Essays by Kenji Tokitsu

Ethics and combat sports

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Ethics and combat sports


Written by Kenji Tokitsu

The 11th International Symposium JORRESCAM was held on 16 March 2012 at the Université Toulouse 1 Capitol, under the general theme of “Ethics and combat sports”.
On this occasion, I gave a talk that might be of interest to my students.
I therefore am making its contents available to them as my chronicle for this month (April).

Ethics in sports or in martial arts?

I believe that we should approach the topic of ethics in combat sports and in martial arts from two different angles: ritual and awareness depending on a person’s level of practice.
Although there is a uniform ritual aspect to ethical conduct, people’s awareness of an ethic varies according to their degree of progress. A beginner will learn the ethic under the form of rituals or rules associated with a discipline. As he progresses, his awareness of the ethic will naturally go beyond the formal bounds of rituals and rules. In the case of an expert, this ethic should be indissociable from his way of living. It is only at this stage that we can speak of philosophy in martial arts.
In this regard, it seems to me that it would be misleading to speak of ethics in martial art as though it were essentially a uniform code of conduct, since ethics implies qualitative changes as the person progresses.
While the ethical framework remains the same, one’s awareness of that ethic will change according to the vision he has of his practice as his level of progress increases. We could compare this to the experience of mountain climbing.
Let me explain.
If you climb Mont Blanc, your vision will change as you go higher and higher. The view you had of the summit while you were still at the foot of the mountain no longer has anything to do with what you can see once you have arrived at the top. You are of course the same person, but what your vision encompasses is now totally different from what you could see when you were below.
If there is no ascension, there is no mountain climbing. Similarly, if there is no progress, there is no sense in speaking of the practice of a martial art that employs the suffix -do, or way. The concept of change in one’s practice is clearly expressed here. As you advance along the way, your vision changes. If it does not, it means that there has been no progress along the way, but only practice of a system.

Each discipline has its own particularity, even though many point in a similar direction. Strictly speaking, in ritual form each discipline has its own ethic, which applies to all practitioners. In effect, particularity exists in every discipline, including kendo, karate-do, iai-do, aiki-do, judo, sumo (do), etc. It constitutes both the way of preparing for bouts of combat, and the way of practicing techniques and respecting one’s opponent.
While the ritual bounds of an ethic are imposed almost uniformly on all who devote themselves to a discipline, ethics in martial arts has another aspect that must be constituted and consolidated as the person develops in the course of his technical progress. For technical progression means upward progress of the individual, if we are inspired and train at all according to the concept of do, or the way. Because the way is where we walk and move ahead, and that implies development, or evolution. On the way, the vision of a beginner should not be the same as that of an expert, even though the ethical framework remains the same for both.
I think that this evolutionary aspect of ethics is often overlooked when we think about ethics in martial arts.
I would like us to think about this using some examples drawn from the practice of combat sports and martial arts.
More precisely, I will base them on some of the original disciplines of Japanese martial arts. I will not give the names of persons, or the year of the events that have inspired these reflexions.


During the judo finals at the Olympic Games, a Japanese fighter injured his ankle. Despite this handicap and his resulting limp, he fought courageously  and ended up winning the match. It was a moving spectacle. Everyone congratulated him on his courage and his qualities as a fighter. His opponent vanished from the scene. Obviously, no-one congratulated him on his performance, for he had lost against an injured opponent. As soon as the Japanese winner took his place in the spotlight, his opponent slipped away into the shadows. We can easily understand the reason why.
However, if we examine this fight situation from a different angle, we see that the loser could have fought the winner by using leg sweeps, which are techniques that are allowed in rules-governed combat sports. But if he had used them, he would certainly have further devastated his opponent’s already injured leg. However, he would have been able to conduct the fight to his advantage and would probably have won. But he didn’t, and so he lost the match.
If the Japanese fighter had a handicap because of his injury, his opponent also was handicapped due to his voluntary acceptance of an important moral constraint, because out of fear of further damaging an already injured opponent, he preferred to not take advantage of a technique that would have allowed him to win. In a way, we could say that he agreed to accept this moral handicap. For a qualified fighter must spontaneously find his opponent’s weak spot. If he follows the logic of combat, he must be able to use that weakness to his own advantage, but to do so went against this fighter’s ethics. By disallowing himself this advantage, he voluntarily assumed a handicap that led to his defeat. Personally, I think that this is the fighter who deserved praise.
A question arises: what should be the place of ethics in the rules of sports?



Here’s my second example.
I began kendo at the age of 10 in Japan but stopped at the end of a year. About twenty years ago, I took it up again in France. My teacher was French. At the time, I lived in Paris and my teacher would come to my personal dojo to train with me. After each session, we would talk a lot about kendo, and each time those moments were privileged kendo lessons for me.
Here is what touched me most in my lessons with him.
One day we were drinking tea after a training session, and he said:
“In Coubertin I saw the most magnificent fight of my whole life. This Japanese fighter adopts the sword-high stance (jodan) and begins to push his opponent back with his ki. He slowly advances and his opponent keeps backing up until he’s obliged to step off the mat, receiving a “Chui” warning. The match begins again and the same thing happens three times. As a result, the opponent is disqualified and loses the match. In this way, the Japanese fighter won without delivering a single blow. That was the most magnificent fight I’ve ever seen.”

I was very happy to hear my teacher’s story, especially since it was told by a Frenchman.
The next example will help us to understand this further.

At that time, I continued to practice kendo along with my training in karate. I read many books and articles on kendo, including the following story.


This is my third example.
Two 7th dan kendoka, A and B, are having a match. Kendoka A repels his opponent B with his kizémé (ki offensive). With his energy or will, A forces B back until he’s up against the wall of the dojo and can go no further. In the previous example, fighter B was forced out of bounds. In the present case, fighter B couldn’t back up any further. He was immobilised for an instant, during which fighter A dealt him a magnificent to the head (men) and won the match.
A perfect victory.

After the match, the Master of the two kendoka said to fighter A:
“The moment that you backed your opponent up against the wall, you had already won the match. Yet despite this clear win, you nevertheless dealt him a blow. That strike was useless and amounts to an act of cruelty. That is not what we’re trying to do in kendo…”.

What lessons can we draw from these three examples?

As far as ethics in practice is concerned, the examples that we’ve just seen show that we cannot talk about ethics without taking into account the relative awareness of a person depending on his level. Ethics in martial arts is not comparable to the traffic code, which everyone must obey in the same manner. Ethics in martial arts has to do with a person’s level of progress in the discipline. In a way, one’s awareness of ethics is on a par with his level of practice.
There is no sense in expecting a beginner to understand, and then to act in the same way as prescribed in the third example.

This is something that is difficult to systematise in the form of rules. Which poses a certain difficulty for practice in the West, where people seem to want to systematise everything according to a set of rules.

For example, in the first case, the fighter who suffered defeat could have been the winner, if he had fought as hard as he could within the established rules, and without concerning himself over the state of his opponent’s leg. He lost because he was sufficiently advanced to realise the seriousness of his opponent’s injury, and his conscience kept him from using techniques that would have enabled him to win, but which went against his ethics.

