How to Notice the Big Changes in a Small Breeze

Michael Glenn under the cherry tree, 新宿御苑 Shinjuku Gyoen
Last year I had one of the most profound experiences of my life. Yet it was really nothing unique. In fact, many poets and artists have made note of it in their work. And this experience informs some core ideas in the Bujinkan.

I was standing under the cherry trees. A light breeze fluttered across my face. Then I was showered with falling petals.

I felt blessed and melancholy at the same time. Such is the power of sakura. In Japan this reverence for the signs of change is a deep subject of poetry, art, religion, and our own Bujinkan training.

This was on my mind when I taught 桐之一葉 Kiri no Hito Ha in a recent class. I wrote about this in my Bujinkan training notes, but I felt even more reflective after class. The name of this kata gets to the heart of the subtle signs of change.

Hatsumi Sensei tells us we should know the verse from which the name of this kata is formed:
One leaf of the Paulownia tree falls to earth/ The inevitable winds of change have come.
This verse comes to us from a classical Kabuki drama, 桐一葉 Kiri Hitto Ha written by 坪内逍遥 Tsubouchi Shoyo. The true story of a retainer of Toyoyomi Hideyoshi,  named 片桐且元 Katagiri Katsumoto, who wrote this haiku after being driven into exile just before the siege of Osaka in 1614.

But this idea is much older. We even find it all the way back in 139 BC. Where it is found in some Chinese writing known as 淮南子 Huáinánzǐ. Here you can find the clues to "knowing autumn has come by seeing a single Paulownia leaf fall."

Beyond noticing a subtle change to the seasons, what does this tell us about combat?

It tells you how to read the attack of your adversary and how to recognize the small changes that precede the big movement or big changes of his attack. But it also suggests that when you yourself make small changes, they add up to something bigger. This is the 十方折衝 juppo sessho I reflected to my students. It is a good tool to plan for chaos.

The next kata in this series is 落花 Rakka, or falling petals. Flowers are powerful symbols of change. They have a magnificent arrival with the season, but fall just at their peak.

Then the scattered petals lie on the ground and are blown this way and that. They are crushed under our feet as we pass through their soft, quiet, shower.  Hatsumi Sensei says we should "see the beauty in their determination as they fall to their death."

This is the spirit of muto dori. Can a swordsman kill a falling cherry blossom? Enter in with this determination and you will know the meaning of 捨て身 sutemi.

This is how to find 詒変 ihen in training. It is a profound look at change, as Longfellow described in his poem, Rain in Summer,
With vision clear,
Sees forms appear and disappear,
In the perpetual round of strange,
Mysterious change; 
And so you will blossom again when the season is right.

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