Self-Image

By Pertti Ruha

Masaaki Hatsumi demonstrates Uke-Tome from Kukishinden-ryu.
Masaaki Hatsumi demonstrates Uke-Tome from Kukishinden-ryu.

How people stand, move and move in different ways, all depends on the self-image that each one over the years has built up. To change the way we act according to taijutsu’s standards, we must change the image of ourselves that we have about ourselves. It is about changing dynamics of our reactions and not just to replace one habit with another, a kamae with another or a way to kick with another. Such a change involves not only a change in the image itself, but also a change of motivation and mobilization of all the parts of the body affected.

It can be experienced that a normal way to stand, breathe and move, is not always a natural way to act. And taijutsu is about natural and spontaneous actions – what we term as Shizentai (natural or spontaneous body; 自然体).[1]
When we have a posture that is upright and in which the bones carry under the gravitational forces without effort, when we base our movement on a balance of tension between body and gravity, and when we move ourselves with authentic movements, without effort and friction, without pause in breathing and where the movement at any time can stop or reverse in direction – then we have achieved Shizentai – the spontaneous body.

Our self-image is composed of four elements involved in every activity we perform; movement, sensation, emotion and thought.
How much each contributes to a specific activity depends on the situation, but all the elements are to some extent present in everything we do.

To be able to think, for instance, you have to be awake and know that you are awake and not dreaming. In other words, we must be able to know and discern our physical position in relation to the gravitational field. It follows that movements, sensations and emotions which is part of the thinking.

To communicate with others, we must have a certain posture that expresses a body language our message and have some kind of relationship with those we communicate with. That is, we must be able to move, think, and feel.

To move you must use at least one of the senses, consciously or unconsciously, including the feeling and thought.

If one of these active elements disappear, our entire existence is endangered.
Unable to survive, even for short periods, without any movement. A person who is deprived of all their sensory impressions is not alive. And without emotion, it is no understatement to say that is not living, for example, feeling suffocated which forces us to breathe.

In Budo Taijutsu, we limit our studies mostly to the motor part of the self-image, but can not ignore the instincts, feelings and thoughts that are closely connected with movement according Bufu taijutsu.
Our self-image is considerably less than it could be. An infant is limited self-image to the lips, because it is through his lips that he discovers the world. In a pianist the image of the fingers is much greater than normal if you draw the self-image that is stored in neocortical motor part.
All the parts that are unused, will never be included in the self-image, and there are parts that may never be fully developed because we never become aware of their potential.

The self-image is built up by the group of cells that we have actually used. A person who mastered several languages use both more cells and cell combinations than monolingual people. Multilingual people’s self-image is slightly closer to their possible maximum field of languages than people who only speak their mother tongue.
The same applies in other areas. Our self-image is generally limited and less than our potential ability. There are a few people who can speak from 30 up to 70 different languages. This means that the average self-image occupies about 5% of the maximum capacity for language. This figure indicates the coarse speech even how much of our combat capability we achieve on average.

The full potential of using our bodies in emergency situations, i.e. our physical fighting ability, we call “ryutai” (dragon body; 龍体) and is defined by the maximum self-image.
The functional basic exercises we do in the beginning of the lessons – ryutai undo – is to increase awareness of this personal ability, the body’s range of motion and ability to discriminate in learning.
The average urban man is accustomed to manage with 5% of his capacity and does not realize how the development has been hampered over the years.

The definition of an efficient machine is a machine where all the parts fit together. All parts are well oiled and there are no gaps or debris between the surfaces. All fuel used is converted into kinetic energy effectively and there is no noise or vibration. No energy is spent on friction heat or meaningless movements that reduce efficiency.
All our sabaki gata exercises are designed to achieve this. All unnecessary movements, everything that brakes, interferes or obstruct the natural movement is to be removed. Our lessons at large are more on removing superfluous movements, than to learn new moves.
In the summer of 2010 Hatsumi Sensei used a rocket ship as a metaphor for this insight. A rocket standing on the ground needs to have well-filled fuel tank to get away. On the way up it drop it off any parts that are no longer needed for the voyage. In the end, it comes up in space – Kukan – with a well-tuned body, stripped of all bulky parts that are not needed.

If our mechanisms of thinking, feelings and movements are not organized in coordinated, continuous, smooth, efficient, and thus also simple and fun activities, we engage different parts of the body so that they interfere with each other. One consequence is that we are often at the same time trying to perform a movement, while making its opposite movement as well.
With sheer willpower we can gloss over our failure to perform the movement correctly and will force it through with an unnecessarily powerful effort.
Kata (Budo exercises; 型) are theories that will enhance combat capability, that is, expanding the boundaries of the possible, the impossible possible, the difficult easy and the easy fun.

Only the activities that are easy and fun become namely constantly accessible parts of everyday life.

Setsujin-ken (Man Killing Sword; 設人刀)
Setsujin-ken (Man Killing Sword; 設人刀)

Things that are difficult to perform and that one must strive towards, never becomes part of the natural everyday life. As humans age, they completely lose ability in such activities. It is, for example, unusual for a person over 50 years to jump over a fence, even though it is quite low. They looks instead for a way around the fence. A young man jumps over, on the other hand, without difficulty there.
There is nothing to look forward, but already from over 30 years of age the physical ability of the body begins to crumble. It does not mean you should avoid anything that seems difficult or never exert willpower to overcome obstacles, but one should clearly distinguish between the things we are doing to improve our Budo and so we do not do it just for effort’s own sake.
It is best to focus willpower to improve one’s capacity, so that we can finally make gestures and movements easy and insightful.

Notes:

[1] the term Shizen (自然) is an example in itself where nature is perceived to be a spontaneous expression of the interaction of all myriad things in the universe. Thus the term for nature is the same term as spontaneity; for something to “be”; “I am therefore I am.”

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