Ultimate Teaching

From Shiro Kuma's Weblog by kumafr

Today was my last class with sensei during this japan trip and it was a very nice class where we could train also with long weapons. As sensei was coming a little late I was asked to begin the class and when sensei arrived, we started by a three tsuki attack demonstrated by an American friend. 

From there I got lost as sensei used no strength at all and was playing with uke as if uke was unable to see that he was going to die. Shawn Gray, after being sensei’s uke, commented that each one of the uke nagashi was piling up on top of the previous one, and that he became aware of his loss of balance only when it was too late. 

Sensei’s movements reminded me of some form of “kotonoma”, 空と海は (verb, sound) and “kokyû”, 呼吸 (breathing) demonstrated by Ueshiba sensei in his Aikido videos. Friday night he insisted to pay attention to the breathing of the opponent and to our own breathing too. If you hit uke while he is breathing in you increase the power of your hits. This is why you must take your time and wait for uke to breath in. If you rush to do the technique you will be less efficient. Timing is essential (kaname?).

When Hatsumi sensei is moving his body turns into the “chûshin”, 中心 (pivot, center) of everything. Even though he didn’t speak about “shinrabanshô”, 森羅万象 (all things in Nature) today, he was expressing it in each one of his movements. He was the “shinrabanshô no kaname”, 森羅万象 の要, the center of the whole creation.

Whatever his uke was doing he was speeding up the destruction process. Like in the theme of 2007 ”kuki taisho”, 九鬼大笑 (the laughter of the ninth demon), tori has no fear. If uke attacks, he dies; if he doesn’t, he lives. That is his call. What was really amazing was to see how easily sensei, with very little movements of the whole body can deal with the opponent. It took me quite a long time (gracias Hector) to figure it out, and even when I got close to get it, I was miles away from sensei’s movements. Sometimes I find it frustrating to attend his classes. You see the technique, you understand it, and you are incapable. This can be quite depressing.

His movements are so subtle that if you don’t pay atttention to everything at the same time, you don’t see them. As Shawn said later, the motion of sensei’s hands is catching his attention and the body movements were getting his balance totally unnoticed. When facing sôke, you are drawn into a sort of “uzumaki”, 渦巻 (whirlpool) feeling, from which there is no escape. It is interesting to watch but it is scary to feel it. There is no strength at all and uke falls because he cannot be standing up anymore. From the observer’s perspective it is as if nothing is applied to him. It is magic!

Each point of contact between tori and uke (today mainly the elbows) turns into a kaname as sensei keeps pivoting softly using his legs to do that. He spoke again about kaname, explaining it to be the highest expression of taijutsu. Once you can find the kaname everywhere there is nothing impossible. But what is impossible is to understand it solely at the intellectual level. 

He said that this cannot be understood or acquired by “researchers”, it is coming from real experience, this is not mental. Over the years how many times did we hear him saying out loud: “don’t think!”. He also said: “there are too many researchers in the bujinkan and the kaname concept is out of their grasp as long as they keep their knowledge at the intellectual level. It was like what he told us about kuden on Friday night: “kuden cannot be written, this is why it is an oral transmission”.

Sensei repeated again that understanding his words or the movements were not important: “if you get out of the class with the feeling you remember nothing it is ok because I teach the jûgodan”. I hope I was not the only one totally lost. 

Feeling this kaname action through the body is teaching the mind. I went to ask him to demonstrate it on me and when he did, it was like fighting a “puff of smoke”. There was no information sent to me, nothing. I felt like falling into the kûkan.

As not so many people attended the class today, we applied these techniques with sword, bô and naginata and it was nice to learn how to use the space available. With a weapon or not, when facing sensei you are not afraid, you are simply frozen. You stop moving because it is comfortable and safe. We don’t use the weapons, we use our taijutsu with the help (hojo?) of the weapons. 

