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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.

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