Ultimate Teaching

Today was my last class with sensei during this japan trip and it was a very nice class where we could train also with long weapons. As sensei was coming a little late I was asked to begin the class and when sensei arrived, we started by a three tsuki attack demonstrated by an American friend. 

From there I got lost as sensei used no strength at all and was playing with uke as if uke was unable to see that he was going to die. Shawn Gray, after being sensei’s uke, commented that each one of the uke nagashi was piling up on top of the previous one, and that he became aware of his loss of balance only when it was too late. 

Sensei’s movements reminded me of some form of “kotonoma”, 空と海は (verb, sound) and “kokyû”, 呼吸 (breathing) demonstrated by Ueshiba sensei in his Aikido videos. Friday night he insisted to pay attention to the breathing of the opponent and to our own breathing too. If you hit uke while he is breathing in you increase the power of your hits. This is why you must take your time and wait for uke to breath in. If you rush to do the technique you will be less efficient. Timing is essential (kaname?).

When Hatsumi sensei is moving his body turns into the “chûshin”, 中心 (pivot, center) of everything. Even though he didn’t speak about “shinrabanshô”, 森羅万象 (all things in Nature) today, he was expressing it in each one of his movements. He was the “shinrabanshô no kaname”, 森羅万象 の要, the center of the whole creation.

Whatever his uke was doing he was speeding up the destruction process. Like in the theme of 2007 “kuki taisho”, 九鬼大笑 (the laughter of the ninth demon), tori has no fear. If uke attacks, he dies; if he doesn’t, he lives. That is his call. What was really amazing was to see how easily sensei, with very little movements of the whole body can deal with the opponent. It took me quite a long time (gracias Hector) to figure it out, and even when I got close to get it, I was miles away from sensei’s movements. Sometimes I find it frustrating to attend his classes. You see the technique, you understand it, and you are incapable. This can be quite depressing.

His movements are so subtle that if you don’t pay atttention to everything at the same time, you don’t see them. As Shawn said later, the motion of sensei’s hands is catching his attention and the body movements were getting his balance totally unnoticed. When facing sôke, you are drawn into a sort of “uzumaki”, 渦巻 (whirlpool) feeling, from which there is no escape. It is interesting to watch but it is scary to feel it. There is no strength at all and uke falls because he cannot be standing up anymore. From the observer’s perspective it is as if nothing is applied to him. It is magic!

Each point of contact between tori and uke (today mainly the elbows) turns into a kaname as sensei keeps pivoting softly using his legs to do that. He spoke again about kaname, explaining it to be the highest expression of taijutsu. Once you can find the kaname everywhere there is nothing impossible. But what is impossible is to understand it solely at the intellectual level. 

He said that this cannot be understood or acquired by “researchers”, it is coming from real experience, this is not mental. Over the years how many times did we hear him saying out loud: “don’t think!”. He also said: “there are too many researchers in the bujinkan and the kaname concept is out of their grasp as long as they keep their knowledge at the intellectual level. It was like what he told us about kuden on Friday night: “kuden cannot be written, this is why it is an oral transmission”.

Sensei repeated again that understanding his words or the movements were not important: “if you get out of the class with the feeling you remember nothing it is ok because I teach the jûgodan”. I hope I was not the only one totally lost. 

Feeling this kaname action through the body is teaching the mind. I went to ask him to demonstrate it on me and when he did, it was like fighting a “puff of smoke”. There was no information sent to me, nothing. I felt like falling into the kûkan.

As not so many people attended the class today, we applied these techniques with sword, bô and naginata and it was nice to learn how to use the space available. With a weapon or not, when facing sensei you are not afraid, you are simply frozen. You stop moving because it is comfortable and safe. We don’t use the weapons, we use our taijutsu with the help (hojo?) of the weapons. 

The sakki test ended the class and I went to his house where I joined Sayaka Oguri, Lubos and some of his students. Sensei showed us many new swords he got recently including one that belonged to a Togakure general (yoshitaka?) with the togakure crest on the scabbard. Another tachi was wearing the shingon crest, and the blade was engraved with the Fudô myô sword on one side and three bija letters representing Fudô myô, Marishi ten, and Dainichi nyorai. He also showed us a very nice tantô in an orange scabbard that looked like a big caterpilar. He also showed us a beautiful kyoketsu shôge, 距跋渉毛 with the sword and dragon of fudô myô on one side, and the double edged sword with a vajra tsuka on the other side (you can see the pictures of those weapons on facebook). 

We were departing when sensei asked us to the new storage room next to his house. It was like entering an antique shop! Various types of weapons and pieces of art are there, waiting for an hypothetic museum. What caught my eyes were the few long yari that he showed. Each blade was around 80 cm! No wonder why the yari was considered to be the most dangerous weapon of all. I read somewhere from an archeological study that between Muromachi (1333) and Meiji (1868), death by swords only accounted for about 20% of the casualties, and the majority happened after the beginning of the Tokugawa shogunate (1603). The yari was the weapon of choice of the samurai, and the Japanese yoroi was initially designed to fight it.

Before leaving sensei, and after thanking him for the time he spent with us, he gave Lubos and me two omamori from the Kashima Katori shrine from the Miyagi prefecture that he signed with his martial name.

It was indeed a very nice day today, thank you sensei. I am sure we will speak about it with Lubos tomorrow as we are sharing the same flight back to Europe.