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:

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: 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? 😉
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