Tuesday, 12 February 2013

'Kirimusubi & the empty-self' - Wednesday 13 February 2013


‘Empty-self means a calm and stable mind, consciousness that is not attached to any object but simply rests in the natural flow of existence, that is, in the pure situation of potential that is open in all directions. This situation of potential is our natural source, the clear water itself.
No instant of our lives waits for the next. We cannot go back into the time before this breath, and we cannot rush ahead to the time of the next breath. The return to this breath now, unexpectedly hints at the vastness of actual life.’ (Tenbreul, 2011, p. 115).

Past Sunday we had a really good and intense day of training Kashima-no-Tachi in our Helensville Dojo. The above quote from a book on Zen beautifully summarizes the central topic that we worked on during the day – the exploration of the principle of hōyō-dōka, as we are able to understand (at our respective levels so far) how it manifests in the practice some of the Kashima Shinryū kata. Hōyō-dōka - acceptance and resorption - describes the process by which we practice returning to the ‘situation of potential, the clear water itself’, were everything is possible. ‘One sense of this construct is evoked by the “Axiom of the Moon on the Water” (suigetsu no gokui), which instructs that a warrior must respond with his opponent, in the same way that the moon, reflected on a body of water, responds with the waves and current, neither swimming against them, nor being carried away by them’ (Friday & Humitake, 1997, p. 65). My sense is that hōyō-dōka is either very close or at least partially overlaps with musubi, the conception of contact that we have worked so much with over the past 2 years in our Aikido training.

Since the basic requirement for contact and awareness is presence, like so often on these days (and we should probably do this as explicitly more often in normal training sessions), we spent a good 20min just practicing ‘hara/tanden-breathing’, first in lying down on our backs, then sitting in Seiza whilst bent forward with our upper bodies on our legs to heighten awareness the back of the hara, and then integrating both front and back sitting upright in Seiza.

Following that we reviewed some of our movement basics and revisited both forward and rotational movement from the center. From there we added our bokken into the practice and worked on connecting our breathing, with the movement it generates in the hara, and the movement this generates in the body and then the sword, in the first kesagiri cuts of the day.

From there we began training and testing our physical and mental abilities of ‘acceptance & resorption’ with our basic sword-musubi exercise, leading each other through the Dojo with crossed swords. The emphasis here was to truly feel what is happening between two partners, who is leading, who following, where is the movement going and how apt are we at quickly responding to obvious or subtle changes in this communication. In our end-of-the-day feedback round we had a good conversation about how important this work is/was and how it was good to explore the different ways in which we can try to feel what is happening, from observing the meeting point of the swords, to the our partners body, to trying to observe her/his intention (possibly through their eyes). Everyone seemed to agree afterwards that the latter allowed for the quickest response and made it possible to get the feeling of being able to take over the lead, rather than purely ‘follow’ or ‘react’ and thereby always feel somewhat ‘late’.

With a strong sense of this push and pull on the hara, we then went into ‘Kihon Dachi Kesa Giri’, slowly extending the emphasized principles into full kata. As one of us described nicely at the end of the day, a sense of necessity for movement or even technique began to grow as we engaged in this work of ‘push and pull’ from the hara, or else musubi, not giving each other an each unless we really had to.

In the afternoon we turned toward further applications of this feeling in more three complex kata (Ashibarai ukibune, from Kihon Dachi; Kyo Dachi Kesa Giri from Uradachi; and Aishin Kumi Tachi Kiri Dome), particularly the moment of kirimusubi (cut-connect, where both swords/cuts cancel each other out by crossing mid-air) in which all three of them overlap. Each time looking at the whole kata, as well as emphasizing the moment of kirimusubi, we tried to feel when the kata (or the part that followed kirimusubi) was truly necessary. Our aim was to not engage in it if it wasn’t, that is, if we had the possibility to finish with our first cut we did, and then began the kata from the start. If we couldn’t finish on the first kesa giri we felt for the moment of release, after the clashing of the swords, to explore the next movement of the kata.

It was really great to see and feel how the intensity and the focus, from morning through the afternoon, went up higher and higher as we progressed to more complex movements and more fully invested attacks. The ‘push and pull’ from our musubi exercise literally seemed to condense the room further and further, from an almost friendly play to the prolonged intention and repeated attacks of Aishin Kumi Tachi Kiri Dome. I have to say I was truly impressed by everyone’s focussed and had a great time teaching and training myself. Trying to really feel what was happening in the moment of contact (kirimusubi), neither pre-empting anything nor being disregardful to what is going on, we all seemed to develop a sense of this ‘pure situation of potential that is open in all directions’, simultaneously ‘evaporates’ and re-establishes the kata.

Again, in our post-seminar round-up, we talked about how much this opens a higher intensity and totally new possibilities for our practice of kata in weapons work and taijutsu alike. We didn’t quite get around to it anymore on the day, but I would like to emphasize that what we had worked on is not actually specific to the few katas that we practiced, but is foundational to all of our exercises. In this sense, we should probably do some work on revisiting our basics and ‘filling’ them with this material. That should make for some interesting, high-intensity classes in the future ;)


To all those who attended, thank you so much for your hard work and strong focus, that was truly amazing!! All those who couldn’t be there, come join us anytime you like, we’ll happily share whatever we can with you. Thanks to our exclusive Dojo-photographer, some impressions from the day are below (I have to say though, that I decided to take out some of the more amusing shots where we were caught mid-kiai with some rather funny expressions – personal orders for these from attendees are possible..).

Domō arigatō gozaimasu everyone,
Filip