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

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