The Readable Air: On the Japanese Expression “KY”

Somewhat important for foreigners visiting Japan to try t get a grasp of…

The Eyeslit-Crypt

Every year in Japan there is a vote for the most popular new word. In 2007, the word of the year was “KY,” which stands for “Kuuki wo Yomenai,” literally translated into English means: “Air read cannot.” This calls for an adaptation and through this adaptation, it can be translated as: “One who cannot read the air (atmosphere) of a certain situation.”

For example, last night I saw a man on a train eating potato chips. He had obviously been drinking and was trying to combat his drunkenness with food (we all know that being drunk on a moving train is horrible). The man, oblivious to the other passengers noisily munched his chips with myopic dedication. It should be noted that even though all the surrounding people ignored his munching (the Japanese are masters at pretending not to notice), his actions were unabashedly “KY.” One does not eat potato chips…

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Takagi Yoshin-ryu Curriculum

Each time I do a Takagi Yōshin-ryū seminar I show this. I hope it gives you an idea of how deep the art is, and everything you need to sacrifice if you want to learn something; the price is always heavier than the sacrifice itself.

This is only one densho, there are three like this and four makimono, and I have only one. The others I have only seen, I don’t have the level yet.

This is Takagi Yōshin-ryū densho (高木陽心流傳書), and there is Takamatsu’s Uncle’s signature.

Takagi Yoshin-ryu Densho 高木楊心流傳書

Here is Takagi Yōshin-ryū Shiron (史論), this is the modern history of the tradition. What happened just a little bit before Takamatsu Sensei, maybe one or two generations before. Here you can see: Takamatsu sensei, one, two, and three generations.[1]

Short genealogy before Takamatsu Toshitsugu

After you have the Yobun (前文), a sort of introduction as to what level you should reach before starting this school.

Here we have Takagi Yōshin-ryū Shinden (高木陽心流心傳), it’s the level of transmission of the heart, the kind of mind you need to have when practicing. In another scroll they have this in more important (detail?).

There’s Takagi Yōshin-ryū Jūtaijutsu first level, what we’re going to practice: Shoden (初傳). After, there is Ura Gata (裏型), more complicated techniques.

A glimpse into the densho, Ura Gata (裏型).

After there is Shime waza, a way of choking. It’s not like in Jūdō, it’s very different. And then there’s Chūden Gata (中傳型), a middle level. After there’s the part called Tai no Kata (體之型), which is more difficult to read, I think it’s on purpose.

At the end of each section there’s an explanation of the technical level you need to reach technically and spiritually. And it’s always signed by one of the different generations of the school. Each generation brings something more.

Now it’s Mutō Dori (無刀捕之型), this is when you face someone with no weapon [of your own] and they attack you with a sword, or spear. This is the highest level in martial arts, because you need to understand the use of weapons, if you don’t this is impossible to do. And again, at the end of the section you have the sōke, the writing, and the date.

After this theirs is another section called Daisho Sabaki (大小捌), this is with two swords, a small one and a long one. Sometimes you have the two and don’t use them, or you use the two, sometimes just the one. These [techniques] are very complicated.

And all the enemy you fight is a skilled warrior, which means he already killed people, he knows how to fight. It’s not a friend, or a sportsman, it’s someone who’s been on the battlefield, killed, raped, doesn’t care, children, everyone. A specialist of fighting. Or rather, of war, fighting and war is not the same thing; it’s very different. Fighting, you get hurt, you go to sleep, tomorrow, you’ll see [intelligible dialogue overshadowed by translator], it’s alright, tomorrow it’s better. War, you lose you lose.

This is Okuden (奥傳之型), the highest level. And this is divided into two sections: Shirabe Gata (調型) and Moguri Gata (潜型). Shirabe is very difficult because it is when someone wants to do a technique, and he stop you, you must stop him again. So, it’s how to read someone’s movement. This means psychology, sociology, environment, feeling, a lot of things.

And from here we go into the art of Iai (居合), how to draw. And then Torinawajutsu (捕縄術), how to use the rope, and jutte (十手).

Atemi (当身) diagram.

