There was a time when you came to the Honbu dōjō for techniques.
Then there was a time where you came for some profound philosophical concepts.
The time now is about the rest: non-action. Wu Wei. (1)
Today Hatsumi sensei added a “click” in his no-action movement. “Mutō Dori is Zero” was his introduction to the class.
As often on Sundays, the Dōjō was full of people from all over the world visiting Japan in the hope of understanding better the intricacies of our art. But there was nothing to understand. Sensei was unfolding the same things he has been doing for quite some time through Taijutsu, Katana, and Tantō. But today his actions were impossible to understand.
Sensei can control the space, and the opponent using only one finger at a time. There was no Waza (he repeated it a few times), there was no philosophical concept, there was nothing. It reminded me of this Wu Wei the “action without action”. Even when I had the chance to be his Uke, I couldn’t get it. It was as if Sensei was not there with me, but I was incapable of doing anything. Putting his fingers, one at a time he would control all my movements as if playing music on a keyboard. On a sword attack, he would only grab the blade from above and use his fingers to lock the blade in place as if taken by a pair of pliers.
During the break, seated on the ground next to him he would continue to show us the simplicity of it. Pedro was asked to Tsuki him and would lose his balance on the spot. The same happened to me, and to a few Japanese high ranks around him. Each time he would read Uke’s balance and destroy it effortlessly. Watching it, was something, feeling it yourself, or better said, not feeling anything was amazing. Today I began to see the vast path opened to us, and the power of non-action. Touching the attacker with only one fingertip, Sensei was able to use the power of Kūkan. (2)
Earlier, he had reminded us of the Ishitobashi (3), the skipping stones, and of the importance of using those “air pockets” created by the bouncing of the stone on the surface of the water. His Budō has never been so simple, and at the same time so difficult to reproduce. Because that was beyond feeling, sensation, or intent. One moment you attack, the next, you are defeated with no reason.
When you are Uke, you usually have a better chance to grasp the feeling, not anymore. Let me insist here. Even when you are Uke, you do not see; do not feel, do not understand what is happening. There is no pain; there is no speed, there is no technique. It is pure nothingness.
I call it Wu Wei (Chinese, literally “non-doing”) for that reason. Wuwei is an important concept of Taoism and means natural action, or in other words, an action that does not involve struggle or excessive effort. It is the cultivation of a mental state in which our actions are quite effortlessly in alignment with the flow of life.
“No excessive effort” summarises quite well what Sensei did to us today. Sensei was hardly moving, and whatever attack he was facing his control was the same. He said it like that: “at this level of Mutō Dori everything is the same, this is Zero!”.
I wish more Bujinkan would join the training in Japan because if they don’t, I don’t see how they can evolve and complete the Shingitai. (4)
Mastering the Gi and controlling your Tai is good, but moving at the Shin level requires another type of training that you can only get here in Japan.
1. Wu wei: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wu_wei
2. Kūkan: 空間, Space, airspace
3. Ishitobashi: 石飛ばし, skipping stones (on a body of water); skimming stones
4. Shingitai: 心技体, originally a concept originating from Sumo: spirit, technique, physique