Muto Dori (無刀捕) Part 3

Written and kindly permitted to be reposted here by David Esteban Guzman, edited and posted by Luke Crocker

In the first part of the article of “Muto dori” (無刀捕) I presented an introduction to the context and the form of transmission between master and disciple inside the level of “Muto dori” of a “Koryu”.

In the second part of the article I presented in a “simplified” form, the body condition where the disciple must have a full and a deep understanding of the biomechanics of the body and the basic rules specified by the masters and by the transmission in the current of a “ryu” (流).

In the third part of the article of “Muto dori” I will explain in a “simplified” form the context of the traditional weapons in a “koryu” and their implication in the levels of “Muto dori”. One of the concepts that we can find is “Ken Tai Ichi Jo” (劒体一条), this could be interpreted as the “body and weapon are one”, another related concept is “Ki Ken Tai Ichi” (気剣体一) that could be interpreted as “concentration, sword, and the body are one”, understanding that the masters use the word “sword” (剣) as a concept that goes beyond that of a weapon, and that unites the whole strategy of his current of movement.

Before continuing, I would like to explain that I use the statement “could be interpreted” on purpose every time that I try to give a meaning to the Japanese kanji used to transmit concepts and perceptions within that of a “Koryu”. I am aware that the efficiency of the interpretation will depend of the depth of the practice of those who read this; therefore they are concepts that belong to “the mysteries of the heart” in a martial art created between the line and the space that join the life and the death. In effect, the kanji have a depth as deep as the interpretation that can be given to life or death, it is a question that goes beyond the written or spoken language, something that transcends the intellect.

mutodori3 02_Snapseed
Masaaki Hatsumi wearing O-Yoroi (great armor; 大鎧), and standing in a variation of Seigan no kamae (正眼の構).

The kanji used in the documents of transmission (densho; 傳書) cherish life and value the heart of the practitioner. This is based  on the depth of practice and in the quality of activity and relationship that the practitioner has with his master, quality of the image of the master in the heart of the practitioner, and in the respect that the practitioner develops for the current of his art.

Therefore the term of “Ken Tai Ichi Jo” (劒体一条) has much more depth in it’s interpretation than the simple translation of the kanji; this term could be interpreted as the deep knowledge of all the types of weapons used in a “koryu”: dimensions and measure, weight, different distances that a weapon can cover, the different ways and methods to hide the long and short weapons within the positions (Kamae; 構) and with the attitudes of the body (Kurai; 位) (for example in the concept of movement of “Musoku no ho” (無足之法), a term explained in the Part 2).

At this point is very important to know and fully grasp the knowledge that is in the instruction and the practice of the techniques and methods of a “koryu”, it is desired to hide the measures and possible hints of the weapon’s presence when used in order for that the opponent cannot collect this information before, during, nor after the technique.[1]

It is important to reflect also, on the fact that before we can defend ourselves from “something”, we have the need to know of that something. It is very complex, for example to defend against a “shinken” (real sword; 真剣) without knowing the common root of creation, operation and use of these tools in the conflict.

And here’s based on the last two paragraph, another paradox in the transmission of any technique of a “koryu”, where when ”uke” (受け) or “teki” (enemy; 敵) as it is more commonly written in the classical documents of “kobujutsu”, and “tori” (取り) face each other with empty hands (taijutsu). As argued in the second part of the article, all the techniques in an individual way are part of a holistic and systemic whole, creating an invisible link of information between all the techniques and the different levels of the current.

Apparently there are traditions (currents) that do not have in their instructions, for example, techniques of “Muto dori”, ”iaijutsu”, or ” kenjutsu”, and I write “apparently” because it is improbable for a founder or master,“soke” or “shihan” of a “ koryu” to not know all the essential points of the science of war. Another thing is that the way of hiding and creating confusion is very similar to the form of transmission for select disciples who are able to see beyond the chaos and the misinformation (this is part of the transmission of the “ura waza” (裏技) and “soto no mono” (外之物) explained in the first article).

