The Distance Secret for Shaping Kukan

Vending Machines, Matsudo photo by Michael Glenn
I used to have a friend who was so beautiful. She had a classical face like you would see in a Renaissance painting. Her brown skin was rich in color and smooth. She always had a bright smile for me. Then one day, I met her at the grocery store and she had deep wolverine style wounds across her face.

She had gotten into a fight with another woman who clawed her face. The scars were deep, and never went away. She never smiled the same after that. This sad story demonstrates the raw savage power of 蝦蛄拳 shako ken

Hatsumi Sensei taught us some secrets hidden within shako ken in a recent Friday night class at the Bujinkan Hombu dojo. He showed us how to use it not just to attack directly, but to shape kukan.

He held the claw up like 刀匿礮姿 tōtoku hyōshi in the space. Most of us can understand the obvious shape that brings to the kukan. The hand and arm project out from one side toward the attacker and you pivot around it as a shield. That is a very important detail that many people have yet to learn. But I email everything I learn first, so get your email here

But Soke was not teaching only about shielding. He kept trying to get us to understand a deeper, more hidden strategy. One that he has tried to teach for years.

Hatsumi Sensei use the word 片方 katahou. This is a way of shaping the kukan to one side or the other depending on the needs of the moment. Sensei said you should,
“Create Distance with one side and then take the other. There’s no need to create technique or throw the opponent. Because you have created the correct distance. Remember this waza of the kukan.”
Anyone who has trained much with Hatsumi Sensei will recognize this strategy. He often influences one side of the body to affect the other. And it usually is the opposite from whatever surface technique we might be studying in that moment.

That same night, I think Hatsumi Sensei could tell that I wasn't getting it. He told me,
"I've been teaching this kind of kurai dori for 42 years. Whether only in this fight, or in any of the seasons, I move with that time."
To drive home this point he demonstrated on me, and he said,
"There are many ways of holding this. You don't need to grab. You don't need to throw. 空間を梃子 kukan wo teko you use the lever of the kukan. Take it right here. Bring your shoulder down. It's not with the intention of throwing."
During the class break, Hatsumi Sensei painted a picture for me of a beautiful woman with long hair covering one side of her face as she looks back at me over her shoulder. When I look back through my memory, I think of my friend and the way her smile became more wistful and hesitant after the damage to her face.

Everybody uses 合掌の構 Gassho no Kamae for Prayer, But in the Bujinkan We Fight With It

Rainy Day Gassho at 霊巌寺 Reigan-ji, Koto, Tokyo. photo by Michael Glenn
In one of my classes we were studying a Gyokko ryu kata that begins from 天略 宇宙合掌 Ten Ryaku Uchū Gassho. Maybe you’ve studied this in your Bujinkan class. But even outside of Bujinkan training, if you are human, you have used gassho at some point in your life. It transcends cultures.

That night, as I recorded a training video about this for Rojodojo.com, I wanted to share even more about gassho with everybody. So what I show in the video is that there is much more to this humble kamae then you might think. But if you want to know what mysteries are bound up with this stance, keep reading.

Gassho is a general term that describes any form that brings the hands together, often in a form of prayer or reverence. In the Bujinkan the symbolism of this kamae runs deep. And the position is even sometimes called 金剛拳 kongo ken and it is used to strike or even conceal weapons.

In Buddhism the right hand represents the Buddha, and the left represents you (or all sentient beings). They come together, and one becomes the other. Some different types of gassho include 堅実心合掌 steady heart gassho, 虚心合掌 relaxed, open minded gassho, and 金剛合掌 kongo gassho (vajra, diamond thunderbolt of indestructible truth).

Each finger represents an element. Gassho no kamae holds the unity of chi, sui, ka, fu, ku in your hands. Then you rip that unity apart as the attacker enters. This feels like a void opens and the attacker falls in. But you are really expanding the unity to engulf the opponent until he is no longer an adversary.

If he continues to fight in this space, he will not survive.

