Seikatsu 生活

Lately, there’s this lovely post floating around Facebook, and as it’s quite similar in nature to some of the other lifestyle articles that we have here, I figured it would make a nice addition. There will also be some of my commentary and thoughts after the below quote.

Guidelines on the important foundation of a healthy lifestyle for a Budoka (martial artist), passed down to Hatsumi-Sensei by Takamatsu-sensei:

  • Stretching exercises for thirty minutes before sleep. (寝る前に柔軟体操三十分。)
  • Raw food and exercise. (生食と運動。)
  • Respecting the Gods and Buddhas. (神仏を尊び)
  • Whatever may happen, don’t become anxious / fearful. (何ことも恐れず。)
  • Go with the natural flow of things (Kami-nagara gyōun-ryūsui; 神ながら行雲流水。).
  • Make simplicity / innocence the foundation (kihon) of your lifestyle. (The simple life.) (天真らんまんの生活が基本である。)
  • “You mustn’t become angry, don’t allow your heart (to be clouded) by anger. (「怒るということはいかん、心から怒らんことや」。)

From:
“戸隠流忍法体術 Togakure Ryu Ninpō Taijutsu, Masaaki Hatsumi (1983 Japanese Shin Jinbutsu Oraisha)

Stretching before sleep

For the first point regarding stretching for thirty minutes before sleep, I’ve seen over the years many articles suggesting and discussing this. Some of the benefits include improving the quality of sleep by stretching out the tension of the day, reducing stress levels, and offsets the chance for injuries, etc. I also recommend this in the morning as well. For years I’ve avoided having a warm-up or stretching part in my classes as I want the students to understand that it is their responsibility to start the day on the right foot and not take way from learning time in class. So with that line of thought, it makes sense to stretch every morning and evening.

Raw Foods

The next point mentions eating raw foods. This is something that I lean towards myself, though there are certainly many times that I crave a greasy something-or-rather at the local pub. But this reminds me of the quote by Toda Shinryuken Masamitsu,

“Ninja should eat food that is uncooked. People begin losing stamina, energy, and their sixth sense as a result of eating cooked food. Ninja must become familiar with eating natural food. First though, we need water, but drinking water is not enough. You can also fill your chest with mountain air.”

And indeed, it has been my personal experience that I have had more physical energy and steady amounts of energy since going vegetarian, and then later vegan (though now I am a Pescetarianism, because, sushi is a thing), as well as a notable decrease in sick time; I’ quite used to several colds and flu sickness a year, but now it’s only once or twice a year. By correlation, most of my food (including the fish) is raw.

Respecting God and Buddha

big-buddha
Tian Tan Buddha of Ngong Ping, Lantau Island, in Hong Kong

Contrary to the current trend of atheism, and a general disposition regarding religion (for most, in all its forms), there are many benefits to at the very least respecting such figures as God or Buddha. For the context of things like the martial arts or trauma, I feel that this best fits into the theories of Post Traumatic Growth (PTG). This is basically when one is subjected to something highly traumatic, whether an accident, sexual assault, violence, and so on, usually resulting in experience somewhere on the post traumatic stress spectrum. The coping methods and mechanisms that allow one to not only resist, recover, and overcome this Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), but even grow from the experience and process of recovery.

In regards to religion ad spirituality and PTG, “Spirituality has been shown to highly correlate with posttraumatic growth and in fact, many of the most deeply spiritual beliefs are a result of trauma exposure” (O’Rourke 2008). For some, it is a little like when you suffer a care crash, and have physical and emotional trauma to recover from, “knowing” that this experience was a test of faith from your god, gives you a sense of both place in the cosmology of your beliefs, as well as a certain closure.

Avoiding Anxiety

anxiety
Anxious much?

It has been observed that people who have a nervous or anxious disposition tend to be rather drained, make poor gut decisions (because it’s not their intuition, it’s their fears making the decisions), and often drain the energy from their relationships.

Being nervous and anxious is also bed for the nervous system, and by extension the immune system as it gets drained. Thus for a martial artist, having a weakened sympathetic nervous system means that you are less able to respond to sudden emergency, and having a weakened parasympathetic nervous system means that shock and tunnel-vision are likely to be the response to the emergency. As a result of having worn down nerves, the results are contrary to the goals of any martial artist.

Go with the Flow

We call this Gyoun Ryusui, and its a little like having faith in your purpose in life, or simply not resisting the circumstances that come your way. Similar to the natural water cycle, water falls to the earth, hydrates biological life, evaporates and returns to the clouds, only to fall again. at no point does it resist its natural process, just fulfills it’s role. The problem is when the ego comes into the picture; what happens when the water doesn’t want to go with the flow anymore? What if that raindrop wants to be something great, to be recognized and leave a legacy behind that it was there? Then that raindrop is going to cause some problems. As usual, the ego continues to be the only real enemy… But when the ego is put to the side, then we have the energy and patience to be happy, to enjoy the life that we were gifted with, instead of fighting for things like arrogance, ambition, and materialistic gain.

Leading a Simple Life

simplicity-sanity
Simplicity equals Sanity

I personally find it hard to elaborate on this one, as I am someone who deeply enjoys convolution, TV shows like Game of Thrones and Sherlock, and anything that forces me to think in order to keep up invigorates me, and if I’m still thinking of it a week later, all the better; I don’t turn off well.

