Listen To Your Nuts!

Dear follower of the Kumablog,
I take this opportunity to wish you all, all the best for the Holiday season. Whether you are a believer or not, this moment of the year is unique for a majority of humans. In Japan, it is a big thing, even though they are not following the same religious beliefs.
I don’t know for you, but in 2018, the year of the earth dog, has seen quite a lot of changes, some good, and others not too much. But that is what life is about.
On the Budō side, the year of the earth dog was about Mutō Dori and control, we learned a lot. This is ending soon and a new year of study with the earth pig is beginning in a few weeks. I see it as a lucky sign for me, as I am an earth pig myself. I wish the best for you and your family. (1)
It was Christmas yesterday. I thought I could share a few ideas around the word “Christmas” seen from a Japanese perspective. It might also help you pave your Budō path for next year.
Depending on the kanji, “kurisumasu” means “Reveal the true self.” And “Dive deeper in emptiness.”
How does the sound “Christmas” which is “クリスマス,” “Kurisumasu” in Japanese, can have those two meanings? Easy!
For a Japanese “Kurisumasu” is also “Kuri + Sumasu.” (2) (3)
We can translate into “Listen to your nuts!” Which I understand as “meet your inner self.” So a new year resolution for 2019 could be “Be more open and don’t only rely on the shell you have built all these years.”
When you read it as “Kū + risu + masu.” It becomes “the growing fracture of emptiness.” (4) (5) (6)
Since we are in Mutō Dori we study the concept of “Zero,” and we keep progressing towards the centre of the centre. It reminds us of the Gyokko Ryū concept of “Kūki no Naka ni no Kūkan.” Or to “find the emptiness in the middle of the empty space.” (7)
In his book (8) (9) Sensei writes that the Gyokko Ryū is the origin of Japanese Budō. It makes sense. So prepare yourself and make 2019, a year of profound transformation and introspection.
In 2019, listen to your nuts! And come back to the training after your holiday break.
Happy Holiday to all!
  2. 栗, kuri: Japanese chestnut (Castanea crenata)
  3. 澄ます, to clear; to make clear, to be unruffled. To look unconcerned; to feign indifference; to look demure; to look prim; to put on air; to strain (one’s ears). To listen carefully
  4. 空, kū: shunyata; emptiness. The lack of an immutable intrinsic nature within any phenomenon. (the) Void
  5. リス, risu: fracture
  6. 増す, masu: to increase; to grow
  7. 空気の中に空間, Kūki no Naka ni no Kūkan: find the emptiness in the middle of the empty space.
  8. Unarmed fighting techniques of the Samurai, Hatsumi Masaaki, Kodansha edition


No More!

No more strength, no more technique, only control! That is how I can summarize the many classes I had the chance to do here at the Honbu.
I began to study this “control” in March, then again in July, and then now, I know what Sensei is doing. At the same time, I cannot do it.

To reach this “non-movement” requires many more years of practice. Control as we saw, is something natural that your body does when it is ready. This is not something you decide to do. Each time you want to do it, you are limited by parasitical movements. Small mistakes, impeach you from doing what you should do.

In every class, by Sensei (and some of the Dai Shihan), one concept keeps coming back. This is Amo isshun no tamamushi. (1)
I heard it for many years, but it is only now that Amo isshun no tamamushi begins to make sense. It means “to catch a bee in your hand and not be stung.”

When you enclose the bee in your hands, it stays in darkness but has space to walk. The bee doesn’t understand what is happening. At the same time, it doesn’t feel any threat and thus, does not sting you.

This is control.

Uke is trapped in a somewhat comfortable state. There is no pain, no hit. Sensei controls him with one or two fingers but doesn’t show any intention of finishing him. Uke is stuck in his thinking process and tries to escape to find a better angle of attack. This is pure survival and denotes a drastic change of attitude from the opponent. The initial “attacking mode,” disappear when Sensei wraps Uke’s attacks softly. Then Uke has to reconsider his options.

That is when he moves into survival mode. Now, his first priority is to save his integrity. He has no more willing to destroy Uke.

Survival is “seizon,” (2) and it is about existing, not about fighting. Sensei keeps saying “Tatakai wa Janai”, “there is no fight.” (3) It is what he means when he says that we have to control Uke as a whole, the same way you would, a bee in your hands. We have to wrap Uke so that he is only trying to survive. Then, no fight is happening.

