呼吸 Kokyuu: How Hatsumi Sensei Caught My Breath

Michael Glenn Joins Hands with 大鵬幸喜 Taihō Kōki at the Fukagawa Edo Museum
I made sure to grip my sword well. My opponent stood before me, almost daring me to come in. I knew that if I didn’t cut in the space of that breath, I would be too late.

I cut, and I was stunned in an instant. I stood helpless at the point of my opponent’s sword… my own blade was slammed to the floor like the earth was a giant magnet.

My “opponent” was Hatsumi Sensei. He laughed as he drove the tip of his sword into my body. This forced my back up against the wood paneled wall.

This flash is burned into my memory from earlier this month. Soke was demonstrating to me a principle of 無く力を合わせ Naku chikara o awase that he was teaching that night. Meeting my attack without power. This principle was a thread that ran through many of my classes this month in Japan.

For some background, one night at Senou Sensei’s dojo,  Senou used the terms 姿勢 shisei: attitude; posture; stance; approach; or carriage (of the body)... And 態勢 taisei: attitude; posture; preparedness; or readiness. This means you can't just do a kata. It all depends on the attack... or the shisei or taisei of the opponent.

In another class Hatsumi Sensei effortlessly threw a series of opponents around the dojo. Each student he called out to attack him was bigger than the last. He was purposely choosing bigger and bigger bodies. He did this to demonstrate the slight changes in technique he used for each person. Soke said,
"When you catch a large fish, you have to change. You have to play the fish."
But how does this happen? If you’ve ever hunted or fished, you know how important it is to harmonize with the movements and mindset of the prey. It’s almost as if you merge with them as you stalk them. Then the moment of the kill creates an incredible concurrence. An incongruous reverence for life appears when you also see your own death in that moment. The body of your prey is your body.

Right after Hatsumi Sensei “killed” me, he said 呼吸から愛人 kokyuu kara ai jin. This is the merging of the breath between two lovers. But Soke used his humorous analogy to suggest you match your movements or your breath according to the way your opponent breathes. You become one with him. Like with a lover.

This was strange to me because it was like he disappeared in front of my cut. By matching me, he became nothing. He met my attack with emptiness. Then my next impression was the sheer force that dropped my own sword to the ground. But it was not his force, it was the shattering of the breath. My own breath. My own life which he had taken in that instant.

Bujinkan Japan Training Winter 2015

Below I share a preview of my Bujinkan video exploring the kata 片胸捕 kata mune dori using concepts from my training in Japan over the last couple of weeks.

Hatsumi Sensei has been very reflective. Part of this comes from his birthday. And part of it is due to the end of a 42 year cycle that he says began when Takamatsu Sensei passed away.

In the full video at rojodojo I share many of the stories Hatsumi Soke shared with us. Some of the details include:

  • What the future holds for the Bujinkan;
  • Hatsumi Sensei’s funny opinion about his 8mm footage with Takamatsu Sensei;
  • How Soke feels about his age;
  • The responsibility of our generation for Budo;
  • Two profound lessons from the 天津鞴韜馗神之秘文 amatsu tatara kishin no hibun;
  • A hidden meaning for 親切 shinsetsu;
  • How does Senou Sensei consider 姿勢 shisei and 態勢 taisei in training?
  • Hatsumi Sensei’s stories of lodging at Takamatsu Sensei’s house;
  • Stories of the terrifying training that Soke did with Takamatsu Sensei;
  • How Hatsumi Sensei survived a live blade attack from Takamatsu;
  • How Takamatsu demonstrated deadly force to Hatsumi Sensei;
  • Why Takamatsu didn’t really teach Hatsumi Sensei form;
  • How “bad people” are dealt with in the Bujinkan;
  • How to keep from being controlled by religion;
  • One of the most important purposes for the dojo;
  • My own experiences as uke for Hatsumi Sensei;
  • Turning accidents into fortune;
  • Cutting through truth;
  • Don’t confuse Fudoshin with kamae;
  • Using the eyes for evasion;
  • Throwing the self away and finding what is hidden in zero;
  • The importance of the “next one.”

Hatsumi Sensei said that he has taught us everything there is to teach in the Bujinkan over the last 42 years. But he added that we will be continuing from zero. Over the coming weeks, I will share more about these details from my experiences in Japan. But I made this video for rojodojo to get this information out quickly. You can enjoy the full length video and help support my teaching over at Rojodojo.com

Ten Ways to 清澄 Seichou

Shibuya, photo by Michael Glenn
A few nights ago, Hatsumi Sensei was trying to give us clarity (澄明 choumei) when he changed the kanji in juppo sesshou to 清澄 seichou which means clear and serene. The idea is that when you have this kind of clarity, you cannot be harmed by any attack. And he has often told us that the Bujinkan can only be understood with a clear, pure heart.

But not many of us in the dojo were clear that day. I think some people may be confused about what Soke is doing with his current line of training. This is understandable, because it is really hard to keep up with Hatsumi Sensei's progression.

This will be the first of several articles about the training I am currently doing in Japan, to receive all of them, please subscribe here.

It's like that feeling when you see your train pull in to the station but you're on the wrong side of the tracks. You know you can run, through the gate, up a flight of stairs, across the overpass, down another flight of stairs… you might even make it before the hiss of the doors closing.

Then again, you might fumble with coins at the gate, your suica card might be tapped out, you might trip on the stairs, maybe you drop your hat, even then you have to swim through a flood of people going the other way as they get off the train.

That's how training feels right now. It's a sprint to catch a train leaving the station. Soke's budo is as high level as ever. It has always been a challenge to comprehend or physically connect to Soke's training. But now, his budo seems to be leaving the station.

Some people seem to think they know where this train is headed, but they are probably wrong. That is what is difficult as a student. We can't understand where Soke's budo is headed because I think Soke is along for the ride too.

From my perspective, Soke's current budo is not fixed, it is searching. He himself has made every effort to let us know about the coming changes in the Bujinkan and the world. He says that he has taught us everything in the Bujinkan, and now he is searching for the "next one."

I get the feeling he himself doesn't know what that is. How can anyone? He has been a shepherd for the schools he inherited, and for us, his students. But the next phase will be out of his hands.

But budo has survived centuries despite the people who practice it. Some people add to this wealth of knowledge and understanding. Other's seek to destroy it.

Yet it keeps going. And anyone with a pure heart can catch a ride. May your journey be clear and serene (清澄 seichou).

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