tatami photo by Michael Glenn
In one Friday night class at Hombu, Hatsumi Sensei suggested a mode of perception that is at the heart of our training. Sensei used the words 過去 kako, 現在 genzai, and 未来 mirai. This loosely refers to the past, present, and future.

That night on the tatami of the Honbu, Soke was giving us a deep lesson. He said that we should keep the past, present, and future connected. Allowing one to drive the next. This happens with or without our participation.

If you can get with the flow of this connection, then you may ride it to victory. But in order to flow and connect with it, you must be able to see it. What does it look like?

Maybe you've had the experience of looking at a newborn child. You see your parents and grandparents in his or her fresh face. You see yourself and your partner reflected there too. And you also see a newness that is in the process of becoming. A new person with a future life stretched out ahead. Of course you see how these are all connected. Maybe you think about how your parents must have studied your own baby face with the same wonder.

Some people would rather forget the past. They may propose a toast to say, 過去を忘れるために乾杯 Kako wo wasureru tameni kampai, Here's to forgetting the past! Or even something like, The past is vile, the present is barely tolerable, but there's hope for the future.

When Hatsumi Sensei teaches, each technique is like a newborn child. He teaches based on a kata or concept that has been passed down through the ages in a lineage he inherited. If you look carefully, you will see the imprints or DNA of this 過去 kako or past encoded in the movement. All of the Bujin, the past Soke, and the warriors who lived and died with our art are contained there. Hatsumi Sensei has told us this directly.

But you also may see Hatsumi Sensei's living expression of the art in the present. This 現在 genzai is vital. It is what allows the art to stay relevant. Truthfully, it is the only thing protecting you should you need to use the art in combat. Hatsumi Sensei has clearly stated that the way he teaches now is what matters. If you are not connected to this current training, you are studying a dead art.

If you are really connected and observe carefully, you may even bear witness to where the art is leading us. As you watch Hatsumi Sensei teach, there is a palpable experience that anything can happen. And it often does. As he follows the unbroken connection in each moment, you begin to glimpse the path ahead or the 未来 mirai in our training. The sense of wonder this gives me as a student is indescribable.

This explains why nothing Hatsumi Sensei teaches is ever the same way twice. You may have seen him do the same kata years ago and thought what he did was a definitive rendition of this kata. But then he will do it again, entirely different, and this version will feel like the definitive version. If you try to hold onto either technique, you will miss the point and be left behind.

That night in Hombu, some people debated what Soke meant by his statements. But I just took in the spectacle with enjoyment. Because Soke did not care.

He simply told us to take ample space. With the proper use of space the attacker is defeated. But you aren't using the space! You just allow for it, and many wonderful techniques are born.

So when you are in actual combat, if you can connect to the three aspects of 過去 kako, 現在 genzai and 未来 mirai, you may enter the world of 幽玄 yugen. Your opponent will be operating in the fog and you may float outside of his influence.

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