But, I’ve known for a long time that leading a simple life is a surefire way to reduce tension, stress, anxiety, and most other ailments in life. If we are talking about having a healthy lifestyle, simplicity is key; one doesn’t need to study bio-mechanics to have a healthy jogging routine, you don’t need yoga class to stretch your body, you don’t need magazines to feed you dieting theories. Keep things simple – run, walk, paint, eat; keep it simple.

Avoid Anger

I can’t imagine very many times where I’ve made a good decision while angry, in fact, the only times I think such has worked out has been when I decided to wait to “consider things” (i.e. chill out), before making a decision while angry. As both a martial artist and a shinobi must be able to make sound judgement that will likely influence the lives of others, in some cases many others, then tat judgment and decision-making must not be colored by strong emotions.

Bibliography:

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Hitoe 一重

身ヲ一重ニ可成事

Mi o Hitoe ni kanari koto

The body must be maintained in profile.

Differences between the times of armor and the battlefield and today’s combative sports are numerous and diverse, from placement of the feet and hands, to the usage of kamae and tachi, types of weapons, qualities of movement, so on and so fourth. One of the first details that we are going to look at here is the notion of placing the body in proportion to the enemy on the battlefield.

More specifically, this is the idea of standing profile to the person in front of you; but why would we want to do this? does it not limit our options and maneuverability in combat? Well, this may seem unusual, unorthodox, or counter-intuitive, I can assure you that it is both a classical form of movement, and an incredibly effective method for managing one’s own body, though that will take a few steps to get there.

The History

The quote at the beginning of this writing is from Yagyu Munenori’s Heiho Kadensho (柳生 宗矩, 兵法家伝書, 1632), where it is written five bodily principles regarding the nature of one’s sword posture[1], and it’s relevance to the enemy. This quote regarding standing profile (hitoe; 一重) is the first of the five details, and as we like to say in ninjutsu, “the first transmission is the deepest transmission“,[2] and as such, this should be deeply considered.

This teaching however, stretches back to at least the Nen-ryu (念流) founded in 1368, where even in the current iterations of the Maniwa Nen-ryu we can see this a little, (as well as that of Hicho no kamae), as Nen-ryu was the origin of the principle of Tōtoku Hyōshi (刀匿礮姿), a principle derived from defending against projectiles, but had been adapted to the sword, spear, and much later, unarmed kamae.

Similarly, paintings and illustrations all through Japan’s history exemplify body positions like this, and it wasn’t that it was some artistic leniency that inflicted the art style; as we see variances between different social classes within the same artist or writers examples. Within one artists career we might find illustrations representing the forms of Nanba Aruki [3], Hitoe, and leg and foot positioning (ichimonji; 一文字) to allow for freedom of movement (jiyū jizai; 自由自在) in response to the needs of the battlefield. Indeed, it is even uncommon to see warriors depicted as not working within this form of movement.

However, as the warrior class moved away from armored battlefield combat, some of the perks of this positioning (which will be elaborated on in the next section) dissolved, and the combatants began to square their shoulders towards the opponent. This further suffered when foreign influence came into the picture and exposed the warrior class to what we today refer to as gendai taisō (現代体操), or modern exercise.

Practicality

Though in order to not incessantly ramble on indefinitely on the subject, this will not be an exhaustive list, but at least three points will be explained here: Kamae, Sōgō, and Kage.

Kamae 構え

Kamae in this case refers to the position you take proportionate to the enemy, that is to say, they can only see the side of the body that you show them, at least half of your body is out of view. While in armor, this means that half of your openings are protected, all that remains is the face, the armpit, and the foot. Hicho helps to protect the foot, by pointing the foot at the enemy the armor’s shin guards protect the rest of the leg, the hand in front protects both the face and the armpit with what ever weapon you have through postures like seigan[4] and the principle of Tōtoku Hyōshi.

Sōgō 総合

Daijodan with a staff
A large staff being wielded just like a sword in the Daijodan position.

Most classical schools of Japanese traditions in the martial arts are comprised of numerous weapons and techniques, connected by common denominators. This structure is called Sōgō Bujutsu (composite martial science; 総合武術). This is how to connect one’s basic fighting posture between the sword, spear and unarmed; seigan no kamae is shared between each of the weapons with little modification, whether in armor or otherwise.

As such the techniques involved were developed to be adaptable to any weapon, the principles of each becoming the common denominators between each. This all comes from the postures itself, beginning from the feet, and their position, to that of the hips, and then the shoulders. The transition between each weapon is natural without much thought for extra thought and no need to adapt the movements. As such the idea of Sōgō Bujutsu illustrates the principle that from only one technique, only one form, multiple applications can be produced. The technique is an expression of the kamae, and both are in turn a reflection of the practitioners depth of practice, understanding, and spirit; a measure of how open and accepting to life’s adversities he can be.

Kage 陰

Kage, or “In” (as in Inyo; 陰陽, the Japanese reading of Yin-yang), refers to what is visible, and invisible, or out of sight. The term kage no kamae comes from the technical writings of Shinkage-ryu, but is referred to several times in the mokuroku of Jiki Shinkage-ryu.

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Most of the kamae found in ninja-related ryuha are positions where the body is also seen in profile and the feet are on one line (called Ichimonji; 一文字). To have such a profiled posture carries with it the “spirit of being profile”, in that it is an attitude or intention in which only half is allowed to show, what the practitioner decide to offer. The intention of this profiled posture is one of a state of hiding. To reiterate, the practitioner of ninjutsu doesn’t appear directly, doesn’t show everything to his adversary, but instead creates doubt about his real capacity.

