Are You A Mindless Cyborg?

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From Shiro Kuma by kumafr

IMG_20111125_073713-1

Body and mind are one. If you only develop the body and let the soul out, your taijutsu will be artificial. It will look good but miss the flavour. And it will never be alive and natural.

All martial arts in Japan, follow a three-step pattern called Shingitai. (1) Created by Sumo, the Shingitai is now used by all martial arts. Shin is the spirit/mind; Gi is the technique; (2) and Tai the body. But “Shin” is what makes it vital to your progression. Without “Shin”, your taijutsu is only Gitai, robotic. (3) If you don’t improve your general understanding of the art, you will move like Robocop and become a Cyborg!

shingitai

To understand this, we have to reverse the order of the terms. Shingitai is, in fact, “Tai Gi Shin,” as it is the natural order of our evolution.

And this is how to understand it:

  • Tai: Since the 19th century and the Meiji restoration it refers to the physical body. This is the first level of development for any budōka. It is purely mechanical. During this phase of your learning experience, you do the basics in a “1-2-3” sequence. It develops a basic flow in your movements.
  • Gi: This also reads as “Waza”. (2) This is not only the technique but carries the meaning of skill. This is the second level of the development of a Budōka. At this stage, you learn the correct form. You can reach this level only if you master the basics, not before. This is a rather formal phase where you must be as close as possible to the form taught in the dōjō. Precision in the techniques is required from the practitioner. It is not the time to create your own flavour.

  • Shin: This is the heart or the spirit. The Japanese do not differentiate the two meanings. It is the last level of development that you get after many years of training. If Shin is the last part of the path, it is also the longest. Many Bujinkan practitioners will never get to this level. To go there, you need to commit more to the art. Actually, I don’t know many who succeeded. Many are good at mastering the forms, very few can learn the essence.

When you have a free “Tai” thanks to good basics, you can enter the world of techniques. As we said earlier, the Gi is the second level of your training. See the “Taigishin” as three steps that you have to walk up in the proper order. The low level of many teachers comes from this lack of understanding. I get it, Waza can be more attractive, but if your body is not ready to play, the results will not meet your expectations. As always, going too fast is not the best way to train. Some things need time, and you cannot compress time.

But one thing you must never forget is that each technique is there for a reason. Because what you see is not the technique, it is only the “Omote”, the outside of it.  In a Densho there is always a line after the description of the Waza saying “there is a Kuden”. (4) (5)

The Kuden is the essence of the technique, and it is often transmitted in a class by the teacher. Without the Kuden, the form is a set of mechanical movements. There is nothing “magic” in a Kuden. It is the key to help you unfold the power of the technique. Within a given Waza, there might be more than one Kuden. And that is why it is so important to train slowly. Slow speed will help you extract the essence from each sequence of movements. When your professor performs a technique that you try to replicate, you often fail to succeed. Because you only do what you saw, but did not grasp every aspect of it, the essence is missing. It is like copying the Mona Lisa, one square centimeter after the other. In the end, your painting will “resemble” the original, but the essence will be missing. Copying a masterpiece will not make you capable of making a painting of your own. When you copy, you are not a painter. It is the same in Budō.

Teachers have a responsibility to teach their students to learn how to paint; hold the brushes, mix the colours, and structure a painting. But a teacher will never paint for you! This is why the Kuden is essential to teach things that are not visible to your naked eye. If you want to improve your Waza, stop seeing them as a checklist. Do them many times, until the outcome is like the essence and the form the teacher demonstrated. I insist: A Waza is not a checklist, it is a result. Create conditions to achieve the same result.

During one of my stays in Japan, a Japanese Shihan used a beautiful metaphor to help us understand. He said that each Waza is a canal with different angles. When you learn the sequence, you only have to stay in the middle of the channel, equidistant from the banks. This is the 1-2-3 pattern. Once you know it, you can go downstream, and “cut” the angles to gain speed and efficiency. You repeat it until you can do it right.

channelThe three phases are:

  • Phase #1: You learn the steps (TAI) in a “1-2-3” form. At this level, it is not essential to understand the Waza.
  • Phase #2: You understand the waza (GI), and you begin to cut the angles. The movement starts to flow, you gain speed.
  • Phase #3: You are efficient (SHIN), you have developed your movement, that is the one suiting your body. And you can do it your own way.