The sakki test ended the class and I went to his house where I joined Sayaka Oguri, Lubos and some of his students. Sensei showed us many new swords he got recently including one that belonged to a Togakure general (yoshitaka?) with the togakure crest on the scabbard. Another tachi was wearing the shingon crest, and the blade was engraved with the Fudô myô sword on one side and three bija letters representing Fudô myô, Marishi ten, and Dainichi nyorai. He also showed us a very nice tantô in an orange scabbard that looked like a big caterpilar. He also showed us a beautiful kyoketsu shôge, 距跋渉毛 with the sword and dragon of fudô myô on one side, and the double edged sword with a vajra tsuka on the other side (you can see the pictures of those weapons on facebook). 

We were departing when sensei asked us to the new storage room next to his house. It was like entering an antique shop! Various types of weapons and pieces of art are there, waiting for an hypothetic museum. What caught my eyes were the few long yari that he showed. Each blade was around 80 cm! No wonder why the yari was considered to be the most dangerous weapon of all. I read somewhere from an archeological study that between Muromachi (1333) and Meiji (1868), death by swords only accounted for about 20% of the casualties, and the majority happened after the beginning of the Tokugawa shogunate (1603). The yari was the weapon of choice of the samurai, and the Japanese yoroi was initially designed to fight it.

Before leaving sensei, and after thanking him for the time he spent with us, he gave Lubos and me two omamori from the Kashima Katori shrine from the Miyagi prefecture that he signed with his martial name.

It was indeed a very nice day today, thank you sensei. I am sure we will speak about it with Lubos tomorrow as we are sharing the same flight back to Europe.


Happô Biken

From Shiro Kuma's Weblog by kumafr

Today I gave a class on biken jutsu at the honbu and we studied the kukishin sword. The two hours passed so fast that we didn’t have time for a break as we use to have here in mid class.
It was nice to dwell  gain into the waza of the school as we mainly apply the kankaku of the various schools into our classes with sensei and the shihan. This is what sensei explained to me over lunch last Sunday.
Since we  entered the world of Juppô sesshô in 2003, everything we do now is based upon the taijutsu with weapons using the “flavor” of each style and mixing them together. what we study now during class with Sôke is not anymore the waza but something we can call 風味の技 (fûmi no waza), a flavored technique. Last year for example we did a lot of sword techniques with the fûmi of Shinden Fudô ryû. But beginners need to have a from to start from and the kukishin biken jutsu (and the togakure biken jutsu) are there to give them that. So it was nice to review the techniques again.
The kukishin happô biken is quite complete with 9 techniques divided into 3 sets of 3:
  • tsuki komi, tsuki gake, kiri age
  • kiri sage, kinshi, kochô gaeshi
  • shi hô giri, happô giri, tsuki no wa

Each one of these basic techniques is then completed by a set of 9 sayû* gyaku; and a set of 9 henka. Which makes a theoretical total of 27.

What I understood last year in April when training with sensei is that we can see the sayû gyaku (左右逆 - left right reversing forms) as how to apply the basic form to the left or to the right of the opponent. Each sayû gyaku contains in fact more than one or two forms. Then the henka (変化 - beginning of change/end of change) is how to apply the basic form while moving forward or backward. Here again you have more than two ways of doing each one of them.

So from the 9 basic forms listed above with the added sets of sayû gyaku and of henka, we get an infinity of possibilities to adjust the technique to the fighting conditions. Maybe this is the reason why Toda sensei told Takamatsu going to challenge Ishitani, sôke of the kukishin: “don’t use sword techniques against Ishitani sensei as his kukishin biken jutsu is much more powerful than our togakure happô biken”.

The reason why I separated the basic forms into three sets is that if you study these techniques carefully you will notice that they do not apply on the same timeline. The first set is used when you react after the attack begins (nijigen no sekai); the second set while the attack begins (sanjigen no sekai); and the third one before the attack begins (yûgen no sekai).

Also in each group you will see that the first technique of each group is a ten (going up); the second one a chi (going down); and the third one, a jin (going to the opponent). These groups (tenchijin and up/down/forward) actually define a matrix of actions that can be adapted through the sayû gyaku set and/or the henka set.

Maybe this is what sensei meant also by naming it “kukishin ryû happô biken”.