Conclusions

Though this seems exceptionally difficult as well as counter-intuitive, I hope some of the logic and examples provided above give the reader some grasp as to how the classical warrior’s science differed from today’s practice of things like kendo. From bio-mechanical principles established in the late 13th century and survived all the way through the feudal era, only to dissolve due to complacency… It is a shame indeed that even though publications such as the Life-Giving Sword are out there and thoroughly reviewed, principles, right at the beginning of the book, and written in very plain legible English are all but completely ignored or overlooked when they form some of the basis for such famous schools as the Yagyu Shinkage-ryu.

Sources

  • Yagyu, Jubei Mitsuyoshi. Tsuki no sho (1642). Annotated by Imamura Yoshio. Sanjo-shi: Nojima Shuppan, 1971.
  • Yagyu, Munenori. The Life-Giving Sword: Secret Teachings from the House of the Shogun (p. 109). Shambhala.

Notes

[1] “Whether striking or parrying, these must not be forgotten. When one is a beginner, they are intended to correct strain from incorrect body posture. It is the same as correcting unevenness in a bow. . . . If you know your body well, knowing strain is knowing yourself. If you think only of what’s in front of you, you will forget about straining your body . . . correcting strain is the first stage of understanding in knowing yourself.” —Himonshu

[2] 初伝わ奥伝なり。 There is a few reasons for this: 1) In order to preserve some of the most important teachings of the tradition, it is structured in such a way that if the pupil learns only the first few teachings or lessons and the master dies, some of the most important lessons are not lost. 2) There would have been more individuals that have practiced the first technique, then any other technique, thus it has been exposed to more minds, refined more intensively, and had more knowledge compacted into it than any other technique in the tradition.

[3] Nanba Aruki (ナンバ歩), a system of bio-mechanics seemingly unique to Japan for various reasons, that includes keeping the feet, hips, and shoulders inline while moving. Due to the very low strain nature of this movement, some have hypothesized that this is the human being’s natural way of walking and moving in daily life. I myself have spent the past 9 years working this into my daily behavior, and have noticed a reduction of strain-injury as well as more overall energy throughout the day. Studies have also shown that the nanba method of walking can reduce knee impact and strain, improve fluidity of movement, and reduced slip potential. Interestingly, within the Bujinkan, there is a series of exercises that educate the pupil on how to do exactly this called the Sanshin Gata (三心型).

[4] Seigan no kamae (正眼之構), a position where the sword, spear, or other weapon is pointing directly at the enemy’s eyes, serving as an obstacle that they have to circumvent in order to deliver and effective attack.

And the TL:DR version:

Yoyū 余裕

Today I had a friend from Japan come over to train at my home studio, which is always fun. He shared with me some details and ideas regarding Mutō Dori (facing a sword unarmed; 無刀捕), and Tōtoku Hyōshi (刀匿礮姿), as well as some unusual methods of Ukemi (受身) using the body. Interestingly, he kept using a Japanese term I don’t recall ever hearing before, Yoyū (surplus; 余裕). Though I didn’t know the term, it didn’t take long due to the context to get an idea of what it meant (It should be noted that I don’t tend to train with too many guys that train with Masaaki Hatsumi, but instead, train with the folks that train with Ishizuka and Kacem – not as a rule, there’s just more of one type of training in my area than the other).

However, in trying to think of a way that I could write about it, I cam up pretty blank; it’s more like a minute quality of movement and placement from the angle that I understand it; so I hit the internet to dog around about this; the first place being the dictionary:

“surplus;  composure;  margin;  room;  time;  allowance;  flexibility;  scope;  rope” (Tangorin)

This only kinda gets us anywhere in regards to it’s usage, so I found this article, La magie de yoyu 余裕 by Bernard Grégoire in French. Below is the translation:

“For a few years the word yoyu has been used in our Bujinkan vocabulary. Yoyu is the small surplus or more precisely the drop of water that overflows the vase. Only Hatsumi sensei could take such a word and make it a theme.

When an attacker executes a punch, he usually takes care not to strike too far so as not to lose his balance and not offer open places that could turn against him. Unfortunately for us, the intellect and the subconscious are two different things. The decisions made by our intellect are not always shared by our subconscious. This is the strength of Yoyu.

When a punch is fired, if the target is unreachable, our arm will automatically retreat to prepare for our next attack or simply to reinforce our guard. If it seems possible to reach the target, then the subconscious maintains the mission order, extending the arm more and more in order to reach that target which is there a few millimeters in range. This is a small part of the magic of Yoyu. To make believe the subconscious of the adversary that it will be able to strike us. Make it go a few centimeters more to make it lose its stability.

From the moment the opponent is unstable, he opens the door to all kinds of possibilities. The intellect knows it is a trap, but the subconscious does not see it that way. He continues to want to fulfill his mission at all costs. This principle of overcoming the opponent can be applied in various techniques, such as strikes or seizing techniques.

Those who had the chance to serve as a partner for Hatsumi sensei understand this principle of yoyu which makes us throw ourselves in spite of ourselves in the mouth of the wolf. When this principle is applied as Hatsumi Sensei does, it is realized too late that one has just made a mistake.”

