Gyofu: We Are Imperial Fishermen

Last week Hatsumi sensei said that we must know fight like gentlemen using no strength but only adapting our body to uke’s attacks but with some kind of high class touch. We do not want to fight but we do not want to hurt either.

Later during the class he spoke of his movements as being similar to catching a fish on a line, chôgyo (1). When fishing you put a bait on the hook. The fish bite the bait and hooks himself. but the quality of the hookig depends on your ability to read the fish intentions. If you pull the fish too early, the fish is free. If you let go  the line then he gets free. This is the same in the technique you have to keep the connection with uke, “En no kirinai”, don’t sever the connection with him. When you receive the attack you have to play with uke’s intention be soft and strong alternatively in order to create a kûkan (5). By using these in/yo tensions you create the conditions of his downfall. but if you begin to apply a “waza” you lose the connection and uke is free to attack or to go again. The subtlety of the connection is like an invisible magnetic field keeping uke prisoner of his own intentions.

Your movements must not be technical but solely based upon the feeling of uke’s tensions. The speed of your reactions and the actions you take afterwards are dictated not by your brain but by the quality of your connection to the situation.

Like the dragon of the koteki ryûda juppô sesshô, you see the whole picture from a superior point of view and you answer silently to the question asked by your opponent’s body. Assuming this superior distance to the fight gives you the freedom to react naturally in the space created. But moving at the exact moment requires a lot of courage. If you move too early the attack will not unroll properly and uke will take advantage of the wrong timing to counter it. If you move too late you get killed or injured.

To become the perfect “fisherman” (8) Sensei wants us to become; and to fish (1) uke correctly you have to get this “imperial attitude” and superior guts, chôgyo 腸御(2+3). The space created, kûkan (5) will bring uke into kûkan 空勘 (6+4) the “perception of emptiness” where he will lose himself as he will not be able to find his way out. This feeling is the one you have when Sensei takes you as uke. There is nothing, this is apparently pure emptiness, but there is nothing you can do.

Once you are a true Imperial fisherman, gyofu (8), you can enjoy kugyo (7) and eat the fish (uke).

1 釣魚 chôgyo fishing; angling
2 腸 chô guts; bowels
3 御 gyo Honorific:  imperial; emperor
4 勘 kan perception; intuition; the sixth sense
5 空間 kûkan space; room; airspace
6 空 1: empty air; sky;
2: void (one of the five elements)
7 供御 kugyo emperor’s meal
8 漁夫 gyofu fisherman

Change (2)

Changes happen every day. And they often  happen when you are not ready to receive them.

When I arrived at the dôjô on Saturday at 11am for Senô Sensei’s class, I was surprised to see Someya sensei waiting for me at the door. Hatsumi sensei has asked him to replace Senô Sensei who was not available for a few days. Sôke told him that I had to replace him (Someya) for his 02pm class. So I changed my plan accordingly and gave the class.

I had to reorganize my day afterwards.

On Sunday after Sensei’s class at the Honbu, Sôke invited a group of 15th dan to come with him to Yoshikawa city to visit a shop selling old swords, yoroi, makimono, and other things (see the photos in my latest album on Facebook). So I changed my plans accordingly and spent three hours to see those nice old pieces of Japanese history.

I had to reorganize my day afterwards.

To change is not always based on your decision, it is something that is often imposed to you, but to accept it when it comes gives you the ability to rearrange your perception of things in order to meet the unexpected. This is the real adaptation taught by Sôke in his classes.

When you change your plans, it is often because something potentially better is offered to you. And even if sometimes the “better” is not visible at first, be positive about it, accept it, and go with it, there is always some rewards at the end of a change.

Changing is in fact the best opportunity to discover new things. Changing puts you out of your daily routine, and if this change may appear negative, think of the new lessons you are learning while changing. Isn’t it after all the true meaning of “Shikin Haramitsu Daikomyô”?

Tonight at Noguchi sensei’s class his taijutsu had changed totally. We were training some of The Takagi Yôshin Ryû techniques. The names of the techniques remained the same but his movements were totally different from the same techniques I did with him so many times before.

But the Kaname (4) of each technique was there, only the interpretation of this kaname was different. I learnt a lot tonight and this is exactly what changing is about: it is about learning and improving.

You always have to be ready to accept changing even if it goes against your beliefs. Tonight during training I saw some students sticking to the old forms instead of accepting as a gift what Noguchi sensei was demonstrating. And it was sad as it was the proof that some high ranks are not real shihan (2).

Changing the form of a technique is the real feeling that one must develop in the Bujinkan. If you accept to change then your body will not be trapped into the routine of the form and become able to adapt freely to different situations.

Every time you change you enter a new 範列 hanretsu, a new paradigm where the values that have brought you here have to be redefined, modified, and sometimes discarded or forgotten.

A real shihan 師範 (2) is the one who, beyond his rank, is able to create those shifts in the waza and to lead the students into a new world of understanding. He is someone to follow, this is the idea of “retsu” in hanretsu (3). And remember that the kanji for “example, model” (2)  is the same in hanretsu and in shihan (“shi” is teacher).

