Shinobi Is Kokoro


The class with Senō sensei was as impressive and precise as always. With micro details such as rotating the bones of the forearm, and folding the wrist slightly during the uke nagashi, we are able to take Uke’s balance before he could feel it. I could write about it, but it will never describe the beauty of his taijutsu. The best is to come here and to train. What I want to write about today is about one thing Senō sensei’s commented before the end of the training session.

At the end of his class, Senō sensei spoke about the meaning  of the kanji for Shinobi. Honestly, I didn’t get everything (I still don’t speak Japanese), but what I got,  made me think about the many hidden meanings of this kanji. I would like to share my thoughts with you.

Everyone in the Bujinkan knows that Shinobi is composed of 2 kanji: sword (Tō) above heart/spirit (kokoro). (1)(2)(3) So nothing new there.

So, to me, what was new in the way Senō sensei explained it is that he said that “the blade is hidden in the heart/spirit”. The usual and common understanding is that we must “have a spirit as sharp as a sword”. This is why Senō sensei’s interpretation acted as an eye opener.

What I understood is that, linked to what Hatsumi sensei said the day before, we have to hide our intention, and be ready to terminate the opponent when the occasion arises. A Waza is intention, this is why there can be no waza in a real fight.

A waza by definition is a drilled exercise repeated thousands of times until it is ingrained in our mind / body. (4) To get this level of ability, one must repeat his basics during many hours, months, and years. At some point, there is no thinking, only a natural movement. This is what you did when you learned to ride a bike,  or when you learned to swim. Even if you don’t do it regularly you can ride a bike, or swim the minute you do it again.

When you have acquired this ingrained state, the mind / body reacts and the only thing you do is to witness what is happening. You’re not actor, but spectator of your actions.

In a real fight, you have no time to think. Thinking is possible only when you train. When you fight it is to late.

If your basics are bad because you didn’t spend enough time studying the tenchijin and the fighting systems of the Bujinkan, you will never be able to adapt your taijutsu to the situation.

On the contrary, if you did your homework, your mind / body will slash the opponent naturally.

When you put intention in your movements,  it is because of a lack of mastery of the basics of the Bujinkan. Many dōjō are developing a mix martial art approach of the Bujinkan, instead of respecting Hatsumi sensei’s path of the natural movement because of these weak basics. In sport, nothing is natural, it is mechanical.

How many time did I hear Sensei say “chikara janai”, don’t use strength ? Or use your “karada”, your body? The problem with us, Westerners, is that we cannot fathom how we can be efficient without thinking thoroughly, and using strength. For many,  “Mushin” is only a nice philosophical concept. (5)

At the beginning of the year, Hatsumi sensei spoke about Yamaoka Tesshû (1836-1888, famous swordsman, calligrapher, and Zen master). Yamaoka developed the “sword of no-sword” concept. This is another definition of Mutō Dori. (6)

When the sword is hidden in the heart/spirit there is no sword visible, and therefore there is no intention. And because there is no intention, only the heart / spirit remains. “be slow and relaxed” said Sensei on Sunday, “and the movement will reveal itself”.

The sword but visible, only the kokoro is there. Maybe this is why Takamatsu Sensei wrote about “kokoro no Budō”, the heart /spirit of Budō.

Next Saturday we celebrate Takamatsu sensei’s memory. Please think about it.

1. 忍び/shinobi/stealth|travelling incognito (traveling)|ninjutsu|ninja|sneak theft; sneak thief|tolerance
2. 刀/tō/(single-edged) sword; katana|dagger; knife|scalpel
3. 心/kokoro/mind; heart; spirit|the meaning of a phrase (riddle, etc.)
4. I use “mind / body” as being one and not two. There is no duality. Inyō is unity. 
5. 無心/mushin/innocence|insentient (i.e. plants, inanimate objects, etc.)|free from obstructive thoughts|to pester someone (for cash, etc.)
6. Reminder: mutō dori is about facing the attacker with no fear, even if it is lethal. [for more, check mutō dori in this blog]

Sidenote: For those wondering. Stephen Hayes, moving away from the Bujinkan, called his system Tōshindō (sword+heart+path = Shinobi path). But that has nothing to do with the bujinkan.

Heijōshin vs Heijōshin And Other Considerations


Every time I’m here, I have the feeling that Sensei’s Budō is getting more subtle.

The theme this year is multiple (like it is always the case) and revolves around Mutō Dori, the Katana, and the concept of zero. 

Hatsumi sensei precised that “zero is not nothing, it is a point”. It’s not empty. I understand it as another form of inyō. (1) 
Because there is nothing, there is everything. Inyō represents the cosmic dual forces, but it is not dualistic. There is no opposition, there is only 真心, reality. (3)

Sensei exclaimed this apparent paradox speaking about 平常心, Heijōshin, “one’s presence of mind”. (2) 
In the encounter with the opponent, one must not show his intention, one must have no feeling. Having no feeling, Tori simply surfs on Uke’s intention. The situation is read and answered naturally. 
Because you don’t have any intention, you can react naturally, which is why Sensei that Heijōshin is in fact Heijōshin 平常真心, with “shin” being “magokoro”, sincerity or reality. (3)

Being zero,  you can adjust to reality and defeat the attacker with no intention. Uke is trapped by his actions. 
This is why, he said, there’s no waza. Waza will get you killed in a real encounter. A waza is a form, it is not zero. If you remain zero and shows no feeling nor intention, you can use uke’s the against him. 
This is Kyojitsu tenkan hō (虚実転換法), and Kyojitsu tenkan hō  (虚実転換方). Alternating strength and weakness, intention and lack of intention, you force uke to stay in his waza state. Uke reacts to his own movements and cannot see defeat before it is too late for him. This is the essence of Mutō Dori,  whether you have it haven’t a weapon.

Like with Ishitobashi, the skipping stone of last year, the various kûkan created between the contacts with water, unfold possibilities invisible to uke’s intentions. (5)

Tenkan Hō is like Henka. The beginning of change (hen/tenkan) and the end of change (ka/hō).

At the beginning, I wrote that the theme of this year “revolved” around Mutō Dori. Amazingly, Tenkan also has the meaning of revolving, and defines your ability to alternate intention and no intention. 
Therefore, we must see Heijōshin, (平常真心) as the true essence of Mutō Dori. 
I told you that sensei is getting more subtle, didn’t I?
1. 陰陽/inyou/cosmic dual forces; yin-yang; sun and moon, etc.
2. 平常心/heijoushin/one’s self-possession; one’s presence of mind
3. 真心/magokoro/sincerity; devotion; reality
4. Kyojitsu tenkan hō
虚実/kyojitsu/truth or falsehood
転換/tenkan/convert; divert
法/hou/law; act; principle|method|mood|dharma
方/hou/direction; way; side; area (in a particular direction)|side (of an argument, etc.); one’s part|type; category|field (of study, etc.)|indicates one side of a comparison|way; method; manner; means|length (of each side of a square)
5. Ishitobashi 
石飛ばし/ishitobashi/skipping stones (on a body of water); skimming stones
6. 転めく/kurumeku/to spin; to revolve; to twirl|to be dizzy; to feel faint|to bustle about

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