I saw the application of Yoyū also carry a sort of feeling of “wiggle-room”, kind of like finding yourself in a spot where the opponent has no Yoyū (wiggle-room), while you give yourself Yoyū (options and opportunity).

However, it is pretty evident that there are many manifestations of this principle…

The Shukō of Togakure-ryū

Introduction

In the Bujinkan organization’s vast collection of teachings, techniques, and tools, there are a wide assortment of unusual weapons and tools that have been adopted, adapted, and re-purposed to fit new needs and intentions. This isn’t new for the martial arts, a tertiary glance at Okinawan martial arts will illustrate that. However, one of the more exotic and supposedly specialized tools has a great wealth of mystery and misconceptions – the shukō.

This is a highly misunderstood tool that has had much of it’s qualities exaggerated, and even it’s place in history re-shaped to fit many peoples conceptions and ideals of farmer-warriors and the ninja. Some of the things that are misunderstood:

  • The shukō are unique to ninjutsu,[1]
  • The name means “tiger hands” (手虎),[1]
  • The shukō were designed for climbing trees,
  • and so on…

In regards to these things, they aren’t always easy to source, but they do tend to have a certain logic about them so I’ll peel them off quickly: The notion that the shukō are unique to the ninja don’t generally make much sense as anything visibly unique to the ninja would simply give up one’s cover; as such, like many such interesting tools, they originate in agricultural practices (elaborated on later).

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The name means “hand hooks” (手鉤) not “tiger hands” (手虎), though a viable homonym, there are literally no reputable sources for this way of writing the name. One may take some artistic license in regards to such things, and the connection is an easy one to make, but neither the history of the tool, nor any prevalent sources support this. One source that we can look to is in Takamatsu Toshitsugu‘s own writing, one of the densho of the Togakure-ryū (see the above slideshow), where by his hand, it is written 手鉤. This kanji is also reproduced in Masaaki Hatsumi‘s “Way of the Ninja” (page 48).

History

The foundation and evolution of the shukō begins in the agricultural fields of ancient Japan around the Kofun period (c. 250 CE – 538 CE), when the establishment of iron tools really started to take hold in rural Japan. At this time, the source tools we can find is that of the Asakagi (fiber hook; 麻鉤), also called the tekagi (with the same spelling as shukō; 手鉤), used for hooking bails of straw, hay, wheat, and in early times, bundles of rice, for manual moving and transportation.

There was also the Asanō (shallow agriculture; 浅農), a three-to-five pronged claw on a shaft, used for hand plowing gardens and smaller crops. This could also be used for the same purpose as the above mentioned asakagi in moving bails of various horticulture product.

Quite a while later, during the Heian period (794 – 1185 CE), there was a certain merger to this tool in certain regions of Japan[2]. At this point, the development of the tekkō kagi (claws that cover the hand; 手甲鉤) can be seen (source waiting for release [3]). This was used similar to that of a pitch-fork, a tool used for scooping up hay, straw, and wheat manually.

Sometime in the Sengoku period (1467 – c. 1603) certain regions developed a variation of the tekkō kagi, but with the hooks worn on the inside of the palms, often with cloth or leather sleeves similar in use to chaps in order to protect the bare skin from whatever produce was being handled (see figure 3). This allowed better leverage and handling when lifting and moving bails (koku; 石) of rice by hand. The version made popular by Togakure-ryū ninjutsu is made of a metal band that wraps the palm, and a wrist band. The hooks are located on the inside of the palm (see figure 2).

evolution-of-the-shuko
(Figure 2) Evolution of the shukō
1-hokusai_rice_cultivation
(Figure 3) The use of shukō and manipulation of rice bails by Katsushika Hokusai (葛飾 北斎, 1760 – 1849).

Usage

Within the martial arts of Togakure-ryū ninjutsu, there are three particular ways to go about it:

  1. Applying this to augment one’s unarmed fighting (taijutsu; 体術),
  2. Usage for fleeing techniques (Taijutsu Ukemi Gata; 体術受身型),
  3. Kata that are specifically made to utilize shukō (Santō Tonkō Gata; 鼠逃遁甲型)

With Taijutsu

The first approach, and most common one it seems, is to explore one’s taijutsu while wearing shukō. This, however, requires that you understand the qualities of the tool. For example, one can assume that you could simply slap the enemy with the claws and have some exciting results. However, what then happens when the claws get stuck in bone? Now this slows you down; this is also where one can quickly see where this was a tool before it was a weapon – the hooks are designed for fibrous produce, not human… consumption.

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Instead, one uses the weight of the metal band and the shape of it in various ways, while moving in an exceptionally light way[4], including changing how one delivers strikes. the forms of boshiken (thumb fist; 拇指拳), shutō (edge of hand; 手刀), and even fudoken (clenched fist; 不動拳) are forced to change to accommodate the shape of the shukō. As such the following gokui is relevant:

Sutemi also contains a sense of moving as though empty handed,
even while holding a tool.

– Masaaki Hatsumi

Ukemi Gata

The second way draws from the more acrobatic section of Togakure-ryū, from the Togakure-ryū ninjutsu hidensho (戸隠流忍術秘傳書), which is shown in Figure 1 above. This details some vague forms of evading sword attacks and takes into account matters such as striking the opponents vitals with the metal band of the shukō as well as using it to catch a sword blade in the hands and hoist the weapon away from the enemy.