In the second case, the winner didn’t need to strike a blow to win, because his opponent had been pushed out of bounds. Those who were sufficiently advanced in the discipline were able to appreciate the quality of this combat and could say, “That was a magnificent fight!”
But I wonder how the spectators would have reacted if this type of fight had taken place in a venue where people go mainly to see a spectacle!!! Most probably, there would have been lots of booing because no strikes had been made.

The third example further explains this type of situation and the quality of combat thanks to the words of the Master, who explains why one should not strike. When he said “That strike was useless and amounts to an act of cruelty”, his words expressed not only the quality of combat to be sought, but also the ethics underlying kendo. But this ethic is far from being obvious to a beginner, who must persevere and learn to strike with all his energy.
I think that these three examples can help us to reflect on what is meant by “ethics” in Japanese martial art. Ethics in martial art, but also in combat sports, cannot be compared to the traffic code, because a combat discipline does not involve only cultural roots; one’s awareness of ethics has to evolve with the person’s technical level, as these last examples drawn from kendo show.


I’ll finish with some thoughts on the cultural aspects of ethics.
For while ethics should be found in the quality of practice in combat sports and martial arts, it is also expressed in their code of gestures, as for example in their opening bows or salutes.
On this point, there is a major misunderstanding concerning the martial arts from Japan.
Normally, in serious clubs, before a training session, when the most senior practitioner gives the command “seiza”, students line up facing their teacher and facing the wall where there is often a photo of the founder of the karate, judo, or aiki-do school. On hearing the command, “Shomen ni rei”, everyone bows to him.
Then, the teacher faces the students and, when the command “Sensei ni rei” is given, teacher and students bow to each other.
Then sometimes, on the command, “ Otagai ni rei”, all the students bow to each other.
This ritual is considered “traditional”, and therefore serious practitioners apply it as the basis of their ethic in martial arts. In a way, they live the traditional authenticity of Japanese martial art.
However, a large part of this ritual that they consider “traditional” is not traditional at all. Japanese martial arts continued to be transmitted within the strict social context of the samurai until the 19th century. Therefore, if we wish to speak about the traditional aspect of their ethics, we cannot avoid referring to the culture and tradition of the samurai.
However, the samurai never made this type of bow.
Quite simply, this form of bow or salute comes from the Western military system and not from Japanese tradition.

If students line up on hearing the command “seiza”, which is a Japanese word, it is because this act is a transposition from how soldiers line up on hearing the command “Fall in”. The samurai didn’t line up in this fashion either before or after their martial art workout. They did line up to face their feudal lord, but not to train.
Saluting the photo of the founding master is a transposition from the military, when soldiers salute the national flag. The samurai never made this type of salute. Together they bowed before their lord, but their salute to their martial arts master was more individual in nature.
The collective action model forms part of military efficiency, but the Japanese samurai didn’t learn it until very late. We can say that they learned it to put an end to their existence as samurai, as this model became effective in the period when the samurai class was replaced by modern armed forces based on the European model. The models that you think of as “traditional” were introduced to Japan from Europe in the 1860s to 1870s through the military system.
In the 1850s, several hundred sword schools (kenjutsu) were counted in Japan, and each of these schools had certain particularities in their ritual of practice. So it would be false to consider that the way of bowing that we saw earlier was the only one of its kind.

A question to conclude:
Why should we refer to tradition when we practice so-called traditional martial arts, when their content and way of practice have evolved so considerably? Why not reflect on ethics from the standpoint of the quality and the form of our contemporary practice, which have changed so much both in technique and in the objectives pursued within the framework of sports?

To be continued...

Articles - Essays by Kenji Tokitsu

Building a martial arts method XI

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Building a martial arts method XI

Written by Kenji Tokitsu


Communicating without showing

In the major cities of Japan in the Edo period (1603-1867), there were numerous kenjutsu (sword art) dojos. By the end of that period, the country had registered over seven hundred kenjutsu schools. A school could also have branches, so the total number of dojos was quite large.
When a dojo was located next to a road or street, its windows were placed high in the wall so that passers-by could not see what was going on inside. That way, people could train without being watched.

Back then, seeing a class was the same as attending the class. One had to have permission to watch, but this only happened once a person had been taken on by the school.
In the history of the martial arts, we can find many similar examples: in jûjutsu, in tai chi-chuan and other currents of Chinese boxing, in the karate of Okinawa, to name a few.
Things were very different from the customs of our day, when we so often hear people say, “I don’t want to attend the class, I just want to watch.” Because watching seems to be of no importance and ought, according to many, to be free of charge.
People should know, however, that as soon as they ask to watch a class, it’s the equivalent of asking to attend it as a student. That said, however, it’s also true that there are training sessions and classes without importance where there’s nothing to hide...

But the essentials of martial arts cannot be conveyed solely by visible messages; there are also numerous subtleties of technique and energy that require a special kind of communication – messages that are non-verbal and very hard to see.

The techniques of martial arts involve special knowledge that has been tested and improved by experience, before being developed and handed down through time. If a technique is efficient, or much more effective than what can be accomplished by the simple, ordinary or habitual activation of the human body, this means that it necessarily involves a particular kind of know-how. That is, it involves more than a set of actions applied and executed based on ordinary logic. There must necessarily be a subtle, elaborate kind of knowledge involved.

In the words of a jûjutsu master whom I quoted earlier:
“If you really want to progress, you must think and reflect constantly. But you must realize that it is not at all certain that you will grasp the essential subtleties of the art, even if you are highly intelligent.

If you are only of medium intelligence, you haven’t a chance. This is not a thing for people who can’t help confusing effectiveness with brutality…”

If a technique were formed only by physical gestures, you would only need to copy these gestures well in order to learn them. But a technique must also involve a way of sensing the body and its surrounding space (including that of the adversary), of developing particular sensations, of activating internal parts of the body that we are not accustomed to moving, and also of seeing and sensing our opponent… We cannot understand all these subtleties simply by observing the external aspect of body movements.

For the truth is that an action worthy of being called a technique is made up of numerous subtleties that are the source of its effectiveness. Even though you begin by copying the actions that you see, you must also learn, once you’ve advanced to a certain point in your practice, to complete them by integrating the set of sensibilities that give life to the technique. A technique is not a simple set of gestures or actions.

Accordingly, in a valid technique, there is a visible part formed by gestures, but also a non-visible part composed of the subtleties of that technique. When a technique is being transmitted, the non-visible part needs extra explanation, which is usually given orally. After a certain level, such explanations become essential for learning a live technique. For the attainment of effectiveness depends on how well one has understood all the physical and energy-related subtleties involved.

The outstanding example is found in the notion of the aïki principle, on which aïki-do and certain currents of jûjutsu are based.
An aïki-do demonstration is spectacular and even aesthetic. How is it possible to throw an opponent so easily and elegantly? In most cases, such exercises are performed with the complicity of the two opponents. The one who attacks lets himself be thrown as agreed in advance, since it is an exercise that must be performed in this way. If a high-level opponent really did attack with determination, few aïkidokas would be able to cope as effectively as they do in an aïki-do demonstration.