However, this way of transmission has a depth and a much more “mysterious” meaning. In each and every one of the techniques of empty-handed combat is the art and genius of the founding masters of the “ryuha” (流派). Each and every one of the techniques should be able to hint and be demonstrated with any type of traditional weapon used in a “Koryu”. Whether in favor or against the weapon in question, in any situation, terrain, location, time, moment, one-on-one, one-on-two, three or four opponents. From the unity towards the multiplicity, the art has the capacity to adapt itself to the present moment, the real here and now, this is the essence of “muto dori”.

An empty hand technique that is part of the current, of the flow of transmission inside of a “ryu” or martial current, will lead inward to the strategy of all the current and the transmission of the masters. And here is one of the terms used by the masters “renzoku waza” (Successive techniques; 連続技), which we interpret as continuity and connection of one technique with another technique.[2]

In this section of the article we also enter into the knowledge, of both being empty handed or armed with a small weapon in the moment of the “Muto dori”, of the domain and deep understanding of the ways to unbalance and control the vital points of the attacker’s body, using the control and the movement of our muscular structure, joints and the alignment of the bones attached to the weapon that we use. Understanding that the weapon can be a tool (weapon) or can be a part of our own body (hands, legs, etc.) acting in unity with our mind and intention.

mutodori3 03_Snapseed
Masaaki Hatsumi and Takamatsu Toshitsugu practicing Bojutsu uchibarai (棒術打払).

In addition to this point, the judgment and knowledge of the different angles that it can take for the long and short weapons to be repelled by other small weapons used during the “muto dori”, and the profound knowledge of the use of the hands (shinken Shiraha dome; 真剣白刄止) for catching or repelling the weapons, and in final the assimilation and the understanding of the term of ”ken Tai Ichi Jo” (劒体一条) or body and weapon are one until the paroxysm.[3]

Why to the paroxysm? One form of inspiration for the disciple from the master is his “kuden” (oral transmission; 口伝). There was a sentence similar to this: “Now that you’ve reached the end, start again from the beginning and practice night and day (nichiya; 日夜) in order to find the form without form and the unity of your weapon with the non-form. In fact the depth of the relationship with an art, the master and his current of transmission depends on the depth of the heart of the practitioner, the heart has reasons that reason alone can never understand.” (I will explain, argue and enlarge on about the information on the “formless form” of the founder masters at the 4th PART and final part of the article of ”muto dori”)

It is important to discern in this last point, that the founding masters used the concepts like for example “Kenjutsu” (剣術), “Sojutsu” (槍術) or “Yarijutsu” (槍術) in a deep and holistic manner. Knowing that their art revealed deep states of controlling multiplicity through that of unity. This multiplicity refers for example to the domain of the body, weapons, strategy (Heiho or Hyoho; 兵法).[4]

Finally, understand that the response when facing an armed aggressive opponent has to be a movement of defense and attack in unison; accurate and precise. For example this can be seen in the traditional concept that some master of “koryu” call “jiyujizai” (To be unrestricted with complete mastery; 自由自在). Where one who applied defense in a single movement controls the “timing” and angle of the attack. I repeat this concept to lead to reflection those who read this, the Form of a “Koryu” is the Form to solve a problem with a solution of a single (ichi) movement, a movement without intention, and which is invisible, accurate, and without Form in the case of the techniques of “muto dori”.

For example this Form of motion which solves, in one motion, the attack of an armed opponent, can be found in the Form of the “sanshin no kata” (三心の型) from “Gyokko ryu” (玉虎流), this transmission contains within it a strategy of three attacks and three defenses in a single motion that moves in the cadence of a rhythm of three hearts.

This triple heart rhythm controls the DISTANCE, the TIME and the SPACE (Ma-ai;間合い) of the situation of danger. This is known in the currents of traditional martial arts as “Sanbyoshi” (Three cadences; 三拍子) that could be interpreted by the “three rhythms”. In fact this “sanshin no kata” is a strategy of movement of the body that contains in his interior the secret of movement of all the traditional weapons of a “koryu”, and of course the unification of the body with the heart of the practitioner.[5]

This form of reaction in one motion is made possible through mastery of the techniques of observation, where the skills of the opponent are evaluated through observation of how the opponent holds the weapon in his hands or in the type of pattern of movement of his body. Concepts that can be found in classical martial arts as for example: “Te no uchi” (手之内) or “Tai no uchi” (体の内).

