Muto Dori (無刀捕) Part 2

Graciously written by David Esteban Guzman, permission given to post here.

“Slow is smooth – smooth is invisible”

“gokui” (極意) or last state of transmission of the masters.

There are three points in common that we can find in the transmission of the currents of the Japanese classical martial arts in explaining the levels of “Muto-dori” (無刀捕). These points converge in an extreme of supreme control of the technique and strategy (“Heiho” or “Hyoho” (兵法) – Note 1) transferrkamaeed and transmitted by the masters.

Araki-ryu (荒木流)

Nevertheless, before exposing the first one of these three points, I would like to stress the importance of a phrase repeated by the masters in his transmission. This phrase will serve as point of union of the “one with the whole and the whole with the one” or of the comprehension of the paradigm “from the unit to the multiplicity” that is so important in the martial arts. This phrase will serve us to aspire to express with words an art that resides in the shadows, and that can only be illuminated across the personal experience of a direct practice in communion with a master and his current of transmission – “ryû” (流).

The phrase is “Shoden” (初伝) is “okuden” (奥伝) and “okuden” is “Shoden”. (“Shoden” or initial transmission, “chuden” “中伝” or central transmission and “okuden” as secret or mysterious transmission).

In the martial science passed from generation to generation, lies the mystery and science that any technique is connected and linked with all the other techniques, either of the same level or a different level of depth. For example a current structured in the technical levels of “Shoden”, “chuden”, and “okuden” is based on the connection of all his techniques and levels, either technical or strategic, or in the execution of a technique with any type of traditional weapon. Definitively each and every one of the techniques have a connection of the “one with the whole and the whole in one” of the current “ryu” (流).

However, and this is what’s interesting, the levels of “Mutô dori “are usually not shown in the dôjô. As I explained in the first part “This transfer of martial information Between master and pupil is Known under the terms of “gokui” (極意), the essential principle” that can be interpreted as the “last state” or with the term “ura waza” (裏技), that we can be interpreted as “reverse technique”. Therefore, only the diciples that have demonstrated their technical expertise, physical and mental endurance, and a certain human quality will be able to gain access to this transmission and understand the depth and experience of the master.

In effect, we are saying that the master reveals the secrets and mysteries of his art, something achieved through the blood, the tears, and the losses of loved ones in the way of the development of an artistic science that resides in the space of life and the death on the battlefield, and of course in the space of the life of the founding masters.

A science that becomes an art when it is transmitted under the concept of “Ishin-denshin” (以心伝心), an interpersonal communication through tacit mutual understanding, a communication from heart to heart or soul to soul. This communication can only occur between two human beings who trust one another.This honest communication (真心 – “Magokoro” – sincere heart) transcends the master and the pupil, creating a door (武門 – “bumon “- the warrior door) of communication with the masters of the past and all of the martial current that precedes the current “ryu”(流) of the” koryû”, opening a space for the future generations.

1 – The First point in common at the moment of approaching the level of “Mutô dori” “無刀捕” in a “Koryû” is:

A deep domain of understanding and a total knowledge of the biomechanics of the body and the type of movement specified in a “Koryû”.

This requires a unique and unified flexibility, not only in the body of the practitioner but their psychological and emotional state. The adaptability of the practitioner must be manifest and clear in his mind and heart, and this is reflected through the flexibility in his “taijutsu” (体術) or art of body movement. The ability to adapt to the moment, place, and the enemy, but most importantly the ability to adapt to himself. This is regulated through internal flexibility; flexibility is a vital point in the practice of “Mutô dori”.

Jōjutsu Seigan no Kamae by Ishizuka Sensei
Jōjutsu Seigan no Kamae by Ishizuka Sensei

This point is of vital importance to express that a “koryû” represents a condition of movement that seeks to conceal the forms of displacement of the body. Adopt a common position of concealment and to hide all the movements and positions (Kamae; 構) or corporal attitudes (Kurai;位) that can be found in the classical currents of Japanese combat. It is important to remember that all this has been created in the battlefield and has to be understood and to be able to accomplish carrying the weight of the classic armor “Yoroi kumiuchi” (鎧铠组打), and of course cultivate the same level and line of movement without this weight bearing down on the body. This is not a question of muscular force but of deep control of the movement of the joints and the bones.

