Axis of the Zero

Jizo from inside 伝法院庭園 Denbōin teien. Photo by Michael Glenn
Two weeks ago, Hatsumi Sensei spun around in one of his classes to show us the back of his sweatshirt. We could see an 円相 enso silk screened there along with the English word, “zero.” He showed us this to put emphasis on a comment he had just made,
“We need to learn to move like this. we need to make everything… our entirety into zero.”
You may have heard Hatsumi Sensei speak about zero. He has used this term for many years to describe his martial art. But in recent classes, it has been a focal point to our training.

In fact, when I was in Japan last December, Hatsumi Sensei acknowledged arriving at this zero state. But it was not something he could teach. He said it had taken him 42 years to internalize everything Takamatsu Sensei had taught him. He added that in that 42 years he had given everything and taught everything, so now we are back at zero. He looked out at us during that special Wednesday class and said,
“There's nothing to show, nothing to tell. We're just going to continue with this zero feeling.”
He said this almost as if it would be the theme for the new year, but in the last few years he has been less and less specific about yearly themes. So when I arrived in Japan a few weeks ago, I was interested to find him moving from “zero” in all of his classes.

Hatsumi Sensei uses zero almost like an axis, or a pivot point. But it isn’t just a philosophical idea. It is very physical. When I attacked Soke, he seemed to disappear, but then his finger was crushing my eye socket. Immense pain has a way of drilling everything down to one point.

Hatsumi Sensei was very specific about this,
“When I say make everything zero, that actually is a point. Don't misunderstand and think that zero means nothing. You have to make each point zero.”
He then went on to explain that from zero there is a plus and a minus. That is where 陰 in (yin) and 陽 yo (yang) appear. Most people flip between these from one moment to the next, but residing in the zero that those energies spin around is the foundation of kyojitsu.

There is a famous zen paradox that comes from the Heart Sutra, “form is emptiness; emptiness is form.” And it seems in the martial arts to be an eternal struggle for people caught up in either 陰 in or 陽 yo, form or non form, technique or randori, kihon or not.

People in my classes or on my personal mailing list often ask me what is the “correct” kihon of a particular technique. The question itself reveals their own mind. Because if you are doing Soke’s budo, you are unconcerned with such a question. Consider that “kihon is emptiness; emptiness is kihon,” and reside within zero.

Hatsumi Sensei reminds us of Juppo Sessho when he says to remember that “zero” is a point, like an axis or a hub. From this pivot you can go ten directions. But ten is really an infinity.

This is a very practical matter in a fight. Hatsumi Sensei had people stab at him with a knife. He told us not to evade.

What?! How can you not evade? You will get stabbed… right?

Stabbed or not stabbed. In/yo. But what happens at zero? Soke reminds us that trying to evade takes too long. He suggested another way when he said,
“You can’t measure the time in real combat. The time has become zero. Then it becomes infinite.”
It is like that moment of pain when he clawed down on my eye socket. Everything collapses onto that one point and it feels like an eternity. The point of the knife when it thrusts also collapses down this way. So the answer is to make it zero so that you can find infinity there.

Hatsumi Sensei casually took the knife away from his opponent, then he told us,
“Don't try to force anything.  The important point is the zero. The axis point of the zero.”
When you try to forcefully grab the knife, or try to evade or do a technique, you give away too much information. The opponent may be faking his attack or notice what you are trying to do. In fact, he expects you to try something! Of course he expects you to evade or try to take the knife away. He is waiting for that to happen.

So you must not use technique, or try to evade. That is common sense that can be read or understood. And countered. Instead Soke tells us not to give away anything at all.

But zero does not mean doing nothing. In the Honbu dojo that day Soke kept reminding us,
“I’m not teaching whether to receive (ukeru) or not receive (ukenai) I’m teaching zero.”
Last December Hatsumi Sensei told us to connect to something in that axis point of zero. He suggested that within there's existence… there's presence (意識 ishiki) in that zero. A divine existence maybe. We must internalize that and make that transparent. Because the next wonderful thing will be born from that transparency.

誠 Makoto: In Defense of Sincerity

Michael Glenn reflection selfie in Harajuku
I just watched Hatsumi Sensei make an attacker kill himself. This has been happening in every class for the past week. Sometimes it is with a sword, sometimes a knife. But the opponent always ends up cutting or stabbing himself.

I'm in the middle of my Bujinkan training trip here in Japan. And I haven't had much time to write. But also some things in Soke's budo are difficult to express. Like how does he get the attacker to do this?

Hatsumi Sensei told us,
"It's important to do this kind of action through the kukan. Use the kukan, become the kukan. You need to receive the opponent's power and be grateful for his power."
This sounds like a joke but Hatsumi Sensei sincerely meant it. In fact, sincerity became something of a theme my first night here. Hatsumi Sensei painted 誠 makoto for me on a scroll. Of course this has more than one meaning. One is sincerity, another is truth or reality.

Hatsumi Sensei was trying to get us to understand how to use sincerity as a strategy. You may not know this, but kyojitsu only works when it is backed up with sincerity. Truth becomes false, or the false becomes real.

Soke said we can understand the truth from a lie.  When you hear a lie, doesn't it betray the truth? He told us that if we tell a lie we must be very sincere.

In fact I will be very sincere right now when I tell you this: the opponent's attack is a lie. He doesn't really want to hurt you. He may think so, but he only wants his own destruction. You can help him find this truth.

When one attacker cut in very fast, Soke was not concerned. He said that the way to deal with a very fast attack, was to have 平常心 heijoushin. This is a normal calm state of mind that is not disturbed  or surprised by the attack.

Then Soke changed the last kanji of heijoushin. It becomes 真 which can be read as "shin" in the case of truth... or, makoto for sincerity. So what does having this type of heijoushin do for you?

It means that you sincerely want to help the attacker get what he is seeking. This may be his own destruction. And because of your own sincerity, you know from the moment he attacks where to move. His attacks can never hurt you, but they will find their true target. Even if he doesn't know it yet.

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