Honbu dôjô experience

Today Noguchi sensei did the first morning class and he taught us parts of the koto ryû. Then it was the regular class with sôke but as he had some obligations, I was honoured by Noguchi sensei to begin the teaching.

This is not the first time it happens to me on Sundays but I always find it strange when it happens.  When I remember my first classes here in Japan more than 20 years ago (no Honbu dôjô at that time) I  measure the long path I have been following since then. Back then, I would never have suspected that the young man I was then, would learn so much on how to become a true human being. What Hatsumi sensei is teaching in his budô is not a set of old fighting techniques but really a way of Life that transforms you more than you think. As he said yesterday night we have to behave as members of the samurai class, the upper layer of the Japanese feudal society.

Our actions should be guided by the code of chivalry. Today during the calligraphy session, I asked him to write “chivalry” and I got “shinobi” … I don’t think he made a mistake. He is teaching us through mysterious ways.

During the break, he told me that we (jûgodan) have to follow him and walk by his side as long as we can and do what he asks  instead of thinking too much by ourselves.

Being a sensei he is guiding us as far as possible, and the closer we are to him the further we can go. This is, he said, what he did with Takamatsu sensei.


Kankaku – feeling

A short note about the word feeling (kankaku in japanese). If you split it in two and use kan (piercing through) and kaku (side). Kankaku can be understood as the way to make visible the invisible by going through the appearance of things.

(free interpretation of Sensei’s class on Friday).


Class with Senô sensei

Japan trip 41 update:

I am just coming back from a class with Senô sensei, it is always a fantastic moment of taijutsu. We did a lot of hanbô techniques as the hanbô is very similar in its use as the tachi. We finished with tachi techniques, mainly  mutô dori against tsuki.
A very rich class indeed, I wish we could have more classes with him.


Connecting through the sageo

When using a sword, we are often bothered by the sageo, this is the long flat rope made of silk, leather or cotton, hanging down from the kurigata (the little piece of wood on the scabbard through which the sageo is inserted).

Peace time samurai would use it as an adornment with a fancy way of knotting it onto the scabbard. Obviously they were not fighting anymore and had the time to spend making beautiful but useless knots. In traditional sword schools (from mid Tokugawa, Meiji and until today) there is a whole set of etiquette on how to fold, put it on or in wearing it; however this has nothing to do with its original use. On the contrary it looks to me that the modern Japanese had to find a way to put it into use because they had no clue about what to do with it.

The Bujinkan deals with the Muromachi period of warfare, and making knots was not a priority for these warriors. Sensei commented that the “real sword masters were the tachi masters and that those using a katana used it because they did not know how to use the tachi”. Even though it seems a little harsh, this is right, when you become aware of the power of the tachi you understand the devastating possibilities created and how it can benefit your fighting abilities. To get a clear image of tachi waza think about the military world of today. Military men carry the equipment they have to be more efficient, they don’t wear equipment to look good. In order to stay alive they “adapt” their gear to their body, and to the situation. This brings us to the conclusion that the sageo had to be useful in some way.

First the sageo is a rope and a rope is used to tie. Tachi kumiuchi implies the use of yoroi (Japanese armour) and the upper part of the yoroi is supported above the hip bone by a big large obi (belt). Remember that the yoroi is moving quite freely around the torso because when you ride a horse the cylinder of the has to be able to move up along the body. Actually there is a lot of free space between your flesh and the plates of the yoroi. This kûkan gives dynamics to the yoroi and permits to receive heavy blows while dissipating the power of the hit.

 This belt was thick and round to support the and had three major uses: 1) It positioned the above the joint of the hip to free the movements of the leg. Without it the would cover the hip bone and prevent the legs from moving. Try the yoroi without it and you will be stuck in your footwork. 2) The is made of a heavy metal plates that would crush down the sides of your hip bone and create a lot of pain. The belt cushions the weight of the onto the hips. 3) The belt would carry many weapons by sticking them to the body/yoroi for easy use.

Using the belt for carrying weapons however does not concern the tachi which was hanging down low on the thigh and not on the hip. A tachi is not a katana and the holster bears two strings separated by about the width of the hand to hold the scabbard of the tachi. In comparison the katana is held at the koiguchi (tip of the scabbard). The holster is continued by a long sageo tied around the body and/or the waist to keep the sword in place and allow easy drawing in any situation. The sageo is tied up in the same way you tie your hakama. You do not make knots but fold it half crossed until the final knot.

Actually the sageo is connecting the sword to the body making it a “natural” extension of it. In 1991, I remember that sensei taught me many ways of tying the sageo around the body and the waist in a nearby temple in Noda for the sake of taking pictures (all pictures came out blurred). I forgot all about it until recently when we began to study the tachi kumiuchi.

Tied up properly, the sageo is an important device when using the tachi as it keeps the blade from swaying away from your hands and body and keeps it always ready for drawing. In tachi waza, the tsuka goes to the hand by the momentum created by your footwork. You do not grab it because you don’t see it as your vision is impeded by the kabuto (helmet) and the mask. With the sageo your movements and your sheathed blade are connected at all times.

Last year, when we studied the nawa we learnt the concept of connection, that all our movements were connected like a rope and that our weapons should move like a rope.  During daikomyôsai, sensei insisted that we should not severe the connection with a) our environment, b) our opponent(s) and c) ourselves. That was “en no kirinai”.