Shingitai is one of the secrets of Budō. If you don’t train the “Shin,” in each training, you will move like a Gitai, a robot. So, are you willing to stay at the Gitai level, or do you prefer to become a Shingitai practitioner?

Hint: Sensei said that “Budō is made in human,” it means that we are not Cyborgs!

_________________________

1 Shingitai
2 技, Gi or Waza: No difference! “技” is pronounced either “Gi” or “Waza.” As always you have the Japanese pronunciation, and the Chinese one.
3 義体, Gitai; Cyborg, artificial body
4 伝書, Densho: book or scroll that has been handed down through generations; book of secrets
5 口伝, Kuden: oral instruction​, passing information by word-of-mouth. It is also sometimes used as “experience”. The one you develop by making mistakes and correcting them.

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Are You A Failure?

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From Shiro Kuma by kumafr

Are you used to fail? I hope for you. This is good and the best way to improve your skills. When you learned to ride a bike, it was not easy, but you got it. It was the same when you learned how to swim. I am sure that today when you ride a bike or swim you don’t think about the “how to do it?”, you do it without thinking. Failure is the best teacher you can find. It teaches you more than success.

Edison said it took him 1,000 tries to make the light bulb working without exploding. A journalist told him that he failed one thousand times. He answered, “I have not failed 1,000 times—I’ve successfully found 1,000 ways that will not work.” When you learn Budō, this is the kind of attitude you should have.

In the west, our society forbids us to fail. This comes from our catholic education, our philosophy of life and our culture. But in the East, they regard failure differently. They consider it a chance to do better.

Failure in Japanese is Shippai. (1) It is made of two Kanji, the first one is “error” and the second one is “failure.” We fail because we make an error, and we make an error because we are not good enough yet. This is the learning process. Whatever you learn, it will take you a lot of time before you can master it. You need a mentor to guide you in this learning process. That is where the sensei enters.

In Japan, a series of three concepts: Taihen, Kuden, and Shinden explains transmission. In each word, the last kanji is “Hen” (or Den) which means “transmission” or “change”. (2)

  • Taihen (大伝) is the body. This is the physical transmission learnt through repetition. (3)
  • Kuden (口伝) is the knowledge acquired with experience (doing, learning, studying). (4)
  • Shinden (神伝) is the ingrained knowledge (as if transmitted by the gods). (5)

 

taihen kuden shinden drawing (2)

The Human learning process always follows the same three-step process.

First, you learn the physical movement step by step. Speed and strength are not critical at this level of learning. Second, you fail until you learn how to do it well. This is also at this level that you are speeding up your moves. And third, you integrate the experience and stop thinking on how to do the movement. But the learning process doesn’t stop here, it continues. After you reached the first Shinden, begins another Taihen. Another Kuden follows, then another Shinden. This is a continuous process because perfection is never possible. You can always learn and improve your skills a bit more. Do not stop at what you know. Push the boundaries of your knowledge so that every day you can better your skills.

I see the Taihen, Kuden, Shinden process as a spring. Each full circle leads to the next coil, and it is going upward. You make progress by repeating the same things over and over. And you do that until you reach a new level, where you learn new things again. This is a continuous process.

TKStime (2)

That is why it is vital not to give up. Excellence takes time and is based upon multiple failures. You have to learn to fail better. Senō sensei said that when you learn a Kata, you make many errors. After many repetitions errors become smaller. And one day, you have it, but there is still room for improvement.

Hatsumi sensei has a beautiful sentence to explain it: “Ever tried? Ever failed? No matter! Try again. Fail again. Fail better! (6)

So, are you ready to be a better failure?

_________________________

1 失敗, Shippai; Failure
2 伝, hen; To transmit. Connections; influence. Change
3 大伝, Taihen; Teaching through the body
4 口伝, Kuden; oral instruction​. Passing information by word-of-mouth​. Oral tradition
5 神伝, Shinden; Teachings conveyed by the gods
6 From the book “Understand? Good. Play.” by Benjamin Cole

Visit us at http://www.koimartialart.com and watch hundreds of Bujinkan videos

vid_160380801_111215_326

Is Sensei A Black Hole?