*note: sayû is the Chinese pronunciation of hidari migi.
DVD:  I recorded the basic techniques and also their tachi version on video. Those interested can find them on www.budomart.com
  • Biken jutsu (2 dvds basic and kukishin)
  • Tachi waza (3 dvds)

Sanshin Is Kihon Happô

From Shiro Kuma's Weblog by kumafr

The Japanese people are very found about numerology and sensei being Japanese I was not surprised yesterday night when he said “the sanshin no kata is the kihon happô”.

In this blog I already wrote a few articles referring to this and referring mainly to the kihon happô. But the same can be done with the sanshin no kata. You can find it here: http://kumafr.wordpress.com/2010/10/15/does-3-5/ but there other articles speaking about this in the blog.

But how can the gogyô of the sanshin 五行 be equal to the kihon happô 基本八方*. Everyone knows that 3 doesn’t equal 8, at least for a Western mindset, but maybe it is time to begin to think like a Japanese.
Before trying to understand this puzzle, let’s review what we start with:
the “sanshin no kata” is a set of 5 movements based on the five elements,
the “gogyô” (which true name is “shoshin gokei gogyô no kata”**, in the tenchijin of 1987) is made of the Japanese five elements (the “dai gogyô” refers to the Chinese ones),
The “kihon happô” is a set of 3+5 which contains all the prinicples of movements and opens up in all directions,
The “kosshi kihon sanpô no kata” is used against attacks (aka “sanpô no kata”),
The “hoshu kihon kata gohô” is used against grabs (aka “gohô no kata”).

Even though “sanshin” means 3, there are 5 elements. And if you add 3 (san-shin) + 5 (go-gyô) the result is 8 (hachi). This hachi plus “hô” becomes “happô”. Etymologically “happô” (hachi + hô) can have the meaning  of “8 principles” 八法 **or  ”8 directions” 八方; but in Japanese it is mainly understood as 八方 “all directions” or can also be understood as a “large hanging lantern”, maybe a big lantern showing us the correct path of budô? Therefore, the kihon happô is a fundamental set of movements to move our body in all directions. This “happô”, lights the path to our progression in the martial world.
But as you know, “sanshin” refers to many things. You can see “sanshin” as: 
1) a sum up of the tenchijin philosophy; 
2) a set of three actions (kamae, uke nagashi, kaeshi); 
3) a time line (before, during, after); 
4) a space locator (forward, center, backward); or 
5) having the mind and attitude of a three year old child. 
(This is a another group of 3+5 making another 8!)
All these interpretations are correct and were taught by Sôke over the years. They are all true and please remember that there is no hierarchy between them. Any one is as good as the other ones.
Now why does 3 = 8? We have to dig a little deeper here.
In the nineties while in transit from Japan, I had the chance to meet a russian specialist of both Chinese and Japanese. As we had a few hours to wait before getting into the plane he tried to explain the different visions of the two cultures. What he told me is that by tradition and culture, the Chinese are Ura, they conceive a non-manifested world; conversely the Japanese are Omote, they have a materialistic vision of the manifested world. 
The Japanese see the world from the earth (chi) were the Chinese see it from heaven (ten). This explains partly the differences between the Chinese and Japanese gogyô. 

The Chinese dai gogyô are wood, fire, earth, metal, water. The Japanese and the Tibetans have the series we know in the bujinkan. But to make it a little more complex, the Japanese gogyô can be seen with either a Chinese approach (more spiritual) or a Japanese one (more grounded).  My Russian specialist used the gogyô as an example. 
Chi and Kû are the same in both philosophies and they are similar to the “alpha and omega” of the Greeks, a circular flow; or the henka cycle (beginning-end) of  the Japanese were change is permanent.
But things get even more intricate with the other three elements (sanshin?) because they are different both in name and nature.