But I do mean “few”, and not “all”.
Because it seems that there are a few rare masters that are able to do so. The aïki technique consists mainly of annulling the force of one’s opponent. If you could annul the force of your opponent’s attack, just like you can eliminate pencil marks with an eraser, you could effectively dominate your opponent, just as we see done in demonstrations. If you don’t have this capacity, your partner needs to be your accomplice, which is what happens in most cases.
So a question arises. Is it truly possible to annul the force of one’s opponent by scarcely touching him? If the answer is “no”, most aïki demonstrations must be the effect of complicity between opponents. If the answer is “yes”, without a doubt this technique would be up there at the supreme level of martial arts. And in this case, we could not disregard this phenomenon if what we are looking for is a better method of martial arts. So we must ask how it can be possible. With what physical and mental logic can we obtain this capacity? A new horizon is offered to us.
Personally, having seen a fragment of the phenomena of aïki, I continue to ask myself such questions during my research. For the moment, I still haven’t managed to find a satisfactory response.

In written documents, the essential part of a technique is not very apparent. Writing is important, but not very effective for explaining an action. If you have any doubts about this, try explaining a simple technical action over the phone to someone who’s never seen it. Or try, for example, to convey the first movements of tai chi chuan only with words and without making any movements. If you say, “Raise your hands”, the other person might well ask, “What do you mean? How should I raise them? How should I place my right hand with respect to my left hand? At what angle? How fast should I raise them? etc.” You would end up thinking, “Words are not made to convey movements”.


In Zen teachings there exists the term “furyû-monji”, which means, “Not expressed in words”, meaning, “Essential communication is not established by the system of words”. This recalls the phrase “ishin-denshin”, which means “mind-to-mind communication”. Sometimes sayings are misunderstood, like the following interpretation: “words are not important for communication”. This would seem to jive with a certain way of thinking, but the true meaning is different, I feel.
Contrary to such interpretations, the above terms stress the fact that words are so important that they must not be abused. Their correct employment is particularly necessary in the domain of the arts… If thousands of words are often insufficient to make oneself understood, occasionally it might be enough to emit a single sound, a single word, or even a single look, if each were used at the right moment.
The right situation is essential for communication. Even if you yell very loud, someone who is far away will fail to hear you, even if you do so in his ear, whereas someone who is near by can hear you even if you only whisper. The way aural comprehension depends on distance from the source of speech is similar to how technical comprehension depends on a person’s level of practice. The message can only be understood by those who have come within the right distance. The right moment for communication depends on the balance between distance and vocal strength.

The same thing happens with calligraphy or Chinese ink painting. The blank spaces on the paper are just as important as the black strokes formed by the ink. The action of drawing lines has the same importance as that of leaving blank spaces. The right moment of communication is similar to this type of balance.
Words are so important that they must be pronounced with care. If they are said at the right moment, the essential message is understood even without forming a sentence. So it is necessary to form this space-time of communication. In my case, this is how I understand the meaning of furyû-monji.
In the tradition of Japanese martial arts, oral teaching was so selective that it was forbidden to jot down notes. Everything had to be kept in one’s head. A mediocre student might take lots of notes in order to look serious, whereas a brilliant one will resort to them very little, since he can keep the essentials in his mind… Words are important, so important that the meaning of a single word spoken by the master can change the entire content of what we are learning – as long as we are at the right distance to hear and understand him.
That is, the appreciation and degree of comprehension of art may vary depending on the angle of vision of what one sees and, especially, on one’s level of practice. Compare the points of view below:

A reporter said:
“Most of the martial arts spectators who come to the Bercy facility are connoisseurs. They know how to distinguish good technique from bad. You just have to hear how hard they clap.”

A sword master said:
“The eye of an amateur can’t perceive the technique of this art. If fans applaud when they see your technique, it must be because they don’t understand it, or because your technique is so mediocre that even they can see it.”

A physical education researcher said:
“By gathering the results of all the examinations and analyses that we have undertaken, we will be able to establish a methodology that is applicable to athletes of different levels….”
A jûjutsu master said:
“Even if you could set out all the scientific discoveries and theories in the world on the surface of a low plain, you could never obtain a single view of the space encompassed from the summit of a high mountain.”

Let us continue with our reflexions on the formation of what is called the secret, which has many different facets. Here is a succinct analysis.

Attitude towards practice

Kié and shugŷo

When confronted with some special knowledge, such as a secret, people’s attitudes differ. The Japanese concepts kié and shugŷo (terms of Buddhist origin) will help us to understand people’s attitudes to knowledge that is sometimes hidden.
Kié means: to have faith in Buddha and to follow faithfully the Buddhist doctrine. By extension, the word kié denotes a certain attitude, that of being dependant or becoming dependant on a teaching or dogma. When this word is used as a verb, it means either becoming attached to this belief, or becoming dependant on it.
Shugŷo means: to practice for oneself the way of Buddha. This concept has become impregnated in the practice of Japanese martial arts to denote the act of persevering to further one’s technique and mind.
Based on these notions, the expression kié-ha denotes the tendency of a group of people to depend on the teachings or dogma established by a guru or a master who directs them. The suffix “-ha” means current or tendency. For kié-ha of whatever Buddhist current or school, Buddha is like the God on whom they all depend. By extension of this meaning, these kié-ha consider their Master or their Guru as a sacred being whose level they can never attain. The Master or the Guru is the only holder of the truth. The rules that He has laid down are the manifestation of his expression of truth. These people are, therefore, faithful to these rules.

Shugyo-ha denotes instead the tendency of those who seek to form themselves through their own practice. A shugyo-ha in Buddhism tries to follow the paths of Buddha on his own, even if he progresses only a little. I acknowledge that I was inspired by this concept when I defined the attitude and position of my practice in martial arts as being that of Jisei-do: the way of forming oneself through one’s personal practice.

To explain what I mean, let us refer again to the story I presented earlier (see Essay no. 11 of this series):

The kié-ha

The story might continue as follows:
You own the object and cherish it as a treasure. You still don’t know its composition, but it doesn’t matter, because the object comes from the Master, who guarantees its great value.  So it is a treasure for you as well.
You’d say: “Since the Master guarantees the great value of this object, it has to be authentic.”
Similarly, kié-ha people will obey the rules in their practice, since they refer to the ones laid down by the Master. Such rules are essential to them, because they could never achieve the final aim of their practice on their own. But they are related to that end because they observe the rules connecting them to it, as the Master has guaranteed. They participate in and of the truth by proxy.