It is transcendental assimilation in all the Forms and movements in the techniques, that is needed to eliminate all signal and reflection of physical movement, and of mental or emotional intention facing an armed opponent. The practitioner wants his movements to disappear and not leave any physical trace, nor psychic trace to the senses or the intuition of the armed enemy.

These arguments of not emitting signal of movements and transfers of body weight, these can be found in different martial’s currents and in different traditional concepts used by the masters in the transmission, like for example: ” Musoku no hô ” (無足之法) which can be interpreted as “Method of displacement without legs”, “Musoku-nin” (無足人) which can be interpreted as “people without legs”, “Kagefumi” (影踏み) can be interpreted as “shadow stepping”,”Mizudori no ashi” (水鳥足) could be interpreted as “the bird’s feet in the water”, “Kieru Ugoki” (消える動き) could be interpreted as “To extinguish the movement” or we can simply recognize this concept in the name of the current, because his culture and art of motion is based on this invisibility of motion, for example Kage-ryū (影流), Togakure-ryû (戸隠流) or Gikan ryû (義監流).

To give life to all these terms, the “kuden”, “taiden” and “shinden” transmission of the master is vital.

Inside of the transmission of “Mutô dori” it is necessary add and apply the domain of “Za-mutô-dori” (坐無刀捕), the domain of the techniques from any of the positions of sitting the floor in the traditional ways of sitting down in a “koryû”. – Note 2.

To achieve this, the practitioner must be willing to follow the rules of traditional movement of the classical martial arts, rules from past generations of the masters to that of the future pupils. The real journey of initiation and instruction begins at the time that a practitioner who is outstanding with an effective experience proven in real combat, can attest that in the area, space and dimension of movement of his master, he is not a mere apprentice. At this time these movement rules are assimilated as a treasure of incalculable value for the disciple. How to pay for this transmission of life? But in honoring, devotion and passion for the art that the master transmits.

These basic rules of motion transmitted by the masters show the differences between the martial culture of traditional movement in the “kobujutsu” (古武術) and in the “gendai budō” (現代武道) or in the Western sports of contact that we can find in the present.

The rules are the following ones:

1. Not using torque in hip movement in techniques.

The classic masters mention this during the practice as “nejiranai” which is the negative form of the verb “nejiru ” (捻る) that means “to turn”. The twists of the hips so common in the Western culture of movement and in the “gendai budô ” do not exist in the origional transmission of “kobujutsu” and the original currents of “koryû”.

There are many examples of this, from the most basic to the most invisible in this art of movement where the hip is not involved and not take part in a movement of impulse of circular rotation. For example: all hip rotation creates openings in the armor or obvious signs of movement in the “hakama” (袴), and the subsequent opening of vital areas of the body and of emission of information of movement.

In addition these twists cause the loss of the form of movement frontal and lateral of the body that are so typical in the rules of movement of the classic Japanese schools, or cause the loss of the central line of the body or the weapon with regard to the opponent and the situation.

Inside the “Kobujutsu” (古武術) there is the concepts like “Naka-zumi” (中墨), “Shinmyo-ken” (神妙剣), or “Seichû-sen” (正中线) which is essentially the concept of maintaining a centerline with your being, with your body and with the tools that life has to offer, inside of sanshin (三心) this “sanshin” is an attitude of the being in spite of the external or internal circumstances (“omote” and “ura”; 表裏).

For this, it is necessary that the transmission and the practice of a corporal attitude of the being inside the one, the unity (一) ,“From the unity to the multiplicity”. Shûmoku (撞目), Hitoe (一重), Ichimonji-goshi (一文字腰), Hanmi (半身) and Ichimonji (一文字) are some of the terms used in the “kobujutsu” for this corporal attitude inside the science of the art of the war and the art of the body movement.

2. “Keranai” (蹴らない)

Keranai could be interpreted as to “no apply force to the floor with the legs to initiate the movement of techniques”, not to use the force and the muscle tension to initiate any move, this type of sports-like impulse telegraphs signs that can be perceived by the opponent and cause a loss of economy of motion and of vital energy so important for the enablement to carry the armor and traditional weapons.

