Mutô Dori is Butô Dori

The last Japan trip during the Sakura season was full of  insights, and I did my best to share them with my buyu in India, France, and Hungary.


Teaching after being taught is always a challenge as we never feel confident after a Japan trip. Will it be good enough? Will the explanations make sense? Did  we really understand what sensei meant? But as always in the Bujinkan, I used the 忍法一環 ninpô Ikkan, the  “keep going” attitude and  I did my best.


In India where I stayed two weeks, I had time to settle down and to “polish ” the feelings stolen in Japan. The group in Bangalore being a mix of beginners and Shidôshi we began with the sanshin no kata that we rapidly adapted to the tsurugi. Shiva and his team had done a nice job by making available enough wooden tsurugi for eveyone. India is incredible* and the buyu here know how to do things correctly.


In France, as the group had been training extensively with Hughes on the tsurugi we spent a more time putting more taijutsu into the sword techniques because taijutsu is the real teaching of this year and we began to okay with the conceit of Mutô Dori . But I come to that later in the text.


Then in Budapest, we did something so different that in fact my whole taijutsu with the tsurugi improved a lot. When this seminar in Budapest was planned by Balazs, he made a funny request: “Arnaud do you think it is possible to cover the concepts that sensei had been doing for the last twenty years during a weekend seminar? “. “Sure” I said and it was the deal…


But to be honest it is only on the week prior to the seminar that I began to be concerned about feasibility and that I understood the complexity of the request. I have been in the Bujinkan for so long that remembering all these yearly themes would not be difficult, but how to make it look like a logical evolution and squeeze twenty years of concepts in only two days?


I think that everything is happening for a reason, and for me sensei unfolded gradually a path that we followed blindly not looking back (if you’re blindfolded looking back is useless anyway). Now as I tried to transmit the logical beauty of sensei ‘s vision, I understood the reason why we are studying the tsurugi this year: we are using the tsurugi because there is no way we can reproduce something we know, or adapt it from another base of knowledge on the things we have already studied. No other weapon we know in Japanese martial art can be used, the tsurugi is the ancestor of everything. The tsurugi is the beginning and the end; the alpha and the Omega of martial art; the A-Un.


I understood that what we do with the tsurugi really doesn’t matter because what is fueling the movement is not a weapon or a waza, what is making it work is the quality of our taijutsu. Only with a good taijutsu can we move correctly with the tsurugi. I exchanged a few messages with Duncan recently and we both agreed on this.


With the tsurugi we move with our guts, our body movements take over the permanent mental analysis giving birth to a subtle way of fighting. The movement works because it is natural and not hindered by any intention. In a way we can say that 劍 tsurugi being our body, our “guts” allow 津 腹鳴, tsurugi (or the haven where everything is processed) to be expressed. Remember that in Japan the XXX hara (belly ) is where the spirit is located.


Taijutsu is the theme for this year and this is why sensei has insisted on the importance of Mutô Dori during in his recent classes. But the problem is that Mutô Dori can, theoretically, only be done when you have no weapon in your hand. This is the key. We do Mutô Dori with the tsurugi in hand because this is only taijutsu and nothing else. The quality of your taijutsu is what gives life to the blade, but the blade is not doing any technique, footwork and body movements do it. There is no thinking it is body (belly) movement.


If you understood me so far then we can dig a little more into a few things that sensei explained in class.


Tenchijin is one – or 3 = 1
Sensei said that we had to keep the Tsurugi at hip level.
Hips are Jin therefore the blade can move freely between Chi (legs/lower body) and Ten (arms/upper body). Taijutsu is foot and finger, and the sword via the spine is linking the three. We move like One by the sword. Like the sword of Fudô, the Tsurugi connects man to the divine.


“Shinshin shingan” the “eyes and spirit of the gods” said sensei during training but Shingan is also 真贋, (authenticity); and Shinshin being also 心身 (body and mind) we can understand that Tsurugi is the way to become fully authentic with our body and mind. Tsurugi is the tool to achieve that. By moving freely in our Taijutsu we clean ourselves from intention. Tsurugi is alive and protects us as if the sword has its own perception of reality, a reality that cannot be perceived by our human senses. This is juppô sesshô.


There is no sword, there is  only natural movement, and this is Taijutsu.
The historical sword was called Kusanagi no Tsurugi: the sword that “cut the grass”. The grass can be seen as our intentions, as well as uke’s intentions. Like the Ken of Fudô Myô, the blade cuts our illusions and help us to get rid of falsehood to stay on the correct path. This is the most beautiful thing that Hatsumi sensei has given us and we should be thankful for it. Training with the tsurugi makes our taijutsu more authentic, more powerful also as we are deprived from any intentions; we are free to move according to nature with no preconceived idea.


