嵐 Arashi: Don’t Get Caught in Your Own Storm

From Bujinkan Santa Monica by Bujinkan Santa Monica

when it rains in HK, photo by rocksee
I read a curious poem this morning in a story from Saigyō.
The Japanese poet Saigyō (1118-1190) was a Buddhist monk and lived most of his life as a traveling mendicant and hermit. His poems often relate the tension he felt between renunciatory Buddhist ideals and his love of natural beauty.
In the story I read this morning, he was caught in a rainstorm during his travels through Osaka. He tried to take shelter at a brothel. Yet he was turned away by a prostitute. But this was no ordinary prostitute. In the legend, she was an incarnation of the Bodhisattva Fugen who symbolizes meditation and practice. Knowing this, Saigyō was frustrated that someone so enlightened would  force him back out into the rain. He wrote:

How difficult I suppose,
    to reject
This world of ours.
    And yet you begrudge me
        a temporary stay.

In his frustration, Saigyō could get angry at this teacher in disguise and miss an important lesson. Do you ever get angry at your teachers? What happens after the storm fades?

I have been angry at my teachers. Or at least, thought they were wrong about something. The worst is when someone shows me something about myself I do not wish to see.

In Bujinkan training I have seen many students get angry. I have seen them quit training over it. I have had my own students angry at me. And Hatsumi Sensei has had many critics and ex students who got stuck on some point of contention.

When we get angry at our teachers, an inflection point occurs where learning stops cold. Or, if we are ready, learning explodes forward from that point to even greater understanding.

Anger at teachers happens for many reasons:
  • The teacher is flat wrong or in error.
  • You think teacher is wrong even though he is right.
  • You want your teacher to be wrong because you don't like what he is showing you.
  • You don't feel acknowledged for how well you are doing.
  • Your teacher focuses only on how badly you are doing.
  • You don't like the way a teacher runs his class or handles other students.
  • Your teacher sets a bad example.
  • The teacher fails at something.
  • What the teacher is teaching doesn't match your view of reality.
  • The teacher reflects something in you that you don't wish to see.
If you get angry at your teacher, first look at these reasons and decide what they say about YOU before you dismiss the teaching. And then, if you still think your teacher is bad, you should try to consider your history with them. Is it a history based on trust and respect? Has the teacher taught you well in the past, and is there hope of learning and growing more in the future?

For Saigyō, the prostitute in his poem responded in this way,

Having heard you were one
    who rejected this world,
My thought is only this:
    Do not stop your mind
        in this temporary stay.

A deep lesson if Saigyō was ready to hear it. Admittedly difficult to hear in the middle of a rainstorm. But the most profound lessons often show up when we are most uncomfortable.

The rainstorm symbolizes something temporary that will not last. In Japanese there is a play on words: a rainstorm - 嵐 arashi, but it will not stay あらじ araji.

For us Bujinkan students, in our training, this means we can't let our minds stop or get stuck on technique. But also, don't get stuck on points of disagreement with teachers. If you stop to argue you might miss the learning that never stops. Keep going.

It doesn't matter if you think your teacher is wrong, because your only teacher is yourself. 

万変不驚 Banpen Fugyo: Emptiness in the Midst of Constant Change

From Bujinkan Santa Monica by Bujinkan Santa Monica

Infinite Dots - elevator ceiling, Fujisawa. photo by randomidea
You may have heard about 万変不驚 Banpen Fugyo and how it has emerged to be part of this year's theme along with Kihon Happo. This arose partially because of the earthquake and other events in Japan, but this is also how Hatsumi Sensei seems to explore every year. Soke says,
"To be able to survive and live in the midst of this constant change, it is important to comprehend that which is the essence. To this end, I believe it is important to vary this theme of change every year."
Maybe you have a teacher who reminds you of 万変不驚 Banpen Fugyo all the time. You get the idea of "Ten thousand changes, No surprises", but how to put it into practice?

There is a poem from the 22nd Buddhist Master 摩拏羅:Manorhita,

心隨萬境轉 the mind follows the ten thousand circumstances and shifts accordingly;
轉處實能幽 It is the shifting that is truly undefined.
隨流認得性 Follow the current and recognize your nature;
無喜復無憂 No rejoicing, no sorrow.

How do you recognize your nature and what is it exactly? Manorhita asked one of his teachers this:
“What is the original nature of mind?” Vasubandhu answered, “It is the emptiness of the six sense bases, the six objects and the six kinds of consciousness.” And hearing this, Manorhita was awakened.
The six sense bases are seeing, hearing, tasting, touching, and so on. The six objects are forms, sense, sounds, and so on. The six consciousnesses are the acts of hearing, seeing, tasting, touching, and so on.