  • Sui (Chinese) is Mizu (Japanese). The Chinese humidity of the air is opposed to the Japanese water in the river.
  • Hi (Chinese) is Ka (Japanese). The Chinese sun is opposed to the Japanese bonfire.
  • Fû (Chinese) is Kaze (Japanese). The Chinese atmosphere is opposed to the Japanese wind.
The bujinkan martial arts do not stop at the door of the dôjô. You have to train your brain and learn to think outside of the box***. I wish that after reading all of the above you begin to consider that actually 3 can be equal to 8. 
But there is more…
Because of its success, Hatsumi sensei’s book “unarmed fighting techniques of  the samurai” has been republished twice. Now, depending if you have the first edition or the second one (I have both) you would have two different “sanshin no kata” mix of the Sino-Japanese logics! I guess that not so many bujinkan practitioners noticed it***. 
In the first edition, the sanshin is described as chi-mizu-hi-kaze-kû (or 11011) and in the second edition it is the regular chi-sui-ka-fû-kû (or 10101). The techniques are the same but the feelings you develop when doing the first set or the second one are totally different. Try them. 
Funnily I noticed that when you put the two sets, one on top of the other you get a sort of DNA helix. If you train with the omote and the ura feelings, you will discover new things in your taijutsu. In July 2011, I told him about my DNA discovery during lunch and about those differences I found between the two editions. His answer was: “yes this is the same”.
But can you really trust a ninja master?…. or was his answer much deeper than I thought?…
* note: the bujinkan “kihon happô” is 基本八法, ”8 principles”
** note: “shoshin gokei gogyô no kata” is 初心互恵 五行の型  “original five elements mutual benefit form” (?) 
***sidenote: Everything keeps changing even a book, so please remember that sensei often invites us to “read between the lines”, maybe it is time for you to begin? ;-)

Use a Telescope to see through Space and Time

From Shiro Kuma's Weblog by kumafr

On Sunday I did a technique at the opening of the class that sensei used to teach us the shizen karada – the natural body movement.

Karada – body ( 自然 体) is a often used by sensei during his classes as everything we do is based on a body or “non body” movement.
On a ryôte dori ( 両手取 り) slide your arms inside Uke’s arms and take his balance. When sensei did it to me I felt nothing he just vanished (melted?) in my grab in such a natural way that I had the feeling that my grip was returned against me.
There was so much softness in his counter action that there was no way for me to counter it or to think on how to react to it.
This feeling is quite strange and happens every time you have the chance to be his Uke. There is power within softness.

To achieve that Hatsumi sensei was simply joining his shoulders between my arms as if he had no bone structure, no rib cage in the middle! By moving the shoulders in a wave action back and forth he slide himself in between my grip and took my balance. The naturalness of his body movement was amazing as nothing could be done to avoid it. Using the karada (体) without chikara – force, strength (力), he then used the gan shi nankotsu (眼指軟骨) to inflict excruciating pain to my eyes and mouth, forcing me to bend backward and therefore to lose my balance.
I can understand it what he did to me but I wasn’t able to reproduce it. As always it is one thing to understand and another one to be able to do it.

When sensei was in between my arms I felt I was facing a wall advancing towards me and I couldn’t avoid it as I was stupidly still grabbing his lapels. Funnily I know I could have let it go but I didn’t. He was controlling my body and my brain together. The only thing I could do was watching my demise. Using the whole body is not moving the body it is being one with your body and Uke’s body at the same time so no free space is available for you to escape.

If I try to describe the feeling a little more it is like there is no strength at all opposing yours and then nothing to fight against. The simple shoulder wave movement together with a body that has been polished for tens of years is what is doing it. Once again, your rank doesn’t prevent you from training and you have to train for a very long time in order to get this ease in action that comes from pure consciousness.

Later during the class sensei used the image of the circle and of pi. Actually when continuing the movement your footwork should be in accordance together with uke’s movement of attack so that you pivot in a circle inside Uke’s attack at a 180° angle to go with him where his body is leading him. By doing so, Uke is not aware of where you are and loses his balance because nothing is opposing him. This pi application has been developed in many other martial arts like Aikidô for example but here in our case there is no grabbing of Uke. Sensei merely used the space created by this dynamic and natural body positioning to stick to Uke so close that he is invisible to Uke’s awareness. Sensei’s body moves like in cloud. It is at the same time a mienai waza, a kûkan and a nagare with nothing to stop Uke’s body but diabling him to perceive you. As they say in the Takagi Yôshin Ryû and the Kukishin Ryû: “ahead lies paradise”. As nothing prevents Uke’s movements Uke falls by only fighting his own strength.