Last year sensei said that Budô was Mudô, therefore Mutô Dori is also Butô Dori 
Bu is mu 武, and Tô is 刀 sword or 道 way but Tô 闘 is fight. So Mutô is Butô:  武 道 is 武 闘. Then Mutô Dori (“grabbing” the way of war) is in fact Butô (seizing the fight).


Mutô Dori is the Gokui, the essence of Budô. The Gokui is always simple and formless in its manifestation, but it is difficult to make it simple. When using the tsurugi the movements are the result of taijutsu nothing else. The blade moves by itself following what the body is creating in the Kûkan. As the Zen master Takuan said (see previous entry): “I do not see the enemy, the enemy doesn’t see me” and this is because we do not try to do anything specific. When contact is established we flow like water, as if we were surfing on top of uke ‘s waves of intention. The tsurugi is only the metallic extension of our body. We don’t think the movement, we don’t think the weapon, we don’t think the opponent.


We 突き詰めません tsukitsumemasen, we “don’t think”, we adapt with Mutô Dori as our natural expression.


In the sermon on martial arts Chozanshi says that: ” a teacher can only transmit a technique or enlighten you to the principle, but receiving the truth of the matter is something within yourself. (…) grasping it on one’s  own is always a matter of transmission from mind to mind. It is a special transmission beyond the scriptures. “


As sensei puts it, we have to learn how to read between the lines and the Mutô Dori of this year is giving us exactly that.


Just do it * *


*This is the motto of the national advertizing campaign.
* * like in the Nike expression. “Niké” in Greek is the goddess of victory so “just do it (without thinking) and victory will be yours.

Victory: A New Kuki Taishô

The Kukishin Ryû stone
The Kukishin Ryû stone
We don’t train in the bujinkan “to win, but not to lose” repeats sensei.
Those who train to win and/or to avoid losing are in fact missing the beauty of Sensei’s teachings. Victory is achieved by rejecting this duality.
This win/lose is inyo. There is no victory in winning and there is no defeat in losing (as long as you are not dead). This concept of “win or lose” is called 伸るか反るか, norukasoruka in Japanese. Funnily it also has the meaning of “sink or swim” or “make or break”. Once again the conceptual schemes attached to a Japanese term are full of wisdom. If you don’t swim you drawn.
But sensei is not following this common dualistic interpretation when he says “we don’t try to win but we try not lose”. As if there would be another way to this inyo porblem. And by saying and teaching that Sensei is closer to what the famous Zen Master Takuan who wrote in “The Unfettered Mind” the following:
“Presumably, as a martial artist, I do not fight for gain or loss, am not concerned with strength or weakness, and neither advance a step nor retreat a step. The enemy does not see me. I do not see the enemy.   Penetrating to a place where heaven and earth have not yet divided, where Ying and Yang have not yet arrived, I quickly and necessarily gain in effect”.
This vision of the fight is much stronger than the 伸るか反るか which embodies an opposition. When you are caught in a fight the only thing that matters is how to survive, it is never a question of winning. When you are into “winning” then you lack thefreedom of adapting your movements to the situation. Reacting is the best way to stay alive. When you put all your strength in trying to win, you cut yourself from the natural movement and consequently you create the causes of your downfall.
When we began the study of sanjigen no sekai in 2003, Nagato sensei said that “when you think about the technique, you can be read by your opponent. Do the movements naturally without thinking. This is the spirit of Juppô Sesshô.”
Juppô Sesshô is the real essence of our training and if “you think about a specific technique or about what to do with your weapon, you lose Juppô Sesshô” said Hatsumi sensei. Adding that “if you consider yourself as a tenkan (pivot) then everything around you is the world of Juppô Sesshô.
Being in the middle of everything is being out of the dualistic win/lose concept. By simply trying “not to lose” we have a better chance to survive. Because you don’t lock your brain, and only react according to the attacker, uke cannot read your intentions. Everything revolves around your tenkan and your footwork reveals the answer.
If you cannot understand this then maybe should you stop considering yourself as a warrior. A true warrior does not fight, a true warrior is there only to prevent the fight to begin. The Bujinkan system and philosophy is in reality a peacekeeping martial art. Muscle, force, power are useless to the one who can see the outcome with 九鬼大笑 kuki taishô (bujinkan theme 2007), no fear, like the ninth demon at the north-eastern gate of the temple.
This non fighting attitude where there are no enemy (cf. Takuan) brings 茎 大勝  kukistaishô, the “root for a great victory”.
Victory is yours because you do not try to win

How To Use Shikan Ken?

In all the 16 natural weapons at our disposal, Shikan Ken is a singular one. The hand is not opened but yet not closed. The Ken changes on impact, soft and hard at the same time. And if you try to use it you often get excruciating pain when you hit the target.

When you look at the meaning in a dictionary you get many answers as usual in Japanese. But I found two definitions that serve or purpose today.