The Escape Forms

Finally, there is the Santō Tonkō gata (鼠逃遁甲型) found in the Shinjin Ichinyo no maki (神人一如之巻)[5]. This writing lays out the primary techniques of the shukō, shuriken (throwing blades; 手裏剣), and metsubushi (blinding powder; 目潰し). These forms are derived from Hajutsu (破術)[6], and deal with dire situations where one is detected and forced into combat. This is different from conventional kata dealing with the defeat of the enemy in that these kata detail how to escape from various grabs, stun or weaken the enemy and flee or hide.

the second section deals with being unarmed (or with shukō and various other tools) while facing an armed assailant. these techniques again don’t necessarily deal with killing the enemy, but stunning or disabling, and then fleeing or hiding.

The third section is regarding situations where you are discovered, cornered, and outnumbered. Then things like stones, metsubushi, and misdirection is deployed in order to survive and escape.

togakure-ryu-santo-tonko-shinjin-ichinyo
Figure 4. Shinjin Ichinyo no Maki (神人一如), containing the Togakure-ryū Santo Tonko Gata – including usage of the Shukō, Shuriken, and mitsubishi.

Conclusion

As can be seen above, although certain groups have weaponized this uncommon farm implement, it is not inherently a weapon. Shukō are not weapons for war, they are soto no mono (improvised weapons; 外の物), but before being a weapon, it was a tool for carrying things on the back. So a warrior or samurai who is working in the fields is suddenly attacked by somebody and he used the tools by accident. That is to say the shukō wasn’t something you necessarily carried (though see the photos at the end o this article to see how they were carried), unless that was a planned thing.

And the techniques involved further exemplify this, as well as a very important gokui of Togakure-ryū:

抜かず勝て、抜けば切るたよ、ただ忍べ、命をたるは大事とぞ知れ

Win without drawing; if you must draw, don’t cut. Just forebear. Know that it is a grave thing to take a life.

Sources:

footnotes:

[1] It has been stated in other sources across the Internet, but here is an example where a notable amount of misinformation has been cast. I don’t know where this information comes from, but according the “About” page, it is linked to To-shin-do. I emphasize that this is not a slight against Stephen Hayes at all, but the information has been clearly inaccurate.

[2] Even in North America, though notably later (circa 16th century), I personally can attest to seeing tools similar to the Tekkō kagi for the purpose of moving handfuls of hay and straw before the bundling of hay bails with large scooping movements, having grown up on a horse farm in an French Acadian family (the initial European settlers of the country to be known as Canada).

[3] I have translated several primary sources on commission, and this is one such one that is under a confidentiality clause; it is regarding agricultural tools and their usage during the Kamakura (1185–1333) or Muromachi (1336–1573) periods. I can say that this is a long gap in history, and there was tremendous developments and improvements in metallurgy during this time as there has always been two major influences in historical development: military, and entertainment – in this case the Sengoku jidai (warring states period) stretched from 1467 to 1603; a very long time, but a very scientifically influential time.

[4] “Smooth is slow; slow is hidden.” (滑らかさは遅いです、遅いが隠されている。)

[5] This particular scroll teaches not only the fighting techniques of the tradition, but also the philosophical principles of “harmonizing with nature”, that is to say, Shinjin Ichinyo. As I have explained elsewhere, the notion of the kami (神) in the Shinto faith, are like the manifestations of the elements of nature; and like that, this scroll teaches how to escape and hide with the five phases (gogyo; 五行) as inspiration. As such, learning to rely on and harmonize (become one with) the phases of nature is becoming one with the kami.

[6] “Hajutsu no hō is a very violent method of combat, which requires a deep understanding of the human anatomy as well as the ability to move with fluidity. Hajutsu no hō allows the practitioner, among other things, to incorporate the use of the various types of weapons. It encompasses the likes of kosshi-jutsu and koppō jutsu, the art of kyūsho (急所) and kyūsho (求所 or 救所). Here, the two words have the same sound, but the characters are different. They are complementary sciences, which shows why kosshi-jutsu and koppō-justsu were always transmitted together.” (Zoughari pp 77)

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And here’s the TL;DR version:

How to practice effectively… for just about anything

By Annie Bosler and Don Greene, transcribed by Luke Crocker

Mastering any physical skill, be it performing a pirouette, playing an instrument, or throwing a baseball, takes practice.
Practice is the repetition of an action with the goal of improvement, and it helps us perform with more ease, speed, and confidence. So what does practice do in our brains to make us better at things?
Our brains have two kinds of neural tissue: grey matter and white matter. The grey matter processes information in the brain, directing signals and sensory stimuli to nerve cells, while white matter is mostly made up of fatty tissue and nerve fibers. In order for our bodies to move, information needs to travel from the brain’s grey matter, down the spinal cord, through a chain of nerve fibers called axons to our muscles.
So how does practice or repetition affect the inner workings of our brains? The axons that exist in the white matter are wrapped with a fatty substance called myelin. And it’s this myelin covering, or sheath, that seems to change with practice. Myelin is similar to insulation on electrical cables. It prevents energy loss from electrical signals that the brain uses, moving them more efficiently along neural pathways.
Some recent studies in mice suggest that the repetition of a physical motion increases the layers of myelin sheath that insulates the axons. And the more layers, the greater the insulation around the axon chains, forming a sort of superhighway for information connecting your brain to your muscles.
So while many athletes and performers attribute their successes to muscle memory, muscles themselves don’t really have memory. Rather, it may be the myelination of neural pathways that gives these athletes and performers their edge with faster and more efficient neural pathways.
There are many theories that attempt to quantify the number of hours, days, and even years of practice that it takes to master a skill. While we don’t yet have a magic number,
we do know that mastery isn’t simply about the amount of hours of practice. It’s also the quality and effectiveness of that practice.
Effective practice is consistent, intensely focused, and targets content or weaknesses that lie at the edge of one’s current abilities. So if effective practice is the key, how can we get the most out of our practice time? Try these tips.

