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無太刀 No Tachi!

無太刀 No Tachi!

If you practiced martial arts or zen, perhaps you recognize these Chinese characters. The first one, Mu is a negative and can mean among a vast array of meanings, nothing, not, no, nothingness and more. The second and third characters are a pair, pronounced Tachi, meaning just that, a Tachi is a type of curved sword usually worn hung at the waist blade down that was used during the warring periods in Asia.

This year in our martial arts training we are exploring movement while wielding a Tsurugi, another type of double edged sword that predates the Tachi. But notice the emphasis is on movement and not on the using the tsurugi itself. This is a very important point. Perhaps related to another recent post, Mu Tou Dori, you will enjoy this pun (which was originally painted by Hatsumi Sensei but I did not photograph it. So you must suffer my brush!). It is a simple pun but made thru the use of three different languages! The characters are Chinese, the expression itself is a Japanese expression based but based on the English language!

At first glance it looks like Nothing Tachi. But when we change the Nothing to No, it becomes “No Tachi”. Pronounced this way in the Japanese accent it becomes English, “No Touch”! This Japanese expression is use for situations that are perhaps dangerous, so “No Touch”, or maybe we distance ourselves from them. Perhaps it can imply a lightness of approach. What does it mean to you? If you have been training for a long time or even just beginning your journey, may this pun, in conjunction with the prior post, Mu Tou Dori, inspire and enlighten.

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From 無刀捕り(Mu Tou Dori ) to 無闘捕り

Having returned to Japan after spending some time training in the yogic arts in India, it is wonderful to see old friends and my martial arts master, Hatsumi Sensei.  How fortunate we are to be able to train with living masters, whose presence can be as a great fire.  In Eastern thought, fire is the element charged with the power of transformation.  It has the power to transmute the other elements and bring vast change.  Perhaps you have felt the fire of a great master?

The common Characters for Mu Tou Dori are 無 (not,no,) 刀 (sword) 捕り(to trap, catch) and is often translated as unarmed sword trapping/defense. It is perfectly reasonable  to translate it in this manner.  And in the beginning of our training journey, it is natural to be concerned with the dynamics and techniques of taking a sword unarmed. But as we progress on our path, and our feeling of the art deepens, perhaps our Mu Tou Dori couldImage transform to 無 闘 捕り。No Fight Catching.  A brilliant play on the Chinese characters by Hatsumi Sensei.

As we progress perhaps we should seek this Mu Tou Dori feeling in not only defense against the sword but as a guiding principle in our art and heart.  This idea of the Mu Tou feeling is essential part of Hatsumi Sensei`s teaching and one that is crucial for all practitioners to aspire.  From “No Sword Trapping” to “No Fight/Struggle” and perhaps we can change trapping to more of an image of enveloping or wrapping your opponent in that intangible yet undeniable presence or spirit.   When this takes root in you, it is as the dew drop that returns to the ocean.  You may start spontaneously dancing!



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Happiness Tea

While in Bangalore,  I had the unexpected pleasure of spending time with Arnaud from France as well as Shiva, our gracious and good natured Indian host.  These delightful times instantly reminded me of a painting done by the monk Sengai.  Three gods of happiness are pictured.   Daikoku Ten, whom some may recognize from the statue outside Hatsumi Sensei`s office, is  originally from India.  He is not only a god of protection, war, and prosperity, but, auspiciously, he is an incarnation of the Hindu god Shiva!   Second is Juroku Jin, or the god of Longevity.  Often pictured leaning on his cane, he is usually in a most jovial mood.  Lastly, there is Ebisu, indigenous to Japan, he is a god of prosperity often pictured with a fishing pole enjoying his fresh catch of the day.


Above them is Sengai`s inscription;  “Three prosperities, make them one and enjoy a big happiness tea!”  As Takamatsu Sensei says, “Cherish your connections…”.  Thru others we enrich and are enriched.  How wonderful it would be to set aside notions of higher and lower, good and bad, and blend one fantastic happiness tea!  The true treasure of Nin lies therein.

sengai_02 IMG00615-20110628-1148
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Below is a picture of a daruma that I drew recently.  The inscription is the single character “cut” kiru 斬. Many often assume this means to cut your opponent.  But in fact, this daruma is telling us to cut through ourselves.  To cut thru our fixed notions and illusions.

My teacher once during training pointed to his head and said, “No Nou!” ; a play on words meaning “no brain” or no thinking.  Then he playfully pointed to his heart and said, “Yes yes!”. Yes is the Japanese pronunciation for christ.  He was referring to our pure hearts.  For the pure heart of man is that which has communication with the divine.

Many people get trapped intellectualizing and spend much time scurrying around like a mouse in a maze.  Like the Ri or Shu Ha Ri, we must eventually separate from our knowledge.  Forget our intellect and let knowledge be. When we can do this, wisdom will rain down.

This year we have the theme Rokkon Shojou.  Wishing you the best on your martial journey!


Daruma with a "Sai Nou Kon Ki" vase.  Photo by Yabunaka

Daruma with a "Sai Nou Kon Ki" vase. Photo by Yabunaka

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禄魂笑浄 Rokkon Shojou

Rokkon Shojou Sake Bottle  Photo: Yabunaka

Rokkon Shojou Sake Bottle Photo: Yabunaka

The moth is drawn to the flame and dies.  It never knows the vast freedom of the sky.  The crow feasts on dead rats and the garbage by the curb.  It knows not the taste of fresh spring water or the myriad of nature`s abundance.

How many people, a slave to their desires (rokkon, six senses), fly to the flame? In search of positions of honor or prestige they beg at the table for scraps.  Throw away yourself, purify your senses, leave your begging bowl behind and know that you are the king! Verses tomorrow`s fame and fortune, I rise my sake cup to you today!


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