Last March I didn’t get the “Tatakai wa Janai” right. “There is no fight” doesn’t mean, that there is no combat. It means that the attacker is not in a position (body and mind) to attack. Like the bee trapped in the hands.

The willingness to attack is there, but the possibility is not offered to the opponent. We do not stop fighting, we prevent Uke from attacking. If he were not wrapped by Tori’s movement, he would attack. But as there are no more strength and no more technique, there is no fight possible.

This is the exact philosophy of Sensei’s ninpō. The Bujinkan is not about warfare, it is about controlling without violence. Because we are who we are, there is no possibility of a fight.

My friend, Jack Hoban, studied under Dr. Robert Humphrey. Dr. Humphrey wrote the “warrior’s creed,” and you can read it on his t-shirt, each time jack is around.

Here it is:

“Wherever I walk, everyone is a little bit safer because I am there.

Wherever I am, anyone in need has a friend.

Whenever I return home, everyone is happy I am there.” (4)

Jack did many lectures about the creed. Check the link below. It will interest you and help you understand what we study at the Honbu. (5)
Like in “Amo isshun no tamamushi,” Hatsumi sensei teaches to control the world around us with peace. Our goal is to make it impossible for something terrible to happen.

No More!
1 中一瞬 の 吉丁虫, Amo isshun no tamamushi: 中 amo:center, inside, during. 一瞬 isshun: one moment. 吉丁虫 tamamushi: jewel beetle
2 生存, Seizon: existence; being; survival; to exist; to live; to survive
3 戦いじゃない, Tatakai janai: no battle; no fight; no struggle; no conflict
5 Recommended reading:

Inochi: Life Force

Today is my last class for this trip. And I will train with Shiva at Nagato sensei’s training.

It is time to summarize the central aspects of the training I did in the last two weeks. The key element this year is “control in the Mutō Dori.”

This control requires no strength, no force at all. This is the familiar “Chikara Janai” used by Sensei in class. (1) Beyond this lack of physical strength exists another type of force: Jitsuryoku. (2) The more you train, the less power you use, and this is the consequence of increased skills and abilities.

Sōke said that “there are no forms, only control” and that we should “move after, not before the attack.” When you have gained this type of competency, your body reacts naturally, with no muscular force. This is the “true strength,” one that doesn’t require muscle.

What we learn in the Bujinkan is way above our physical senses, this is the mysterious world of Yūgen (the theme of 2004). (3) The (yet) non manifested movements lying in the Ether, and that we express with our body and mind.

This expression is Inochi, the life force. (4) Inochi also means “destiny.” I understand that as a way to better ourselves. The techniques that we train are only an excuse to find this truth within us. This is our fate.

Friday night, Sensei said this is identical to the godan test. The Sakki feeling is of the same nature as Yūgen. (5) But this ability to feel the sakki is in us since we are born. This is not something we learn. But something we make available again through hard training.

If we fail to walk this path and use the life force in nature, we limit our possibilities and enter the Yūgen. (6) That is a limited world where elegant simplicity and control can exist.

1 力, Chikara: force; strength; might; vigour (vigor); energy; capability; ability. capacity; faculty; efficacy; effect
2 実力, Jitsuryoku: (real) ability; true strength; merit; efficiency; competency
3 幽玄, Yūgen: subtle grace; hidden beauty; mysterious profundity; elegant simplicity. the subtle and profound; the occult
4 命, inochi: life; life force; fate, destiny
5 殺気, thirst for blood; bloodlust; determination to kill
6 有限, Yūgen: finite; limited

Kūki Yomu: Can You Read The Air?

This is my third trip to Japan this year, and Sensei is still developing the concept of control through Mutō dori. The type of control he is able to apply to his opponents is not mechanical, but mental. And when there is physical contact, it is only with the twist of a few fingers.

Often Sensei controls with the tip of one finger; other times, he is not even touching the attacker. But this one is so stressed that he freezes like a rabbit caught in the headlights of the car.

In many occasions, Sensei has been using the word “Kūki” to explain how he is controlling the opponent. (1) My friend, Peter Torngren from Sweden, told me about  a specific Japanese expression: “Kūki Yomu” or “to read the air”, that explains this.

The full sentence is “Ba no Kūki wo Yomu.” It is “understanding the situation without words” or “sensing someone’s feelings.” It is a critical concept for understanding Japanese culture. The literal meaning is “reading the air.” (2)

When Sōke meets the attack, he “reads the air” and reacts to control the opponent. This typical Japanese trait is often difficult to grasp for a Westerner. In Japan, you have to develop a new skill and know when “it is the time.” To find the “good moment” is something we are not used to doing in Europe. We often privilege direct speech and answers.

