Since last November, Hatsumi Sensei has been playing with the concept of Ishitobashi (石飛ばし), skipping stones. (1) This “ishitobashi” is his way of describing the interaction between Uke (the water, nature) and Tori (the stone, Mankind) in the encounter.
We have all played that game when we were younger, trying to have a stone do as many bounces as possible on a body of water. (2)(3)(4)
Budō is no different.
When you study the physics of Ishitobashi you know that, to succeed, you need five conditions:
1. a flat stone, not too big and well balanced
2. a body of water rather quiet with no ripples
3. enough thrusting and twisting power
4. no wind
5. a perfect angle and distance to fly on the water without drowning
When you are conscious of those five conditions and incorporate them in one instant, your stone throwing is good.
If you don’t meet one of those elements then, your stone will drown irremediably.
Making a parallel with our Budō, we find here the six elements of the Japanese Rokudai (六大):
The stone is Chi (地).
The water is Sui (水).
The thrusting power is Ka (火).
The wind is Fū (風).
The angle and distance are Kū (空).
And the sainō (才能), the ability to seize the situation as a whole without thinking is Shiki (識).
When Uke attacks we must be like a skipping stone, bouncing naturally on the surface of his intentions and actions. And this is why there is no thinking involved in the process.
Ishitobashi is similar to Chūto Hanpa (中途), the famous concept of “half-cooked techniques” that Sensei explained in class a few years ago. (5) (6)
Because our goal is not to do a technique but to adapt to whatever is coming at us, we are free to move and overcome uke’s intentions.
In a more philosophical manner, this ability to adaptation is close to the concept of “not trying”. This idea might go against your inner beliefs, but it has been studied for centuries in Asia. The Chinese Taoist concept of Wuwei (無爲), of “not doing” or “effortless doing”. And this is what Sensei is asking to do (or not do). (7)
For those of you interested to put this Wuwei into your daily lives, I advise you to read the book “Trying not to try” by Edward Slingerland. The book begins with Wuwei, creativity and above all with spontaneity. (8) (9)
Slingerland says that: “Our excessive focus in the modern world on the power of conscious thought and the benefits of willpower and self-control causes us to overlook the pervasive importance of what might be called “body thinking”: tacit, fast, and semiautomatic behavior that flows from the unconscious with little or no conscious interference. The result is that we too often devote ourselves to pushing harder or moving faster in areas of our life where effort and striving are, in fact, profoundly counterproductive.” (10)
The “body thinking” he describes is what Hatsumi Sensei teaches. We achieve natural movement when we can “think” with the body. Our movements are spontaneous and like the stone bouncing on the water, our actions are always attuned to the situation.
Sensei is an artist; this means that creativity is his drive, if we want to become genuine martial artists then we have to to be more creative and spontaneous. This creativity is echoing what he told us on Friday night. “Don’t learn the techniques, let your body do what is necessary without intention if you try to do a technique in a fight you will be readable, and you will die.”
Ishitobashi is Musō Ken (無想剣).
PS: 15th Dan, don’t forget to bring an engraved “ishi” (石), stone, to “bashu” (馬主), the horse owner. (11)
1. 石飛ばし skipping stone (on a body of water), skimming stone
5. 中途 chūto in the middle; half-way
6. 半端 hanpa
remnant; fragment; incomplete set; fraction; odd sum; incompleteness
9. A big thank you to Phillip Mayr from Bujinkan Salzburg for advising me to read this book.
10. excerpt from http://www.brainpickings.org/2014/04/21/trying-not-to-try-slingerland/
11. In Sensei’s garden Kuki and Tobi, his two horses will keep an eye on your stone.😉