To summarize the whole training that day sensei used a nice image. He said: “don’t be strong, don’t be weak, be zero and through this zero you can see the solution”. Saying that he put his hands in a circle and looked through them as if using a telescope.

Once again everything is linked. telescopes are used to see through sideral space and the stronger they are, the further back in time they can see. You should become a powerful telescope and see through time and space in order to be aware of what is coming next even before Uke knows about it.

Then gan shi nankotsu of this year (眼指軟骨) turns into gan shi nankotsu (眼 其 軟 骨) where shi (其) is oneself; nan (軟) is soft; kotsu (骨) is knack, skill, secret. The “eye, finger, cartilage” is now through our telescope a means to see through yourself, the secret of softness that will defeat the opponent.

Japan: Stop Howling, Act!

From Shiro Kuma's Weblog by kumafr

What happened in Japan a few days ago is a terrible thing but I am sad to see the way things are covered in the media and at the political level.

Japan has suffered one of the biggest earthquakes in the last 140 years and after the destruction caused by the tsunami they expect at least 10000 casualties. But our media in Europe are only speaking about the possible nuclear catastrophe and rarely speak about the people in Japan who lost everything: a parent, a friend, their house, car etc. Some countries are even checking already the level of radioactivity of the Japanese products imported (sent before the earthquake because the Japanese industry is down), others are checking the air pollution even if they are located 3000 km away from Japan and not in the direction of the winds!

This treatment of information is revolting as it only emphasizes the human appetite for cataastrophe.

I am not trying to minimize the nuclear accident but I think that we have to focus primarily on what is important: the people in difficulty trying to survive after the tsunami.

Can we individually do anything about the nuclear problem? Can we seriously howl with the politicians and the media and use this accident as an excuse to stop our own nuclear plants?

We are behaving like a drunk driver blaming a tree for destroying his car after a crash. The nuclear problem is not the cause of the problem but a negative consequence of the tsunami so we must first do whatever we can to help the Japanese people.

Be logical:

  1. The moment it is dangerous to go to Tokyo because of the radiations, the airlines will stop their flights.
  2. The moment it will be risky for your health to go to Japan, the Japanese government and our own governments will prevent us to go there.
  3. The Japanese are the most experienced people to deal with nuclear problems.

So we must redefine our priorities:

  1. While the nuclear specialists (from Japan, the USA, the IAEA) do their best to contain the nuclear risks, our job is to support the victims of the tsunami.

    In the last days I have seen many Bujinkan groups organizing seminars to collect money for Japan and one dôjô is going to give the benefits to the Japanese red cross. This is the Bujinkan I like.

  2. Whether nuclear power is “good” or “bad” is not of our concern. We must only do our best to live a happy life where we are.

    We often have the feeling that our governments are not always telling us the truth, but there is nothing we can do about it. But as Bujinkan members we should listen to Sensei when he stresses the importance of being happy. So let’s recenter our lives to be happy and stop howling with the crowd.

  3. The nuclear catastrophe is only a scapegoat. We are the ones to blame because we were unable to develop (in the 20th century) a society fuelled by nuclear power (80% of the electricity in France). As long as we do not find a real alternative to nuclear power we have to live with it.

    We are responsible. Accept that and move on as the Japanese did, do and will always do. Sensei was still teaching on Sunday (not on Tuesday as the Budôkan was closed) and I guess he will teach on Friday, so keep going!

As far as I am concerned, I will continue to support the Japanese as much as I can and I am still planning to train with Sôke next April.

If you want to actively help Japan, the best support you can give is to continue to travel to Japan as long as:

  1. Sensei is teaching his regular classes,
  2. the airlines are allowed to land at Narita airport,
  3. our governments let us travel to Tokyo.

The Bujinkan is teaching us to be ourselves and not to behave as a flock of sheeps. It is time to show the world that you didn’t train for nothing during all these years.

And remember that “tsunami” 津浪 is a Japanese word!

See you soon on the mats in Noda.