Here, in Japan, you have to read the atmosphere in order not to make a mistake. This is the same in a fight. And I tend to believe the centuries of wars, have helped the Japanese to develop this ability. On the battlefield, awareness is an asset.

Many times I came here with a question to Sensei, that I couldn’t ask. Because it was never the right moment. In Budō, this capacity creates a natural set of reactions. Your body reacts naturally without strength or thought. This is the “zero state” we learned a few years back. In the “control”, Hatsumi Sensei plays with Uke, like a cat with a mouse. And at times, it seems he is not interested in the attacker, that he chooses to ignore him. (3)
Uke is so focused on sensei’s reactions that he is unable to move.

I cannot do it yet, and, apart from Sōke, no one can. Control is not something you decide. It emanates from you and forces the attacker to reconsider his actions.

Everything is Genkaku, an illusion (see the previous post). You don’t do anything for Uke to be unable to react. But it should be something natural, undecided.

If you fail to understand Kūki Yomu, you will remain “kūki ga yomunai”, “someone unable to read the situation”. (4)

1 空気, Kūki: air; atmosphere; mood; situation
2 Kūki Yomu:
3 空気扱い, Kūki atsuka: treating (someone) like they are air; ignoring (someone)
4 空気が読めない, kūki ga yomunai: unable to read the situation; unable to pick up on the mood (e.g. of a conversation)

“Tehodoki” Is Not “Te Hodoki”!


Friday class was full of discoveries, the Dōjō too. More than 190 Bujinkan members gathered to train under Sōke. Needless to say that training was not easy, space was missing. But the content was complex. Sensei spoke a lot and demonstrated many things. I will write about them in later articles. The most exciting point concerned “Tehodoki.”

Everything was about: “control, control, control.” Sensei was receiving the attacks from a punch, a knife, a sword, and even from a bō. Each time the ending was about controlling Uke through the fingers.

When he was twisting the fingers of his Uke, Sensei repeated many times: “this is not Te hodoki.”

At first, I wasn’t sure I heard it right, but after the third time he said it, I understood that I didn’t understand. Let me explain. When a Bujinkan member hears “Te Hodoki,” he thinks: “Chi Ryaku no Maki / Aite to Kumu Kokoro Gamae (or Hajutsu Kyū Hō) / Te Hodoki.” (1)

But yesterday, what he was doing was not the basic technique we know. He was speaking of “Tehodoki” which has a different meaning. (2)

If it was “not Tehodoki,” as he said, it is because it was a high-level technique, and not the technique from the basics.

In fact, it is something so complicated that no one was able to do it. Each time Hatsumi Sensei was in control, he was twisting the fingers and defeated the attacker. There was no force, nor speed. Only control with the fingers.

Watching him do it, looked simple. But it was not. It was the highest level of taijutsu. This is the type of control that only him can do.

Listening to the comments from his various attackers, it was always the same. They were defeated at the moment of the attack. An outside viewer, would have had the impression that the opponents were giving their fingers to Sōke willingly. His movements were so in tune with the attacks that Uke could not react or escape. It was slow and efficient.

In Life, like in Budō, what you see is often Genkaku, an illusion. (3) You think you know what Hatsumi Sensei says, and often you do not think further. You do not try to read “between the lines.” In a real fight, a wrong interpretation leads to a terrible result. Having a preconceived vision of things is a mistake.

As the Japanese proverb says: 猿も木から落ちる。“ Even monkeys fall from trees.” (4)
Or “Everybody can make mistakes.” Your goal is not to repeat them. So, in your next class with Sensei, try not to make the same mistake again. Listen to what he says because sometimes the truth is more beautiful than what you expect.

When you train in Japan, keep a permanent Zanshin. (5) Have an open mind, and never think that you understand. Because things are never what they seem to be. Simplicity is complex.

Te Hodoki, has nothing to do with Tehodoki!

1 手解くTe Hodoki: unlock the grab on the arm/hand. From 手, Te: hand or arm; and 解く, Hodoki: to undo; to untie; to unfasten; to unlace
2 手ほどき, Tehodoki: teaching the basics; initiation; introduction​
3 幻覚, Genkaku: hallucination; illusion​
4 猿も木から落ちる, Saru mo ki kara ochiru: Even monkeys fall from trees
5 残心, Zanshin: continued alertness; unrelaxed alertness


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