Because the tachi is used katate (one hand) and because the movements are very similar to those of hanbô jutsu, we can manifest this connection with the tachi as we are able to change hand (right to left and left to right) many times during the fight to get uke’s balance. Uke is blinded by the multiple angles created and cannot interpret our moves and therefore cannot counter them. The quality of our connection to nature, is “dis-connecting” him from himself, uke is only able to react to our multiple moves until it is too late for him.

But the quality of this connection isn’t limited to the manifested level of things by is also deeply related to Life. Playing with Japanese language, as usual, we have to see the connection between “sageo” (sword knot) and “sagasu” (to seek, to look for). So we can “look for” a deeper understanding of it. At a more spiritual level we see that further to our connection to the weapon (physical world), all our actions are linked to nature, and to the kami (spiritual world).

We are able to use the kanjin kaname, the eyes and the heart of the gods in our actions and stay fully connected to the ten chi jin of nature. In a Bujinkan dôjô each class begins with the following uta (Japanese transmission of wisdom):

 Chi-Haya-Buru

Kami-no-Oshie-wa

Tokoshie-ni

Tadashiki-Kokoro

Mi-o-Mamoru-ran

In his book “Chi-haya-Buru, a Japanese cultural treasure”, Craig Olson explains the deep meaning of it. “The Japanese Uta”, he writes, are “originally a form of oral transmission, (…) [the] venerable ancestor to the Haiku, (…) a link back to the origins of Japan (…). (page 3). A few pages later, when explaining the second sentence meaning “the teachings of kami” he writes: “the implication is that there was a personal connection between the composer of this uta and the kami that was passing along valuable lessons”. (page 51).

What we see, what we perceive is not the full reality. The quality of our connection makes it possible to integrate unseen information in order to survive and to live fully. “Developing the ability to understand the nature of our interaction with things that we cannot see is vital to our survival” (page 61). Tachi kumiuchi is bringing us to this level of understanding sensei’s budô.

Tachi kumiuchi is the key to encompass nature in our movements and the proper use of the sageo is what is connecting us to this new dimension. Positioned at the hip level, the sageo links the upper part of the body to the lower part; the ten to the chi and allows us to be moving like a jin (kami?).

So why do we wear a sageo? to be connected, to become one, and finally to become zero.


Basics

Since Solkan Europe has released  many new products in the last six months I feel that I should elaborate on our products and answer the many queries that I have received  at  www.budomart.com.

Our partner www.koimartialart.com has edited and released all our new DVD products.

Solkan Europe released the DVD ”jin ryaku no maki volume 1″ long time ago and many wanted to know when part 2 would be available. Last July with our partner www.koimartialart.com we did it. This is a DVD dedicated to the intermediate and advanced student.

Then in October 2010  we had a 5 days seminar covering all the Ten Chi Jin ryaku no maki. As you know the ten chi jin is the basic program of the bujinkan that each student must know in order to get to the black belt. From this we did for christmas a set of 3 DVDs entitled: Ten ryaku no maki 2010, Chi ryaku no maki 2010, and Jin ryaku no maki 2010. These DVDs are intented to the young black belt (or soon to be) as a means to review the basics and fundamentals of the Bujinkan. They show all the techniques of the three levels but do not dwell too much into the explanations. The jin part of the ten chi jin set  is a totally new version (more basic) different from the other 2 DVDs jin ryaku volume 1 & 2.

In March we released, from the same footage, the Ten ryaku Extended version (4 DVDs) and the Chi ryaku  Extended version (3 DVDs) as we figured out that we had more than 30 hours of explanations! These two sets are intented to the non black belt and complete the teachings received in the dôjô.

A few weeks later, we released the Bujinkan Kyû Program (BKP) which is using still the same footage. Each DVD box contains a mix of the ten chi jin techniques required for each kyû and presented each in a 2 DVD box. So far, the 9th kyû, 8th kyû, 7th kyû, and the 6th kyû are available on www.budomart.com.

 Next month we will release the remaining kyû grades (5th kyû to 1st kyû) that will complete the whole series with the rest of the taijutsu techniques and the weapon basics. Last February we recorded a 4 day seminar covering the basics of all the major weapons: tantô, kunai, shotô, hanbô, jo, biken, bô, yari, and naginata.

The complete syllabus detailed in the three books of the memento (beginner – vol. 1, intermediate – vol. 2, advanced – vol. 3) includes all the taijutsu techniques from the ten chi jin plus the basics of the small, medium size ang long weapons.

The buki waza sets (small, medium and long) will also be available  soon (May or June) and sold separately for the teachers. Unlike the techniques demonstrated in the BKP (5th kyû to 1st kyû) many weapons include also the kaeshi waza (counter techniques) that give a deeper understanding to the study of weapons. This is the first time these techniques are demonstrated on a DVD! The buki waza sets are dedicated to the confirmed black belts (to this date, the editing being in process we do not know yet if each set will include 2, 3 or 4 DVDs).

In order to make this whole explanation easy to understand:

Kyû: BKP from 9th kyû to 1st kyû in 2 DVDs, covering the whole ten chi jin and the buki waza.

Young black belt and shidôshi: the Ten Ryaku no Maki  Extended (4 DVDs), the Chi Ryaku no Maki Extended (3 DVDs), the Jin Ryaku no Maki (vol. 1 & 2 – 2 dvds).

Confirmed shidôshi: the ten chi jin 2010 set (3 DVDs), and the 3 buki waza sets (small, medium, long).