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? 😉

Author: kumablog

I share here on a regular basis my thoughts about the Bujinkan martial arts, training in Japan and all over the world, and

6 thoughts on “Sanshin Is Kihon Happô”

  1. I read your work with sincere interest, and in this case I find myself sufficiently moved to comment. Frequently within language (and especially when it comes to training in the art of ‘not losing’) which is firmly based in a radically different cultural home from a western mindset, misunderstandings are inevitable and “reading between the lines” to my mind is a consistent necessity in order that we may properly comprehend the true ‘essence’ of this art form. To a great extent, a western mind is all but conditioned to explore (or perhaps rather to perceive) a numerical expression from the basis of a ‘default’ position which may be identified as decimal place-value. What of the explorations of numbers from multiple perspectives? In all my own training, I have been fortunate enough to have had some excellent instructors who have been American, English, Chinese, and Japanese, and through that experience I have been invited to explore what you describe here (reading between the lines and alternate viewpoints) in a consistent and sincere manner for many years. The number 3 need not be a number in a decimal sense, it may simple represent ‘strength’ because of the inherent durability of the triangle which is widely recognised as one of our strongest shapes, used by structural engineers and mathematicians all over the world (3 sided concept = inherent organic durability). The number 8 can equally be considered outside of it’s ‘decimal place value’ home. Because of it’s shape and formation as a perceptually continuous line it is used in it’s sideways form to represent infinity within mathematics. As I was once told in training “Without abandonment of all of your assumptions, there is only a fragile framework upon which to build skills (‘Kata’ as a conceptual expression means ‘framework’). Build the framework first, and then look again, reassess, and notice that this framework is your skill-set. Only though consistent and sincere reassessment may we adapt, develop, and grow.


  2. A thought, Sir. As I was reading this, it got me to think…Is the “3” of the Sanshin possibly referring to Ten, Chi, and Jin, and not simply the “5” movements of Godai? Maybe approach the Godai with the feeling of ten, chi, and jin if that is possible?


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