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

The Depth of Quality

When put in jail in Japan after the war, the famous German Zen philosopher, Karl Durkheim, had time to meditate.
One day in this cell, his hand on the table, he understood that “the depth of a quality, is related to the quality of the depth.”

This sentence is what came to my mind today when attending Senō sensei’s class. The quality of his movements is so subtle that it is impossible to get them from the Omote. With Liz, a  Canadian and Japanese resident, we had to feel the techniques at least ten times to begin to understand the Ura.

When you are his uke, there’s no strength at all. It is like fighting a cloud. You are trapped softly, as is he was not there. At some point, he quoted Hatsumi sensei repeating that you have to “throw yourself away”. To disappear. Becoming zero is the only way.

We did many similar techniques today. I’ll try to share one of them here. You receive uke’s attack softly with the arm, the thumb protruding at the triceps level. Then you twist slightly your forearm which in turn locks uke’s wrist. The ability to keep a relaxed body is important, and this twisting of the limb, so typical is Senō sensei’s movements is a major part of it. When the is no tension in your body, each part of your anatomy can move freely and independently. There is no intention at all. This is zero.

The movement is so soft that the attacker has no knowledge about it. After receiving the attack (ukeire) (1), entering with your leg in a sort of Ô Soto Gake, you threaten his face with the top of your elbow and wrap/rotate uke’s shoulder with your open hand flat on the shoulder blade. Uke doesn’t know he is trapped before it is too late. His spine is composed, and he flies away with no force at all. Naturally.

Senō sensei’s explained that the “gake” was different from the usual one (2). Here, the idea is to suspend the opponent between two points, so that he is never aware of what is happening to him (3).

Another important aspect is the rhythm of your movements. Senō sensei’s spoke of Jiki, the time between the steps. Like when you are playing music, rhythm is vital. A technique is not flat. There is a tempo. Going too fast or not respecting those breathing moments will prevent your actions to be efficient.

That was another great class. When you have the chance to train at this level, you understand how foolish it is to train fast, using speed and strength. Softness is much more efficient. It is the only way to reach the quality of Budō you’re striving to achieve.

“the depth of a quality is related to the quality of the depth”.

1. Ukeire: see previous posts
2. 翔る/kakeru/to soar; to fly|to run; to dash
3. 架ける/kakeru/to suspend between two points; to build (a bridge, etc.); to put up on something (e.g. legs up on table)
4. 時期/jiki/time; season; period; phase; stage


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