Is Magic, Really Magic?

From Shiro Kuma by kumablog

Last Friday, we continued the study of the Tenchijin. We trained some basic Gyaku waza movements. After two years of pandemics, our dōjō is still trying to survive. Our training group is so small that it feels like beginning a new dōjō. We might rename the Kuma dōjō the dōjō of the phoenix! 

I teach beginners, intermediates, and advanced all at once. Teaching various levels is difficult as each student must learn a form matching their level. If you don’t do that, you lose your high ranks or beginners. Never forget that. In a multilevel class, beginners are also exposed to advanced forms. And they enjoy it.

I recently taught the “step by step” beginners’ form of Musō Dori. Then I moved the level up for the two Jūgodan and the Dai Shihan attending the class that night. After teaching the basic moves, I went up the technical ladder. I offered a more profound vision of Musō Dori to the group. This time I controlled Uke without force. And threw him onto the ground using his body reactions instead of my muscles. 

Then I heard “wow, it’s magic!” coming from the beginners’ side of the group.

Disclaimer: This post is about “magic” but there is no magic in Budō. There are only refined basics. Micro-movements are invisible to young practitioners. Locks and throws without grabbing always seem strange or magic to neophytes. This is “Kuki nage”, the Budō concept for “air throw.” (1)

It looks magic to the untrained eyes because the correct ability to see is not developed yet. Practitioners see it, but their interpretations and feelings come in the way. Emotions make them blind to reality. They can’t see the movement. It is invisible from their limited experience. A student of Budō needs years of practice to develop this capacity. Until he gets enough experience, Budō is a “mienai waza”, a technique that you cannot possibly see. (2) 

Reality is invisible to young students, who don’t have the level to see what is happening in front of them. That is why they call it “magic!” In fact, you should see a waza as being like an unpolished diamond. The gem’s value resides in the long polishing hours demanded to get the shiny stone. If you find a raw diamond on the ground today, you won’t recognize it, and only a trained geologist would know. Budō is the same.

“Magic” is the name you give to a movement before the long polishing work. When I went to Japan for the first time, each class was a “magical” show to me. Today this “magic” is gone because I learned to do what the Japanese do. It takes time. Magic is Genyō in Japanese. (3) 

Genyō is “an enchanting illusion” for beginners. But it is an “original life” (genyo) for the advanced student. (4)(5) Magic (Genyō) changes our perception of life. It turns this “alternative reality” (genyo) (6) into a “dream” (gensō). (7)

Magic doesn’t exist, and we call it “magic” to adjust the perception of reality to our limited understanding. 

Stop dreaming and go back to your basics if you want to become a magician one day!


1 見えない技, mienai waza: a technique that cannot be possible seen
2 空気, Kūki: air; atmosphere​; mood; situation​; someone with no presence; someone who doesn’t stand out at all​
3 幻妖, Genyō: magic
4 幻, Gen: phantom; vision; illusion; an apparition​; mythical thing; a scarce thing
5 妖, Yō (aya): mysterious; bewitching; alluring; enticing; enchanting
6 原原, Gen+yo: original; primitive; primary; fundamental. Raw​ + world; society; public​; life; lifetime; period; generation​; the times​
7 幻想, gensō: fantasy; illusion; vision; dream

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