Last night in my class one student said, “This is pretty basic.” I did a double take and said, “Really? You think so?” I told him that the kata was more advanced than it appeared.
We were studying 一文字 Ichimonji. This is a 無刀捕 mutōdori kata from 高木揚心流 Takagi Yoshin Ryū. And it does look simple. But mutōdori has so many levels.
One morning when Hatsumi Sensei taught this kata he said,
You make him cut the air. This is mutōdori, like he’s practicing by himself and striking emptiness.
The question I posed to my students last night was, “How?” How do you get your opponent, ostensibly a competent swordsman, to just cut the air and miss you completely?
As an answer, I gave them three insights into advanced mutōdori that I received from Soke. If you are interested, I share these kind of tips for anyone who joins my mailing list, which you can do here: eepurl.com/d0w_r
First, give the enemy what he wants. He is seeking violence and destruction. Let him have it.
Offer him a target. If you try to evade, then you always take away the target. He will then try to reacquire a target. But it may not be one that you are prepared to defend. Give him what he wants, then let him strike emptiness.
In another class I had with Hatsumi Sensei, he did a mutōdori against Oguri Sensei. Soke asked Oguri to describe the feeling. He said he couldn’t get any clear focus on the target for his cut. He said he felt his own kamae collapse.
In response, Hatsumi Sensei said that this is not the movement of sport martial arts. It is a level above that. For Ninjutsu, Soke told us that techniques become “透明 tōmei,” or transparent.
Transparent technique means you have something that cannot be seen or countered. I suggested that my students not plan or decide on a technique before executing it. If you don’t know what technique you will do, your opponent cannot know either. It is difficult for your opponent to counter a technique that doesn’t yet exist.
He will strike blindly at emptiness... At transparency... At a Ninja who cannot be seen.
I finished our class with a third suggestion for mutōdori. It is related to 扞技扼 kangiyaku, a kiai which can be verbalized or expressed silently. This kiai calls the opponent to cut.
Hatsumi Sensei did it while holding a kodachi. His opponent tried to cut, but then he collapsed. Soke didn’t even need to hit him. He said,
Give the opponent the feeling to cut. Draw him in. Then your movement will disappear. Disappear from the opponent's perception.
We make him cut emptiness.
When we finished class, the student who thought the kata looked simple now had a big smile. I could see that he was inspired by these ideas that I shared from my own experience with Hatsumi Sensei. I hope he can carry this forward in his own training and share it with future generations.
Join me for a trip down memory lane with Billy. Billy started with other arts as most of us have and came to train with Hatsumi Sensei thru some very interesting connections! Billy is also a veritable library unto himself with all sorts of documents from the old days of the Bujinkan. AND he is willing to share! We all just have to find a way to make it available and fair for all. let us know if you have any ideas! Hope you enjoy!
Support the show (https://www.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_donations&business=info%40kasumian.com&item_name=Help+fund+our+content+creation%21¤cy_code=USD&source=url)
After many years you understand that whatever the odds, everything is possible as long as you don’t give up. If you can think outside the box, everything is possible. If you only follow the rules, you become the source of your limits. Thinking outside the box in Budō demands that you already have a deep understanding of the basics. The Kukishin Biken Jutsu details everything in three sets of Waza.
Let me tell you an anecdote that happened with Hatsumi Sensei. The date is April 1996, the place is Noda, Japan. Right in front of Sensei’s house. The theme for the year 1996 chosen by Sōke was Kukishin Biken Jutsu. The Taikai in Holland was scheduled a few weeks later. The training was dedicated to the sword. Sensei wanted me to be his Uke, so he shared a lot before our meeting in Amsterdam. At the end of a class at honbu, Sensei called me and asked me to come to his place the next day. “Come with your belt and your Kukishin sword”. Before I left, he then added, “please bring a few friends to train with you. Be there at 1 pm.” So, the next day at 1 pm, our small training group of six was waiting outside his home. Sensei exited the house with a few dogs and crossed the street. In those days, an empty patch of land was facing the house. The building shadowing his home today was not built yet.
For two hours, we practised in the dirt, and he taught us Kukishin Nuki Gatana. (1) He would show the movement and then sit on the ground with his dogs while we trained. Our group of Gaijin was wearing jeans, sneakers, t-shirts and a budō belt. It must have been strange to see. To the Japanese people of Noda passing into the street, it must have been weird. Anyway, that was a great class! Sensei demonstrated the many proper ways to get the katana out and use it. When I went to pay for the lesson, he said: “puresento” (present). I thanked him.