What does it mean for these to be empty? This word emptiness in sanskrit is Śūnyatā. It can also be translated as void, or relative or contingent. Roshi Gerry Wick describes it this way:
"Śūnyatā is really a wonderful, tender, limitless embrace. It’s always complete. It is without having to strive, without having to not strive. Another implication of emptiness is empty of any fixed position or state of being."
While this is an important lesson for life, the ten thousand changes in combat are the actions and strategies of your opponent. If you pay attention to every punch, kick or technique, your mind gets taken and trapped in following each thing. The same trapped mind occurs when you focus on performing your own technique or style. You will be surprised when something unexpected happens. This will lead to your defeat.

If instead you allow the mind to dwell in emptiness, for example - looking at the opponent's eyes but not focusing on them (some suggest looking at the spot where the lapels of the gi cross) - you will react naturally as the situation dictates. Anything your opponent manifests will just appear to be part of the natural flow and not surprising.

By paying attention to the non existent, you will be able to see the existent quite well.

Kokū 心空: Striking the Empty Mind

From Bujinkan Santa Monica by Bujinkan Santa Monica

Empty Mind photo by DerrickT
How do you know where to strike? This is a question I often hear from students. It seems like it should be obvious. And sometimes it is. Strike where you find an opening… or where it will do the most damage. But as simple as that sounds, it is not easy to find those spots.

Many of us have had the experience of watching Hatsumi Sensei strike someone at a particular spot or kyūsho and the strike causes a dramatic effect in his uke's body. It sends the guy flying, or he is writhing in pain. Then we try to hit the same spot on our uke, and nothing happens. Even if Sensei told us what kyūsho he was striking.

This is frustrating indeed. Some people blame their Uke for resisting. Or they think, if I "really" hit him with damaging force he would react. Sometimes people just shrug and say that of course Hatsumi Sensei does it better because he has way more experience. And while that is true, shrugging it off doesn't help us understand what is actually happening.

One way to understand how to strike effectively is to learn that when you strike your opponent's body, to have maximum impact, you should be striking his mind as well. That sounds strange so let me explain a little.

We can find a clue to this in the Bōjutsu Gokui:
"Thrusting into the space with the tip of the bō staff, if you feel a response with your hands, this is the gokui."
There are many subtle lessons in this verse. But let's consider the Japanese word for space or void used here. It can have a double meaning which can help us understand where to strike.

This word is kokū 虚空. We usually think of this as meaning empty space or empty sky. But this word is sometimes used to refer to the mind (which has no form or color) of your opponent. Kokū 虚空 can be read as emptiness or even "false" emptiness. Another way to write kokū is 真空, which is a true emptiness. Or even kokū 心空 emptiness of mind.

So what does this mean for striking? When the mind does not move, it is Emptiness. When Emptiness moves, it becomes mind. For example, When your opponent's fists grasp his sword but do not move, and you quickly strike his fists - this is called striking at emptiness空をうて.

So you strike him where his mind is not moving, or in other words: frozen, stuck, or even trapped. If you hit in this place, the strike pierces into the void and expands outward to have an effect much more profound than the actual physical strike should have on its own.

Sensei seems to have a genius for finding these spots on his uke. And we all witness the profound effects as we watch his uke's go flying or yelp in pain.

How does he do it? Maybe with bōshin 棒心, or I've also heard Sensei refer to Shinbō 辛棒. I don't know because I'm still working on these two ideas myself. But maybe Sensei just has way more experience…

At any rate, I do know that if you strike into the emptiness of your opponent's mind, you will be surprised at the results. This I have experienced and can attest to.

Utsuru 映る: Is Your Mind Reflected in Your Taijutsu?

From Bujinkan Santa Monica by Bujinkan Santa Monica

Dusk, Moon with Sunset Reflected in a Bubble. photo by arhadetruit
What have you been studying for the Bujinkan yearly theme of 2011? It seems that every year we start out on a journey of exploration. At the beginning of the year our minds seek something concrete to study. And Hatsumi Sensei puts something out there for us to consider. But as the year goes on, the theme evolves so that by the end of the year it feels like something else entirely.

However frustrating this may be for those of us who don't live in Japan to try to keep up, this is a very natural way of learning. And it is a lesson in itself. This year started out with Kihon Happo, but has transitioned to also include 万変不驚 Banpenfugyo and Juppo Happo.

There are many ways to look at Banpen Fugyo (Infinite change, No surprise). But how do you train on this? A very simple but profound example can be found in nature when we observe the reflection of the moon. I wrote about this before in my post "Ninpo and Mu: Waxing and Waning Like the Moon" but with this year's theme I think there is more to consider.