Focus on the task at hand.

Minimize potential distractions by turning off the computer or TV and putting your cell phone on airplane mode. In one study, researchers observed 260 students studying. On average, those students were able to stay on task for only six minutes at a time. Laptops, smartphones, and particularly Facebook were the root of most distractions.

Start out slowly or in slow-motion.

Coordination is built with repetitions, whether correct or incorrect. If you gradually increase the speed of the quality repetitions, you have a better chance of doing them correctly.

Frequent short practice sessions

Next, frequent repetitions with allotted breaks are common practice habits of elite performers. Studies have shown that many top athletes, musicians, and dancers spend 50-60 hours per week on activities related to their craft. Many divide their time used for effective practice into multiple daily practice sessions of limited duration.

Mind and Body

And finally, practice in your brain in vivid detail. It’s a bit surprising, but a number of studies suggest that once a physical motion has been established, it can be reinforced just by imagining it. In one study, 144 basketball players were divided into two groups. Group A physically practiced one-handed free throws while Group B only mentally practiced them. When they were tested at the end of the two week experiment, the intermediate and experienced players in both groups had improved by nearly the same amount.
As scientists get closer to unraveling the secrets of our brains, our understanding of effective practice will only improve. In the meantime, effective practice is the best way we have of pushing our individual limits, achieving new heights, and maximizing our potential.

Tenchi Ryusui 天地流水

tenchi-ryusui-no-maki

“Water falls from the sky in the form of rain and flows downhill. Once in the sea, it arises again in the form of vapor, via evaporation, when warm winds descend. As it rises, it forms clouds that are then driven by the wind back over land where the process starts all over again. This cycle involves fû (wind), sui (water), and the natural forces and energies of magnetism and heat. One’s life is no different. What we think of as change, or even death, is simply transformation. The Divine cycle is infinite.” – Masaaki Hatsumi, Gyokko-ryu kuden

From a hunt for Azuma-ryu

This morning I had been hunting around for information about the Azuma-ryu (東流) school of hojojutsu, for extra information on my translation of Zukai Hojojutsu, and really there’s next to nothing available online about this tradition.

hagainmono-no-koto-azuma-ryu-hojojutsu
Hagaimeno no Koto ハガイノ事 of the Azuma-ryu 東流.

According to David Hall, the author of the Encyclopedia of Japanese Martial arts (Nihon Budo Jiten 日本武道事典), this may refer to three different ryuha:

  1. A school of espionage (ninjutsu) that was apparently still preserved during the Taisho era (1912-1925). The only practitioner from that time known today is Azuma Taro Uemon.
  2. A school specializing in swordsmanship (kenjutsu) with the standard sword (katana) and dagger (tanto) in the area of Fukuoka domain in Kyushu. The only known practitioner is Suyama Ichiemon.
  3. A school specializing in arresting-cord arts (torinawa) that was a splinter tradition of the Nanba Ippo-ryu 難波一甫流.

An that’s about all I’ve managed to acquire on this particular ryuha. However, when drudging through the Wasada University archives, I found numerous books on folk stories, plays, and other miscellany (including a modern school of two string guitar under the same spelling as this tradition).

One of the picture books I found had many illustrations with interesting points to ponder called Azuma Sodachi Satsuki no Ochigiwa (東発名皐月落際). This appears to be a story novel following a warrior of which I haven’t deduced the name of, written by Bakin Kyokutei and Toyokuni Utagawa in 1799.

Shukke and the Yurei 出家と幽霊

azuma-sodachi-satsuki-no-ochigiwa-Yurei
A monk facing a Yurei 幽霊 (feint spirit ghost) in the azuma sodachi satsuki no ochigiwa

It appears that this first part of the story centers around a traveling exorcist meeting various ghosts and demons, whole later on it focuses on a warrior and his interactions (violently) with various demons. Whether this is one and the same person, I’ really not sure as I find it very difficult to read this type of literature.

In the above illustrations, the ghost (Yurei; 幽霊) is depicted as an old woman, which narrows down what type of ghost she is, though I have also not been able to deduce his particular type. Though this category of ghost is commonly depicted with a sort of willow-wisp ghost orb nearby (Davisson, p. 215), it is omitted here, but plays a notable part later in the story.

Because my own background tends to be in the interest of ninjutsu, any time I see a monk depicted in such situations, I think of one of the main disguises of the ninja, though I know this particular story to not be the case here.

Baphomet?

azuma sodachi satsuki no ochigiwa Baphomet
Depictions of various Japanese spirits and demons, interesting to notice the depiction of a goat headed demon here looking very much like the Baphomet demon of Christianity.

The next interesting illustration shows an oni (demon; 鬼) with the head of a goat, something that isn’t too commonly seen in Japanese folklore, to the extant that I couldn’t find much of anything about it.