Kié-ha people consider from the outset that understanding the composition of the cherished object is not within their grasp. But they do not need to understand it; indeed they’re not even equipped to understand it. It suffices that the master, having understood it himself, assures them of its value. His words are what guarantee the value of their practice. So it is enough if they simply follow his teaching.
Accordingly, kié-ha people see the truth through the Master. That is, they need a reference to guide their behaviour.  You train in the discipline of the school of the Master as if you were reciting a sutra. You don’t need to know the meaning of the words or of their sound, since the act of reciting is sacred in itself, and therefore effective, since it is the Master who says so.

Hence, by observing the rules, kié-ha can walk the true path connecting them to the truth.  Even if they know in advance that they will never reach their goal, their conscience is protected, because they are linked to the truth.  They say to themselves, “I am on the true way, for I form part of the current running directly back to the teachings of the Master, who grasped the truth.”
If you are a kié-ha, you will believe that there are secrets in the discipline that you practice, but that you do not need to understand them. The Master alone knows the secrets. Since you practice the method of the Master, you are practicing a true discipline. This is how a Master is made sacred.
Similar attitudes can be seen in different activities, especially in the world of the martial arts.

To be continued...

Articles - Essays by Kenji Tokitsu

Building a martial arts method X

Building a martial arts method X

by Kenji Tokitsu


The trunk is the seat of life

I was born in Japan two years after the end of World War II and so saw numerous amputees during my childhood, an experience that left a profound mark on me. I still have vivid memories of the horror I felt as a child whenever I saw someone missing all four limbs but who nevertheless was able to make astonishing movements.

I wouldn’t wish such a fate on anyone. “How lucky to have kept our bodies intact!” But with more detachment we can say that despite horrible conditions, people who have lost all their limbs have at least managed to survive, whereas no one can survive without their trunk, since the trunk is life itself. And activating the trunk is essential to energy exercises.

Fortunate are those who are able to keep their bodies whole. If we could make even a few efforts comparable to the exertions made by people missing a limb, we could progress a great deal in our practice. So let us turn our attention to our trunk. How is it activated? How do we learn to activate it? Can we truly distinguish the different dorsal and ventral areas of the trunk, as well as the different parts of the spinal column?

Does activating the chakras constitute a secret?

Not many “normal” people are in the habit of moving their torso independently.  They see its mobility as secondary, or even as the simple continuation of limb movements. They are not used to making their trunk move independently of the movement of their limbs. Many even seem to live as though their trunk were totally or partially immobile. In any event, we think we can live without any particular need of resorting to the independent mobility of the trunk. Life can go on without ever needing to attach any importance to such movement.

Must it be said therefore that having a normal body means there is no need to try to activate the trunk, just as people who enjoy good health hardly think about how to stay that way?

As can be seen daily in the technical context of different physical activities, we are not used to creating complex movements with our trunk. In effect, there are very few articulations that can be seen in the trunk, apart from the shoulders, the shoulder blades and the hips. To caricaturize, I could say that many people tend to regard their bodies as though they were just like Pinocchio’s.

Here is my personal view.
Occasionally we chance to see a military parade, with soldiers marching in time to military music, stepping high and swinging their arms. Some people find these scenes beautiful and reassuring, since such parades represent a kind of order, a force, a system holding up society. Personally, I don’t share this impression. To me it’s like watching rows of marionettes. My image of the warrior is quite different – but that’s my personal opinion.

Sometimes I’m tempted to compare this orderly military marching with classical ballet, where the dancers also express the beauty of their gestures through the movements of their body. I am sensitive to the elegance of the body and its movements. But after having studied and worked on the martial dance (jian-wu), I can’t help seeing the agility of the trunk in a different way. For the essence of the martial dance is generated through activation of the trunk, however difficult this is to see.

The martial dance – jian-wu

Researching the martial dance (jian-wu), I have closely studied the article by Wang Xhiangzhai (1886-1963) in “O Kôsai den” (Transmission of Wang Xhiangzhai), translated by T. Ishikawa, co-authored by Sun Li and Sài Shiming, ed. Bêsu-bôl (journal), Tokyo 1996.

Here are some excerpts:

Wang Xiangzhai, fundador del Yiquan

“…. Technical expressions such as: ‘dancing waves’, ‘playful dragon’, ‘white crane’, ‘surprised serpent’ each designate a technical form in boxing. The fist dance (boxing) is also called jian-wu (lit. dance of health or of strengthening) or wu-wu (lit. martial dance). This form of dance was very popular in China in the Sui (581-618) and Tang (618-907) periods. It was practiced as a method for well-being and health, and also as a method of sparring. It was performed not only by martial arts practitioners, but also by scholars and pundits. After this period, the tradition of the dance was lost.”

“Recently, Master Huang Muqiao, a martial arts researcher, reconstructed various forms of jian-wu based both on his long years of practice and on his study of drawings of dancers such as those found in the Dui Huang murals and on ceramic bowls and pottery.”

“During the period of the Northern War (circa 1925), I travelled to southern China and was fortunate enough to meet Master Huang Muqiao in Huan Nan. I attended his jian-wu classes and learned the essential line of this dance form, but was unable to comprehend its hidden subtleties. I have taught this dance to some of my pupils, but only about ten of them were able to learn its subtleties.”

“The indispensable condition for learning the boxing dance is mastery of the ‘four similes’ – i.e.,  ‘the body is like a foundry, as though it were full of lead, as if all its muscles formed a single block, and its hair had turned into wire’.”

“Unless you fulfil these conditions, your dance will only represent the superficial movements of the limbs, and you’ll never be able to dance well. I also said that ‘power (jin) resides in the body and strength (li) emerges from it’.  When you attain the level of realisation of the ‘four similes’ by working on zhan zhuang, it will mean that you have obtained internal power (nèijin).”

“Working on the ‘four forms’ is the best exercise for acquiring efficiency in combat, by learning how to make internal power (nèijin) explode into external force...”

From these writings, we can see that the dance known as jian-wu or wu-wu was a physical practice entailing a much broader cultural context than the one we have encompassing dance today. The transmission of this dance was interrupted in the course of history and was only reconstructed in the 20th century.

But even though this practice was lost in times past, we can imagine that an essential part of it became impregnated in different Chinese physical practices. I believe that this tradition is implicitly present in the different currents of Chinese martial arts.

Secret knowledge

The ballet dancers of today all have very supple limbs, and the elegance of their movements is undeniable. However, I am not at all happy to see how little agility they have in their trunks, for I truly feel that this part of their body is not very mobile at all. Is this just a prejudice of mine?

Each of our energy zones or chakras is located near the central line of the body, whose sides can be activated like accordions. But few people know that these areas can produce subtle, complex movements that generate great dynamic power. In the practice of kiko (qi-gong) and of martial art, activating the trunk is crucial for effective well-being and motion. It is not easy, of course, to put into practice, because few people seem aware of this possibility. In fact, these qualities are submerged in our physical habits and therefore remain hidden.

Knowledge can be kept hidden spontaneously due to our ignorance or lack of perspicuity, but it can also be hidden intentionally by people who wish to keep it secret for their own ends. A secret is born when someone tries to keep something hidden.

Let’s look at this more closely.