And here it’s talking about Kasatsu Jizai (活殺自在), this is how to put someone down, how to break, tear away, tie everything with Hajutsu no hō (破術之法), which is for example all the finger grabs, similar thing. At the same time, it’s also how to heal, which means if you know how to kill you know how to heal. The history of medicine and many cool things start’s like that. You have some mistakes first.

So, this is just the first part of the scroll, and I’m going to read to you the last page, I keep [it separate] because I don’t want to lose it.

“What we just presented is called mokuroku (目録)”, which means a kind of technical index, which doesn’t look like it when I show that here is history, physiology, etc., it’s more than that. “After you master this, there is Chūgokui (中極意), Gokui (極意), and when you have this, you receive Menkyō Kaiden (免許皆傳). This is the four degrees of practice.”

“The mokuroku is made of thirty techniques of omote, and thirty-nine techniques of Ura that you have to practice deeply. You need to learn all this in one year. The level of Chūgokui must be learned in one-and-a-half years. The level of Gokui is learned in five months. Finally, when you do this, you receive mankyo kaiden.”

Generally speaking, after doing all this, this would be like the level of nidan. When I read this, it makes me understand the reality. Some people say that the Bujinkan is full of crazy people, like everywhere, people think they are good, it’s really complicated.


[1] In another seminar, Kacem explained, “At the end of this history section, there is the genealogy, and here it shows Yanagi, and his three students: Fujita, Ishitani, and Ishitake. And they had three students, Mizuta, Ishita, and Ishitake. And here Takamatsu sensei.”

Are You An Eccentric?

Shiro Kuma

Disclaimer: The class was so dense that this article might be a little too long. Sorry about that.

A class with Sōke these days is a succession of many moments. Relying on the Dai Shihan to show the techniques, he gives his advice from his chair. He only shows when a move requires his expertise.

Also, he often begins the class by showing the new swords he bought for his museum. He recently did a sword exhibition in Noda to explain to the public, the 200 blades he already has.

Friday night he displayed à few interesting Tantō that he got. Some of them had a Kozuka inserted in the scabbard. It was a first for me. (1)

Each time Sōke tells of being aware of the danger of live weapons. And shows the correct way to pass or receive a naked sword from hand to hand. Not aware of…

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Chasing a Rat down a Hole

After some discussion on the Historic Ninjutsu Research Facebook group regarding an image of the “shinobi” from the Wakan Sansai Zue (和漢三才図会) written in 1712, there had been some disagreement around it.

Several people got caught up on the fact that the individual who is leaping over the wall in the illustration is wearing some sort of animal costume. This had been speculated to be inferring a connection to the Katō Danzō (加藤 段蔵, c. 1503 – 1569), a shinobi who was said in folk myth to be able to transform into a rat. One source (currently unavailable for reference) states that he was a rat breeder as his main daily occupation.

Most concluded that it was some form of canine costume, however, when looking at the ears, shape of the head, and tail, it as quite evident that it is a rat, particularly a spotted rat, which was considered special or lucky in the 17th century.

Existence of Spotted Rats

There was some dispute about spotted rats in Japan at that time, as one individual claimed that the spotted pattern came form a popular breeding practice in Europe in the 19th century. However, this was easily disputed with a quick google search, where I found two manuscripts regarding rat breeding. the first, Yosotama no kakehashi (養鼠玉のかけはし), was from 1775, and the second, Chingan Sōdate Gusa (珍玩鼠育草), was from 1787. Both documents provided illustrations of spotted rats. At this point all three documents in regard to this investigation was from the 18th century.

The Wakan Sansai Zue also has a section focused on rats, in which we can see a spotted rat in the first volume as well. it has been speculated that the previous two texts drew some inspiration from this text.

Nomenclature of “Shinobi”

An interesting note regarding the term used to refer to the shinobi here has the kanji 游偵 (Yūtei), while there’s hiragana next to it saying しのびのもの (shinobi no mono). This name appears in the Bansenshūkai as one of the names the Chinese had referred to spies by. In the Bansenshūkai, however, it is written as 遊偵 (found in the Q/A section of the preface, still read as “yūtei”), but then written as 游貞 in the first volume of Seishin.

