Simplicity: The Omote Of Shizen


In French we have a saying that goes “pourquoi faire simple quand on peut faire compliquer”, which translates as “why making it simple when it can be done much more complex”.

It is often used when we are facing situations where things are done in a useless complex way. I often think about this when I’m watching the students trying to copy a movement I just did.

The Japanese have also a term for “simplicity and complexity”, and this is 繁簡, hankan. Funnily it reads the same as 反感, hankan: animosity, antipathy, or revolt. In order to survive a fight you have to be relaxed and move with simplicity.

The bujinkan movements are based on simple principles and not on fixed and complex forms. This is done in order to give us some freedom in finding the right solution to an unplanned situation. When we enter into the survival mode of action, only simple things are available. Because of the stress generated by a sudden attack the brain is frozen and thinking or analysing are not possible anymore.

Only simplicity 質朴 (shitsuboku), will work because it is natural, simple, and does not require a conscious mind behind it to put it into action.
Complexity, 複雑性 (fukuzatsusei), on the contrary, is the result of a thought process and will lead nowhere, except maybe to your own death.

In order to achieve simplicity*, one must train it on the mats. And this training is done through long repetitions of the Bujinkan basics. Once the basics are ingrained, the body and the mind are united and our moves are done without thinking in a simple manner.

Now  when students try to reproduce a movement, they often make something very complex because their abilities are hindered by their lack of strong basics. When basics are mastered, the body will move with simplicity and adapt freely to the situation at hand.

In your next trainings, try to find the simplest way of doing things. And remember this kaname:

A simple movement doesn’t require strength nor power.
A simple movement is relaxed and cannot be preconceived.

Shitsuboku leads to mastery, fukuzatsusei to nowhere.

* simplicity is an important aspect of Shizen. A new dvds series covering the Shizen theme of 2006, will be released for Christmas at

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

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