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From Shiro Kuma by kumafr

comica1562586711217

I was reading an article about the discovery of a new black hole that wasn’t respecting conventional physics. And I found some similarities with Sensei’s Budō. Like a star, Hatsumi Sensei has accumulated a lot of mass/knowledge over the years. That is why his Taijutsu is far beyond our understanding.

What is a black hole? “Black holes are volumes of space where gravity is extreme enough to prevent the escape of even the fastest moving particles. Not even light can break free, hence the name ‘black’ hole. (…) With so much mass in a confined volume, the collective force of gravity overcomes the rule that usually keeps the building blocks of atoms from occupying the same space. All this density creates a black hole.” (1)

Like a black hole, Sōke has accumulated so much, that the “building blocks” of Taijutsu become formless. And they merge into something different that we cannot comprehend.

About this newly discovered black hole, the article says that such an object should not exist. “One possibility, however, could be a fallback supernova, in which material ejected from the dying star falls immediately back into it, resulting in the direct formation of a black hole. (2) Isn’t it what we witness when training with Sensei at honbu? His no-power Taijutsu should not exist either. It goes against everything believed to be “martial arts.” We see what he does, but we don’t get how to reproduce it. I have been training with him for over thirty years now. If I can see what he is doing, there is no way I can naturally do it myself.

When you watch him, his movements don’t seem very hard or complicated. But no one, and I include the Japanese Dai Shihan, can do what he does. His Taijutsu, like a black hole, has surpassed the level of normal biomechanics. His movements are so polished that even if you can see them, you are unable to do them the way he does. There is no strength, no power, yet it is only strength and power!

These days Sensei only speaks about control. Full control of the opponent is only possible once you have surpassed the form. You don’t have to think about what to do, you are the movement. No intent, only natural response to the stimuli created by Uke.

After we collected every forms possible, I hope we can destroy them and reach his level to become a black hole too.

Hatsumi Sensei turned up 88 years old this December. “8” when horizontal means “infinite, so I guess that now he is like a “double infinite, no wonder we can’t copy what he does.”
______________________________________

1 https://www.sciencealert.com/an-impossible-black-hole-has-been-found-in-the-milky-way-galaxy
2 https://www.sciencealert.com/black-holes

Think With Your Feet!

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From Shiro Kuma by kumafr

IMG_20181203_144937-ANIMATIONIn the Bujinkan, everything comes down to the quality of your footwork. As Hatsumi Sensei puts it, “move with your feet, the hands will follow.”

Since we are babies, our hands are the first tool we use to discover the world, not the legs. As a consequence, our feet are under-trained, but Bujinkan training modifies that. The Bujinkan way of moving and walking in particular.

Throws and immobilizations define Jūdō. Armlocks and circles represent Aikidō.  And Karate is about Kicks and punches. In the same way, our footwork defines the Bujinkan way of fighting.

But the term “footwork” is more diverse than you think. A translation is often accepted for what we believe it means, and not for the rich diversity of the language. In Japanese, there are many meanings for footwork. And they show different aspects of the same reality.

In Japanese, “footwork” is either Ashi Waza, (1) or Ashi Sabaki, (2) or even Ashi Hakobi. (3) And each one shows a different understanding in action. In his book “word and object,” Quine defines what he calls “conceptual schemes.” Words convey different interpretations that are often lost between languages. When translated into another language, some unsaid cultural aspects are lost in the process.

Each one of the three expressions for footwork bears a different meaning:

  • Ashi Waza refers to a leg technique. It is purely mechanical.
  • Ashi Sabaki insists more on how to “deal with” a situation, by using your legs. In a way, you “sort the problem” by using a leg technique. We can say that Ashi Sabaki uses Ashi Waza. (5)
  • Ashi Hakobi is more about how you move your legs to take advantage of the attacker. Whether you are applying a leg technique or not. It also implies controlling your balance by keeping a low center of gravity. (6)

As you can see, the three concepts of “footwork,” contain more than what the translated term implied. Furthermore, the “move your feet” does not cover the reality of the movements you have to perform. In fact, we should say, “move your body.” Because when the body moves, the legs are moving too. But we don’t say it only because students would not get it. They would then move only the upper limbs instead of the legs. Humans are like that. Try to explain footwork by saying, “move your body” to a group of fresh beginners, and you will see what I mean.

