Our number is big but the room is small, which is good. We need to understand that back in the Edō era, most of the dōjō, most of the traditional dōjō were at least half of the size of the room that we have here (looks like about a 60×60 foot gymnasium), and from this size you may have 100-300 students. And this is what is said in some chronicles (though in different classes). Like what they have in the Aikikai nowadays. They also have some dōjō that is a little bit wider for when there is a lot of students during the Edō era, but those dōjō are more like business dōjō.
During those times there is no recording about how people get hurt during the practice, maybe they didn’t care, who knows, but there is some very strong theory and explanation that there is a way to practice and a theory of moving. There is one very important principle in ninjutsu and other classical martial arts called Saidai saishō (最大最小),[i] it means, what you can do bigger you can do smaller. This is a very important thing to understand in Japanese civilization and way of thinking; things start big, and step by step they become smaller. Same with the Zen gardens, same with the calligraphy, so this same idea you don’t find only in the martial arts, you find everywhere.
So doing wide movement is good when you are alone and want to understand, but step by step, as you are getting older, things are getting shorter. It is important as you get older to practice to keep the mind sharp. There are many studies that shows that as we grow older we lose more cells and things like that. But it is not true, there is very strong proof that the brain is always working, and you can continue learning until the day you die. Many people question this in Hatsumi sensei, as this year he is 78 years old, but you can see for yourself the way he sits, stands up, uses his legs… an if you can reach this age and keeping his flexibility, in the way he moves, the way he practices alone, the way he is, the methodology that he used in order to follow this example.
If you enjoyed this, check out the full seminar footage (including my write-up) over at Onmitsu Kage.
[i] According to Shishin Takuma-ryū jūjitsu, currently headed by Tetsuzan Kuroda, this is listed as Saidai saishō riron (theory of the largest as the smallest; 最大最小理論), and describes the biomechanical theory that you can maximize the speed of the largest parts of the body by manipulating them subtly or in small ways (i.e. pivoting instead of swinging). By this a long movement becomes very short, and the maximum kinetic transferrence can be obtained. In kaiken soburi (sword rotation swing practice; 廻剣素振) this movement theory is exemplified. This movement mitigates the movement resistance of the sword, which is also known as “chokusen ni sasae rareta en’undō” (straight movements defeat circular movements), because it encompasses the principle of Saisoku saitan no chokusen undō (linear movement is the shortest and fastest; 最速・最短の直線運動). (Kuroda 23)