The 生き様 Ikizama of Bujinkan Sanshin and Mutō Dori

日本庭園 nihon teien in Aoyama. photo by Michael Glenn
You might learn one thing in class, and then another time, you learn the opposite. Ura and Omote. These are not contradictions, but rather they are part of one another. Like 陰 in and 陽 yo.

In my own classes, we recently studied 隼雄 shunū and 隼足 shunsoku. For these mutō dori, Hatsumi Sensei has suggested that we don’t try to catch the opponent’s sword. Instead we should entrap the sword’s very existence (生き様 ikizama).

This means you don’t focus on the weapon as a physical object. You focus on it’s entire existence in space and time. What is the weapon’s potential in any moment? Soke says,

“in mutō dori, the past present and future, the time before drawing the sword, after drawing, or when the sword has been re-sheathed., what may be called the nature of the sword’s existence(生き様 ikizama) … one entraps that.”

This is because the nature of the sword itself is not a threat. One moment it may be tucked in a corner or sitting on a rack gathering dust. In a different time it is red hot metal being hammered into shape by the smith. In all of the sword’s existence, how much of its life is spent in violence? Maybe just the space of one breath.

While this gives us some insight and philosophical strategies for mutō dori, there is a flip side. Last week I taught the opposite of entrapping the sword’s existence. What is this ura of mutō dori?

In this class, we were drilling 居合間合 iai maai using Gogyō no Kata. You have all heard how important sanshin is in Bujinkan training. And this is one example why. When you truly embody sanshin, you can do it with any weapon.

But people can’t. Someone who knows perfectly well how to do sui no kata... you give them a weapon and suddenly they fumble. This is where the ura side of mutō dori can help.

The opposite of entrapping the sword’s existence is to set it free.

For example, instead of trapping the sword’s existence, we set it free. This is the way to “use” any weapon. Let the nature of the weapon itself free as you move through space and time. Then the patterns of the weapon’s existence can emerge to protect you.

This is what sanshin teaches. It is 自然観 shizenkan, an insight of nature. Soke said that Takamatsu Sensei told him that having 自然的度胸 shizenteki dokyou (natural courage) was the most important. This is what arises out of the sword’s existence when you set it free. This is what you can learn from the 生き様 ikizama of sanshin.

If you want to study sanshin with me, here is the seminar schedule: Upcoming Bujinkan Sanshin Seminars

Do You Have Enough ゆとり Yutori to do Bujinkan Shadow Techniques?

Shadows in Soke's window, photo by Michael Glenn
Last night I did an omote gyaku on my opponent’s wrist by kicking it out of the air. Then I rode it down to the ground where the wrist would break as it is crushed to the earth by my foot. But I had the control to just pin it down.

My students were very surprised. But so was I. I have seen Hatsumi Sensei apply locks before where the opponent’s body just seems to assume the form of the lock without any contact from Soke. I first heard Soke describe these “shadow techniques” (kage no waza) during one of my trips to Japan in 2003.

I never understood them before and definitely never thought I would be able to do them. But during my trip to Japan this last summer, Soke helped me put the final pieces of this puzzle in place. So now here I am, surprising myself with my own kage no waza.

You must train deeply to learn all the elements that make kage no waza mysteriously arise in the kukan. And I have been puzzling over this ability for years in my own training. Here is one key piece of the puzzle that Hatsumi Sensei personally shared with me so I could go home and study his feeling.

We were practicing multiple attacker scenarios in the Bujinkan Honbu dojo. One attacker grabs both of your wrists, the other kicks or punches at you. Then Soke told us,
“Don’t try to control him right away, just have a lot of ゆとり yutori (breathing room; elbowroom;  leeway;  room;  reserve;  margin;  allowance;  latitude;  time). The connection is very important. You don’t have to throw him or show anything pretty.”
We all tried to do as he said, but most people in the dojo fought with their partners. Hatsumi Sensei laughed while he watched me struggle with my opponents. He took pity on me and came over and asked my to grab his wrists. Then, my two training partners attacked him.

From the moment I grabbed him, I felt like a pawn. He was using my own attempt to grab as a weapon against all of us. He very casually tangled us up and left me floating in space with my training partners collapsed beneath me on the tatami. I had to twist my body just to not fall on top of them.

Soke stood there laughing at me as I hung in the air.  Everything he did was so casual. There was no rush, no force. When I recovered my balance he told me,
“You do this without waza. Wakarimasuka? Do it with tsunagari.”
Not with technique, only through 繋がり tsunagari, which is connection. Did I understand? Usually when something is above my skill level, I understand things intellectually or in theory. But this time I understood the feeling with my body. And something more…

Hatsumi Sensei decided to share more of this lesson with the whole dojo. He said,
“Use your elbow here.  Don’t try to do anything, just put it out there. Keep it attached to your body. Study this way of connecting one to the other. Don’t show that you’re trying to take something…
…remember that the connection is the reality. It’s the waza, but it’s not the waza.”
Ha! This is what I wanted to tell my own students last night. They stood there looking at me like I had done a magic trick. But it was just an extension of the training I had done with Hatsumi Sensei. This is the kind of magic that fuels ninja mythology. So we are very lucky to find it in our everyday Bujinkan training.

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