When Sensei speaks about moving the feet, you have to understand what he means. The way I see it is, “move your body and your legs altogether so that your hips always stay above your moving leg.” (7)

After many years of teaching, I understand that to learn a Waza, you should first get the correct “footwork.” The rest comes naturally, and “your hands will follow.” Change the way you move your body with the legs and see how better you are performing the techniques. The improvement will amaze you. You can test it in your dōjō with a simple exercise. From Shizen no Kamae, “fall” into Ichimonji no Kamae. (8) You do it by pulling your hips backward (9) and keeping them above your leg. Don’t step back, but fall backward with the whole body. It is harder than you think, but it is the Bujinkan way.

Next class, try this, and begin to think with your feet!

_____________________
1 足技 Ashi Waza: (judo) foot technique; footwork
2 足さばき, Ashi Sabaki: footwork (in martial arts, sports, etc.)
3 足運び, Ashi Hakobi: gait; manner of walking; footwork (e.g., in sports)​. Characteristic way of moving, keeping the center of gravity low (center)
4 “Word and Object” by Willard Quine: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Word_and_Object
5 捌く, Sabaku: to handle well; to handle deftly​; to deal with; to manage; to settle; to sort; to process
6 運, Un: fortune; luck; progress, advance
7 The “moving leg” is the one doing the step. It is the front leg if you move forward. And the back leg, if you move backward.
8 In Japan, they tell you to “fall” into the Kamae. Not to “step back.” Here too, words are essential. They give you a hint on how to do it the correct way.
9 As if someone was pulling you from behind at hip level.

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Waza Are For Kids!

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From Shiro Kuma by kumafr

comica1566669916317Today many practitioners are more interested in collecting Waza than understanding their purpose. Not so many try to find out the aim of a Waza.

Maybe they get Sensei wrong. “Play!” doesn’t mean to remain all your life at kid level. You have to grow up! And the first step is to understand what a Waza really is.

A Waza is a “series of simple movement” designed to give good basics to practitioners. During feudal Japan, wars were permanent. Each technique was created on the battlefield, with a Yoroi on. When they worked, they could be transmitted. When they didn’t, well, the Samurai would die, and so wouldn’t share it. That is how our Ryūha came into existence. Only what was working was kept. No second chance. Call it natural selection if you will.

But to teach these techniques to the young Samurai (aged 6 to 14), you have to make them simple. They have to be simple because kids can’t memorize anything too complicated. And also, they had to teach the necessary habits that will make sense, when fighting with a Yoroi. So they changed the way to do them and kept only the essence. That is why, sometimes, they don’t make sense until you put the armor.

But knowing the Waza is not an end. It is only the beginning. Don’t take my words for it, listen to Hatsumi Sensei. He said, “learning a technique is not an end in itself; it merely indicates where you need to start.” And this is why collecting techniques is going nowhere. Don’t get me wrong. You need to learn the Waza to be able to adapt them unknowingly in the “fog of war.” (1)

In battle, your senses are more powerful, and your body reacts without thinking. It is once you have acquired your basics that you can adjust a Waza to the situation. There is no planning. You respond to your best, that’s all.

In a fight, your heart is beating fast, adrenaline rushes through your system, and your throat is dry. You focus more and create a “tunnel effect,” and you get the feeling that everything happens in slow motion. If you want to know more about this, read “the gift of fear,” by Gavin de Becker, it will teach you many things. (2)

A technique, as Sensei explains, is not an end, it is a start. When you reproduce a Waza from a book, you are copying a “dead” result. And that is not the way to achieve the expected result. I have explained this a few times already here. A Waza is what would happen if every basic movement was correct. But many teachers only copy the text, and consider it as some sort of checklist! The form is not the spirit. This is wrong in many aspects. If you dissect the technique to make it look like the result, you get nowhere. It is like dissecting a frog, hoping that it would resuscitate when putting it back together!

We train Waza to teach our body and our mind the possibilities of action, not to replicate them in a fight. It is only after that you destroy the form. And bring the essence out. Then use these essences extracted from the Waza to make your own survival tools.

“Waza is not an end; it is merely a start.”

______________________

1 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fog_of_war

2 https://www.amazon.com/Gift-Fear-Survival-Signals-Violence/dp/0440226198

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