Thread: Hira

By Pertti Ruha

This is, in my very personal interpretation a shining thread that runs through Bujinkan‘s pedagogy as produced from Hatsumi Sensei in the publication Bujinkan Dōjō Shinden Kihon Kata in 1978 (also called Tenchijin Ryaku no maki; TCJ; because it is divided into the three sections Ten (heaven; 天), Chi (earth; 地), and Jin (man; 人)).

The Ten (heaven; 天) sections beginning with Ku Kamae to sono kata (Kamae and their exercise movements) and is about structures, not just as external forms but also as mental processes.

  1. Hira no Kamae
  2. Fudōza
  3. Ichimonji no Kamae
  4. Dōko no Kamae
  5. Hira Ichimonji no Kamae
  6. Hichō no Kamae
  7. Hōko no Kamae
  8. Kōsei no Kamae
  9. Jumonji no Kamae

The first Kamae mentioned are Hira no kamae – which we can interpret as “structure in equilibrium “- Hira (平) can be translated to “the plate”, but also to “ordinary and extraordinary” and “harmonious“.
The physical form of this is what Miyamoto Musashi terms as “everyday attitude” in his “The Book of Five Rings“:

It is not appropriate to hold the head too low or too high. The axes can not be pulled or contracted. The stomach is outward, but not chest. The seat is not retracted. The knees are not fixed. The body should be facing, so that the shoulders appear wide. The posture of Heiho well developed so that it becomes even everyday posture

The shape, thus consists of being upright, more difficult than one would expect. The content, however, is a bit more complex.
An alternative name for this kamae is Tenchi no kamae or Tenchi Inyō no kamae (Attitude of Heaven Earth and Yin-yang; 天地陰陽之構).
Tenchi means “heaven and earth” and refers to the establishment of the posture we adopt in the balance between these two poles. Inyō is the same as the yin and yang, that refers then to a perpetual motion equilibrium between heaven and earth.

Hira, accordingly refers to the state of the spine when you take a correct upright posture. When our body is affected by six different forces;

The four outer;

  • gravity
  • friction
  • Push
  • Pull

The two inner (in tension balance);

  • bone supporting forces (internal push)
  • muskeler / fascias pulling forces (internal pull)

The forces between the exterior and interior are to be in equilibrium and when the tension balance between the internal forces are in equilibrium, we have the state we call Hira no kamae… or when they are active, they can also be described with the term “Shizen roppō no Kamae” (shizen means natural / spontaneous, roppō means “the Six Laws”; 自然六法之構).

If one is on a flat surface, one should be able to relax to such an extent with the back so that the whole – from bottom to shoulder – rests against the surface. My personal opinion is that if you can not be relaxed on a flat surface, you cannot be in Hira.

Hira no kata is a subtle movement that goes like a wave from heel to crown. If the movement is magnified, it’s about being able to drop down into a deep squat, but still with a straight back. This is the second criterion for Hira no kamae in our dōjō.
Since all the other structures in the Ku Kamae has Hira no kamae inside them, it is of the utmost importance to meet all the criteria for this. A small mistake here makes the whole structure of taijutsu become imbalanced, which in turn leads to structural mistakes and flaws in everything we do and perform.

The equilibrium is necessary to relax the spine, we can train with Jūnan taisō and Ryūtai undō.
Jūnan taisō (Calisthenics; 柔軟体操) are about improving the  connection between the joints so we are able to achieve a more articulated subtle wave movement through the body. Ryūtai undō (dragon’s body exercises; 竜体運動) are specifically targeted to soften the body’s “meridians” for it to achieve an equilibrated state.

Wave movement through the body – Hira no kata – underpins all kinds methods – Dahō – and thus how how one utilizes different types of weapons with taijutsu.
If you stand in Hira and let the wave motion propagated from the feet up through the knees, hips and spine to head, we intuitively feel the first and most basic attack of our Budō Taijutsuzu tsuki; ramming with the skull. The easiest way is to perform this against a person who embraces us from behind, but with a short step forward, it will also be a devastating blow to someone standing in front of us. This “zu Tsuki” performed by Kikaku Ken (demon horn fist; 鬼角拳).
Because we use education “from the bottom up, from the inside out” is the kind of Kikaku Ken necessary to learn before we can proceed to blows with other body weapons.

The wave motion can also result in various forms of movement. Various forms of leaping (tobi waza; 飛技) originate from here and leap direction is controlled via “kua”. If you put the weight on either foot, we can make a step movement forward or backward.
In Shinken gata taihenjutsu, forming step backward is the first form of defensive movements – Hidari kumi. If we take the step forward – as in Ichi Geki – we have the first aggressive movement, the cornerstone of Migi kumi. So it’s a big difference even if Kamae is positioned migi or hidari (leading: right or left)

The thread wandering in this way through all the Bujinkan Dōjō Shinden kihon kata. It starts in Hira no kamae wanders through all the hundreds of kata which are documented to proceed to the Kihon Happō.
Kihon Happō contains the most advanced concepts in our martial arts, but when you come here you must develop further, back to Hira no Kamae. Then one must also take into account the “fibers” in the thread is constructed of Gasshō (hands clasped as though in prayer; 合掌), i.e., the kamae we perform at opening and closing of our lessons – among other things, this also consists of the five tigers Kamae .

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