You may not know that one form of gassho often shown in Bujinkan kata is called Baku-in 縛印  or 縛拳 baku ken and it comes from Mikkyo. This is a form of “binding,” tying a spirit body or physical body down so they become trapped in a form of paralysis. But it is also for collecting yourself to bind or set your own resolve.

Then the kamae becomes 子持虎の構 komochi-tora no kamae. Hatsumi Sensei told us to start with kongo gassho, where you are unified with the whole universe. This is not a fighting stance. It is the tiger protecting her cubs. Your opponent will see it in your eyes.

Set your mind on perseverance. But if the attack comes, watch out! It can flip like the child holding the tiger.

Gassho no kamae unifies all of the universe within you. Then when you receive the attack, you tear this unity apart into a duality. Like ripping apart yin and yang, or 陰 in and 陽 yo. And that is the large void that the attacker is sucked into.

But you cannot really divide yin and yang. They cannot ever be ripped apart. That is like making the sound of 忍び手 shinobi te, a type of silent clapping, or bringing the hands together without making a sound. What do you hear in silence?

What really happens from gassho no kamae? It expands the unity within yourself to include even more. The attack, the defense, nature, even Kami… All included within the space. This is Shingin Budo.

As you expand like this, all of your ego, strategy, preconceptions, muscle or force, and technique grow smaller and smaller. The more you expand and allow into yourself, the less important and useful they are. You empty yourself more and more to make room.

During all of my trips to Japan last year, Hatsumi Sensei asked us to allow Shingin Budo to fill up this empty space in the void, in the kukan, and in ourselves. But even Soke cannot show you how. Each person has to find their own path to get to that open place.

Clap your hands everybody, and everybody just clap your hands.

Hatsumi Sensei Explains 師逢和瀬 Shiawase

Masaaki Hatsumi Sensei Explains 師逢和瀬 Shiawase. photo by Michael Glenn
I had a simple plan to teach 片腕遁走型 Kata Ude Tonsō Gata. But during my preparations for class that night, I was overcome with gratitude toward my teachers. It seems there was a secret power bound up in this kata.

It can be described as 師逢和瀬 Shiawase. Let me tell you how I discovered it.

The Bujinkan has made my life rich. I have made so many friends all over the world. Thank you to my students who come to class and allow me to study with them. Thank you for reading this and for watching my videos or subscribing to my training website. Thank you to everyone who invites me to teach seminars.

I prepare for every class I teach. I feel I owe it to my students to do my home work. But I don’t just owe it to them, I owe something more to my own teachers.

I have studied the kata I was planning for this class with many teachers over the decades. But one of my favorite moments was studying this with Hatsumi Sensei under the Japanese maples during the year of the rat. I wrote a 5 part training series about this for Rojodojo members that begins:
In the ’50’s Hatsumi Sensei met Takamatsu. One rainy morning under the maple trees, Soke bound that connection to all of the Bujinkan… (linked)

師逢和瀬 Shiawase is a play on words. Normally it uses different kanji and means しあわせ shiawase: happiness;  good fortune;  luck;  or blessing. But with the kanji Soke uses it suggests that by meeting a master teacher you will find good fortune and happiness. Or even, that simply finding a master teacher is good fortune in itself.

As Soke told us that day under the Japanese maples, don’t sever your connection with the kukan or you’ll suffocate. His playful admonition is really telling us that the kukan is full of mystery, and it holds all the history, teachings, and connections that I share in the 5 part training series published on Rojodojo. I don't know why anyone would choose to break away from this rich heritage.

For me and my students, the circle is full when I teach something like 片腕遁走型 Kata Ude Tonsō Gata. My own students can trace their introduction to this fundamental form of ninjutsu from me directly to Hatsumi Sensei, and then to Takamatsu, back through the generations. This is the secret power hidden in a simple kata.

We are very fortunate to have these insights available to us. I have to humbly thank my teachers and my students for keeping this connection alive so we can receive this treasure and great history of our art.

If you do not understand what you are missing, then get connected. This is how you cultivate good heart and spirit. Then the Bujinkan will be better with you in it.

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