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自由な変化: Free henka

A 先輩, sempai, senior was beside me today in training. I struggled to interpret what Hatsumi Sensei was showing us, and kept looking at sempai. What could I steal from him, stealing from Hatsumi Sensei? My 相手 aite, partner, is awesome to train with – so balanced, really hard to throw, and quite strong. I felt like I sucked at the waza.

I kept looking at sempai. What possible meaning could I derive, how could I get the better of my worthy opponent?

After training, my sempai took me aside and told me something . I struggled to understand what he was saying. Sometimes it’s not my comprehension of Japanese that slows me down. It’s my comprehension of meaning.

He was telling me something about dealing with a balanced opponent. He said something about not using power. Yet he crushed me to the mat when he did the waza on me. What?! This guy has never even talked to me before…

And then I got what he was saying – that sometimes, the waza as is doesn’t work. You have to henka. Everybody, “every body”, is different and requires the freedom of a different approach.

After we bowed out, he demonstrated on me what he was saying.

Why did he bother sharing with me? He’s got a generous heart. And he didn’t worry about my lack of comprehension of his message. He just kept going. He didn’t agonize over whether I’d get the message or not. He didn’t assume whether I had heard this before or not. He just understood that I needed to hear it in that moment.  

Right on, sempai. And thank you.

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縄 Let Loose

Bujinden nawa

On Tuesday night, Hatsumi Sensei talked about the concept of 縄の空間, nawa no kuukan, or the rope space. He alluded to the ritual use of rope in Shinto practice, and said that an alternate reading of the kanji 神, kami is nawa, homophonous with the Japanese word for rope. He said we bind ourselves to the kami with the nawa. Some months ago, he told us about 縄の関節, the joints of a rope, something which Shawn talked about on his Shlog

The concepts that Soke leaves hanging in space are opportunities and provide lines of research, and this nawa/kami idea got me looking. Curiously, there doesn’t seem to be any verification by either the people knowledgeable about Shinto or any dictionary. That doesn’t mean that he’s wrong. I just can’t confirm it. Whatever the case, he got me onto a line (pun intended) of research about the meaning of nawa.

Starting at the beginning, 古事記, Kojiki, the ancient record of Japan’s mythic past and the early imperial line, opens with the generation of gods from which Japan descended. Among the first gods is 神結びの神, kami musubi no kami. The verb 結ぶ musubi means both bind and produce, and in this context, the deity is a “Divine producing deity”, a procreative force. The logic of this is apparent – bind two creatures together and you get a third one.

At Ise, there are two rocks, called 夫婦石, Meoto-ga-seki, The Spouses, which are bound by a massive 注連縄, shimenawa, a rice straw rope of the kind usually used in Shinto to mark the boundaries of sacred space or living things like trees and sumo wrestlers. From the beach, you can watch the sun rise between the stones.

Sensei reminded us the other day about the fact that things are not as seperated as they seem. There is not one, and yet not two. Musubi is at once the binding of two things and the outcome of that binding.

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Tuesday training at Ayase, Hatsumi Sensei talked about 虚空, kokuu, which is the name of a technique in 玉虎流骨指術, Gyokko-Ryu kosshi jutsu.

But what is in the kokuu? The word 虚実, kyojitsu, means falsehood and truth. It starts with the same kanji as kokuu. The 虚 part of the word means variously empty and false, and can imply the empty thing is something abstract. The 空, ku part of kokuu is about emptiness, too, and often indicates a void in a object.

In Japanese, people often refer to the sky as 虚空. Hatsumi Sensei remarked that a dying person will grasp at the kokuu as they are departing this world.

He tells us again and again the same words – use the air as your shield.

He also made a comment to the effect that, one moment, you think, “There it is!” and the next moment it is not.

Here is a shakuhachi performance of a piece called 虚空. The sound is created essentially by air, shaped by the movements of the player’s hands and breathing, through a reedless bamboo tube. What makes the sound? The player, the air, the bamboo tube, your ears catching the sound, or your mind?

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A martial artist is called a 武芸者 bugeisha in Japanese. Yes, the  last two kanji and the pronunciation of them are the very same as geisha, and the three kanji together mean “martial art person”.

The geisha and the bugeisha have a lot in common. In order to become profficient, both practice long years at both form and art. The geisha spends years practicing dance, music, voice, kimono, makeup and conversation, and the idiom of being geisha. A bugeisha must practice learning the waza, fine control, building composure and learning to take care of all the gear used in training.

A maiko is a junior geisha, and her charm and growing repertoire of skills make her alluring even though she is not as accomplished as her senior geisha. A naive attempt at some difficult dance or an innocent response to a customer may reveal stunning genius unencumbered by preconceptions of the right way to do things. Likewise, the junior budoka free from preconceptions about how some movement should happen is able to be free and sometimes do remarkable, natural movement.

Either discipline leads to greater skill, freedom and self expression. It’s not just about skill but about drawing something out of yourself, a reserve of power that each person has. Hatsumi Sensei has told us that we expand our 器 ki, or capacity, and in turn we push our 才能, sainou or talents.

Today, I’ll put in about four hours of training. 頑張っています。 I keep going.

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What an old lady knows about looking like and being:

My German-speaking great grandmother was not impressed by post-war fashion worn by the young ladies of a house she worked in. They were impeccably dressed but their rooms were filthy, which outraged my usually reserved Oma so much, she remarked, “Oben hoi, und unten foi.” The nuance of this expression is hard to translate, but it means that the outside looks hoi, classy, but the underside is foi, lacking redeeming qualities.

When you hold a rank in our art, in principle you  should have sufficient skill, and when you don’t, to admonish yourself for not hitting the mark. You need to know when you’re hoi or foi.  

I’m working on my kihon these days so as to be not foi. How about we start there?

And now, a haiku:

The waza slips out

Of my hands this time but I

Know spring comes again

On to some art:

Lyssa, budoka and artist, has now got her prints, often inspired by her trips here to Japan for martial training, at Okami Press on Etsy. You can see her remarkable rendition of Fudomyo, the immoveable wisdom king.

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In his new book, Unarmed Techniques of the Samurai, Hatsumi Sensei included some of his calligraphy on 色紙, shikishi, the coloured boards, often with gold edges, that are so often used for keepsake Japanese writing such as calligraphy or haiku. One of them featured in the book is 忍友, ninyu. I suppose one of the meanings could be keeping company with fellow learners, helping each other to persevere. Sensei has also used the word 武友, buyu, or martial friends to encourage us to learn together.

Two people I consider 先輩, seniors, are writing insightful blogs. Doug Wilson’s Henka and the Paul Masse’s Goshinjutsu pick up themes from our budo, the authors’ life experiences and study of 文武両道, bunbu ryodo, or book and martial learning. Paul’s artistry comes out in his photography, too.

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