In Japanese there is an idea that can be expressed as utsuru 移る. This word has many interesting meanings for training, Like: shift;  move;  change;  drift;  catch (cold, fire);  pass into or to change the target of interest or concern. Or written another way, utsuru 映る - to be reflected;  to harmonize with.
"The mind is like the moon on the water
Form is like the reflection in a mirror

This verse suggests that the mentality proper for the martial arts is that of the moon’s abiding in the water. It is also the reflection of your body abiding in the mirror. Man’s mind moves to an object like the moon moves to the water. How spontaneously this happens!"
Yagyū Munenori translated by William Scott Wilson
The light from the moon can be considered like our shifting focus. If the water is disturbed (or changed) the reflection does not disappear, it rides on the ripples of change and as the water settles it remains pure and clear. Our focus never falters, only the water was disturbed.

Whether in everyday life or in a fight, no matter what happens, our focus should remain clear and undisturbed.

The moon can also be reflected in more than one place. Here in a puddle, in a cup of tea, and there in the lake… all at the same time. Our attention can shift but take in anything. It comes out from it's source at the clear center to be reflected everywhere.
"Enlightenment is like the moon reflected on the water.
The moon does not get wet, nor is the water broken.
Although its light is wide and great,
The moon is reflected even in a puddle an inch wide.
The whole moon and the entire sky
Are reflected in one dewdrop on the grass."
Dogen (1200-1253)
Violence in a fight happens very fast. But this does not have to present any problem for us. Our minds can move as fast as light from the moon. Yagyū explains that "… man’s mind moves to an object as quickly as the moon pierces the water." If you cover your teacup with your hand and then remove it, how quickly is the moon reflected?

What we train with our taijutsu is the ability to flow with this natural state. As natural as a moon's reflection. As Yagyū describes, "When the mind moves, the body will move there as well. If the mind goes, the body will go. The body itself follows the mind."

Of course if your heart and focus are unclear, then the movement of your body will be unnatural and slow. Please look at the moon tonight and consider that people in Japan have the same moonlight reflecting in their eyes. Try to catch that feeling in your training!

消体 Shotai: You Cannot Divide Nature

From Bujinkan Santa Monica by Bujinkan Santa Monica

Chikuhō no kodomotachi (Chikuho’s Children) by Ken Domon
Hatsumi Sensei writes that sensing the true nature of things (消体 shotai) like budo and nature, shows that they are connected and cannot be divided. He explains this by way of photography:
"The mon 門 (gate), or shumon 宗門(religion), and bumon 武門(martial), are captured beautifully by the shutter of the famous cameraman Ken Domon."
Ken Domon, in advocating realism, said: "Realistic photography in the true sense brings us directly to reality. Photographic expression is an attempt at a truthful presentation of reality — in other words, it is a crystallisation of man's anger, his happiness and his sadness."

Domon famously defined his goal as a photographer as "the direct connection between camera and motif."

Domon's method of photographing temples was to stay at the location for some time before taking the first photo. He would then begin photographing based not on a systematic, scholarly approach to the subject, but based on how his feelings towards the subjects moved him to record them.

Profile of Ken Domon (土門 拳, Domon Ken, 25 October 1909 – 15 September 1990):
One of the most renowned Japanese photographers of the twentieth century. He is most celebrated as a photojournalist, though he may have been most prolific as a photographer of Buddhist temples and statuary.

Born in Sakata City, Yamagata Prefecture, in 1935 Domon joined Nihon Kobo, an organization that produced news photographs. He later worked as an independent photojournalist recording the tremendous changes taking place in Japan until he was stricken by cerebral thrombosis in 1979. During his career he produced many photographic collections including Bunraku (1972), Hiroshima (1958), Fubo (1953) and Koji Junrei (five volumes, 1963-75). Reflecting on the inadvertent role he played during WWII producing propaganda photographs, he became a main proponent of the postwar photographic realism movement that focused on society and the lives of ordinary people, and his powerful works influenced many amateur photographers of the age. Declaring his love of Japan and the Japanese people, Domon changed his focus and attempted to capture the essence of his photographic subjects. The photographs he took of Buddhist images both prior to and during WWII remain among the most highly acclaimed of his works and are thought to exemplify his photographic aesthetic. Before his death in 1990, Domon donated the entire body of his works to the city of his birth, and in 1983, the city of Sakata honored him by opening the Ken Domon Memorial Photographic Museum.

I hope you can find inspiration in photography and art as well as budo!