暴力 Bouryoku: How to Train For Violence

地震體驗室 photo by Anav Rin
If you follow the news this week, or any week on earth, really… violence (暴力 bouryoku), disaster, and tragedy never make sense. Sometimes the more you learn about a violent act or violent person and his motives, the less you understand. You can study a disaster like a historian. But you can never comprehend the scope, depth, or impact on real lives of the event itself.

A few years ago, Hatsumi Sensei told us that our training should pass into areas that can't be understood. I wrote about what he said here: Beyond Godan Into Wakaranai-Keiko

What can you do about this in your training? If you learn the concept of 万変不驚 Banpen Fugyo, then you can embrace the incomprehensible in your training. So how do you start doing this in the dojo?

Last month when I was training with Sensei, he explained more about this strategy for dealing with these events in our lives. He said,
"We're doing these things that can't be understood. And in real life people are killed by things they can't see or understand. We are studying how to survive things you can't understand. No matter how many techniques you study, they might actually interfere with your ability to live if you get stuck on them. And bit by bit you just end up collecting techniques. So get rid of those. Erase them."
These points are at the heart of what it means to study the Bujinkan. If you are not studying this way, or you are unwilling to look at your own training methods through this lens, you cannot understand Soke's art. And I see MANY students and teachers who refuse to look at this.

I get it. It's hard. People want something like techniques to hang onto. Just like people search for explanations for senseless acts of violence. People literally crave this.

As natural as that may be, that very human impulse is a trap and a luxury that true warriors cannot lean on. Survival requires it. And if you want your Bujinkan training to be more than typical sports or commercial martial arts, you should learn to not understand.

空間 Kukan: More Bounce to the Ounce

Edo-Tokyo Architectural Museum. photo by kanegen
I guess I didn't understand kukan. I was in a class with Hatsumi Sensei, and the things he did and said made that clear to me. For example he said,
 "When he's close, then use a sanshin strike. Let's think that this strike is a strike on the kukan. No one will think you'll do this."
and another time he said to "Bounce the opponent off the kukan." and to "use the kukan as a shield." Hatsumi Sensei then added,
 "you're not "doing" a technique. Being able to control without holding on in the kukan. It's like juggling in the kukan. This is the most important thing for the upcoming kunoichi taikai. Because you don't need strength to juggle."
And the effect on his opponent was palpable. I could see it happening in front of me. He was being "bounced."

OK. So the simple physics don't match up with any western translation of kukan I have heard. For example one dictionary defines 空間 kukan as: space;  room;  airspace. And I always understood it to mean the space between, in and around the fight and the fighters. But this is empty air! How the heck do you strike it? And when you do, what would that accomplish?

Let's look an eastern concept for this idea. The first character in kukan is 空 ku, one of the five elements in our training. It roughly translates to empty;  sky;  void;  vacant;  vacuum.

But in another blog post about bojutsu I described another meaning for kokū 虚空:
We usually think of this as meaning empty space or empty sky. But this word is sometimes used to refer to the mind (which has no form or color) of your opponent. Kokū 虚空 can be read as emptiness or even "false" emptiness. Another way to write kokū is 真空, which is a true emptiness. Or even kokū 心空 emptiness of mind.
So how do you bounce somebody off empty space? Maybe with the mind of the attacker? The space looks empty but it is filled with intentions and thoughts.

Soke ended the class by suggesting that we do it without feeling. Kankaku denai 感覚でない... But isn't that how badly we always do it?

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Michael Glenn Somewhere Below 7th Floor Kashiwa Plaza Hotel
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The Theme for 2013 is Like a Dragon Wrapped Around a 劍 Tsurugi

If you want to know how to use the ken, do it like you have a dragon wrapped around the blade. That is my advice after studying this weapon in Japan. Let me explain how I got there.

As part of the theme for 2013 in the Bujinkan we are studying the straight sword 劍 tsurugi or ken. At first, I didn't know what to make of this, since Japanese swordsmanship is largely devoted to curved single edged blades. But after my recent trip to Japan and being exposed to the symbolism AND practical use of this weapon, I am absolutely blown away.

When I first saw Hatsumi Sensei using this weapon this year, it literally seemed to writhe in the space like a snake. This got me thinking. 2013 being the year of the snake, how might these things connect?

As I looked around hombu, and during the kunoichi taikai at Ayase, I saw many types of ken in use during training. Which one are we studying this year? I think the answer is all of them, but Hatsumi Sensei showed up with an impressive example to put on display:
The Arrival of Hatsumi Sensei's 三鈷剣 Sanko Ken. photo by Michael Glenn
I was told by the Japanese teachers that this type of ken is called 三鈷剣 sanko ken and is not used in combat but for ceremonial purposes. This type of sword, also called a vajra sword (金剛杵 kongō-ken), or treasure sword (宝剣 hōken), has some incredible symbolism, but had its origins in combat. What manner of combat you ask? The slaying of snakes!

For example, one of the origin stories of the vajra comes from India. The god Indra used the vajra as his main weapon. In the Vedas, Indra used this weapon to fight and kill a dragon serpent form of Asura Vritra. Indra became known as the slayer of the first born of dragons.

The five pronged vajra symbolizes the five elements. It looks like six, but the central prong is counted as one. Or, in the form of a sword, this blade was used by mountain yamabushi or mikkyo priests to clear a path through weeds and undergrowth. The blade came to represent cutting away illusion.

In the stories of the origins of Japan, the sword came to Japan as a gift from the gods. Amaterasu's brother, Susanoo, killed an eight headed serpent and cut off one of its tails. Inside its body was the 草薙劍 Kusanagi no Tsurugi which is one of the three sacred treasures of Japan.

You will find this blade held by Fudō-myōō 不動明王, Senju Kannon 千手観音, and Monju 文殊 in their depictions. One of the most interesting examples for us this year might be "The Akafudou 赤不動 of Myououin 明王院 on Mt. Kouya, who holds a sword with the dragon Kurikara 倶利迦羅 wound around it." A couple of weeks ago, I watched Hatsumi Sensei paint snakes and serpents on students' swords and scrolls. So this feeling must be on his mind.

I could not help but think of this symbolism and feeling when in one class at the hombu, we were using the ken to do the kata 飛龍之剣 hiryu no ken. As the flying dragon was coiled around my sword in the kukan, my opponent suddenly found himself wrapped around his own delusions. My sword had snaked around between his arms to wrap and slice into a musha dori.

I bet you've never thought about dragons and serpents when doing musha dori! Me neither, until this year. Should be quite a ride. Hope you hang on with me.

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