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.