The Sakki test is an essential part of the Bujinkan training. But it is wrapped in so many layers of fantasy that it is time to write about what the test is.
At the Madrid Taikai in 2001, Sensei let us give the Sakki test. It was the first time that someone would give the test instead of Sensei. I remember walking with Pedro to the examination room. I was telling him, “it is no big deal, we saw Sōke performing it so many times, it is easy.”
To be honest, I thought the test was only a marketing tool to get the westerners excited. I was so wrong!
Each one of us did the test twice. No big deal. But less than a half hour later, I felt so tired that I had to go to my room to have a nap. I had seen Sensei perform 30 or 40 tests in a row at Taikai, and he didn’t look tired. But me, after only two tests, I was a wreck. It was an excellent lesson. But let’s destroy a few illusions here.
The Sakki is not something you get, you are born with it. Education, life, make it sink deep into your brain. And it takes five to ten years to crack the lock and make it appear again.
When I explain it, I like to use the following analogy. See your brain as a recipient full of dry mud. The Sakki is like a light buried down under, below several layers of dirt. Through consistent training, some cracks appear. On the day of the Sakki test, if you are ready, the Sakki feeling will move upward, and you will dodge the sword. There is no magic! All animals have it, and we are animals. We just overthink and let the feeling of danger guide our lives. Modern society kills this natural human ability.
People refer to it as “to sense the killing intent.” If this etymologically correct, this is not what is the Sakki test. (1)
First, you sit in front of a guy with a sword, knowing that he will hit you in a minute. There is no surprise attack. There is no “thirst for blood” from his part. And if there is, then the guy should see a doctor.
Second, the Sakki test concerns both participants. The emitter and the receiver. Many transmitters do not know how to do it correctly, and many receivers expect the gods to make them move. This is not how it works.
Third, the Sakki manifests itself only when both participants have a connection. You can see the sword as the link between the two persons. Once there is a connection, the test can be performed.
Fourth, the Sakki test is as hard for the emitter as it is for the receiver. In fact, both are taking the test. Failing the test is not always the receiver’s fault, it is often because of a lousy emitter.
Fifth, the emitter with his eyes closed “feels” when he has to cut. It is not his decision; the sword goes down by itself. Only the quality of the connection makes it possible. If it is not magic, as I wrote earlier, but at least, it is mysterious.
A friend and student came back from Japan recently. He shared with me Sōke’s vision: “Passing the sakki test is spreading out energy to the applicant. It is not a killing feeling, It is only energy.” He added that Sōke was paying more attention and was evaluating the one giving the sakki test to the applicant.
When last Friday Sensei told me to give the test, I was expecting something particular. After giving the test since 2000, I can say I’m used to it. But on this night, it felt like a test because instead of one or two applicants, they were eleven. (2)
When I positioned myself behind the first one in the series, I needed a few deep breaths to get ready. To my surprise, I was not tired at all after the tests. My Sakki training had paid off.
Today I see the Sakki test as a way to improve our understanding of Sensei’s budō. To the Sakki, “killing intent,” I prefer another “Sakki” meaning “to make your spirit blooming.” (3) After all, the seeds of Budō will bloom one day and transform us into real Bujin.
1. 殺気, Sakki: a thirst for blood; bloodlust; determination to kill
2. 8 passed it on the first try, 1 with Nagase sensei. The last 2 got it correctly on Sunday.
3. 咲く気, Sakki (Saku Ki): blooming spirit