The more logical one is 士官 officer, but another definition is 弛緩which means relaxation! In the army officers are not known for being “relaxed” but then when you learn how to use Shikan Ken properly, the antinomy between these definitions vanish and begin to make sense. I will demonstrate it later.


Historically Shikan Ken was used to protect the tips of the fingers in a fight involving  鎧 Yoroi (armor) and swords . As you know the hand protection on the Yoroi is leaving the last two phalanxes unprotected. By folding the fingers, they get protected by the metallic plate covering the back of the hand.


Many other types of “Ken ” can be used in a fight such as: fudô Ken, happa Ken, koppô Ken, shutô Ken, boshi Ken. How?


不動 fudô Ken (immobility) is used for direct hit but the resistance of the Yoroi makes it problematic to be efficient, except maybe to get uke’s balance. The fingers are also well protected.


葉っぱ happa Ken (leaf) can be used for pushing or slapping  the opponent. It might create an opening which is entered then with another hiken jû roppô* weapon. The fingers are not protected here.


骨法 koppô Ken (the knack) is very limited in use even though the hand protection is composed of several plates, the hit power is limited by the protection (no sharp angle possible). With the hand protection you cannot really use the extension of the knuckle. The fingers are protected.


手刀 shutô Ken (the hand as a sword) has limited use against an opponent wearing a Yoroi, but it can come after a Shikan Ken in the development of the action. The thumb then support the plate protecting the hand and the hit is done not with the flesh but with the metallic plate. This is why in shutô, the thumb is on top of the second phalanx of the forefinger.


拇指 boshi Ken (thumb or big toe) is also usable but on soft spots only. The thumb can be supported by the plates. This is why sensei taught us three different thumb positioning when we entered the realm of Yoroi jutsu.


So as you understand it now Shikan Ken is the best suited Ken to be used in a Yoroi fight. But it also wroks fine in regular unprotected taijutsu.

Where and what to hit? The best way is to aim at uke’s face and hit the space between the neck, the Menpô and the side of the helmet. The hand shape in Shikan Ken forms a thin weapon which allows you to penetrate under the protection of the helmet. Then you can follow the action by turning it into shutô Ken or Shitan Ken to bring uke down.
In regular taijutsu, Shikan Ken against someone not  protected by a Yoroi can also be used to crush 急所 kyûsho like Jakkin, or kage; or simply use it to apply heavy pressure on a joint, the throat or any other soft spot. In fact there are many uses to it.


But if this Ken is so efficient why is it that each time we try to use it, we end up with pain in the fingers joints when we hit the target?

Long time ago when I was a committed beginner this Shikan Ken was a big and painful issue for me. Each time I would hit Uke with Shikan Ken, I was in pain as my fingers would bend too much and the nearly break.


I did my best not to think about the predictable and painful outcome of it, but with no success. And like many of you I began to discard Shikan Ken, using it only for cultural purposes (repeating the hiken jû roppô). It was like that until I decided to ask directly Hatsumi sensei how to do it correctly… On this planet if there is someone knowing this  it must be sensei. And he answered.


But before I give you Sensei’s answer, I find it amazing the general behavior of many Bujinkan visitors to Japan when it comes to learning.

Even though everyone consider sensei as his or her teacher, very few dare to cross the mats and go to him directly and ask. Instead of that, they mimic badly his movements hoping that Sensei will come to them to correct their movements. If you want to be good and to improve? Be brave and ask Sensei politely. Worst case scenario: sensei will not give you an answer.


When you go to Japan to meet your teacher, ask everything you need to know because once you are gone no one will give the answer you need. You train for your own good. Sometimes Sensei will answer you and these are the best answers as they are coming directly from the source, they are not tampered by any filter. He might also not give you any answer and this is OK too, at least you tried. If you don’t try to learn by yourself, he will not do it for you.


So one day in class I went to him and asked: “sensei why is it that each time I use Shikan Ken, I nearly break my fingers? “


His answer was so simple that I felt stupid. Here it is.


When you hit your opponent with Shikan Ken, your Ken starts from a relaxed fudô Ken (the second definition: relaxation), then on impact you have to overextend the knuckles and the hand at some angle, and tense all the fingers in the process. If you try this in your next class you will see that there is no more pain.

From my experience, this is the angling of the hand that is the secret.
By creating a dynamic angle, you tense the muscles of your hand, the tendons are secured and the bones are kept in place.
But remember: always begin Shikan Ken with a relaxed fist and then tense it on impact.


The basics are called basics because they are the foundation on which you build a strong taijutsu. And to know your basics, you have to research endlessly and ask a qualified person. And the most qualified person in the Bujinkan, is our Sôke, Hatsumi sensei.

*Technical note: depending on the programme Sensei has been using “Hôken Jû Roppô” (16 weapons principles) or “Hiken Jû Roppô” (16 hidden weapons), therefore both are correct.
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