Having it look straight on in the manner depicted gives it some alarmingly similar features and presentation as the often referenced pagan goat god, Baphomet, feared in Christian sources for it’s comparisons to the modern conception of Satan (some consider them one and the same). I’ve personally never seen another depiction of a goat demon in any sort of Japanese sources, but this is really not my field. A brief search through various sources that I have on hand and available on Amazons Kindle libraries for terms like Yokai (妖怪) and Yurei (幽霊) and buying three different encyclopedias on the subjects revealed nothing including the terms “goat” or ‘sheep”, so this continues to be an elusive subject.

Hitodama 人魂!

azuma-sodachi-satsuki-no-ochigiwa-hitodama-onibi-kitsunebi
Some depictions of oni (鬼) with a tetsubo (iron club; 鉄棒), and a swordsman armed with a tachi and daito, and surrounded by rats and some form of orb ghosts.

I’ve always had a personal curiosity about will-o-whisps, and their various cultural iterations. So when I come across illustrations of Japanese warriors being surrounded by ghostly orbs like this, it catches my attention, and I have to say I didn’t exist this kin og Yokai to have it’s own category; it turns out that depending on where they come from, they have different meanings, demeanor, behaviors, and so on, but they all fall under the category of Hi no Tama (orbs of fire; 火の玉).

I can only speculate what these particular ones with the kanji for heart or mind (心) written on them. So I’ll briefly describe a few different ones here:

Hitodama 人魂

hitodama-konjaku-gazu-zoku-hyakki
Hitodama from the Konjaku Gazu Zoku Hyakki by Toriyama Sekien

This seems to be one of the more common of the various spirit orbs, characterized by a floating orb, sometimes with a feint flame around it, ad with a tail trailing behind.

They seem to levitate fairly close to the ground, and unlike other orb-like spirits that are created by other supernatural beings (such as foxes and demons), hitodama are said to leave the body of a dead human two or three days after death.

The kanji used in the name 魂 implies yang energy, somewhat like the yang energy leaving the body upon death and only yin being left behind.

It’s also interesting to note that this spirit is mentioned in the Man’yoshu:

“When you are alone and meet the complete blueness of a hitodama, you would naturally think of it as the sorrow on a rainy night” –  Man’yōshū (Amasaki book) Chapter 16

Onibi 鬼火

sougenbi-onibi-gazu-hyakki-yagyo
“Sougenbi” from the “Gazu Hyakki Yagyō” by Sekien Toriyama

These are orbs that appear along side various oni and are said to come from the souls of the dead who are violent or maleficent.

According to the work of Matthew Meyer, “Onibi does not create much heat, but the orbs possess a different danger. Living creatures that draw too close are sometimes swarmed by dozens of orbs, which quickly drain away the life force from their victims. Soon nothing is left of the victim but a dead husk on the ground.”

As such it appears that this is one of the more dangerous iteration of the hi no tama class of spirits and ghosts.

 

Kitsunebi 狐火

awakashi-monogatari-kitsunebi
Kitsunebi illustrated in the Ayakashi Monogatari (阿也可之譚), written by Gyokuzan Okada (玉山 岡田), in 1790. A story about the Kitsune’s mischief.

Most depictions of Kitsunebi (fox fire; 狐火) show them as thin wisps of flame, though some show as orbs like the others. The kitsunebi themselves are not dangerous, the fox spirit it came from can be really quite malicious, and in some myths, exceptionally dangerous.

Kitsune have been an ongoing fascination of mine, particularly the nine-tailed versions. Kitsunebi orbs are formed by foxes, which breath the ball of fire out from their mouths and use it to light their way at night. It is most often a sign that a large number of kitsune are nearby – often during yokai events such as the night parade of one hundred demons, yokai wedding ceremonies, and other processions or meetings. (Meyer, “Kitsunebi“)

Killing the Oni

azuma-sodachi-satsuki-no-ochigiwa-bamboo
A warrior depicted smashing down an oni with a large trunk of bamboo, notice a sort of restrained spirit orb next to him seemingly on a leash.

So a switch back to the original review here, now were looking at an action shot with the protagonist killing a demon with a rather large trunk of bamboo. I have noticed a tendency that when theses warriors are depicted in killing of fighting demons, it is usually with an exceptionally large weapon. I imagine this would be because of the expectation that demons tend to be much stronger than humans, so something a little bit more impact-full  would have to do the trick.

It’s also interesting to see the hitodama in the picture seemingly tethered or leashed by its tail, almost in a comical way.

The Wisdom Kings

azuma-sodachi-satsuki-no-ochigiwa-fudomyoo
Depictions of the Wisdom kings (myohi ;明妃) of esoteric Buddhism, note the famous Fudomyoo in the middle.

Now we see not just the illustrious Fudomyo, a rather “notable” figure in most esoteric systems of Buddhism. Her, he is also depicted with two boy servants who is usually depicted in attendance to Fudomyo: Kongara dōji (矜羯羅童子) and Seitaka dōji (吒迦童子). I’ve included this page simply because it is a rather clear and decent depiction of Fudomyo, there not much more to say about him that hasn’t been stated in great length elsewhere.

Conclusions

Well, this has been an interesting way to spend the day, exploring Japanese ghost stories, and looking at some pretty interesting illustrations from several different sources. I hope it was an interesting read to go through such randomness. It’s kind of a strange tangent from looking up a hojojutsu tradition, to reading about ghosts all day, with any luck something will pop soon!