In other sources (citation unavailable at the moment), yūtei has been shown to have several variants of the first kanji, such as 斿, 游, 浮, 遊. All of which expresses a sense of floating, drifting, or roaming. And Tei (偵) means to investigate, spy or acquire protected information. Thus, yūtei means to travel or roam around gathering information.

Note: ukitei (浮偵) also suggests a principle of movement called ukimi (浮身) found in the classical martial arts, that can also be seen in the judo movements of the late Kyuzo Mifune.

Under the heading for shinobi in the Wakan Sansai Zue, there is listed a few other terms:

課者・細作・邏候・探伺・間諜

Wakan Sansai Zue 和漢三才図会 (1712)

Kasha (課者)

The first of these terms is kasha (課者), which was an interesting one to dig into. Dictionaries generally define this first character as “chapter; lesson; section; department; division; counter for chapters (of a book).” But when we break it down, we have “[to get] results (果) with words (言) [in order to obtain results]”; investigation. and with the second character (者), it becomes “those who investigate“.

Saisaku (細作)

The first ideogram can be read as hosoi (細) which means, “work meticulous, fine, delicate, precise,” The second ideogram, (作), means: “to manufacture, make, build, work, or harvest.” One can translate saisaku as, “One who manufactures [creates] with meticulousness [a plan]” or “One who collects what is fine, delicate [quietly perceives essential information].”

Rakō (邏候)

Some very old characters here, and digging did not get me to far; apparently this is connected to Edo period police investigations but I don’t have a reliable source for this at this moment. the first character can be broken down quite far, but for this well only divide it into 辵 “to walk or move” and 羅 “to surround like a net. This I understand to grow to refer “patrolling”, though one dictionary also suggests a borrowed definition of “concealment”. The second character, (候), means: “expectancy, make an attempt, sign, season, or time.” Breaking it apart however starts to suggest something conspicuous or clue-like. in medicine it has been used to refer to “symptoms”. Thus I understand this to mean something like “one who waits and watches clues to grasp the truth like a net.

Tanshi (探伺)

The first ideogram (探) means: “grasp, grope; deep, intense, to deepen.” the second character is made up of a “person (人) who peers through a hole (司).” Though nowadays 司 is defined as as sort of government administrator, but we can understand that to be someone who oversees things. Thus tanshi means “one who perceives deeply.

Kanchō (間諜)

One of the earliest names for a spy, the first character means a space between things, and the second character means something “flat” (葉) like a leaf, and words (言); spy ended up being a borrowed definition that has endured to today. Thus, kanchō can be understood to mean “one who acquires words by going between people.” though it also gives the image of being able to slip through small or impenetrable spaces.

Togakure-ryū Connection

It should also be noted that the “San”(of Togakure-ryū’s Santō Tonkō Gata (鼠逃遁甲型) can be read as “nezumi” and means rat. This isn’t the first time that I’ve heard of ninja being referred to as rats, in 2008, I was looking into how these kata could be expressed in a “squirmy” way like a fleeing rat. And then Takamatsu Toshitsugu’s favorite story was said (by Masaaki Hatsumi) to be “Neko no Myōjutsu” (猫之妙術), a story about a rat that fought off all cats except an old cat that had nothing left to live for.

The Santō Tonkō gata consists of twelve techniques in response to being grabbed by the arms, back of the neck, and when your cornered or surrounded by enemy (picture a rat being cornered by a cat, and just the same this is depicted in Neko no Myōjutsu). Each of these techniques finish with the statements of using one of the goton (五遁) of escaping using fire, earth, water, wood, or metal, as well as that of blinding powder, throwing blades and so on. True to the teachings of the tradition, they strive to avoid killing, aiming to only distract, escape and hide. As such none of these techniques describe lethal techniques – though they can certainly be made to be.