The existence of the trunk is obvious to all. When something is deemed readily apparent, it becomes couched in a banality that will constitute the best refuge for keeping a secret. There is an old saying: “Secrets are like eyelashes: they’re so close to your eyes that you can’t see them.” Until something obvious is made evident, it will be ignored and remain hidden. Such secrecy is of even greater importance for the martial arts, since it safeguards essential clues for producing power and speed, and also for creating a particular mode of perception.

(See essay No. 7 on first and second physical capacities.)

For example, the speed, power and subtlety of Iai (the art of Japanese swordsmanship) are attained through activation of the entire body, particularly certain areas of the trunk including the hips. Unless you know how to activate them, you cannot excel in this art. The speed of a movement is not produced by moving the hand, but by the entire body based on the central line of the trunk.

The different schools of martial art transmit the subtlety of bodily movement, particularly activation of the trunk, which constitutes a secret of their teaching. Efficiency is obtained through exercises that put this secret into practice. But unless it is put into practice, the exercises cannot be productive.

As we will see later, what is known in physical practice as the “secret”, or essential knowledge, ends up hidden out of ignorance while people look in the other direction. The secret exists… I invite you to reread Essay no. 8.

But a secret is like a map for finding hidden treasure on top of a mountain. Even if you manage to get hold of the map, you have to be able to get to the top of the mountain where the treasure is hidden. And then, if you’re lucky enough to find it, you still have to be able to carry it home, for otherwise no treasure will be of any use to you.

The equivalent of the map is the method, while the effort necessary to bring the treasure home so you can benefit from it is training, or implementation of the method.

Without that effort, having the map won’t do you any good. However, without the map (method) you could never find the treasure. So the method is essential, but by itself it is insufficient.

Activating the chakras

The kiko of the Yayama method applies the yoga concept of chakra as it is understood in Chinese medicine. Here the chakra is defined as an area where vital, dynamic energy is collected. I apply the dynamic aspect of this concept in my method.

If you activate the ventral part of the body, the corresponding dorsal area will get a workout as well. The front and back of the trunk move simultaneously. This dynamic corresponds to that of the yin and yang parts of the body, which touches on the essence of tai chi chuan. Because the technique of this discipline can only be formed by the dynamic action of the yin and yang parts of the body. Otherwise, there would be no sense in calling it tai chi chuan, for tai chi means the dynamic integration of yin and yang. So there is no tai chi chuan without mobilisation of the yin and yang parts of the body.

If you mobilise the chakras according to the principle of tai chi, they will be activated as if each of these zones served as a hinge.

In the front part of the body, these areas are found at the level of the:
- base of the throat
- sternum
- solar plexus
- navel
- lower abdomen

Note that for each zone, we must include the corresponding dorsal area. The dorsal and ventral parts are inseparably linked.

In practice, you can think of your body as containing five balls of energy that bulge a little in the front and the back parts of the trunk. You can activate these balls by following the method. As we have seen, these five areas move like articulations, which is why in our method, we refer to them both as chakras and as hinges.

A secret arises when you think you have understood

Whatever the discipline in martial arts, activation of these areas is essential, because it is the source for increasing your dynamic capacities beyond the ordinary level. This is why the method for activating them is often hidden in transmission. Remember that when physical arts are transmitted, there is a visible part and also a part that is invisible.

One of the most flagrant examples of this is the exercise known as zhan-zhuang (ritsu-zen). This is an (apparently) immobile exercise for obtaining different results, such as whole-body strength, forming the sensation of qi (ki), a deep sense of physical relaxation and well-being, improved health, etc.

The visible aspect of this exercise appears to be a simple posture, whereas the effect you seek varies according to the way and level of your comprehension. That is, you will interpret the aim of the exercise according to how you understand it. This is the beginning of the secret. I’ll try to explain this with the help of an image.
You have before you a precious object.
Let’s imagine two possible reactions to this situation.
Reaction 1:
You can treasure it as an object of unquestioned value and bequeath it to your family to hand down from generation to generation.
Reaction 2:
You’re not satisfied with simply keeping it as a precious object. You want to find out its composition so as to be able to reproduce it yourself.
After several years of hard research, you find the component material of the object, and you say to yourself, “That’s it, I’ve found its composition.” Having invested so much time and energy in it, you think, “I’ve finally understood the secret of this precious material”.
You believe that you’re the one who holds the secret. But in reality, the object is made up of ten layers of materials having a homogenous appearance. You have only found the first layer of this object…

As long as you’ve made up your mind that the object is composed of a single material – the one that you found – you will be convinced that you know its composition. You wouldn’t dream of thinking that there could still be nine other elements making up the object...

This imaginary situation illustrates the complexity of research, where the way is long and full of snares.
Many people believe that they only need to learn physical techniques and move their limbs systematically.  But as we saw in Essay no. 8, a technique worthy of the name involves subtleties that are hard to execute and that may constitute a secret in teaching and transmission. The secret is whatever is kept hidden. Things may be kept in the dark intentionally for tactical advantage, or we may not see them due to our own ignorance.

To be continued...


Articles - Essays by Kenji Tokitsu

Building a martial arts method IX

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Building a martial arts method IX

The kendo body

Many martial arts practitioners think that a kendo shinai, which weighs about 500 g, must be light and therefore easy to handle. I thought so too. But I soon found I was wrong, because a half-kilo shinai gets very heavy  when you start using it in combat, especially with an opponent who is better than you. A change of 50 g upwards or downwards makes a huge difference and your attack or defence action varies according to your perception of the weight of the shinai.
This prejudice of mine stood like a wall in front of me. In working to overcome it, I came to see the practice of kendo in a different way. The same was true of kenjutsu, Japan’s classical sword art.
To form an opinion about sword art, you have to understand that a true Japanese sword is much heavier than a bamboo one (shinai) – particularly the sword used in the feudal war period (15th to 16th centuries) and at the beginning of the Edo period (17th century).  This latter sword was three times heavier than a shinai, if not more. So even if you learn to handle a shinai or a bokuto (wooden sword) with ease, there is no guarantee that you can do the same with a real sword.

Additionally, there are a few rare masters of contemporary kendo who, at the age of 80, still know how to employ their undeniable capabilities in combat with the shinai. This is due not only to their technical ability based on long experience, but also to the physical capacities they have built up.
“One such 8th dan master over the age of 80 is diminished in strength and suppleness, and must ask one of his students to help him tie the laces on the back of his armour. But once he has his shinai in his hands, he can bring great force to combat with penetrating sword strikes and with a body (tai-atari) that can knock his opponent backwards.”
I have heard this same type of comment many times.

I think that this physical capacity depends on a range of qualities: the person’s physical strength, the strength of his ki (qi), his physical and perceptive powers which are constructed through the practice of a discipline. This set of qualities constitutes one’s second physical capacity.
The tai chi body is also a  body specifically formed by the practice of the method of that discipline, which forms a second physical capacity.