I asked if there was more to learn about it? He said, “Always. But Aruno san, this is only training, not jissen (real fight). When things get real, do whatever you have to stay alive. Ninpō is only about surviving. Form doesn’t matter. Everything is possible.” His answer is still vivid in my memory even after all this time.
As you know, at www.koimartialart.com, each Koi member can ask questions after watching a video. (2) Recently, a Koi member asked me. “Would it be possible to twist the sword while doing Tsuki Komi? The edge of the blade is up and able to cut the opponent’s fingers or wrists that are not protected by the armour?” Immediately the Nuki Gatana training session jumped back to my memory. But instead of answering to the Koi community, I’ve decided to write this post to benefit everyone.
Is it possible to turn the blade up in the technique? Yes, you can turn the edge up because “everything is possible.” The same freedom applies to anything in the Bujinkan. The Bujinkan Budō is about adapting our knowledge to reality. Respecting the Waza as a beginner is mandatory. But a Waza is the only set of rules to follow. Rules are made to be broken. Depending on your skills, you can adjust it or tweak it to survive.
When you study the Kukishin Biken, each level of nine techniques appears to repeat itself. The first level gives the name of the Waza. The second level adds “no Sayū Gyaku” to the title, and the third level adds “no Henka” to it. After thirty years of training in Japan and asking many questions, I begin to understand it.
Disclaimer: nothing official, only my interpretation. That is what I teach my students. It is working for them, and for me, I will detail it here for you as I do on Koi.
Once you know the three levels of nine Waza. Then you notice that each technique of the first level repeats itself with an added suffix. Let me explain. The first Waza is “Tsuki Komi” and becomes “Tsuki Komi no Sayū Gyaku” at the second level, and “Tsuki Komi no Henka” at the third.
To make it easier, I named the levels of the Kukishin Biken Jutsu syllabus as follow. The first one is Nijigen no Sekai. The technique is simple and moves only in a 2-dimension plane. (3) The second set of Waza is Sanjigen no Sekai. (4) You repeat the same Waza but moving to the left or to the right. This is now a 3-dimension plane. The last level is Yūgen no Sekai. (5) This is the mental or psychological dimension. Here you move forward or backwards, above or under. Hatsumi Sensei called this; the invisible dimension where things are not yet manifested. (6)
The three sets prepare you to move in any direction in space and time. It is defining a sphere of infinite possibilities. For this reason, I see Kukishin Biken Jutsu as a dynamic in-yō.
Tama, the sphere, is central to Japanese Budō, and you find it in many Ryū. (7) But Tama is also the pearl. As always, the same sounds can have different writings. (8)
I also see some similarities with Pythagoras’ book “The golden verses.” (9). He explains there what he defines as the “Tetractys” or “Quaternary.” (10) To summarize, he writes that space is four shapes included in one another. One is the dot, two is the line, three is the surface, four is the volume. Likewise, our Biken Jutsu system includes the previous one at each level. The only thing remaining to discover is proper timing.
Once you know the mechanical aspects, it is easy to adjust and adapt the forms to the situation you’re facing. In our case, turning the blade edge up is ok. Learning to use a sword is a long process until you reach the “Shuhari” point. Use the sword to the best of your ability when your life is in balance. And do not refrain from destroying the form if you need to.
Always keep in mind that everything is always possible!
1 抜く, Nuki (nuku or nukiru): 1) to pull out; to draw out; to extract; to unplug; to weed
2 www.koimartialart.com is a streaming platform. Koi offers 160 Gb of Bujinkan videos covering all Waza of the Bujinkan. Check it today!
3 二次元, Nijigen: 2-dimension. 次元, Jigen: dimension, level. And 世界, Sekai: 1) the world; society; the universe; 2) sphere; circle; world
4 三次元, Sanjigen: 3-dimension
5 幽玄, Yūgen: mysterious profundity; quiet beauty; the subtle and profound
6 Definition of dimension in physics and mathematics. “The dimension of a space or object is informally defined as the minimum number of coordinates needed to specify any point within it.”
7 玉, Tama (or Gyoku): ball; sphere; globe; orb. Tama is the same kanji that makes the names of the Gyokko Ryū or Gyokushin Ryū. Many websites translate the term “tama/gyoku” by jewel. It would be more correct to translate it as pearl.
8 摩尼, Tama (there is no order in Japanese between kanji): jewel; pearl; gemstone