Yet another interesting connection is the depiction of a falconer just before (to the right) of the entry for shinobi. It has been established rather thoroughly by Sean Askew that the Toda family that had been the head of the Togakure-ryū tradition of ninjutsu for generations, were also well known for their falconry. So within this text we can see three correlations to the same tradition of ninjutsu:
1) Falconry – the trade of the Toda family
2) Connecting rats and ninjutsu
3) Reference to the Goton used by this tradition (see next section).

Chinese Link

The above entry about Yūtei, describes another text called Wǔ zá zǔ (五雜組), written sometime between 1567‐1624 by Xie Zhaozhe, with an additional preface added in 1616, that talks about Tonkeijutsu (遁形术), methods of hiding the form, just like we see in books such as Ito Gingetsu’s Ninjutsu no Gokui. Both these writings describe Tonkei/Tonko (遁形/遁甲) as using the five phases of wood, water, metal, earth, and fire (Ch: Wu Xing, Ja: Gogyo; 五行).

Review

What has been presented here is my own collective knowledge on this subject based on historic primary sources. We can see that the depiction in the Wakan Sansai Zue is quite evidently that of a man in a rat costume (for what reason, I’m not at all sure), the existence of spotted rats and specialized breeding methods go back at least as far as the 16th century (and the same document hints at “ancient times”). w can also see that the author of the same document had a comprehensive grasp of obscure names for spies. We can also see clear correlation to the Togakure-ryū tradition of ninjutsu, and even its hints at a relationship with falconry. And the connection to Goton no jutsu was traced at least as far back as the early 16th century, and surely traces further back.

Sources referenced (chronological)

  • Wǔ zá zǔ 五雜組 (1616~), by Xie Zhaozhe
  • Bansenshūkai 萬川集海 (1676), by Fujibayashi Sabuji
  • Wakan Sansai Zue 和漢三才図会 (1712), by Terajima Ryōan
  • Neko no Myōjutsu 猫之妙術 (1727), by Niwa Jurozaemon Tadaaki
  • Yosotama no kakehasi 養鼠玉のかけはし (1775 ), unknown author
  • Chingan Sōdate Gusa 珍玩鼠育草 (1787), susposedly by “Tei-en-shi”
  • Ninjutsu no Gokui 忍術の極意 (early 1900~), by Ito Gingetsu
  • Togakure-ryū Shinjin Ichinyo no Maki 戸隠流神人一如の巻 (mid 1900~), by Masaaki Hatsumi

Tsuki no Sho 月之抄

 

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Author: Yagyū Jūbei Mitsuyoshi 柳生 十兵衛三 厳
Title: Tsuki no Shô
Year: 1642

Author Yagyû Mitsuyoshi (柳生 三 厳) in the original language Title: “月 之 抄” (Other spellings mentioned in the original language: 月 之 抄 / 月 の 抄 / 月 ノ 抄 / 月 之 書 / 月 の 書 / 月 ノ書 / 月 之 諸 / 月 の 諸 / 月 ノ 諸 / 月 見 之 抄 / 月 見 の 抄 / 月 見 ノ 抄 / 月 見 之 書 / 月 見 の 書 / 月 見 ノ 書 / 月 見 之 諸 / 月Titre の 諸 / 月 見 ノ 諸).

Japanese title: “Tsuki no Shô” (or sometimes “Tsukimi no Shô”) Title in French: “Written in the moonlight” Title in English: “Annotation (s) ) in the moonlight

The “tsuki no sho” is a strategic and philosophical treatise mainly about kenjutsu (saber warfare technique), written by one of the most famous fencers in Japanese history:

Yagyû Jûbei Mitsuyoshi (1607 – 1650). You will find here the complete transcript in modern Japanese. This transcription in modern Japanese comes from the book of Yoshio Imamura, published in April 1995: “Shiryô Yagyû Shinkage-Ryû (Vol.2)” (史料 柳生 新 陰 流 (下 巻)), of which she occupies about the first 70 pages (Pages 9 to 80).

Link download: Mitsuyoshi-Yagyū-Jūbei-Tsuki-no-Shô

 

Ikai 異匀

Ikai is a person who is present in the background to many of our schools.