The samurai body and the jujutsu body

As for kendo, everything depends on the way you train and the objectives you’ve set. There are many people skilled in the form of competition combat, which is conducted according to certain rules. You attack your opponent’s head (men), but he leans to one side. Your strike touches the base of his neck or his shoulder, just as you receive a blow on  the wrist. Your strike doesn’t count, but his blow to your wrist does. You have lost and he has won….
In modern-day kendo, the tsuki (piercing) attack is restricted to the throat, a very limited target. The idea behind this limitation is important, because if you can manage to touch the small area of the throat, it means that you could also easily touch other, broader parts of the body.

This requirement for the aggressor creates in the defender an attitude of not needing to worry about a “piercing” attack to the stomach or to the chest. But such technical negligence would be unthinkable in a real fight.
So everything depends on what you are striving for in your practice: being able to win a point within the framework of competition rules, or practicing as though you were in real combat.
There are numerous points where modern kendo strays from the values of budo. Nevertheless, I feel that kendo is one of the rare disciplines that preserve the possibility of approaching, studying and developing the fast-diminishing values of Japanese martial arts.

In kendo, there are still a few masters over 80 who are capable of completely dominating young practitioners in free kendo combat. Eighth dan kendo masters are in this category.
In many other martial art domains, high-level grades (7th, 8th or 9th dan) are awarded by secret vote. In this kind of system, political and administrative considerations as well as seniority count for a great deal in the awarding of grades, whereas high-level grades in kendo are granted following a rigorous exam in which the quality of one’s capacities in combat is what counts most.
I want to stress this fact, because during a rigorous exam, there is no room for trickery or the complicity that exists in a complacent examination, because these grades must really be deserved.
It is not only a question of earning points in combat, but of demonstrating one’s decisive qualities as a fighter. Accordingly, an 8 th dan in kendo must in all ways be superior in combat to a person of lower grade. The rigour of the grades system in kendo is its guarantee. If this requirement were allowed to lapse, kendo grades would lose their value. Fortunately, their value is being maintained, which is why all kendo practitioners respect high-level dans. This way, grades have meaning.
Can we say the same for other martial arts disciplines in which grades are awarded by secret ballot?



Kendo and the sword

Certain kenjutsu (classic sword) masters have been heard to say the following: “Anyone who fails to grasp the true weight and nature of the sword cannot understand the sword art of the samurai.”
I think they are right.
They further criticize modern kendo with words like the following:
“Kendo is not the way of the sword, but shinai kyogi: a sports version of shinai fencing.”
Still another criticism is this:
“The way people use the shinai, they could never beat an adversary with a real sword.”
I think this is true too.

I have attended trials where people attempt to “cut bamboo with a sword” (tameshi giri). Although some kendo masters managed to cut them well, other 6th or 7 th dan kendo masters failed to do so, which gives rise to the following criticism:
“Those who train without being able to handle a sword cannot hope to practice the art of the samurai. “
Or this other claim:
“The practice of kendo is not realistic, since it doesn’t teach you how to use a real sword.”
I think that they are wrong to judge kendo in this way. 
It is true that most kendokas have not had the experience of wielding a real sword. Why? Because doing so is not necessary in order to excel at rule-based kendo combat.

If people criticise kendo in this way, we would have to ask the following question: “What do you mean by ‘realistic’?”

If the practice of kendo aimed atthe skilful handling of a true sword, we could indeed say that it is not realistic. The great majority of kendokas have had no experience wielding a sword, but what is more, they don’t want to! These kendokas will undoubtedly never have an occasion to use a true sword in their entire career in kendo, although this will not keep them from becoming excellent kendokas.

Realizing this leads us to the following questions.
In our society, it is against the law to carry a real sword. And besides, very few people even own one, whereas we can legally arm ourselves with a cane to use as a walking stick. So which situation is the more realistic? Knowing how to use a sword that we will never have a chance to wear, or knowing how to handle a stick or cane effectively according to the technique of kendo?
I think it all depends on the goals of your practice.

Contrary to the criticisms we have just seen, I feel that modern kendo could be very effective and realistic, if certain points were revised. I think that if we trained and associated unarmed combat techniques -- hand and foot strikes, throws, holds and locks -- on the basis of kendo, we could come up with a very complete martial art.

This is exactly what the samurai used to practice.

Differences between the kendo body and the samurai body

Let’s return now to our subject.
For the samurai, learning the art of the sword was quite different from learning modern kendo. For them, sword practice was not only the art of using this weapon with skill. It had to be associated with a strength that would enable them to slice through their adversary. Such power could only come from a body trained in a specific way that is almost unknown in the practice of present-day kendo.

For example, adepts of the Jigen-ryu sword school trained daily striking a post stuck in the ground. They were said to practice striking the pole 3,000 times in the morning, and another 8,000 times in the afternoon. When I came to live in the country, I tried this exercise. Instead of a pole, I set up an innertube from an old tractor that a neighbouringfarmer gave me. From the first day, even before I’d struck fifty blows, my hands were already full of bleeding blisters. It took me several months before I was able to do a thousand strikes a day. “Only”a thousand.

This experience gave me a basis on which to form a small idea of what was meant by the drill of “striking with a baton”. I didn’t continue any further. It was enough to understand the sense of this exercise, since I had set my sights elsewhere.
In the Edo period (1603-1867), in the villages around Kagoshima (feudal domain of Satsuma in southern Japan), poles were set up for this purpose in different parts of the village. Since several long wooden sticks were used in each session, piles of them were placed at the foot of the posts for people to use. Anyone passing by, including peasants, could pick them up and do the drill.

The force of the Jigen-ryu sword strike was fearsome. In a confrontation with this school, adversaries were taught to avoid the first attack. “Don’t try to parry it,” they were told. “Above all, do not cross your sword with theirs. Your only chance of winning is by dodging their first attack.”
This anecdote calls into question a claim such as the following: “In swordsmanship, strength is not necessary, because the sword is extremely sharp”.

For another thing, since samurais had to behave as worthy warriors even if they couldn’t use theirsword, the technique of jujutsu was necessary. They are not actually two different disciplines, since swordsmanship entails the physical techniques that are the basis of jujutsu. In a way, jujutsu arose in parallel with the art of the sword, which is efficient when based on jujutsu.
So now we can pose a question regarding kendo. Couldn’t an equivalent of jujutsu be formed in working on shinai exercises in modern kendo? This is where we should note the difference between using a shinai and wielding a sword. We could ask the same question of kenjutsu (classical sword)practitioners.
The sword art formed the samurai’s body to make him capable of assuminghis obligations as a warrior. If a kendoka wants to practice swordsmanship as the art of the samurai, his practice should not be limited to the handling of a shinai. He must at least be able to transpose his skills into a more general physical technique. I think that the first thing he must ask himself is this: “What will I have left if I don’t have my shinai?” The samurai were able to practice other disciplinesby transposing to them all their skills in swordsmanship. Using the sword they formed a martial body, which in a way is the samurai body, and so were able to use both their weapons and their body efficiently.
This was not because the samurai had learned minutely diverse disciplines, but because their swordsmanshipentailed the formation of a particular kind of body – i.e., the samurai body.
It is at this level that we find a fundamental difference with modern-day kendo.

