2 Mad 剣 Tsurugi Secrets, Plus 1 Mantra

Michael Glenn at 王子神社 ōjijinja, Mabashi, Matsudo, Chiba Prefecture, Japan
I wrote earlier this year about my experiences in Japan with the iconography of Aka-Fudō holding the 倶利伽羅不動剣 Kurikarafudō ken. Back then I was seeking to understand what felt like a bomb Hatsumi Sensei dropped in the middle of our taijutsu with one part of the Bujinkan theme for 2013, The 剣 Tsurugi/Ken.

This Chinese style sword holds lessons and qualities of movement that challenge what you think you know about Japanese martial arts.

So it was really a sweet surprise that just the other night, after 10 months of study with this weapon, I found a personal breakthrough in my movement with the tsurugi.

If you want to attempt what I discovered, try two things, one difficult, the other absurd. Or even better blend these two for the full madness that is the tsurugi.

剣 Tsurugi Madness Number One:

You see the pointy end of your ken? It is tiny and sharp. Let that one point become immovable. Just like the immovable spirit of 不動明王 Fudō Myō-ō, it will occupy the kukan and expand out from its physical position to embrace all the combatants.

Then you pivot around it. This is like 要 kaname that Soke taught us about last year. The confusing part comes when you learn that this still, immovable point doesn't have to stay fixed in space or time. This feels like a contradiction but isn't.

剣 Tsurugi Madness Number Two:

When you embrace that previous contradiction, then you let the sword shatter stillness. As I wrote recently in my training notes, at that moment, all hell breaks loose when the ken flashes and writhes through the kukan from one point to another. To manage this, you must embody 不動心 fudōshin.

Not many people know fudōshin in the midst of combat. It is hard enough to do just sitting in meditation, without someone fiercely trying to gut you.  But I think the power of the tsurugi doesn't just require it, it causes it.

When Fudō Myō-ō wields the Kurikara ken, he is cutting through ignorance with wisdom. I must really need to swing that sword around a lot. Lucky for me, Fudō Myō-ō is the patron of people born in the year of the rooster. And so I was.

Here is the Fudō mantra if you want to say it while cutting through ignorance with your sword:

なーまくさーまんだーば さらなんかん
Naamakusaamandaaba saranankan

Don't ask me how to pronounce it, I think I need more training.


The 改善 Kaizen of Charlie Chaplin

Michael Glenn Holds Hatsumi Sensei's Chaplin Caricature. photo by Lisa Peters
Hatsumi Sensei did a quick drawing of Charlie Chaplin for me. This was after he had just quoted Chaplin in one class at the Hombu Dojo. I even witnessed Sensei emulate the shuffling Chaplin "Little Tramp" walk with a pantomime cane when he was explaining how to walk in 義鑑流 Gikan Ryu.

This drawing that Sensei made looks cartoonish. But it contains a very deep insight for our Bujinkan training. This comes from a Chaplin quote that Soke is fond of. The quote that Hatsumi Sensei frequently refers to goes like this,
そんなチャップリンに新聞記者が質問をします。「あなたの最高傑作の作品は何か?」と。そのとき彼はこう答えます。すなわち、「次の作品だ」と言ったのです。
To paraphrase, a reporter asked Chaplin, which of your films do you consider the best? Chaplin replied, "the next one." This means the one that hasn't been created yet. Or as Sensei implies, the henka that hasn't happened yet.

This concept in Japan is tied in with the idea of 改善 kaizen. or continuous improvement. You continually work, evolve, and change. Never stopping because the next one will always be better.

Hatsumi Sensei told us that this next one is the one you cannot see. It is shrouded like 幽玄 Yugen. Floating in a world of potential. Thus, it cannot be countered.

Soke described it further,
"It's almost like a ghost or a ghoul. If you look at the classic films of Chaplin and the other mime actors, they're creating that space. If you understand this, this will take you in a very different path in your long progression."
He wants us to have that space in our movement. To be comfortable in not deciding anything. No technique. Just floating in that kyojitsu space that you create. This is a safe space for you, but deadly for your opponent.

Below the drawing of Chaplin that Sensei made for me, he wrote:
次 次 次 tsugi tsugi tsugi
Next next next...

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