In prehistory, Iga ryu, Gyokko Ryu and Togakure Ryu mentions a person by the name “Ikai” as an original source of these schools. Identifying Ikai [異 匀], with the alternative pronunciation “Ibou” ‘may be interpreted as “a charismatic person” (I; 異) from “foreign” (kai; 匀). The name can also be interpreted as “different person”, that is perhaps a “transgender”? A man dressed as a woman, or vice versa?

The sign [異] symbolizes “a person with demon head”. The Chinese pronunciation of these characters is “Yi Hui” or “Yi Gai”, but with the same meaning. A hypothetical conclusion to be drawn is that Ikai was a stranger  and unusual even in China, perhaps initially of a people from eastern China.

In Hatsumi Sensei book Sengoku Ninpo Zukan (p.81) printed on 1978, Ikai was described as follows:

“During Huang You’s first year (possibly 1049), Ikai from Sijiang went into exile to the distant Japan, after losing the war against Ren Zong’s army, on the Qidan and Xia’s side. He came to Ise and settled in a cave in Iga.”

Shandong

Sijiang is probably the same region as Shandong [山东] in today’s China. Because of its location on the North China Plain, Shandong area came into contact early on with the Chinese civilization whose cradle is just West of the present province. Both the first historical coated dynasties Shang Dynasty and Zhou Dynasty, controlled the western and central Shandong. The Shandong Peninsula was, for a long time outside the Chinese of influence. There lived the ethnic groups as the Chinese gave the name Dong Yi to, and who was regarded as barbaric, that is to say, nomadic.

The above-mentioned Ren Zong was Emperor Song Renzong of the Song Dynasty, ruled between 1023-1063. His real name was Zhan Zhen and was an emperor in the Northern Song Dynasty.

Xia is also known as Hsia and the Qidan are also known as Khitan. They were both a people who were related to Tungus, which in turn was a people who lived in northeastern Siberia. They were a significant nomadic people who dominated parts of what is today Manchuria and Inner Mongolia. The Russian word for China, Kitaj, is believed to originate from Khitan, as well as the older China name in English – Cathay.

If now Ikai had been a Chinese who fought on the Khitan and Hsia/Xia side against the Song Dynasty, then one can understand that he had to flee the Chinese continent in defeat, but it was more likely that he was a Khitan.

Oral tradition says that Ikai had been a general, and was very skilled in hicho ongyo no jutsu (飛鳥隠形之術). It was said that strangers, such as Ikai, Yi Gyokko (Yao Yu Hu) and Cho Busho (Zhang Wu Sheng) spread the knowledge of hichojutsu (飛鳥術), tode Koppojutsu (唐手骨法術), senban nage jutsu (旋盤投術) and the like to Japan. From this was born later Gyokko ryu kosshijutsu, Koto ryu koppojutsu, Gyokushin ryu kosshijutsu and Gikan ryu koppojutsu and others.

Considering that all the Koga ryu ninjutsu’s 53 traditions, and Iga ryu ninjutsu’s 30 traditions developed happo bikenjutsu based on Gyokko ryu’s teachings, the latter can be considered the oldest source of Japanese martial art.

Sakagami Clan’s Mon

In a text by Takamatsu, it says that Ikai had two students during the Johou period (1074-1077), namely Gamon Doshi and Hogenbo Tesshin. Ninjutsu was thus founded during the period between 1049 and 1077.

An alternative background for Ikai is that he was actually the same person as Hogenbo Tesshin. The reason is found in the book Essence of Ninjutsu, on pages 121-122. There, Takamatsu tells a story about an old man who talks to two students. The old man tells of the war when he fought on Kittan Ka’s (i.e., Khitan and Xia) side against King Jinso. Jinso is the Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese character for Renzong.

The story of the old man is consistent with the story of Ikai in Hatsumi sensei’s book Sengoku Ninpo Zukan (available in Japanese only). In Essence of ninjutsu, on page 122, it is mentioned that the old man is Hogenbo and the students are referred to as Ryutaro and Dosan.