There are numerous jujutsu schools, each with different techniques, because they arose simultaneously from the martial activities of the samurai in different periods.
During the time of the feudal wars, a major problem for the warriors was that they had to fight with heavy armour on the fields of battle.The school of jujutsu created during this period developed a particular range of techniques. Instead of throwing his adversary, all a samurai had to do was pull his head back so that his neck would break due to the weight of his armour. In times of feudal peace when fighting took place in ordinary clothes, such a tactic would be replaced by a holding or throwing technique. And so techniques changed depending on the way of life in different periods.
The classical schools of jujutsu taught both unarmed and armed techniques: sword, spear, stick, cord, etc. All disciplines begin with unarmed techniques, as this is the starting point for all martial arts that use weapons.

The specific body

As we have seen, armed martial arts, including the sword art of the samurai, enabled them to form the martial body they were famous for. This physique provided them with the martial strength they needed to express themselves in both armed (sword) and unarmed combat.
For example, the subtle strength and way in which they were able to carry and handle a sword enabled them to seize the wrist, arm or body of their opponent to exert a pressure or torsion that would immobilize or throw him. A samurai was not a mere specialist who could not manage without his sword. Sword training enabled him to build the martial strength that could also be applied in other domains. So jujutsu was a supplement for their swordsmanship, and its development affected a physical principle of the samurai.

This is why the samurai had a way of walking that was so special and so difficult to hide. For example, even when they disguised themselves as normal town-dwellers, dressing, wearing their hair and successfully imitatingthe speech of people of this social order, it was very hard for them to disguise their hard-wired way of walking. That is, in the Edo period (1603-1867), one could tell just by watching how a person walked, what social class he or she belonged to.
This is expressed by the following terms: bushi-aruki“samurai walking”: walking with the handsheld in front of the hips and moving the same hip and shoulder together; hyakusho aruki“peasant walking”: leaning forward with the hands ready to carry a burden on the back or shoulder; shokunin aruki“craftsman walking”: moving easily as though on a scaffold carrying work tools; chonin aruki“merchant walking”: shuffling forward as though ready to lean on a counter.

Have you seen the film“The Last Samurai”?
The story of this film takes place during the time of the Seinan-senso (Seinan war) in 1877, when the samurai of the Satsuma domain(modern-day Kagoshima) rose up against the new Japanese government.The government emerged victorious thanks to its use of modern (Western) military force. Japan at that time was investing most of its energy in attaining two objectives: enriching the country through industrialisation and strengthening its armed forces.
This latter objective was closely linked to the system of education. Japan was already aware of the likelihood of future conflicts with China and Russia. Thanks to enormous national efforts, Japan would prove victorious in these two wars in 1895 and 1905 – an exceptional feat for a nation that had just emerged from feudalism. Western military marching became the model to follow in the national educational system.

From then on, all Japanese began to walk in the same way, no matter what class they came from. Samurai, peasants, craftsman and merchants all had to learn to walk in the European way. The European physical education system was adopted in compulsory schooling.
I have written this short summary in order to explain how the very different ways of walking of the Japanese people were finally unified. This means that there used to exist distinct physiques depending on a person’s social class, and that the samurai body was in itself a technical achievement.

I mentioned earlier the Jigen-ryu school of swordsmanship. In the film “The last Samurai”, the American actor Tom Cruise takes sword lessons and receives numerous blowsto the body. But in such a case, it would have been impossible for him to receive so many blows from a wooden sword, even during training, without being seriously injured, if not killed.

But after all, it was only a film.

To be continued...


Articles - Essays by Kenji Tokitsu

Building a martial arts method VIII

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Building a martial arts method VIII


Dynamic muscle chains

In the work cited earlier, Master Sagawa says on various occasions: “Strength should not be placed in the shoulders… Those who train using the strength of their shoulders have no hope of going further....”
In most of his strengthening exercises, he used heavy objects like the iron bar for spear technique, the heavy-rod, the tsuchi (a weight with a handle), etc. But it is impossible to exercise with these heavy objects, or merely to raise them, without flexing the shoulder muscles.
He says, “I exercise with the heavy-rod a hundred thousand times a year”.
I have made myself a 1.7 metre heavy-rod weighing 3.5 kilos, and tsuchis weighing 7 kilos, 9 kilos and 11.5 kilos. I’ve worked out with them every day for many years and have to say that it is impossible to do such exercises with relaxed shoulder muscles. So what is meant by the phrase, “Strength should not be placed in the shoulders”, the point that Master Sagawa  insists on so much?
My experience shows that it means: “use the strength of your shoulders as little as possible in order to distribute effort evenly throughout the body”.
One day, one of my pupils, a kinesitherapist, told me about the therapeutic concept of muscle chains. By associating this concept with the method of zhan zhuang (ritsu-zen), his explanation suddenly clicked.

In yi chuan, the zhan zhuang (ritsu-zen) method is used to seek a physical state where it seems as if all the muscles of the body formed a single block – as though the body were covered with many muscles forming a long chain. It’s not the same concept as the one of muscle chains mentioned by the kinesitherapist, but nevertheless it is a chain. The concept I came up with was this: dynamic muscle chains or a dynamic chain of muscles.
By associating this concept with the method of ritsu-zen, I think I understand why Master Sagawa had to do 24 different modes of exercise every day.

For example, if you do the heavy-rod exercise with a stick weighing about 3 kilos, it will be hard at first to do 100 straight repetitions. If this exercise is done with a tsuchi weighing 9 kilos, few people will manage even ten repetitions. (If you have any doubts, just try doing it yourself. I certainly don’t wish to talk about this phenomenon in a void.)

The muscles of your arms and shoulders will begin to get tired. Two or three days later, you will have sore muscles and you’ll feel worn out. If you persevere for a few months without missing a single day, you will go through different phases, because before you can stabilise these exercises, you will have to go through several stages.  And so, little by little, you will begin to distribute the effort you exert. By decreasing that of the shoulders, you’ll be able to feel more keenly a wider range of muscle activity, especially in the back, and later your attention will be drawn to your thighs and calves.
Then you will see that certain leg muscles also participate in the effort being exerted by the upper limbs. And so you will realise that your exertion can be distributed over large areas of the body, and that you can effectively make this happen consciously. But this is only possible if you are able to eliminate excess tension from the shoulders.
I saw that the shoulders are important – very important even – but that this is where we tend to develop a certain obstruction of our dynamic muscle chains. If you minimize the effort exerted by the shoulders when you train, you can make the muscles of your back participate as if you were distributing the work. After a few months, you’ll begin to feel that your arm muscles extend right into your back.
This is what I’ve learned from my own personal experience. You can investigate too in your own fashion.