1 範列
instructor; teacher; model
3 列
queue; line; row; column; sequence; string; train
1: pivot;
2: vital point; cornerstone; keystone;

Katana o Nuku, Chikara o Nuku

Katana o Nuku, Chikara o Nuku

In his last classes, Hatsumi Sensei has developed a new set of concepts, namely “katana o nuku, chikara o nuku”, “iai o nuku”, kakogenzaimirai”. I would like here to dwell into these concepts as they are, in my opinion, defining where the Bujinkan is heading to in 2013.

Each trip to Japan is a fantastic occasion to get a new understanding of what sensei is trying to transmit. For years, because of our lack of understanding, he was mainly trying to get us into the “omote” of movements. Then starting in 2003, we entered the world of Juppô Sesshô.

Sensei began to use deep philosophical ideas linking this “omote” to a type of “ura”. But this was only the “ura” of the physical world.

For me this was the Omote of Juppô Sesshô (2003-2007).

In 2008, we began to consider this physical Ura (Juppô Sesshô of 2003-2007) as another Omote as he began to speak about the Ura of the Ura. This time the physical expression of movement doesn’t count anymore, we are playing with consciousness, shiki (14).

This is what I call the Ura of Juppô Sesshô.

As we explained many times in this blog, it seems that sensei (willingly or not) is following a 5 years pattern:

  • 1993-1997: bô, yari, naginata, biken, jô.
  • 1998-2002: taihenjutsu, daken taijutsu, koppô jutsu, kosshi jutsu, jûtaijutsu.
  • 2003-2007: Juppô Sesshô (omote): sanjigen no Sekai, yûgen no sekai, kasumi no hô, shizen, kuki taisho
  • 2008-2012: Juppô Sesshô (ura): Menkyô Kaiden, Sainô Konki, Rokkon Shojô, Kihon Happô, Jinryû no Kaname o Mamoru.

Next year will see the beginning of the next cycle of 5 years, and my guess is that we will focus on Goshin jutsu (as this is the theme of next March Taikai in Japan). But I am sure that he will come up with some more concept to put around. So these new concepts detailed below should be seen as the introduction to next year’s theme.

Note: At the end of this article I put the English meanings for each one of the terms used in this article in order to ease the understanding of the text and at the same time to give you a wider understanding of the image depicted in one single Japanese word.

“katana o nuku, chikara o nuku”;  “iai o nuku”:

When you look at the two kanji: 刀 (1) and 力 (2) you see that those kanji are linked in some way. As you all know, because this is the upper kanji of shinobu 忍 (10), the 刀 represents the saya (11) protecting the blade, and “丿” (12) is the blade. In chikara 力 (2), the blade  “丿” is going through the saya. Chikara (2) therefore can be seen as physical strength, energy; but also as surpassing our own limits.

The old kanji “nuku” (4) is often replaced today by “nukeru” (5) this is why I put both here. Both nuku and nukeru have this idea of releasing or to let go. And this idea of surpassing our limits has been emphasized by Sensei later during the class when he added the idea of “iai no nuku” (6).

You have to let go of everything you know, every form to be in full symbiosis with uke’s inention. When you achieve that you are always “surfing” on uke’s movements and can redirect his chikara against him. Uke when attacking is fully committed to get you, he is using a lot of strength and intention. If you are neutral you follow the movements like the branchees of the willow tree moving freely in the wind. As you have no intention you cannot be read by uke. This was the first thing we learned in 2003 when being introduced to the world of Juppô sesshô through the Sanjigen no Sekai. Uke when attacking makes a decision (intention). This locks him into his “present”, genzai (8), a moment that will become “the past”, kako (7) when he begins to move. Now his intention is focused towards a given target in his “future”, mirai (9).


This is the “kakogenzaimirai”. Uke is never in the present, genzai (8) as he is trapped by his intention in his future mirai (9) and still attached to his past kako (7). This is like a boat still attached to the pier and going at sea, it will last the time for the length of rope to be fully extended, and the tension will pull it back to the pier or stop it.

Tori having no intention is always in the present and adapts permanently to the changes (like the branch of the willow tree moving freely with the wind). In fact there is no good or bad timing, there is only present.

Last week, Sensei said in class there was no timing. But maybe he meant that time doesn’t exist.  the permanent present of nakaima  (13), the middle of now only exists. The “now” is only a spark of time renewing itself permanently. When you think; when you prepare a counter movement to what you expect will do, you become also trapped in the dark side of the sanshin of the kakogenzaimirai world.

Be soft and relaxed, stay in this permanent present and you will always be able to surf the positive aspect of kakogenzaimirai.

At the end of the class, Sensei added that we now have to become gentlemen and not to use chikara at all. In fact we should develop a more feminin way of behaving, more subtle, using no strength and above all not grabbing. We simply have to redirect uke’s intention and force.

There is no technique there is only opportunity. This is goshin jutsu.