According to the book, Ryutaro later became the great ninjutsu champion “Garyu Doshi” and Dosan survived further under the name Tendo Sakagami. This Tendo Sakagami can be the same person as Sakabe Tendo (mentioned in the prehistory of Togakure ryu and Shinden Fudo ryu Dakentaijutsu).

Otomo Clan’s Mon

According to oral tradition, when he came to Japan, Ikai was presented to the Otomo clan who offered him a sanctuary in the distant Iga region.

Otomo, which means “great escort”, was a military clan who was considered to be descendants of Amaterasus grandson who pacified Japan. The power of the Otomo clan extended from the early Yamato period (250–710) to the Sengoku period, thus stretching over 1100 years.

Between the Yamato and the Heian period, Otomo had high military records in the Imperial Court, such as the life guards captain of the Empress Suiko.

The most famous ninja family – Hattori – were members of this clan. According to a legend, the life guards consisted of warriors of the Hayato people and it is therefore possible that the Hattori family came from this indigenous people.

According to the same legend, Ikai (sometimes also referred to as Chan Basho in Koto ryu documentation) trained parts of the Otomo clan in a unique form of combat technique – i.e. It is known today as ninjutsu, kosshijutsu and koppjutsu.

Translated by Luke Crocker from HERE.

Essence of Budō – Menkyo Kaiden Henchō Gata

Wanderings in Budo

From the Essence of Budō book. There is a second omission in the English translation for the sōjutsu section (p90), under the Menkyo Kaiden Henchō Gata 免許皆伝変蝶型 heading there is a short descriptive paragraph.

Below is the Japanese text and a translation:

免許皆伝変蝶型
この変蝶型というのは、ちょうど蝶が舞い遊ぶがごとく、右に左に身体を転じて相手方の虚に付き入るというのが目的で、槍を充分に使うことが出来得る者に於て、この型を練習と共に使うことが出来るのである。

Changing butterfly patterns passed from teacher to student
These are the changing butterfly techniques, that is to say as the butterfly dances and plays (flutters) so must you. Move the body to the right and left, turning around the opponent’s side, harmonise and enter in to the space with intent. To fully make use of the spear a person needs to practice and gain competence with all these techniques and to be able to use them together/interchangably.

The above is my translation, the last line being quite difficult to find the best way to express what is written.

Kukishin Ryū Sōjutsu and the Creation Myth of Japan

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高木揚心流 . . .

SEISHIN NINPO DOJO

KACEM DENSHO

“Takagi Yōshin-ryū is a style of jūjutsu. Of course it’s not ninjutsu. That is obvious. Historically, the founder of this style, Takagi Oriemon, practiced a school called ‘Takenouchi-ryū’ (竹内流), one of the oldest and most famous traditions of ‘sōgō bujutsu’ (composite martial arts; 総合武術) of Japan. The reason why I say sōgō bujutsu is because you also have weapons. So, sōgō bujutsu in martial arts means ‘general martial art’ or ‘various martial arts’. From one point, a nucleus, they teach many, many weapons. Takagi Oriemon had learned this method with the second generation, but the problem with the Takenouchi family is that they never gave the inner movement, the deepest understanding, to someone from outside of the family. That was one of the main rules back in the 14th and 16th centuries. But he learned enough to create his own style. He received many things and, with that, he had…

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Kata, Kuden, and Hiden

There are two kanji characters for the concept of kata in the battle art, one is interpreted as form [型] and the other structure [形], i.e. what is in the form. Both of these contain a sign for “imitating reality” [幵], i.e. kata has always had the purpose of “reality based” training. 
There is another third character, [方], which is pronounced as kata and means direction or direction, and which can sometimes be used as a related word.

The very earliest martial arts, known as the kaden (family traditions; 家伝), those that were created before the Edo period (1603 – 1868) originally had no kata. These first appeared later in the 17th century.

In the oldest makimono (scrolls; 巻物) known, for kenjutsu, jujutsu, yari etc, the word kata was not used at all. The words used were “uchi tachi” and “shi dachi“. In one of our original documents, Kyussho ratsugi, which is part of the Amatsu Tatara collection of chronicles and described only the very principles and concepts, i.e. what to do. The answer to the question how the principles were put into practice was transferred as the kuden (oral transmission; 九伝) , verbally from teacher to student. It’s a bit like reading Sun Tzu or Sanryaku, the ideas are presented, but not how they can be used in individual situations. We have several hundred kata in our schools, but they are completely useless if you have not learned the kuden that belong to them.