References:

  • Davisson, Zack (2014). Yūrei The Japanese Ghost. Chin Music Press. ISBN 978-09887693-4-2.
  • Meyer, Matthew. the Night Parade of One Hundred Demons. (2015), 2nd edition.
  • Kyokutei, Bakin; Utagawa, Toyokuni. Azuma Sodachi Satsuki no Ochigiwa 東発名皐月落際. (1799). Wasada University.

Martial Arts Researchers in Bath

The Martial Arts Studies Research Network

Bowen Collection

Last week we held a Martial Arts Studies Research Network event in the Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution. The event was a great success, with researchers from Japan, Korea, the US, the UK and Europe sharing New Research on Japanese Martial Arts.

Videos of some of the talks can now be found on the Martial Arts Studies YouTube Channel, here:

https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLywv_DP-EcGa89islG2hQtUqW0sv_oKwb

The day after the mini-conference I took the Japanese members of our research group to visit The Bowen Collection at the University of Bath. The librarian and collection manager, Lizzie Richmond, had set out a small display of a representative cross section of items from the collection, and the visit was extremely rewarding. Anyone interested in the very early days of judo and jujitsu in the UK should consider arranging a time to visit the collection.

Our next martial arts studies research network event is the conference…

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Kukishin Ryu Bojutsu – background

The origin of Kukishin Ryū Bōjutsu 九鬼流棒術, as we practice it, can be found among the martial arts practiced during the Tang Dynasty in China. Some of these skills and techniques came to Japan with Otomo Furumaro. Sometime during Choho period (999-1004) was reformed method of Nawa Shinzaburo Motonaga and he became Ryuso (founder) of Chōsui Ryū 澄水流. This ryu had been renamed, when the 3rd Soke Okuni Kihei Kitosumi inherited sovereignty, to Kishin Chōsui Ryū 馗神澄水流.

On Mount Kurama was a Shingon priest named Yakushimaru Kurando Taka Masa, who had studied both Kishin Chosui ryu and Shinden Fujiwara Muso Ryū 神傳藤原無双流. In the summer of 1336 Yakushimaru participated the emperor Godaigos side at Ikoma mountain and when he was in the battle broke the blade of his Naginata, he had to fight on with just the shaft. It was a life-changing experience and he developed techniques with long pole – staff 棒 – and incorporated them in his Kishin Chosui ryu. Later he founded Chosui Kukishin ryu which was shortly thereafter renamed Kukishinden Tenshin Hyoho and which today is known as Kukamishin ryu.

In 1349 Izumo no Kanja Yoshiteru founded the Kukishin Ryu Happo Bike Jutsu after studying Chosui Kishin ryu. Bojutsu techniques were recorded in a book which was named Kangi no maki .

The 27th Soke of Kukishin ryu Happo Biken – Takamatsu Toshitsugu structured these kata to what we know today as bojutsu, and left the sucession to Hatsumi Masaaki, thus he is the 28th Soke of this tradition. Takamatsu Sensei took what we call Keiko Sabaki gata from Kukishin Ryu and Shoden-, Chuden- and Okuden gata from Kishin ryu. The last three can also be found among the documents that define Amatsu Tatara Kukishin ryu bojutsu, and the first are included in both Takagi Ryu bojutsu and Kukamishin ryu bojutsu.

Kukishin ryu bojutsu has several different types of forms. The two most common are maru-bo (round rod) and Hakkaku-stay (octagonal rod). These two could also have reinforcements of metal around the ends. The other two are Donryu bo 呑竜棒 (dragon staff) and nyoi-bo 如意棒 (wishful staff). The last two rods requires an extremely high taijutsu management.

Nowadays, one standardized length of the rod to 6 shaku (6 feet, i.e. 182 cm), but in the past would be a staff 1 foot (33 cm) longer than what one was, but could also be longer. The thickness of the rod usually 1 sun (3 cm), but it could also vary.

Nyuibo  如意棒

Hatsumi with nyoibo

Manufactured from wood and 2 m long, wrapped in leather and covered with metal studs. Used on battlefields to put down the warrior in armor and keep at a distance. A blow could crush a man. Could also be used as a shield against arrows, sword and other weapons. A long rope could be attached to the narrow end to provide assistance for techniques such as throws.

 

 

Bo no Kagi 棒の鉤

kama.bo

Rod with a hook at one end that could be used to hook the clothes or armor at a distance. The hook could also be used as a tip for strikes and swipe from the side.

Kuki Gyoja bo 九鬼行者棒 – nine demons pilgrims staff

Donryu bojutsu.1

This is a weapon that was also called Donryu bo 呑龍棒- dragon staff. Four metal tips are secured at one end and attachment is reinforced with metal strips in itself has studs. The inside is hollow and conceals a four foot long chain of weight and that can are whipped if necessary. The other end of the rod is reinforced with nine studded metal spikes and a metal tip.

Tetsubo 鉄棒 – iron staff

tetsubo

Same as Kanabo 金棒 – metal rod. Could weigh up to 5-6 kg.

Shakubo 錫棒  – walking stick

Hatsumi.shakujo

This rod had a big ring with nine small rings attached to it. The top of the ring had a point, like a nail. The rings and the tip of made of metal. The nail could be used to shock or impact against the enemy, like a short spear.

Source:

Ruha, Pertti. Kukishin Ryu Bojutsu – bakgrund.

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