From this, I think I understand why Master Sagawa exercised with 24 routines. It is as though he had built numerous dynamic muscle chains in his body by strengthening them on a daily basis. The exercise variations would be due to the differences existing among the chains.  The same chains can be activated differently depending on the angle of the exercise…, and thus the need for diversity in sets.
I have compared his method to that of yi chuan, where you train to enhance and develop martial strength without using objects. Instead you use different models of yi (intention) to activate the different muscle chains from several angles.
For example, if you imagine that you’re holding a heavy stone block and you really manage to create this image, you’ll be able to activate the corresponding set of muscles. If you imagine a change of position in your way of holding the stone, the muscles flexed will be modified in response to this change. It is not simply a question of imagining, but of forming effective tensions corresponding to the imagined situation. In this way, you can tangibly activate specific muscles in your body  and benefit from the reactions of muscle tensions produced by the dynamism of yi, or intention.
In any case, to develop muscular strength, we need some sort of burden or load. The simplest, most direct way is to use a tangible burden – i.e.,  weights. In yi chuan, one uses burdens created by one’s yi, that is weights created by our mental imagery.

In short, to build up dynamic strength, it is necessary to engage in muscular activity, but there is not just one kind of logic behind this activity. If you can develop this strength using weights or apparatus, you can also build it up by activating your yi, even if the latter is little utilized.
Accordingly, without using any objects the yi chan method is designed to form a body where the whole seems to be covered with a single block of muscles, and this brings to mind the more developed state of dynamic muscle chains.
Hàn Xing-qiao wrote in his work Yi-chuan xué (Ed. Skijournal, Tokyo 2007):
“In the practice of yi chuan, you must train with thousands of different kinds of intentions (yi), varying them according to the moment.”

The thousands of different kinds of intentions mentioned by Hàn Xing-qiao are exactly the burdens or resistances with which you can train.
It is not a question of a simple theory where one can play with the logic of words. The only way of realizing the importance of such exercises is by doing them. In his work, Hàn Xing-qiao uses the expression “ti-rèn”, which means to recognize or comprehend through the body. I truly value this expression.

According to Master Sagawa:
“Without working on strengthening the body, you can never understand what technique is….”
In reading another work about Master Sagawa, I found a passage that really struck me and stimulated me in my workouts.
One of his students, before leaving Japan for a year, asked him for advice about what exercises to do daily in the country where he was to reside. The master told him to do a thousand shiko a day (an exercise similar to a sumo squat). The student responded, “A thousand! That’s too hard!” To which the master replied, “What do you mean? I could die and still be doing them….”
I was very encouraged by these words and since then I have been doing shiko exercises daily for the past dozen years and have developed my own personal variants for percussion techniques. (See bear paws...)

As this chronicle is aimed primarily at my students, I’ll take the liberty of expressing myself in a slightly more familiar and personal way.
Today the domain of martial arts is sold like merchandise, complete with advertising, giving the impression that it’s enough to join a club to learn how to do it. But what do you really learn? What do you practice? To progress in a discipline worthy to be called an art, the first thing needed is the quality of comprehension and the manifestation of this quality in technique. It is not enough just to train by moving the body. Master Sagawa said:
“The essentials of martial art are so difficult to attain that even a person of exceptional quality is not sure of success. Even if you spend your whole life on it, there is no guarantee that you’ll be able to succeed. In no case is it suited to the mediocre….”

In studying the history of martial arts, you must understand that the essentials were never conveyed openly, nor massively as we tend to do today.  There are a number of obstacles or “traps” impeding our grasp of what is essential.
What are they?
Well, they can often be found in the moment of transmission. A trap only works if it contains part of the truth. No one would fall into a trap willingly.

A trap can be laid intentionally, or it can arise through a lack of comprehension or through ignorance on our part. For example, in yi chuan they teach the following:
“You must utilise yi (intention) without using muscle power.”
Taken in isolation, this phrase is often understood as the supremacy of yi over physical strength. So people tend to think that it’s enough to work on the mind or spirit (yi = intention) without need of building physical strength. By training in this fashion, some fall into the trap that they themselves have made.

Because teaching in martial art must be scaled over time as students evolve from the beginning stage to that of expert, this instruction evolves for those who have gone beyond the initial stage, and becomes:
“You must manage to activate all the muscles of your body under the guidance of your intention.”
The first instruction is addressed to beginners so that they can learn the importance of yi and how to activate the body through intention. Later, they must learn to activate their body intensely and globally, using intentional thought (yi). This is expressed as follows:
“Yi is the Commander of the forces, and the forces are the Soldiers of Intention.”
If we fail to perceive this progressive vision, we are in danger of falling into our own trap all by ourselves.
However, the teaching conveyed in the first sentence could be applied effectively to patients recovering from some medical condition. This practice has proved to be quite effective. If, thanks to this method, a person who is basically unwell or weak can manage to achieve the same level as a beginner in martial art, we can say that the practice is effective.
But we musn’t confuse these two different ways of understanding this effectiveness.

There are also secrets that mask the essentials intentionally.
Master Sagawa openly said:
“I do not teach the secret of Aiki. Because it is thanks to this secret techniqe that I can overpower anyone. So why would I divulge it?”
During his lifetime, he never gave his permission to be filmed. He said:
“If some very intelligent person saw me on film, he might be able to grasp the technical secret….” 
He died without letting his techniques be filmed, which I find is a shame...
Furthermore he said:
“As soon as you show a technique, you have to consider that you’ve taught it.”
For similar reasons, during the age of the samurai, dojo windows were purposely placed high so that passersby outside couldn’t see what was going on inside. At that time, the fact of letting yourself be watched was tantamount to teaching – a far cry from our day when people tend to think that watching without taking part should be free. We are used to freely watching workouts in a gym, probably because there’s not much you can learn just by watching. However, it’s important to understand that martial art was practiced and handed down in this way.
If people trained where onlookers couldn’t watch or in the dark of night, it wasn’t out of simple modesty...

There exist written works transmitting the technical essentials of the schools, but the role of such writings was different from what it is today. The text was often in code, because the writer wished to convey the esential content to a close disciple, at the same time hiding it from others. Sometimes they were written using terms that proved incomprehensible to anyone who hadn’t received the oral explanations as well. Without an underlying practical comprehension, not even a highly educated contemporary researcher in Japanese literature can understand everything.

When I was translating the work of Miyamoto Musashi, I ran into this kind of problem, but Musashi’s text was relatively clear, because in my opinion he wrote it without trying to conceal anything. Later, when I tried to translate the work of Yagyu Munenori, a contemporary of Musashi’s, I finally was obliged to give it up, for there were too many key expressions and words that fell outside the register of dictionaries. Without gathering the scattered oral transmissions, it would have been impossible to understand and, a fortiori, to translate comprehensibly. The text was written so that no one apart from the chosen ones could understand it.

Hence, in martial arts, technical secrets were conveyed by scrupulously sheltering them from the eyes of others, all of whom were considered potential enemies. The essentials had to be handed down without leaving any clues for investigators. Such was the role of writing in martial art.

This warning seems to me to be necessary if you want to try to find technical truth through the study of history.

To be continued...

Articles - Essays by Kenji Tokitsu

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