And in union with the “sanshin no kata” and the way of observation with “the eyes of the body” (tactile observation), exists the term used by the masters, the “Zanshin” (残心) that is a high state of awareness, vigilance and alertness, that could be interpreted for “stay with spirit”, in a state of vigilance and alertness, before, during and after of the execution the techniques. A state where the practitioners learn to be ready for any offense, even when the encounter seems finished. This is “Zanshin no Kamae” (Attitude of the remaining mind; 残心の構え).

However, there is a concept that I would take into consideration at this point, this concept composes the whole in a general way of a situation of “Muto dori”. The term used by the founding masters is “metsuke” (目着 or 目付). In my humble experience of practice I will define and interpret this as “the ability to observe the physical and psychic conditions of the armed opponent from a look of anticipation”. An ability to observe from a “formless form that allows you to see without being seen”, an observation that allows one to collect information and destroy the opponent’s center, even before the opponent makes his first movement. (for example, the vital importance of controlling the center in the transmission of the master in different concepts like “Shinmyo-ken “ (神妙剣), “Naka-zumi” (中墨), “Seichu-sen” (正中線)).

Muto Dori shodo
The kanji for Muto Dori (by Luke Crocker).

The 14th soke of Hontai Yōshin-ryū (本體楊心流), Ishiya Takeo, leaves two famous “kuden” that connect with the term of “metsuke”:

“1 eyes, 2 speed, 3 courage, 4 power” and “soft on the surface, strong inside”. (The interpretation of the word speed, is very different from that given in the sports circles; in “kobujutsu” the speed is the elimination of everything unnecessary, whether physical or mental, ergonomics of movement and intention).

“Muto dori” represents the highest status within the practice of the “kobujutsu”. The founding masters defined this ability to observe and take precedence over the danger in their written documents or “densho” (伝書), with the term of “sacchi suru” (察知), which we could interpret as predicting or sensing the danger, is the ability to anticipate, read and perceive the opponent’s movement or a dangerous situation.

The founding masters had to find a way to discover a state of unity of the body and the heart (eyes of the body) in situations of extreme danger, on the battlefield, in wars and armed conflicts, in losses and lost. In a state in which a human being negotiates the madness and in the imbalance of the mind and the heart through that of the cruel experience of the war, and the emotional and psychological scars that remain within of the “apparent” winner.

Harmony is vital in the heart (spirit), body, and mind of the master, all connected in our universe, what is inside is so outside and vice versa, from subtle and invisible until the vast and visible, from life to death, from love to hatred, from peace to war. The master seeks to control and can be able to evaluate the midpoint of the opposite poles, the master want know the nature of the danger and his influence in his heart, body and life.

And it is at this point that the founding masters created an art, a martial art that was in balance with the nature around them and the environment that they inhabited, and at the same moment in harmony with the inside and the beating and beliefs of his heart. Here’s the great mastery of the founding masters in the art of “Muto dori”, they expect the opponent’s attack with an open and flexible state of the body, mind and heart. The art is the art of perceiving and predicting the opponent’s movement from an internal state of zero, nothingness, or emptiness.

A condition that connects the vision of the eyes of the subconscious with the movement of the body to the unison. Therefore, there is no space for the ego and a nature that is not the essential nature of the human being in the transmission of the levels of “muto dori“, the duality of the ego separates the union that connects the heart and the body with the original nature of the human being.

The depth of the transmission of the founders masters and his lineage is a treasure for those who “observe” (metsuke; 目付) and practice with the “eyes of the heart”. A current, a ”ryu” is an art that expresses the connection between mind, body, and heart with its reflection in the IN-EX-TERIOR, any subtle change that occurred on the outside and in the environment could be perceived by the subconscious mind and the heart of the master in the art.

However, the realization of that this type of transmission based on images, concepts and paradigms that cover an “esoteric” space and that is too complex to explain in written words, so I’ll leave writing the only basis that can serve to the practitioner and the honest and sincere seeker of the art: THE FORM FOLLOWS THE FUNCTION.

