Happô Biken


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)



Meridian, Speed & Excellence


Each action should be following each other in a logical manner. In the technique, we move to one point of control to another as if climbing a rope, as sensei put it we “should control the opponent as if going up or down an acupuncture meridian.”*
But sensei’s was not trying to teach us any japanese medicine or acupuncture**, he was using this image in order to explain that “like on a meridian” each point of control belongs to the same line. Uke cen be controlled on any point of the same logical line. Balance is taken the same way on each point of the same logical line. Balance is lost when we control a point on one line and then move to another point located on another line.
This is why it is important in your training to understand the bio mechanics of the human body. By moving from one point to another point of the same line, you keep the off balancing at all time and it doesn’t matter if the first point is at the arm and the second one at the belly or the leg.
Often these days this control is done with the legs using the sha ha ashi principle. This has been done repeatedly by sensei, Senô sensei, Nagato sensei and Noguchi sensei. This gokui of taijutsu is used a lot. By using your legs to continue the off balancing of uke you free your hands and ready them for another action. Also as uke reacts according to what he perceives and see, uke will often be unaware of what is going on at ground level. This mienai waza is a real asset in your taijutsu.
This natural action of your legs also frees your body and you can then develop your intention. But to be really efficient you should know when to show your intentions and when not to show it. In the tenchijin of 1987 it is said that you should “be able to bend when there is wind, and not to bend hen there is no wind”. Adapting our behaviour to uke’s perceptions, to our environment, and to our intuition is the goal of taijutsu.
Waza without Kankaku is only a dead movement if you are not able to change it according to the situation and to uke’s reactions. In Nagato sensei’s class today, he mentionned the fact the “doing a good looking but inefficient technique is stupid. It is better to do something “ugly” but efficient than dying doing a beautiful waza. The Kankuku is what allows you to adapt the kata.
A few years ago, Senô sensei explained that a kata was to be considered as a channel. A kata includes some kaname that you have to pass in order to achieve the result you are looking for. At first, your kata is mechanical and inefficient. With hundreds of repetitions you acquire the nagare (the flow) and turn a dead movement into a part of your taijutsu. The Kata becomes alive with the adding of the kankaku.
Be careful as the kankaku alone will not suffice. You do have to learn the form to discard it. You learn an “inanimated” kata to “channel” your body mechanical movement. You train a kata to “animate” it and put life into it. You destroy the kata to express your natural body movement. And this destruction arrives only and only when you have mastered the initial form. Nagato sensei was complaining the other day that in the bujinkan too many students (high ranks included) didn’t put enough effort in learning the forms.
I see many bujinkan teachers applying “henka” without having the essence, the kaname of the original technique. Without hard work there is no improvement possible. This lack of work often leads these teachers to train fast, use force and be violent (and dangerous to their students). This is not  the proper way of training.
Please never forget that there is no shortcut ot excellence, it takes time, effort, and requires hundreds of repetitions***.
As Nagato sensei likes to put it: “Only stupid people train fast, try to be clever, train slowly”.
*note: The human body has 12 meridians: 6 on the hands and six on the feet. There are also 2 additional ones going around the body. These two meridians are called tenmo and chimo (ten and chi) and link the front of the body (tongue to scrotum) and the back of the body (upper palatal teeth to scrotum), creating a ring flowing up and down the body. On a different logic the Japanese consider the fingers as the five elements. They are counted from chi, the little finger; to kû for the thumb. If you add tenmo chimo and the elements you get a tenchijin.
**note: I remember one student asking him about the kyûsho and the acupuncture meridians and his answer: “if you want to learn them then become a therapist, we are doing budô here not medicine”. Don’t loose the objective.
***note: If you have no plug behind your head you are still in the matrix and you have to learn the hard way. Excellence and proficiency cannot be downloaded to your body.

Sanshin is Kihon Happô (2)


First of all I want to thank you for your comments on the this subject, and if you did not read them, I invite you to do it now on the blog. 

After publishing the first article on this subject, I remembered that I forgot to tell you a few things. It is mainly about chance and memory.


1. tenchijin 1987:
When I received the first version of the tenchijin in English back in 1987, the “shoshin gokei gogyô no kata” (gogyô) was described as: “chi-mizu-hi-kaze-kû” this is the reason why it caught my eyes when I discovered it in the first edition of the “unarmed fighting techniques of the samurai”.
At first I thought that this were the real names but then one day, I was on skype with one of my students. Because I wanted him to discover this by himself I asked him to go on the sanshin no kata page and to read them. He did. But there was no comment at all. I insisted that he read them loud and this is when I discovered that his edition was different from mine. I couldn’t believe it so he showed his book on the screen. This is how I discovered it.

Sensei often says that we have to “create chance” and until that day I didn’t understand what he meant by that. I think that I understand it better now. Chance is keeping your eyes and your mind open. Keeping your mind open develop your intuition. Intuition comes from “intuitus” in latin that means “glance”. If you watch carefully what you see around you, then the illusion of what you want to see vanishes and you see the things the way they are, and not  the way you think they are. 