This is joined to understand how to use a center of gravity at the same height than that of the opponent, or lower, and not to lose this control and domain of the weight of our body during movement, which can be heard repeatedly in any classic “Koryû” as “Koshi otoshi” (腰落) that can interpreted as “sinking the hips”.

3 . Elimination of muscular tension to realize movement and technique

For example: no crude and forced utilization of muscular force of the shoulders in order to realize and execute techniques.

As a proof of this notion, for example, is the concept used by the masters of “Koryû” known as “chikara wo nuku” (力を抜), that we can interpret as forms of contraction and muscular relaxation, articulations (joint) and bones by means of the flexibility and breathing, “Kokyû-Ho” (呼吸法) or methods of breathing in the martial arts.

In the technology of a “Koryû” there is the elimination of any emission of violence and aggressiveness, in the encounter and the search of precision and accuracy. The use of the speed is eliminated in the encounter of the flow (流) and natural movement, and this is a reflection of not using muscular force and not telegraphing one’s intention, while generating power from the the synchronization of body movement. (in another part I will expand this information).

These three points of common rules, pattern and Form (waza; 技) of motion within the “Koryû”, is important to understand from the concept called “Kofuu Tanren” (古風鍛練), a concept used by the famous warriors and founders masters of the “koryû”. This concept refers to the ability and talent to delve and go deep in the Form shown and transmitted. which has been practiced day and night, without creating a difference between practice and everyday life. The practical result of this deep practice leads the practitioner to explore in intensity the extent and the dimension of the use of the body and traditional weapons. (“Tanren” means: way for reinforcing and practicing the discipline of the body, forging the body as a weapon, in other words it is a concept that refers to a constant, a profound practice without end, one more time the secret of this practice remains in the patience and humility).

hatsumi muto dori
Masaaki Hatsumi performing muto dori

Only these three concepts and his domain are an art in itself, for anyone who wants to understand in depth what is the discipline of movement within a classic “Koryû”. He should aim to go beyond these three concepts, much beyond the domain of muscular movement that explores force and speed. The classical martial arts deepen into domain of the bone, joint and tendon movement of the human body, search for the elimination of all weakness of intention or signal that can be perceived or tracked by the conscious mind of the armed enemy.

How does one come to the essence of becoming invisible? If it is not through a deep and meticulous domain of the movement of the body and his reflection in the internal condition of the human being.

In effect, the practice strives to internalize in the domain and control of something deeper that of musculature, the art consists of achieving a domain of movement that could be maintained beyond youth, as wine ages so does the quality; depth and invisibility in the movement, this is the way of the masters.

The art of movement and form’s transmission must penetrate the soul of the practitioner, into the substance of his subconscious mind. Because in the encounter with an armed opponent(s), only the pure nature of the subconscious mind works, and the art of transmission and the above rules goes directly to the center of the being of the pupil. Here the importance of the ego and inner work to access and make space for the art of the master and his current into our being. COPY IS AN ART.

I would like to say goodbye to this second part with some propositions that the masters use to light up (or enlighten) the way of his disciples, I hope and wish that this inspires you to delve into the art and touch your heart, as it did at the time and does so with mine to recall when I heard for first time:

“Martial arts cannot think in words, all the answers reside in the practice itself, you have to listen and observe deeply into the image of the master, until the end.”


Note 1 – More information about “Heihô” or “Hyôhô” (兵法) in the link: The art of copy the image of the master

Note 2 – The practice of a “koryû” is built and structured in the absolute domain of the techniques in the positions of “han/an-za” (半/安座), two knees, one knee in the floor or position of half-lotus this “han/an-za” can be interpreted as a way to sit in peace and safty.

More information about “Za-mutô-dori” (坐無刀捕) in the link: Za-mutô-dori

Note of the author:

Everything written is written from the humility of a personal way, with a spirit of communication and expression with myself. I consider myself as a humble practitioner, student and instructor of the art. I am conscious of my basic and immature movement, knowledge and vital experience. I am in the encounter of my answers to my own way across of the practice of a martial way. If what you read is useful to inspire or to extend your paradigms of practice or of life, I will feel very grateful, thank very much for your attention and company to read me.

To the mountain it is possible to rise from infinite ways, and from all of them it is possible to see the MOON.

Most sincerely
David Esteban Guzmán


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