Tsunagaru: Stay Connected!

img_20170507_122506.jpgA week ago, my last class with Sensei for this trip was another great one, with many insights to bring and to train at home.

Before we began, Hatsumi Sensei spoke about the new statue of Kannon that he acquired recently. More than a statue, it is a symbol. When Takamatsu Sensei stayed one year on the mountain, he trained under the guidance of a hermit. During this time he developed a strong connection with the goddess Kannon. He saw Kannon as the end of his mountain shugyō and a witness of the Musha Shugyō accomplished in the wilderness.

img_20170507_113629.jpgWhen Hatsumi Sensei saw this statue at his regular antique shop, he took it as a reminder of Takamatsu sensei’s story. For him, this statue placed at the centre of the Shinden symbolises the fact that we (he) have reached the level of Takamatsu sensei’s understanding.
The Goddess Kannon connects us (him) to the late Takamatsu Sensei.

received_10211601687830068Before we did the salute, Sensei facing the Shinden called me to give me a Ōmamori from the Amatsu Tatara. It reads “Amatsu Tatara no Hōken”. Hōken is the treasure sword that protects from sickness and evil. That was a kind attention.

Kannon, the Amatsu Tatara no Hōken, these are connecting us to our Life. And this is the same type of connection that we’re looking for in the encounter.

During class, Sensei spoke many times about the importance of Tsunagaru. (1) We have to connect to the moment, to the opponent, and to the fight. Mutō Dori deals with this quality of the connection.

At any given moment we have to be protected, in “security”. Sensei repeated that in the exchange we had to safe and secure: “Anzen”. (2) We can be Anzen because we do not fight, we play (Asobi – 3) with Uke, using our fingers, our understanding of distance, and our unwillingness to do anything to defeat him. “Master the Kokû” he added, “and never give the opponent anything he is expecting. We have to keep changing (moving) because life is about changing permanently. If you stop moving your body and your mind, you cannot change. If you don’t change, you become visible, when you are visible, you are “pre-visible”, and Uke can read your actions.

We have to learn hos to change. Then, I began to get very lost when Sensei added that “(he) cannot teach change.”
How then can we possibly learn to change when he cannot teach it?

He explained that it was impossible to teach because change is a natural human reaction that develops by itself. When we watch him doing things that we can hardly copy, there’s no learning process or structure to follow. The ability to change is what blooms from your training.

We see the permanent change when he does it, and maybe, one day, we will be able to do it. It cannot be learned; it comes from years of practice.

That understanding about change, connection, security being the result of years of practice, tied us (Tsunagaru) with his introductory speech about the new Kannon statue.
I have the feeling that Hatsumi Sensei has reached another plateau in the evolution of his understanding of Budō. At this level of Mutō Dori, we are only witnessing his level of expertise.

I wrote in a recent post that we shouldn’t copy his movements. I guess I was wrong because copying him is not possible anymore.

1. Tsunagaru: 繋がる, to be tied together; to be connected to; to be linked
Tsunagu: 繋ぐ/tsunagu/to tie; to fasten; to connect
2. Anzen: 安全, safety|security
3. Asobi: 遊び, 1) play, 2) play (margin between on and off, gap before pressing button or lever has an effect)

Piano And Budō

A few years ago, Sensei said that if you wanted to control the opponent, only one finger was enough, or Yubi Ippon Jūbun.
In fact, since then, he has been insisting a lot on the piano-like manner with which we have to play with Uke, using only the tips of our fingers as if writing on a keyboard.
Grabbing is not the solution. When you grab Uke, you grab more than his mind or body; you create a fixed point of contact from where he can determine your next actions. The grip becomes a new Teko/Shiten. (2)
But when you use a series of Shishin Ken (3), using your fingertips as if playing a piece of music on Uke’s point of contact, you do not give him a start from which he can be reacting.
For the last classes, Hatsumi sensei has been repeating it. In the world of Mutō Dori, the use of our fingertips, running on Uke, touching him, but not grabbing him, prevents the opponent of beginning a counter movement. You do not stay long enough in contact on the same spot. Because you do not stop, Uke’s body is always “listening” to the input created and cannot make a correct decision.
Playing with the attacker is a significant aspect of Mutō Dori, which is why is why Sensei used the word “Asobi” when detailing the moves. (4) The definition of “Asobi” gives us a hint on how to “play”. It says “margin between on and off, gap before pressing button or lever has an effect.” When you understand this definition, you see how similar it is to the “Ishitobashi”, the skipping stone, of two years ago. (5)
Sensei explained that the spaces between the contacts of your fingers on Uke are those “air pockets” he was mentioning. The rhythm of the contacts on Uke’s skin, give the tempo of his demise.
Not grabbing firmly, but creating a rhythmic touch with your fingertips, allows Tori to overcome any intent of Uke. Uke is lost in plain sight as he cannot take a winning decision. That maintains him at the logical level. His only course of action is to follow Tori’s movements, and hoping that the control of his body and mind with the fingertips, will eventually stop.
A few times, Shiraishi sensei attacking Sensei with a sword cut, was stuck in mid air. Sensei was holding him only with the tip of his forefinger.
I guess it is time to go back to your keyboard training in search of this magic and playful way to control the fight. Mutō Dori is purely about controlling the situation.
  1. Yubi Ippon Jūbun: 指一本十分, One finger is enough
  2. Teko/Shiten: 梃子/支点, lever/fulcrum. That is one of the major concepts of the Kukishin Ryū and the Takagi Yōshin Ryū.
  3. Shishin: 指針, needle (compass, gauge, etc.); hand (clock); indicator; pointer; index . Shishin is often used as a name for a stabbing action of the pinky. But when you understand it, you realise that in fact, you can use any of your fingers for it. Thus a series of Shishin Ken as if playing the piano. You move from one finger to another.
  4. Asobi: 遊び, 1) playing , 2) play (margin between on and off, gap before pressing button or lever has an effect)
  5. Ishitobashi: 石飛ばし, skipping stones on a body of water
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