The form of kata used in karate, for example, and similar modern martial arts came much later, only during the end of the 19th century. Then the purpose was to teach large numbers of students new techniques. The schools that changed their pedagogy from transferring quality to managing quantity were already named “shin ryu” (new schools; 真流), a term that is a bit funny because many of these schools are today called “ko ryu” (old schools; 古流).

When kata was created for describing principles and concepts, then the need to name them and the principle it contained also arose. Many names, concepts and ideas come from Buddhism, theater, archery, Noh, ikebana, sado, poetry, etc. In Gyokko-ryu, for example, it is said that the innermost secrets are embedded in the kata name.

Kata can be interpreted as a sequence or modulation of previous masters’ movements. If the student knows how to read the description and has the tools in the form of the kuden to decode the information, there is much to deepen in. The problem with kata is that they can easily become rigid and “die” unless the kuden is properly decoded by the student. Some parts can be lost over the years, such as distance, kukan, juppo sessho, rhythm, breathing or to change the weapon technique or tactics.

By definition, it is not possible to describe a master’s movements, either in writing, image or verbally. There are many aspects that the learner must learn “heart to heart” – this is called hiden (secret transmission; 秘伝). 
It’s like a teenager trying to understand their parents. You probably won’t do this until you have become a parent yourself.
A master’s movements can be likened to a stream running down a mountain side. A kata trying to describe this becomes inevitably rigid and clumsy. A kata can never describe anything spontaneous and natural, but it can describe its various aspects of it, which then the student must juggle in his own body and mind. Many old kata have names that are very poetic, which include concepts such as clouds, fog, running water etc, in order to describe another dimension.

Another problem we have today with kata comes from modern martial arts. When moving from educating a handful of students to mass training of hundreds of students, one had to create standardized techniques that were taught in a ritualized form. And from here, the wrong belief also stems that even in koryu kata is about learning techniques on a ritualized set.

One simple example is our “tsuki kata” (thrust form; 突型). If you consider this as a technology to be used in emergency situations, you are wrong. But if you understand the kuden that is attached to it, namely that it is important to repel the opponent so that he does not, despite being hit and seriously injured, continue his movement path and even manage to meet me with his weapon.
Compare with sword; if the enemy cuts with a sword against the us and hit with “hiki kiri” – pulling cut, then we, after the hit may still complete our chop and thereby seriously hurt us. On the other hand, if you have understood the danger in this and use “oshi kiri” – pushing cut, then the opponent is discarded. In martial arts contexts, it does not matter if you meet with “hiki or oshi“, because it is the one who meets first who gets the score.

One can divide all kata a little loose into two categories; Tanren gata and Shinken gata. 
The tanren gata (鍛錬型) is exercises for “forging and polishing” motor skills and physics in order to use the bio-mechanics of the tradition. Ukemi kata is a typical Tanren. 
Shinken gata (真剣型) is for real combat and represents tactics that of course also include abilities that have been practiced with Tanren gata. 
Kihon Happo is a genric piece made by one of the old masters. For beginners it is a Tanren gata and for the advanced students it is a Shinken gata thanks to the kuden, but for those who have gained insight via hiden, the content is raised another level to also include “kaname” (the deepest principles; 要).

During the Edo period, there was also the Hyoen gata (表厭), techniques shown at public and public demonstrations, to attract students to school and to make money. Many koryu schools of today consist of many Hyoen forms, but it is not always the practitioners of these schools are aware of it because the kuden has been lost over the years. 
An image can be seductive. Below is Hatsumi sensei and kamae. Is it out of the Shinken gata or the Hyoen gata? Just Kuden can reveal the purpose of this and if you have faced Soke when he assumed this position, maybe you even have managed to capture the hiden.

this article originally appears on Pertti Ruha’s blog HERE.

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