The Bold Magic of Sutemi

滚滚江水 Torrential photo by livepine
There is a bit of magic in the Gokui we find in the history of our art. This magic can help us with training or in our own lives. One that Hatsumi Sensei has shared with us says,
Like many ideas in Japanese, there is more than one way to translate this into English. Two that I've heard are:
When you become entangled, there can be no victory. By sacrificing yourself, you have the chance to be saved;
or, with no thought of one's self, float in the torrent by throwing oneself in.
In English we have similar sayings like: nothing ventured, nothing gained; make your own luck; put your life on the line… commit totally; Risk it all to win it all.

These ideas show the power of being fully committed, but where does the magic enter in? Well some other translations hint around this: When you are ready to sacrifice yourself, you may succeed; by rejecting the body comes opportunity; It is those who sacrifice themselves that will be rewarded with rising currents.

A clue for us can be found in the word 浮かぶ瀬 ukabuse found in the second part of this gokui. This word suggests good fortune or a lucky break when one floats or rises to the surface of the flood. The luck that arises from sutemi! What is this magic source of luck?

I would posit that it is found in the flow of whatever current that you leap into. Whether an actual river, the flow of combat, or the current of events. Consider this famous piece of advice often attributed to Goethe but more than likely by William Hutchinson Murray,
“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.”
So I'll give you two final bits of 諺 kotowaza wisdom. One for the Bold,

小さな流れも大河となる Small streams too grow into large rivers.

And one for the cautious,

浅き川も深く渡れ Cross even shallow rivers as though they were deep.

Ton'ei 遁影: Shadow Shield or Escaped Phantom?

影電話 photo By shokai
Do you know how to use a shadow shield? If you've dropped all your fantasies of being a Ninja and only focus on dojo martial arts, you may have forgotten about what attracted you to being a ninja in the first place. So let's be mysterious Ninja for a moment.

We have a skill, yes, a skill in our training called 遁影 ton'ei. This is sometimes translated as "shadow shield," but there is more subtlety for us to understand. Shadow is not just a nickname for Ninja, it is an aspect of ton'ei no jutsu.

So this is a tactical strategy as well as a mysterious one. For the tactical, you simply fight with the sun at your back so that the opponent is blinded and has trouble seeing you. As Hatsumi Sensei says you are casting your shadow forward. Hiding in the sunlight is the real shadow of budo.

For one mysterious aspect of 遁影 ton'ei, learning this skill can start with kamae. Soke says that even as you stand in any specific kamae, your heart and mind must be in Kage Kamae.  The shadow in this case is what your heart is feeling. From this shadow kamae you may attack hidden targets. One may even use what is called kage no ken or moguriuchi.

In one of the gokui from our Kukishin Ryu Densho we may discover more secrets for this.

月影の いたらぬ里は なけれども 眺むる人の 心にぞすむ
Tsukikage no itaranu sato wa nakeredomo nagamuru hito no kokoro ni zosumu.
Though the moon shines all over the world

Leaving no corner in darkness,

Only those who gaze upon the moon

Appreciate its serene light.

This gokui no uta suggests to us that that the shadows and light of the moon exist for everyone whether you gaze on it or not. But only a few appreciate its mystery.

Another version of this poem is

"The village, illuminated by the moonlight, exists in the heart of he who looks upon it."

So here is a secret. It exists in the heart. Your kage no kamae exists there. But when you project that shadow forward, it will also exist in the heart of "he who looks upon it."

This shadow projection is like a clone that your opponent perceives as a threat. Then he will be haunted by your shadow as if by 後神 Ushirogami which a type of 妖怪 youkai. One depiction of an Ushirogami shows its front and backside are the same. One of its arms faces forward and the other backwards.

This Ushirogami is connected to 臆病神 Okubyô-gami and will produce cowardice and confusion for your enemy. When he thinks you are in front of him, you are behind. So he turns around, and there is nothing.

As you project this escaped phantom 遁影, your opponent's mind is clouded with regret, anxiety, fear, and anger. This is your shield. It is as easy to hide from his mind as the moon hides behind clouds.

But you may trap yourself if you are not careful. In Japan, some fisherman have a legend of 影ワニ a shark that feeds on shadows. There you are... fishing by moonlight. You see a shadow pass under your boat...

You stand to get a better look. Then you see your own shadow fall across the water. CHOMP! the shark eats your shadow and you are dragged down into the sea or die right there in your boat.

Return top