It’s very easy for the follower or practitioner to get lost in the illusions of the ego. “The formless form” is a state of practice that begins to be discerned or glimpsed after more than 30 years of practicing the basics, until the basics becomes a part of the bones and blood of the practitioner, and this is not even a guarantee that the practitioner can become “the elite of the elite”. The art of “Muto dori” of a “koryu” is something extremely serious, a technique of life and death.

For this, the real practice begins and ends in our hearts… The environment and nature around us (ryu) is the true witness of our practice, we cannot fool the image reflected in the mirror, the image of the master, the mirror of our most intimate solitude, where we are naked of filters and conditioning of the ego… In that space is where the art resides.

The heart of the Form is the sword of the disciple. It is with it that he fights his enemies and by it that he pushes back the calamities that threaten him. – Toda Shinryuken Masamitsu

I say goodbye of this part with a few words of Dr. Kacem Zoughari, hoping once again that my very humble words have served to inspire to penetrating into the art, into the practice in a sincere and a deep Form.

It is a question of a system of survival forgotten, plunged in the depth of the BEING, and this one slightly worn out, or better, frequently concealed for an EGO that assumes the control of the BEING. If the danger resides in each one, how do we want to detect it in others without being able to detect it in us themselves?

It can be said that to understand the nature of the danger and to understand the nature of the man, in all that it cannot control her turns into hostage of his fickleness. This self-knowledge, by means of the cancellation of the EGO, is the heart of the ninjutsu. – Dr. Kacem Zoughari

MUTO-DORI – 無刀捕– END OF PART 3 ( The end in the 4 PART” 死 / 四”).

Note of the author: Everything written is written from the humility of a personal way, with a spirit of communication and expression with me. 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



[1] A little more information about what development in the paragraph corresponding to this note: Seigan Kurai

[2] In the practice of a “Koryu” the most important element is the “Kihon” (基本), the “Kihon” can be translated as a foundations or basics.

In “Gyokko-ryu” we can find the “Kihon happo” (基本八法) which means the eight laws, methods, models, principles, or rules. According to Soke Masaaki Hatsumi, the “Kihon happo” can also be interpreted as (∞) infinite, referring to the number of “henka” (変化) or changes, variations, mutation, transformation or metamorphosis that may arise. It thus we can understand the “kihon happo” with “the basics of martial arts.”
This famous infinity (∞) is the union of one technique with another and the continuity in the “kihon happo” in the concept of “renzoku waza”. “Renzoku” (连続) means continuity, this continuity in the context of a “Koryu” is to indicate the sequence and flow of the techniques “Renzoku waza” (连続技).

[3] A little more information about what development in the paragraph corresponding to this note:


[5] For example in the term used in some “koryu” in the “Iai jutsu kata” (居合術形) like “Enzan no Metsuke” (遠山の目付) that can be interpreted “one looks as if staring at the mountains in the far distance”, but in the moment of the danger the practitioner looks are directed towards the essence of the cut.

In this note I would add an article that I wrote in the past, and I think that can give more information about the “Hachi” (八) and the “Hasso” (八相) of the “kihon happo” and the union with another foundation of the current of “Gyokko ryu”, the “Sanshin no kata” (三心の型).

The martial artist seeks the control of the mind, emotions and the body through of the mastery of the five strategies of war inside of the “Sanshin no kata” (三心の型).

The practitioner manages to support the necessary distance in the face of that which is difficult or painful, experiencing sadness but not remaining entangled in it, the internal and external enemies are simply thoughts, emotions or persons who still have not woken up to a more illuminated reality. These thoughts, emotions and persons live in their own hell, the intention of the martial artist has to be of helping these thoughts, emotions or persons discover their real potential and come to fulfillment through the correct practice of the Form of the current (ryu; 流).

We can understand this like the “Sanshin no kata” (三心の型), where thoughts, emotions and persons (body) find harmony (chūshin; 中心, or center). This is deeply linked to the transmission of the attitude of the body of eight transformations (八相之位) “Hasso no Kurai” (ichi; 位置, the situation or position).

The terms “Hasso“ (八相) comes from esoteric Buddhism, is inviting us to penetrate into the octuplet ( 8º) noble way, or at least to know it.



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