Reckishi for Ikkyu Brown Belt
By Toby Humphry
Conflict will come one’s way without seeking it out. Most of the time it will require mental or spiritual involvement. Sometimes it will call for a physical response and occasionally this will be injurious or even lethal.
When one faces conflict that is likely to be injurious or lethal one needs to be competent in Bujutsu, the warrior techniques of combat. Thus one can switch from long-range to short-range weaponry and back again, improvise from everyday objects, or do without.
Like playing a game of chess, one can see the consequences of each move and act appropriately so that the current weapon is ideally placed for subsequent moves. For instance, a block to each side facilitates a corresponding counterattack, but one may be particularly advantageous. This is true whether one is considering left and right, inside and outside, front and back, above and below.
One would be almost unknowingly considering such questions as whether or not to manoeuvre a body between oneself and the opponent; whether or not to disable or kill; whether to keep one's distance or close in; whether to stay on higher ground; whether to force or yield and so on.
A part of this craft concerns Taisabaki, one's body position and posture, which can so dramatically affect the outcome of an engagement. Again, one almost unknowingly considers weight and balance; the amount of effort involved in either moving or staying still; the method of movement, such as rolling, crawling, or sidestepping; one's height in relation to the ground, horizon and opponent.
Steven Hayes illustrates this point in his book, “The Ninja and their secret fighting art”. He describes one nights' training when he said aloud that he felt as if he was the punching bag for the night.
“You will continue to be the punching bag as long as you keep that high body pose. You are moving around like a boxer in a ring. There is no way that you can see your attackers that way; they just blend in with the ground. Lower your hips”, came the reply.
Steven Hayes dropped his pose and then saw his opponents silhouetted against the night sky. For now he could discern dark forms blotting out stars that he hadn't seen before. He could see figures darting towards him and to his sides and was able to act accordingly.
Lowering one’s position affords one greater peripheral vision, the act of looking up seems to aid concentration and retention of information. Being nearer to the ground is also a resource in itself. Though there are times when having the higher ground and looking down upon the opponent affords one advantage.
Some forms of movement lend themselves to stealth and concealment, which can give one an edge in conflict. Furthermore, a technique such as a roll can be neutral, evasive or offensive. One can play on what others might expect in the course of conflict, to devastating effect.
In the same way one would exploit their weakness and manipulate them in any conceivable way. One could use feints and distractions, that opponents may fear dangers that are not really there, or may drop their guard to make them more vulnerable.
Adopting a disguise and living out the part with the ease and naturalness, almost absentmindedness, of the real person often grants one greater access and freedom.
However, it is not enough to be versed in innumerable possibilities and set pieces. Although practice is said to make perfect, there comes a time when a harder reality can help to usher in perfection. A real enough conflict or battle can unfold whereby one is thoroughly tested. This is possible without the result of grieving relatives or one's summary arrest, because it is under the aegis of the ryu.
This is not to say that one does not receive knocks and blows. Even one's own weapons like to taste one's blood. A sharp weapon will nick the flesh and a blunt will bruise it in the course of training. Yet this equips the body as much as technique and rehearsal.
In a story called, “The Taste of Banzo’s Sword” the young Matajuro Yagyu labours in the house of Banzo, having been told never to speak of fencing and never to touch a sword. After a long time Matajuro is sad that he has not begun to learn the art to which he has devoted his life. Then one day Banzo creeps up behind him and gives him a terrific blow with a wooden sword.
The next day, when Matajuro is at work, Banzo again springs upon him unexpectedly. After that, day and night, Matajuro has to defend himself from unexpected thrusts. Thus he is ever thoughtful of the taste of Banzo’s sword.
In time Matajuro becomes the greatest swordsman in the land, even though, before he met Banzo, he was disowned by his father as being too mediocre.
It was not just the physical element of Matajuro’s albeit unorthodox tuition that enabled him to become adept. There was a psychological and spiritual dimension to it as well.
One benefits from developing Haragei, literally the “art of the belly”. In this state one’s energies are concentrated in the Hara and one is in control of oneself and at one with the universe. Thus one can read the harmful intent of a potential assailant, or detect the Sakki, the aggressive intention of the adversary.
Dr Masaaki Hatsumi writes about this in his books, as does Steven Hayes. They describe it as a sensation that allows one to react to the intention before it is affected. One reaction might be to stay away and to avoid the conflict altogether. This might be the most appropriate defence against a sniper’s bullet or a planted bomb.
If engagement is unavoidable, the detection of sakki gives one time to block the attack or to put in a counterattack before the attack is carried out.
Various authors describe Mushin, no mind or original mind. This is a state of mind that is not fixed on any one thing, idea, or mood, but is constantly open and available. It is not troubled by the apparent appearance of things. It is not inconsistent with Haragei, but more. The openness of mind is an aspect of Satori, which is to do with understanding the reality of the universe and all therein, and identifying with it.
Such an openness of mind allows one not only to detect Sakki, but also weakness within the opponent. There is Suki, an empty moment, or wrong mental outlook. Maybe the opponent’s mind is wandering or a technique is falling to pieces. Or there is Bonno, a disturbed feeling, whereby the opponent is no longer maintaining alertness in an outwardly calm fashion. At these times De Ai, a counterattack can be launched.
The psychic force of Ki can be released as instantaneous physical power. Kokyu, breathing from the Hara and timing this with movement allows one to influence the opponent (Kokyuho) and even throw them (Kokyunage)
This psychological edge that one can have has a spiritual dimension to it. In any art one will succeed if one has Kokura, or sacred fire and puts one’s heart to work. One then engages in dispassionate endeavour that does not look for reward. One has a vision of what lies beyond the conflict, whether one wins or not, or even loses one’s life.
It is the understanding at everything is a source of learning and helps one to conquer oneself. Everything one does is Netane, a sleeping seed, waiting to be woken up to come to one 5 aid and to the aid of those to come.
1. Steven Hayes, The Ninja and their secret fighting art, Tuttle. 1996, pl08ff
2.Paul Reps and Nyogen Senkai, Zen flesh, Zen bones, Shambala, 1994, p137ff
3.Dr Masaaki Hatsumi, The Grandmaster’s book of Ninja Training, Contemporary Books, 1988, p56ff
SunTzu, Art of War, c500B.C.E.
Miyamoto Musashi, The book of Five Rings, 1643C.E.
Louis Frederic, A Dictionary of the Martial Arts, The Athlone Press, 1991
Charles Daniel, Taijutsu: Ninja art of unarmed combat, Unique Publications, 1986
Dr Masaaki Hatsumi, Ninjutsu history and tradition, Unique Publications 1981
Steven Hayes, The Ninja and their secret fighting art, Tuttle, 1996
Joe Hyams, Zen in the martial arts, Bantam, 1982
Paul Reps and Nyogen Senkai, Zen flesh, Zen bones, Shambala, 1994
Jay Sensei, Tiger Scrolls of the Koga Ninja, Crompton, 1984