Get rid of the forms, don’t finish a movement, surf freely.

This is the elegant simplicity, the Yûgen (15) of a true Art.

“katana o nuku, chikara o nuku”

1 刀 katana (single-edged) sword; katana;
2力 chikara force; strength; might; vigour; energy;capability; ability; proficiency; capacity; faculty; efficacy; effect; effort; endeavours; exertions; power; authority; influence; good offices; agency; support; help; aid; assistance; stress; emphasis; means; resources;
3温 nuku idiot; dummy; slow person
4抜く nuku to extract; to omit; to surpass; to overtake; to draw out; to unplug; to do something to the end;
5抜ける nukeru to come out; to fall out; to be omitted; to be missing; to escape; to come loose; to fade; to discolour; to wear out (to the point of forming a hole, e.g. Clothes); to leave (e.g. a meeting); to be clear; to be transparent (e.g. of the sky);

“Iai no nuku”

6居合 iai art of drawing one’s sword, cutting down one’s opponent and sheathing the sword afterwards

“kakogenzaimirai” and other words

7過去 kako the past; bygone days; the previous; a past (i.e. a personal history one would prefer remained secret); one’s past; (Buddhist term) previous life
8 現在 genzai now; current; present; present time; as of
9 未来 mirai the future (usually distant); the world to come
10 忍 nin endurance; forbearance; patience; self-restraint

11 The upper strike looking like a reverse V symbolizes the scabbard

12 the lower strike: “丿” symbolizes the sword

13 中今 nakaima the present (esp. as a privileged moment in eternity).  Nakaima is explained in the “Way of the ninja”, book by Hatsumi Sensei;
14 識 shiki (Buddhist term) acquaintanceship; vijnana (consciousness);
15幽玄 Yûgen subtle grace; hidden beauty; mysterious profundity; elegant simplicity; the subtle and profound; the occult

Is Change Always Positive?

The new waitress…

Because I was in the UN, I was absent from Japan for eight months. Eight months is very long by Japanese standard and many things are changing.

This trip is my 50th and since 1999 I have stayed at the Kashiwa hotel. Even though I’m always amazed by the Japanese ability to change their processes I am sometimes wondering if a change is always a good thing.
In the Bujinkan we use to say that “the only thing that never change is change itself”. Because change is permanent. But is this change always an improvement? I don’t know.When I arrived at the hotel changes can be seen everywhere. The ulala cafe which has been our major meeting point for years has reduced its smoking zone. We (the evil smokers) are now parked in a kind of “aquarium”.
Many of the old and nice ladies have been replaced by young ones. They don’t speak English either but it is ok.
But the strangest change is that you now have to use and pay an automat (see picture) to get the drinks or food you want (the names are only in Japanese).
So is change always positive?
I just witnessed two Japanese men ordering their food at the machine. The get their order it took them at least 5 minutes. When they finally sit they push the call button and 5 minutes later a waitress came. They gave the various tickets to the waitress but she had to come back twice to understand exactly what they wanted. And the second time she changed their order because they didn’t do it correctly. And they were Japanese adults in their 30s! Meaning that the written language was not a problem for them…
So is change always good?
Sensei teaches us to adapt our techniques to these permanent changes surrounding us in order not to be surprised. But when change make things more complex thenit is time to get out of the system. I always appreciated the Japanese for their efficiency. Things were evolving towards more simplification, but today they are changing towards complexification and this is not a good sign.After thinking a lot about this “change thing” I went  to the Honbu to attend Noguchi sensei’s class. We did the first level of Koto Ryû and I felt a little awkward as it seemed that these techniques that I have been taught during so many years here in Japan were different. Noguchi sensei’s taijutsu has become so refined that it is difficult to find the  1, 2, 3 steps composing the initial techniques.
That was a big change.
He changed his taijutsu but unlike the hotel this change is heading towards a flow making every move like being simple. And as always, I couldn’t do half of what he was doing.
Changing, to have some value, must be conducted in order to benefit the result. If you make a change in a waza but didn’t master it, then this is not changing this is betraying. To change something you have to know it perfectly. Often people when training do not even try to repeat what is being taught. In fact they think they understand and make things more violent, more inefficient, and totally useless.
Noguchi sensei’s movements are becoming so subtle that beauty and elegance are emanating from them. Elegance or art said Sensei once is “to render the invisible visible”. This ability cannot be decided it has to bloom naturally from years of mechanical practice and training. If you want to make a stone shine you will have to polish it, again and again.
The word change 異 means “strange or curious” but the verb “to change” 移 is “to drift or to pass into”. The verb “to change” gives an idea of evolution whereas the word “change” is static and only takes into account something unusual (positive or negative).
So is change positive?
Yes if you want “to change” 移
but No if you want “a change” 異
Ninpô Ikkan! (keep going!)
Ps: 15 minutes ago I went to the automatic vending machine to order another coffee and a sandwich … I’m still waiting for my order to arrive.
Ps2: Next March I want “to change” too and I will drift to another hotel for my trips to Japan.
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