Keeping your mind open is also important. The way we see and understand the world is conditioned by our education or, sometimes our lack of education. Some time ago I gave sensei a book called “the black swan”. The whole idea was the following: “All swans must be white because all historical records of swans reported that they had white feathers”. This proved to be wrong when black swans were discovered in Australia in the 19th century. It is not because we don’t know something that this something doesn’t exist. In the book the author details a theory about “unexpected events of large magnitude and consequence”. (more on this at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_swan_theory).

We learn to create chance by expecting the unexpected. In a technique if you react according to what you think is going to happen, there is big probability that you will fail. Remember the words of Takamatsu sensei: “opening his eyes and his heart, a ninja can react  adequately to the subtle changes from heaven so that there should never be for him anything called surprise” (in “ninjutsu” by Takamatsu sensei).  If you expect the unexpected, there is no surprise and you learn to create chance for yourself and for those around you.

2. Kihon Happô of Gyokushin ryû:
At the turn of the century, whike in Japan, I asked sensei about the Gyokushin Ryû. He told me that we had lost the techniques* but that the concept remained alive in our taijutsu. Then he decided to show me some of these concepts. We were in his house and space was difficult to find. I was stuck between the table covered with piles of documents and objects, the ground was supporting piles of videos and books, and the small corridor between the wall and the piles was about 50 cm width. No space to move at all.

Nevertheless he showed me the “kihon happô of  the Gyokushin ryû”. In fact he showed me the feeling of the Gyokushin ryû, but instead of showing me the kihon happô as hesaid he would, he did the sanshin no kata. In the Gyokushin he explained, you have to “be” the element you are manifesting. For example, when doing ka no kata, you move as if you are walking barefoot on burning coals, in the sui no kata you move as if you were swimming in water. After throwing me on the wall, the armchair and the table, and after I added some mess by crashing all over to the messy room, I asked him: “sensei why did you say “kihon happô and did the sanshin no kata to me?”. He looked at me and said: “the sanshin no kata is the kihon happô”. I looked stupid, behaved as if I understood, and accepted his answer.

We know that both sets of techniques are origining from the Gyokko ryû**. The kihon happô is the entry point of the school and the sanshin no kata is the juppô sesshô of the school (the exit point). They are the beginning and the end; the alpha and the omega; the hen and the ka. 

Permanent changes and permanent adaptation are only possible when you stop asking “why? and begin to ask “how?”

*note: sensei told me once that we have no techniques either for the kumogakure ryû, only the concepts. This is why we never studied those two schools as we did for the other ones.
**note: Gyokko ryû gave birth to the Gyokushin ryû and to the Gikan ryû

Sanshin Is Kihon Happô


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? ;-)

Nuku Dummy!


Last Sunday, Nagato Sensei insisted on the idea of nuku 抜, in this case drawing out the body in the middle of the technique. When uke reacts in tension expecting contact you use this tension against him by removing, withdrawing, your body from the expected contact. The kûkan created confuses uke’s balance (body and mind) and he falls by himself.

This is someting that sensei is using a lot tricking both our body and our brain. When you are uke with sensei there is nothing and you are reacting to an illusion of physical presence. This type of movement is also called kûki nage, 空気投げ (throwing by emptiness) and from the outside, it looks like uke is thrown by an invisible opponent. Falling apparently for no reason, uke looks like a fool which is normal as nuku 温 means also “idiot” or “dummy”.*

This concept of nuku is familiar to all of us when training biken jutsu. In the bujinkan getting the blade off the scabbard is called nuki gatana, 抜き. The nuku action is done not by pulling the sword off the scabbard but by “peeling off” the scabbard from the blade. This nuki action proves to be faster and more accurate in a real fight. I understand that it was the correct way to draw the sword during the Muromachi period. My guess is that this was done to have the time to free the whole blade of the tachi. Also sword fights were mainly about stunning the opponent, taking his balance and stabbing the unprotected part of the body through the holes in the yoroi. When the Tokugawa period began and peace established they abandoned the yoroi so the swords became smaller and the unsheathing of the sword was replaced by the iai action as cutting was now possible.

There is a good way not to forget this difference with other sword system: I have been told that in Japan they use “nuki” when peeling the skin of a banana. Obviously when you eat a banana you do not pull the fruit off the skin but peel the skin to eat the fruit.

The nuku action explained by Nagato sensei is possible only if uke is attacking correctly. By attacking correctly, he meant that the body of the attacker should be behind his attacks. He didn’t mean that we have to use violence but simply to be true in our intentions even if training with no speed. He added that many times he watches bujinkan members not attacking properly and that it is wrong. Because without a real intention these high level techniques cannot be revealed.

