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.

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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)

Mumei And Yokenai


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Mumei, no name, no fear

Hatsumi sensei is getting deeper, every class, into the world of Mutō Dori.
The majority of you is now familiar with the vast complexity os this concept that we have been training on and on for nearly a year and a half now.
As he explained here, Mutō Dori is not only the “unarmed defence against a weapon. It is much more. In “Japanese sword fighting”, sensei writes that “(…) Even if you have a sword, Mutō Dori starts with the development of the courage to face an opponent with the preparedness of not having a sword.” (2)
My dragon name being Yūryū, it resonates with me. (3)
Courage is to face the enemy even if you risk to lose your life.

The Mutō Dori of 2017, the way I understand it now, goes beyond this bravery. And he explained it during class when he said “Yokenai”, don’t protect yourself! (4)

Not concerned by the outcome you go straight to the opponent with no intention and ride the wave of his intention. Fear is not at play, you do your best and watch the result. As you have no plan of action, it is Uke that defines your reactions. Not frozen in the “I want to”, your body adapts to the situation.

But this detachment finds its origin in another concept that Sensei mentioned the other night. This concept is Mumei. (5)

At dome point during the class, Sensei did a particular grip on the sword, and I went to ask for its name. “There is no name for it” he answered. Maybe I looked puzzled, so he added “at Mutō Dori level many techniques have no names. You do them naturally.”

Kacem late told me that these techniques have no name (even if they have) because a name would limit them. I thought of Plato saying that “knowing the words led to the understanding of the world.”
It means that when you name something, you define it. You set limits to what it is, and what it is not.

Therefore, you are trapped by its definition. And this is where the Oriental philosophy have invented Mumei, the “no-name” concept, so familiar to Zen practitioners. Mumei doesn’t limit things to a single reality. Things are not “de-fined”, they have no boundaries, no finitude.

In Mutō Dori, as you don’t name the technique you stay away from the limits of the definition.

This is why Sensei moves naturally. On a few occasions, he dodged easily the sword and knife attacks of Shiraishi sensei, he kept walking towards him as if nothing would touch him. Strangely, nothing cut or stabbed him, his distance was always perfect. Because in the “un-limited ” world of Mumei and Mutō Dori, there is nothing to fear.

“Courage knows what not to fear,” said Plato. When you face your opponent with no fear, you cannot be defeated. So, you don’t need to protect yourself, Yokenai!
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1. 無刀捕, Mutō Dori
2. “Japanese sword fighting”, by Hatsumi sensei, pages 64 and 65 (published 2005 by Kodansha). Read here. More on Mutō Dori here
3. Yūryū: 勇竜, Dragon of bravery; courage; heroism. At the beginning of the 90s, Hatsumi Sensei gave us, Yūro Shi Tennō, “dragon names.” Today people don’t bother receiving them; they only add a dragon name to look cool. (sic)
4. Yokenai: 除け無い, yoke/protection + non-existent, not being there
5. Mumei: 無名, nameless, anonymous

Paris Taikai 14th to 16th of July. 3-day seminar with Sven Bogsater, Peter King and Arnaud Cousergue. Registration opened here