To add to that I encourage you to train more and to master the tsuki (and the uke nagashi). These are fundamental techniques of basic taijutsu and they are not trained enough in many dôjô. Train your kihon happô at each class and when you have the chance to be uke, train on your attacks. After a while you will notice a real improvement in your taijutsu as a whole. I remember once someone asking sensei about tsuki and kicks and telling him that they were not really taught in the bujinkan. Sensei answered dryly: “and why do you think we train the kihon happô for?”.

A good and long study of the kihon happô will benefit to your whole taijutsu and this is why sensei asked us to train them at each training session. This is something he told us long time ago but I believe it is still true today. If you do not train the kihon happô and/or the sanshin no kata in your dôjô at every class then please print this and give it to your teacher. 
Call it is a direct transmission of the Sôke from last century.

With good basics in your taijutsu you are capable of attacking in a true manner and those beautiful nuku moments can be yours. 

* “nuku” has also the meaning of “doing something to an end” if you want to be a good bujinkan practitioner this is what you should do, train to master the basics then move to the weapons and the schools. On a side note, there is another meaning to “nuku” but it would be incorrect to explain it here. :-)

Chûshin & Chôwa



Even though the theme for the year is “ken”, sensei speaks a lot about kaname, 要 (essential point, pivot) in his classes. Since the beginning of the year you can see on the right side of the shinden a calligraphy reading “jinryû no kaname wo mamoru”  which can be approximately translated as “the main point of the heavenly dragon is protection”.
But maybe it makes more sense when you know how Fudô myô is represented symbolically: a chinese double edge sword with a vajra as a handle with a dragon wrapped around it. In  the martial arts Fudô myô is a major deity protecting those walking on the path and bringing back on track those who are lost. Fudô is a protector, this is his kaname. The bujinkan teaches us to protect ourselves and the others. Last Sunday, sensei half joking said that the technique he was doing was coming directly from heaven and that there was nothing to do, only to let it flow through the body. This illustrates this concept of jinryû (神竜).

During his last class, Senô sensei’s  spoke a lot about the chûshin principle, 中心 (pivot) which is another translation for kaname. In a technique, he said, you have to include those pivots in your actions. By not grabbing the opponent but simply – and softly- guiding him you create pivoting points from which uke’s balance can be broken. Chûshin also has the meaning of “balance” or “focus”. Therefore by directing your “chûshin” (focus) on these “chûshin” (pivots), you break uke’s “chûshin” (balance).
To use these pivots efficiently find them and rotate from the contact points without using any strength. It is as like dancing with your partner. When you dance you are in “chôwa”,  調和 (harmony), with uke. This harmonious way of moving is what seems to be the main aspect of today’s classes with sensei and the shihan in Japan. Being in harmony with uke you can resolve any situation.
Going deeper in the harmony concept, Senô sensei said there are no techniques but only a permanent adaptation to the various tensions of uke, and this is the reason why not grabbing is important. When you grab uke with force, your grip prevents you from feeling uke’s tensions. For example when uke throws a punch, receive his attacking hand in a sort of berth (thumb inside, extended fingers outside) and pivot your hand with your body to open new angles. By pivoting with the whole body you create leverage (teko). Your thumb is the center (fulcrum) and the extended fingers the lever. If you try that you will find out that uke’s body not being stressed by strength (you are only receiving his hand in your hand) will follow the movement and open up.
As you all know, “teko shiten” is one of the key principle of the Takagi Yôshin Ryû. Once uke’s balance is taken by this chûshin, you can bring him to the ground “harmoniously” with a simple sha ha ashi action of your leg. This off balancing by the leg is done with no strength at all and with the whole body. During this ovement, Senô sensei said “chikara janai” many times: “don’t use any force”.
On the technical side, an efficient sha ha ashi, 斜八足, is done by pivoting on the toes of the foot, not the ball or the heel.* This toe pivot gives your body the proper distance needed. Because each uke moves differently you must adapt the distance and the technique. To be succesfull your actions have to be chiseled to the opponent’s body reactions. There is no shortcut to get that, and only through experience and years of training will you learn when to increase the distance or when to decrease it. Chôwa (harmony) between you and the attacker is important. Work on it.
Often people ask how is it possible to do these techniques if no strength is used. Understand that strength can be used but only when the soft approach has failed. See this as a gear box in a car, as long as driving on fifth gear is fine it saves energy but if the traffic changes it might be necessary to retrograde your gears to have more power and control over your vehicle. Remember that the more energy you save, the longer you are able to survive. This goes for everything in life.
If you keep your balance and take uke’s by using these soft pivots; if you can move in harmony with your opponent at all time, then strength is not needed. The concept of chûshin goes very well with the idea of kûkan. When Senô sensei was speaking about it I remembered the “kûkan no kyûsho” of  the last daikomyô sai when sensei wanted us to find, or at least to be aware of, the weak point or the entry point of the empty space.
Maybe can we see here the chûshin as being the kaname of kûkan.
*reminder: the foot is divided into three sections Ten/toes, Chi/heel, Jin/ball